Friday, 30 May 2008


Babylon 5
1x07 The War Prayer
1x08 And the Sky Full of Stars

Doctor Who [classic]
1x01 An Unearthly Child
1x02 The Cave of Skulls
1x03 The Forest of Fear
1x04 The Firemaker
See here for my thoughts on this story.


The Fountain (2006)
[#37 in 100 Films in a Year 2008]


Allan and the Sundered Veil by Alan Moore
Chapter V
(from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume 1)

Doctor Who: An Unearthly Child

45 years ago this November, Doctor Who began... and was almost ignored thanks to the world-changing events in Dallas that same weekend. Thankfully things would pick up in the show's second week, and it would come to have a thorough impact on British culture by the time of its sixth.

Despite having been a Who fan myself for well over a decade now, I've never actually seen the first ever four-part story (though I have seen the originally unbroadcast pilot episode, which greatly resembles episode one as broadcast). But I'm now coming to introduce a friend to classic Who, and to begin their education we're intending to watch one noteworthy four-part story from each Doctor's era. While most are ones I've seen and can vouch for, it seemed silly to begin with anything other than the first ever adventure for the good (or, in this case, highly ambiguous) Doctor.

Perhaps the most striking thing about this first story (unless you're a new fan who struggles with black & white / the slow pace / an old Doctor / so many companions / etc) is how brutal it is. This is especially evident in the Doctor's personality and morals. He's not the cheery happy fun-loving Doctor of David Tennant or Tom Baker -- or even Christopher Eccleston, who tried (and failed) to hide his dark, brooding typecasting behind a thin veil of implausible lightness. The Doctor here is a grumpy old man -- he doesn't want these humans interfering, and when they've seen too much he kidnaps them; when he doesn't get his own way, he strops; when caring for an injured caveman is delaying their escape, he picks up a stone to kill him... and he doesn't stop himself (only Ian's interference achieves that). Elsewhere, an old cavewoman is slain for helping the TARDIS crew escape... and by the only apparently likable caveman too! Later, he gets his head smashed in with a giant rock. Not as violently, at the end of the story the whole tribe murderously chase the Doctor & co back into the TARDIS. There's no neat resolution and no good characters left behind here.

And you know what? It's great! Maybe it wouldn't send a positive moral message to children, and perhaps the cavemen are stereotypes and oversimplified, but it's actually a fairly decent adventure that doesn't succumb too much to the usual four-parter problem of Lots Of Running Around To Kill Time. Of course, it's aided by the fact that it's really a three-parter -- part one, An Unearthly Child itself, stands almost entirely separate as a pitch-perfect start to the series. It begins surprisingly quickly, introducing schoolteachers Ian and Barbara, and they take the audience with them into a fantastical world of humming Police Boxes that are bigger on the inside and travel in time and space. It's hard to imagine a more perfect start to the series -- it might not work word-for-word if made today, but the same basic story would be the one to copy (indeed, new-Who supremo Russell T Davies used basically the same tactic when he launched the new series with Rose, which leads the viewer into the Doctor's crazy alien world via a modern-day teenager).

A fantastic start to the longest-running science-fiction TV series, then, and one that still seems to hold up all these years later.