Wednesday 23 November 2011

An Unearthly Child

One measures a circle, beginning anywhere.  
- Charles Fort
We’re settled into the sofa.  The opening episode titles begin, but this time without a thunderstorm.

Me:  Here we go then.

Him: (sings theme).

The lost policeman.

Me:  Ooo.  Fog.  And they kept the bell.  And the 12” remix.

The Junkyard gate swings open and the camera is driven in.

Me:  So, is that door opened by the policeman or Mr Tickle?

Him:  Where’s the bracken gone?

Me:  It all got burned.

Coal Hill School.  The buildings have been ironed.

Me:  Have you noticed how they’ve taken pains to point out that it’s a school now?

The bell goes and the pupils leave.

Him:  There they are.  Will she stare right into our souls again?

The girls are interrupted by a young raconteur.

Boy Pupil:  Ooo – yes.


Me:  She does!  “Told you we’d have to do it again.”

Him:  She doesn’t.

Me:  It feels a lot smoother now that they’ve remounted it.

Ian and Barbara discuss Susan.  The action switches to a different classroom.  Susan is listening to a happening young chart act, John Smith And The Common Men, less enthusiastically than before.

Him:  (knowingly) “John Smith.”

Me:  Do you reckon?

Him:  I expect so.

Me:  So the Doctor’s real name might yet turn out to be Aubrey, or Chris, Waites…

Barbara lends Susan a book on the French Revolution so she can pick holes in the continuity rather than continue to develop her promising abstract portrait career.  Ian and Barbara drive to 76 Totter’s Lane to wait for Susan and hopefully meet her grandfather for a chat, thus demonstrating that teachers used to take the welfare of their students a lot more seriously in the Sixties.   While they're waiting, Ian and Barbara discuss Susan’s weirdness.

Ian:  I think you’ll find there’s a very simple explanation for all this.

Him:  There is.  Time travel.

The brave decimal system moment is recapped, without Susan’s wonderful shifty eyes sadly.  Ian recalls how cause and effect caused an effect and then science meanders into philosophy.

Science.  And lots of it.
Me:  The POV’s clever.

Him:  What’re A, B and C?

Me:  Episode of The Prisoner, I think.

Susan arrives, furtively.  Barbara, despite having hassled and nagged Ian to be there, starts to have second thoughts.

Ian:  Come on, let’s get it over with.

Me:   That’s what you think.

Him:  So, what are A, B and C? 

Me:  They’re either secret agent suspects or length and… that…

Ian and Barbara enter the junkyard, but Susan’s plain vanished.

Him:  Imagine how embarrassing it would be if she was meeting a boy.

They find the TARDIS, humming away like there’s a loose wire.

Me:  Maybe it’s just a really big, novelty fridge.

Enter the Doctor.  Coughing.

Me:  This is all very understated.

Ian and Barbara confront the Doctor.  In response, he starts talking to himself.

The Doctor:  One of their pupils.  Not the police then.

Him:  I beg your pardon?

Ian:  I beg your pardon?

This cracks the Him up.  It’s not the last time he predicts the next line by accident, so you might want to brace yourselves.

Having heard Susan’s voice, the teachers attempt to persuade her grandfather to let them into the police box.  He’s having none of it, and instead starts to assess the junk.

Barbara:  There’s no door handle.  There must be a secret lock somewhere.

Me:  The keyhole, perhaps?

The Doctor argues his case nicely, making Ian and Barbara doubt themselves.  They agree to leave and fetch a policeman – after all there’s only one exit, and that’s guarded by a giant orange tentickled (sorry) Mr Man.  Then Susan calls out from inside the box.  A kerfuffle ensues, and before you know it we’ve - entered the TARDIS!  Suddenly, the composition of the frame opens out into bright, longer shots.  A lot of the claustrophobia of the kitchen-sink reality is instantly diluted and we can breathe.  But, of course, our heroes are trapped.

Me:  Oh – that’s much better than the Pilot.

Him:  (pointing at the console).  And that’s green.

Conflict creates character and everyone begins grumbling.  Except Ian, who has to carry the burden of the whole bigger-on-the-inside thing for the first time.

The Doctor:  I don’t discuss my private life with strangers.

Me:  This predates Heat, of course.

Ian’s getting flustered.

The Doctor:  Oh, you wouldn’t understand.

The Doctor then proceeds to wind Ian up with some nonsense about buildings on televisions and delights in the fact that he can’t understand.

Me:  Doesn’t make any sense, that’s why.

