David Brider (davidbrider) wrote,
David Brider
davidbrider

WhoWatch 2011 - An Unearthly Child

Thing is, cards on the table time - I love this episode. It's full of atmosphere, and evokes such a wonderful feeling, watching the first reveal of the inside of the TARDIS as Ian and Barbara stand in awe at this rules-of-basic-physics-busting multidimensional space they've entered.

I could even narrow it down to one simple line that I love - "let me get this straight - a thing that looks like a police box, standing in a junkyard...and it can go anywhere in time and space?". It's lovely. It's poignant. It sets the scene beautifully for the next 47+ years.

And it's also incredibly deceptive, a deception based on letting those 47+ years colour our expectations of the episode, because actually, what I realised watching it for the umpteenth time is that that's not really what the episode is about.

As I nearly said in the introduction to this series of blogs - I'd love to know what the contemporary viewers were expecting, and how they perceived the events of this episode. I mean, I know the Radio Times tagline for the series was, for many years, "An Adventure in Time and Space", but it would (presumably) have been a bit of a long shot for viewers to expect a humble police box to be the "vehicle" that would take our heroes off on the adventure. That's part of the problem with watching the programme nowadays - we've become so used to police box = TARDIS, that thinking back to the point where police boxes were just telephone boxes is kind of...next to impossible. And particularly when you've seen...well, any episode, but especially this one, the shock of Barbara and Ian walking through the police box doors and finding themselves in the TARDIS is rather dulled. Which is a shame.

What's also rather interesting is that up until that point, it seems to be an entirely different that could go off in a totally different direction to the one we expect - Ian and Barbara are just curious about one of their pupils, decide to follow her home in the hope of finding out what makes her tick. There's then another twist when they enter that junkyard and the subsequent scene seems to be written - and Hartnell seems to be playing it - as if there's a very real possibility that the Doctor might well have abducted Susan and locked her up in the police box.

Even during that final scene, it could go in other directions entirely - if Barbara and Ian leave the TARDIS, if Susan makes good on her promise to leave the TARDIS and the Doctor... It's sometimes been said that the Doctor's an "antihero" in these early episodes. I think that's a trifle wrong. He's obviously deeply protective of his personal space and his granddaughter, and resents the intrusion of two people whose presence means he'll have to go on the run again. Admittedly, setting the TARDIS to take off with the two hapless teachers stuck on board - and electrifying the control panel - are slightly extreme solutions to the problem - but you can't entirely blame him. Wait until later in the series, there are more things to blame him for...

But at the end of the day, this is an absolutely gripping first episode, shifting from moody mystery to possible-abducted-girl thriller to the TARDIS...and then at the end, one more unexpected twist - who is that watching over the TARDIS as it arrives in that deserted landscape? Where have they arrived? All will be revealed...
Tags: whowatch 2011
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