Mark Watches ‘Doctor Who’: An Unearthly Child

In the very first serial of Doctor Who ever, the Doctor’s first two companions follow his granddaughter into the TARDIS, where he proceeds to yell at them and then kidnap them and then take them to meet cavemen. Honestly, that’s what happens. If you’re intrigued, then it’s time for Mark to watch Doctor.

I think it’s important to know where a series comes from, and I think that, rather naturally, the whole Mark Does Stuff idea facilitates that nicely. I’ve always been the kind of person who wants a complete picture of something. When I listen to music, I listen to full records. When I like I band, I find everything they’ve released and I organize my vinyl records at home by band and then the order those records were released. I find the concept of serialized fiction, either books or television or films, to be endlessly entertaining. I like the idea that an entire world can become so expansive and detailed that years or numerous novels can be spent exploring it.

When I first decided I was going to tackle Doctor Who, sometime in the fall of 2010, I initially thought it would be absurdly fun to watch all of it: All forty-seven years of the show, in order, from beginning to end. At the time, I had no idea that so much of the show was missing, or that there was so much that I’d have to tackle. I knew there was a long break before the “new” series started, but I thought it was much longer than it was. I initially didn’t even know any episodes of the show were produced in the 80s!

While I have always started at the beginning, I made a decision that maybe the sheer volume and challenge was a bit too much for me to try to accomplish, as I didn’t want to spend so much time on one series. I worried that I’d get bored with the show. (LOL NOT POSSIBLE) I worried that after having left Buzznet to start my own site, I would lose my audience if I was on the same series for over a year. (Also not the case, as I’m discovering that I exist in some weird vacuum of fandom, with people coming and go between the two sites I run based on what I’m doing, with some people re-appearing since I finished Harry Potter now that I’m doing Avatar.)

I’m very, very satisfied that I started with the new series and that I became so quickly obsessed with Doctor Who, that I’ve gotten the chance to watch some truly incredible serials from the classic series, that I can continue to watch serials and review them in the future, and that in exactly a week, I will be POSTING A REVIEW FOR SERIES SIX. A;DKFJA ;LSKJFA;DSKLFJAS ;FDLK

(Sidenote: Who do I know in the Bay Area who has BBC America? I have no cable and it doesn’t look like iTunes is putting up the episodes the day after they are. TRAGEDY. I CANNOT MISS THIS.)

So, given this lengthy introduction, I wanted to lead this all into a statement I probably should have made at the beginning: Boy, is it fucking weird to watch the “first” episode so long after I’ve started a project. I mean, I can’t think of doing this with anything else. (Well…wait. Wasn’t there an original Battlestar Galactica series? I’m probably going to skip that. SO MUCH FOR THIS STATEMENT.)

I’m really happy I watched “An Unearthly Child.” That statement has no real qualifier. I am! I mean, parts two through four are pretty awful and I don’t even care! I mean, this shit was made in 1963 and there are large parts of it that still hold up well almost forty-eight years later.

The condition of this serial in terms of quality is what most surprised me. I think that perhaps the show’s creators wanted to do a serial that wasn’t so heavy on special effects for this introduction to the show, so, for good and bad, a lot of “An Unearthly Child” deals with dialogue. I mean, that’s not unlike the show in general. Nearly every classic serial I’ve seen has a lot of talking. Well….a lot of the new episodes do to. The Doctor likes to talk, doesn’t he?

Here we also see so many of the seeds sown for what would become staples of the series, and I can’t seem to find a way to express how exciting this was. The first time we see the TARDIS! Time travel! Smarmy dialogue! Dapper outfits! Companions! Oh god, THIS IS SO COOL. This is literally the first time these things ever appeared on screen! NERDGASM!

Let’s talk about the First Doctor, William Hartnell. I want to see more of his era, as I imagine he’s developed a lot further than what I saw in these four episodes, but holy shit. He is such a douchebag. I guess I’m used to the Doctor being so silly and sarcastic about his knowledge of time and space, and I’m used to him joking with humans when they first meet him, a sort of playful toying with their emotions. I understand that Ian and Barbara do follow Susan “home” and basically break into the junkyard in order to find out what she’s doing. I mean, who wouldn’t be peeved at that? But the Doctor, for the entirety of this serial, is pretty much openly hostile to Ian and Barbara. I could understand it at the start, but it continues. First, they’re being rude and trespassing. Then they’re not smart enough. Then they’re too close-minded. Then they KNOW TOO MUCH. (Thankfully, no one actually says this, but isn’t that basically the scenario here? The Doctor can’t let them go because they’ve seen too much. So allow me to show you even more, perpetuating this ridiculous cycle.) Then they’re too friendly. Then the Doctor tries to smash Za’s head in???? WHAT????

I’m hoping that I am making these statements out of pure ignorance. (You will never see those typed words again.) Somewhere along the way, the Doctor had to evolve into the more nuanced, humorous, and curious figure that I’ve seen along the way. Unless this is Hartnell’s Doctor? Unless something happened to make him this bitter and cynical? Maybe? There are hints of some sort of story about why he and Susan are traveling on their own, and I actually don’t know what other information we learn over the course of the First Doctor’s tenure. (THAT’S KIND OF EXCITING, SO DON’T SPOIL THIS FOR ME.)