The Doctor compounds the befuddling with a confusing ramble about the initials of TARDIS describing what it does and giving the sense of his running rings around the lesser life-forms.  None of this “Me mam’s an human” here.

Doctor:  I tolerate this century, but I don’t enjoy it.

Me:  I feel like that sometimes.

The Doctor wraps up his speech with the wonderful “exiles” moment.  William Hartnell does some sterling stuff throughout all of this scene, only trampling on William Russell’s lines once and looking for all the world as though he’s landed the greatest role on telly.  And knows it.   The Him however…

Him:  “We can order it for you but it’ll have to be in XL.”

"In ex-ile?"
The Doctor makes it clear that they’ll have to up sticks and Susan’s quite upset about leaving England.

Him:  England?

Me:  Yes, it’s set in London.

Him:  Is it?

Me:  Where did you think it was set then?  Wales?

Susan wants to let Ian and Barbara go.  The Doctor doesn’t.  Susan says she doesn’t think they’ll talk.

Him:  “Well, Susan – then it’ll have to be the hatchet I’m afraid.  It’s the only other option.”

Me:  What?

Making everyone’s decision for them the Doctor bangs a bafflegab.  The TARDIS takes off.  History is made.

Him:  What’s that?

Me:  Howlaround worm.

Him:  What’s it really?

Me:  I think it’s a penlight that a camera’s filming from its own monitor.

The howlaround montage continues.

Him:  Told you you could see Susan’s face in the opening credits.

The TARDIS is still taking off.

Him:  Imagine if they still did it like this in the Matt Smith era.

Me:  It’d take forever.  We’d still be on Pertwee.

The Ganger reappears and the credits run.

Me:  Okay, that’s the proper opening episode.  What did you think?

Him:  Ok.

Me:  Better than the Pilot?

Him:  Sydney Newman thought so.  “Bow ties’re cool.”

Me:  It’s got more zip; it’s pacier.  Do you think it’s a good introduction to the series?

Him:  I don’t think it would catch people’s attentions back then.

Me:  Back in the Sixties?

Him:  Well, people were more into shades that made you bump into things back then.  And bow ties.


Me:  Riiiight.  Shall we try The Cave Of Skulls then?

Him:  Yeah, okay.


"If I pull this off then we'll eat like kings."
Ganger recap, revealed to be a slightly baffled looking beardy chap with a sudden musical sting.

Him:  ”I’ve been standing here for a week.”  They used to record these in order didn’t they?

Me:  They did them near enough as live.

Him:  Oh.

The scene changes to a cave (although no skulls are in evidence yet) where another beardy chap, Za, is failing to make fire for his furry tribe.

Him:  In fairness – I can’t make fire.  You can’t make fire.  Not many people around today could make fire that way.  They’re speaking fluent English.

Me:  I read somewhere that the TARDIS is translating what they’re saying.

Him:  So they’re saying “Ugg ug ug”?

Me:  Yeah.

Him:  And this is before they came up with the translator idea?

Me:  Um…  Yeah.

Za gets really annoyed with the sticks (“dead fire”) and tries shouting at it.  This doesn’t work.  The confusingly named Hur nags him some more.  Za tries shouting fire into existence, but again it doesn’t work.

Him:  That’s what I used to get like when I lost at chess.

Back at the TARDIS.

Him:  He’s still standing there.  Hang on.  The TARDIS is in a different place.

Me:  It must’ve been pretty strange…

Him:  What?

Me:  For the people watching it.  It’s like a totally different series from last week.

Inside the TARDIS everyone’s woken up.  The Doctor is quite pleased with the journey.  Ian continues to doubt everything although Barbara’s quite accepting of it.

Doctor:  “Doctor Foreman?  Eh?  Doctor Who?”

Me:  The oldest question!

Him:  “Doc Tor Who?”

William Hartnell delivers some more cracking lines before opening the TARDIS doors.

Me:  I like that way that you can see out of the TARDIS.

Him:  It’s just a picture but the idea’s cool.

Outside the TARDIS wind blows and birds screech.

Him:  Is that snow or sand?

Me:  Sand.  Even though they’ve made a big point about how cold it is.

The Doctor becomes quite perturbed that the TARDIS is still a police box.  Then wanders off to dig and have a crafty smoke.  An axe enters the shot.

Me:  I thought that was a boom shadow.

Him:  So did I.
Contains abduction, sustained threat, brutality and smoking.

Him:  I think Ian’s going a bit mad here.  Well, you would wouldn’t you?  You wouldn’t accept it – you’d start to go mad.

