Doctor Who at 50: An Unearthly Child Review (7/10)

What with The Day of Doctor airing on our screens in less than three weeks now, I decided it was time to pull my finger out and actually write something to do with Doctor Who again.

So I decided that the best thing to do was to take my pick of episodes for each incarnation of The Doctor. Episodes that I feel define that particular version, and give them a kind of mini review (all culminating in a review of Day of The Doctor, of course).

Where better to start than the very beginning of it all?

William Hartnell – An Unearthly Child (23rd November, 1963)

Totters Lane. What was intended to be a simple junk yard to set the scene has transcended into the stuff of legend for Whovians. Referenced in various episodes and even featured in the brilliant new trailer for the 50th, it sets the stage for where it all began.

Tucked away, hidden in the midst of piles of rubbish and rusted trinkets is an old police box from the 1950s. To the people of 1963 this was already a fast fading relic but Doctor Who has ensured that the TARDIS has become a consistent icon throughout its 50 years.

From the off, viewers are roped in by the mysterious phone box but before we get a chance to glimpse inside, we’re taken to a typical secondary school. Two young (and quite handsome) school teachers discuss an unusual student that they have in common. The obviously kind pair resolve to visit her at her home, despite her warnings that her grandfather would be less than pleased with this.

A bizarre police box in a junk yard and a strange young student who is reluctant to let anyone in. It’s the theme of the unusual tucked away in the everyday that Doctor Who has carried in its DNA from day one and it’s just as evident here.

From here, the school teachers Ian and Barbara finally meet The Doctor. That’s when everything really kicks off. Confused as to why Susan’s home adress leads them to a junk yard, their attention is drawn to the phonebox which appears to be humming. An altercation ensues and they get inside.

While the original TARDIS interior might not be as grand as we’re used to these days, it remains an elegant design that has aged beautifully. We also have to consider that at the time, this was an absolutely massive plot twist. We don’t bat an eyelid as The Doctor dashes in and out of his ship these days but if anyone says they saw that coming back then, they’re lying.

William Hartnell absolutely sells The Doctor. We aren’t meant to like this man. He’s a very different breed from the other ten men who came after him and while he eventually becomes the hero we know and love today, this Doctor is frankly, a bastard. It’s brilliant.

Hartnell is a cold, calculating and unsettling presence that only works because of his companions. Susan is the only blood related family member of The Doctor that we ever see and like Hartnell, she is a different breed from any companions we know today (and not just because she calls him grandfather). Susan and The Doctor are on the run together. He hasn’t just picked her up and she hasn’t just tagged along. There’s clearly a bond there and Susan is smart, capable and resourceful. A template for every Who girl that follows.

Ian and Barbara are there to make the Doctor seem more alien. They can discuss this bizarre old man and for the viewers a clear us against them divide is created (at least at first).

An Unearthly Child introduces us to a cold, ruthless Doctor. Perhaps the most fascinating take on the character in my opinion, as well as introducing us to three supporting characters in a seamless fashion that all ties up nicely. The only reason it has a score of seven in the title is because despite the fact the first part of the serial is so tight, the TARDIS soon takes off and we have to sit through a load of shit about cavemen. Dull.

Next Time: The Tomb of The Cybermen

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