Ian, Barbara and Susan find a skull.

Barbara:  What do you think it could be?

Him:  It’s Ian.

Me:  It’s not.

Ian starts to come round to the idea that he's finishing the day in a different type of reality than the one he'd had breakfast in.  "Doctor Foreman" gets corrected to "Doctor Who" again - annoyingly.  The Doctor gets ambushed and Susan starts a descent into hysterics that’ll last until she's next back in London - working on the basis that Planet Of Giants is set somewhere else.

Him:  That’s your bag.

Meanwhile, with the Tribe, in the cave.

Him:  They’ve eaten the Doctor!

The Doctor turns out not to have been eaten, but merely laid out on a banquet boulder.

Him:  Oh no.  Just his hand.

More tribal politics take place.

Kal:  I, Kal, am a true leader!

Him:  By Vectron!

The Doctor wakes up and notices that events have taken a turn for the problematic.

Kal:  My creature can make fire come from his fingers-

Me:  And fleas jump from these furs.

The politics of fire and carnivore hunting continue.

Him:  Y’know, while they’re all staring at Za the Doctor could sneak away.

The Doctor tries to bluff the tribe but has lost his matches.

Me:  He looks really scared there.  It’s quite grim for a children’s show.

Him:  Well, he said he hasn’t really been anywhere yet.  Isn’t Barbara a history teacher?

Me:  Yeah.

Him:  So, this is like a field trip for her?

Susan screams, alerting the tribe to the presence of our heroes.  In seconds they are overcome.

Za:  Take them to the Cave of Skulls!

Me:  Guess what they keep there.

It all gets a bit grim in the cave.  It’s full of corpses.  Corpses that smell.  And, like the name suggests, skulls.

Ian:  They’re all the same.  They’ve been split open.

Him:  “And there’s blood on it!”*



Him:  What d’you think they keep there?

Me:  Trees.  But, despite what’s suggested, not petrified ones.  Not yet.

*As our keener-eyed readers will have noticed, “and there’s blood on it” is a rather grim statement that acts as the URL placeholder for this blog.  Therefore it definitely needs some further explanation as to why that is.  Not to mention why the Him has just mentioned it there.  There will be an explanation.  Just not quite yet.


Following the unwritten law that you can change a cliffhanger to make it better-

Me:  Blimey!  That one’s split wider open now.

Him:  And that’s a different recap.

Worn out through hunger, cold and arguing, the tribe are asleep.  An Old Lady stirs and picks up a blunt instrument masquerading as a knife.

Him:  They’d be warmer if they covered their arms.

Back in the cave there’s an interesting directorial decision.

Me:  Skull POV?

After this we both become quite engrossed in the action and don’t say anything for a while.  Hur wakes and begins to follow the Old Lady as she sneaks off.  The Doctor and companions have taken to using bits of previous prisoners to try and cut their bonds.

Him:  What are they tied up with? 

Me:  Vines?  Skins?

Hur wakes Za and begins the full Lady Macbeth machination approach.  The Old Lady frees the Doctor and friends who run off into the forest.

Him:  Isn’t that a paradox?  The Doctor making fire with a match?

Me:  It is, but it isn’t the most contentious that the series’ll bring up over the years.

Za finds that his pet firemaker and chums have fled.  He is not happy about this, as you can imagine.  Elsewhere, in the forest, the Doctor pauses in order to catch his breath.  Everyone appears to be very scared, something that gets enhanced when Barbara thinks she spots something moving in the bushes.  The tension rises.

Him:  Is this a kid’s TV show?  It’s rated U isn’t it?

Me:  Not exactly the “Oncoming Storm” here.


Him:  How long’s it been since we said anything?

Me:  A while.

Barbara falls.

Me:  Ooops.  Glass ankles.  The first of many ignoble tumbles.

It turns out Barbara’s fallen over something animal and dead.

Him:  What is it?

Me:  It’s a boar.  And there’s blood on it.

(Deep sigh)

Me:  They could’ve wiped out humanity there.  So much for the policy of non-interference.

Our heroes retrace their steps to help Za.  The Him makes a bizarre noise for no real reason.

Him:  Ping!  Ping! 

The Doctor admonishes his companions for their compassion and Ian raises a pertinent point about qualifications.

The Doctor:  I’m not a Doctor of medicine.

Him:  He’s always saying that.

Me:  I reckon he sent away for his doctorate.

Back in the cave, Kal finds the Old Lady, asks her some questions and then kills her.

Him:  Kal’s invented murder.

Kal continues exploring new concepts by inventing lying and persuading the tribe the Old Lady was in fact done in by Za.  His heady explanation runs rings around the tribe logically.

Hur’s Dad:  It must have been as your eyes said it was.

Me:  “It’s the only explanation that fits all the facts.”

The tribe elect to catch up with the Secret Of Fire and leave the cave.  Meanwhile, our heroes run the final few yards only to discover that the TARDIS is surrounded.

Me:  The tribe got there a bit quick.

Blurry fade out on a grumpy Kal.


Me:  That’s a different recap.

The title screen is a close-up of Hur’s Dad that delights the Him.

Him:  Work those eyes!  It’s good to work out the wrinkles of the eye.

Me:  I’m glad they decided to let Coburn give them dialogue, it would have been heavy going with just grunts.

Him:  Are you joking?  It’d sound like Mr Gumby.

Me:  The Tribe of Gumby!  Aha!

Kal continues to offer the evidence for the prosecution-

Me:  It’s a knife advert.

-but the Doctor tears it to bits using the “Is There Blood On It?” defence tactic.  Trampled under this, Kal confesses. 

Me:  William Hartnell wanted to get away from his tough guy image when he took this on.

Him:  Did he ever come up against Chuck Norris?

Me:  Ha!  No.  But you could substitute William Hartnell for Chuck Norris and see if it still worked.  Probably all the ones that don’t mention roundhouse kicks would anyway.

Despite proving their innocence our chums get taken back to the Cave of Skulls.

Him:  Ian looks like my art teacher.

Me:  The use of sound’s really effective.  The wind feels relentless, you end up tuning it out.

Za does some soul-searching with Hur.  It all looks promising up until Za decides that if he doesn’t get the secret of fire, and sharp, everyone’s dead.  Ian attempts to remember his boy scout education and tries to make fire with sticks.  In fairness, this is more likely to be successful than just shouting at twigs.  The Gumbies, having been left on their own, are coming up with different ideas.  Sacrificing things always worked in the past after all…

Me:  It’s all or nothing this one.

Kal arrives from his brief exile just in time to spot that Ian’s stick manipulation has borne burning fruit.  Kal and Za lay into each other on a sudden soundstage, smashing up skulls.

Me:  Bit violent for a kids show?

Him:  I said that.

Me:  I think this fight – where it cuts to film – was directed by Douglas Camfield.

Him:  Why are you telling me this?

Me:  Because he was great.

The fight continues and the Him makes a traditional observation.

Him:  Underwear!  And it looks like they’re wearing tights as well.

Kal comes second.  Za raises a particularly large rock -

Me:  Kids series!  Kids series!

- and claims the title King Gumby with a silent splat.

Him:  There’s no noise.

Me:  Verity Lambert made them take it out.

Him:  What’s the deal with cavemen then?  How’d they evolve into people like us?

Me:  It comes from being able to cook food – specifically meat – because the stuff released when you do that helps brains to develop.  I think…**

Za announces to the Gumbies that there’ll be meat for all.  Especially if they hang onto the TARDIS crew.

Me:  I don’t think the series would have been as successful if they’d followed the prisoners in the cave idea.  Escape attempt of the week.
Escape attempt of the week.

Escape attempt of the week: Susan burns a skull.

Me:  Kids series!

Him:  But the audience at the time would’ve known that they weren’t going to die.

Me:  Why?  Anything could happen.

The Gumbies are significantly freaked out by the burning skulls that our chums make good their escape into the forest.  This fern-slapping jog to freedom is almost curtailed by another glass ankle incident.  Back at the cave The Gumbies line up for their ceremonial torches.

Me:  “That’s the fire sorted.  All we need now is to invent pitchforks.”

Having barely escaped with their lives, the travellers make it to a non-surrounded TARDIS.

Me:  I still like the way that the Doctor’s scared.

Him:  I always wanted to be the Doctor.  Not for the adventures – I was thinking about how my name would look on the title screens. 

The Doctor reveals that the TARDIS has navigational issues and so whilst it can take off and land alright, the whole steering thing doesn’t work too well.

More science.
Him:  Hang on – where’s the TARDIS going?

Me:  Into history.  Properly.


It turns out that the radiation counter’s on the blink too.

Me:  I’m pretty sure that Derek Ware, the fight arranger, was in the Sherlock Holmes that I watched the other night...


**Top quality Stephen Collins cartoon.  More of his work can be found here:

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