Either way, I do have to admit that if this was the first I’d seen of the show, I’m definitely left wanting more. Who is this man? Why does he travel through time and space? Where are he and Susan actually from? Does the TARDIS actually change form over the course of the whole series? It’s mentioned here that it is supposed to change with the surroundings, but it seems to have gotten stuck.

The first fourth of this serial is pretty fantastic, I must say. It’s exciting and weird and kind of abrasive and you’re left wondering at the end of the first part: Where on earth is he taking them? Then you have to correct yourself because even that phrase doesn’t apply to the Doctor. He can travel to other places off Earth! Seriously, WHERE IS MY TARDIS.

From here on out…man, this is one of the strangest stories that I’ve ever seen Doctor Who do. When I say that it’s awful, I mean that there’s really not much that I may have enjoyed unironically. (Does that make me a Doctor Who hipster? A Whopster?) The cave men and women we see for the next three parts talk a lot. THEY DO A LOT OF TALKING. A lot of their conversations are brunt and kind of absurd. How do they understand the intrinsic complications of leadership and inter-party politics, but they cannot comprehend the very concept of friendship?

There’s a really common thing that happens on television and in movies, where overly complicated and ridiculously dramatic plots seem to take place because the characters on screen simply don’t take ten seconds out of their day to just state the obvious or be direct. I cannot tell you how many times during the parts two and three that I yelled JUST START A GODDAMN FIRE at any of our time travelers. There were numerous moments where they were alone or not preoccupied and if this tribe of people wanted and feared fire, COULDN’T YOU HAVE STARTED ONE HOURS EARLIER?

Unlike virtually every Doctor that comes after him, the First Doctor seems intent on doing one of three things:

1)   Getting the fuck away from this place.

2)   Not getting involved in any way, shape, or form.

3)   Insulting any and every thing that is a living organism.

I know I’m seeing a very small portrait here, one that will be developed and changed, with a character who will grow and adapt and become something so different, but good lord, the Doctor is so distracting throughout this story. Sometimes I feel that Susan, Ian, and Barbara (especially those last two) were the ones trying to save everyone while the Doctor just puttered about. And smoked sand? What the hell did he put into that pipe?

Like other stories we’d see in the future, the Doctor and his companions are essentially thrust into a civil war of sorts here in “An Unearthly Child,” and I haven’t commented much about the plot itself. I know it sounds like I hated this serial, but I honestly didn’t! It sort of became like an alternate Mystery Science Theatre 3000 for me, as I yelled shit at the screen and laughed and groaned. Truthfully, I actually had a great time watching this serial. But I can’t ignore that aside from all of that, the plot of this story bored me. It did! I’m sorry, but that’s how I felt. So much violence and nonsensical posturing over fire. Fire that could have taken like five seconds to create?

But if they had taken the easy way out, I would not have seen:

  • Za, the lovechild of Eric Bana and Will Forte. Yep, get that out of your head. I dare you.
  • The homoerotic subtext to Kal and Za, culminating in them rolling around in the sand for a few minutes, their shanks shining in the light of a BBC studio set.
  • The REALLY DISTURBING AND BRUTAL KILLING OF KAL. What the fuck, that was so jarring and kind of realistic? Did the show get in trouble for this?
  • The Cave of Skulls, which was apparently named and capitalized by the cave folk as a sacred place, yet they didn’t understand FRIENDSHIP. God bless this serial.
  • Ian creating fire, a surefire method of escape, and GIVING IT AWAY IMMEDIATELY. Thanks, Ian.
  • The parade of gothic imagery of the skulls on fire. So poetic.
  • The spears getting thrown at the TARDIS and the TARDIS disappearing, seemingly taking those spears with the TARDIS since we never see them pass through it or land or anything.

It’s a loving sort of disdain. I swear!

Next week, you can expect a review of the opening episode of the sixth series of Doctor Who, “The Impossible Astronaut,” wherein my review will merely be 45 minutes of the audio track of me hyperventilating to the return of this show. Until then, happy watching!


About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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304 Responses to Mark Watches ‘Doctor Who’: An Unearthly Child

  1. TDM says:

    I was excited to see what you thought of this one, as you hadn't yet experienced a historical serial without aliens around (if I remember correctly). Some of the educational stuff that's missing later on, really. This isn't my favourite historical serial by a long shot, but the first episode really is wonderful (and I love Ian and Barbara).

    I really like Hartnell's Doctor. He's different, and I'm glad you want to see more of him maybe from a bit later on – he's a fascinating character. I really enjoyed his tenure as the Doctor.

    • pica_scribit says:

      It hurts my poor little archaeologist heart that this is considered "historical" when it's such a cartoonish and unrealistic rendering of primitive Man.

      • TDM says:

        Heh, well, yes, that's true. I use it as a term to describe "in the past, without aliens", I guess.

        But fair point, it's not the most accurate term!

  2. BBQ Platypus says:

    This was the first Doctor Who story I watched, old or new. I'm pretty sure I'm the only person who wasn't alive when the story was first broadcast who can say that. I was hooked on the show the moment I heard the theme. The first episode is magnificent – I'm pretty sure it's impossible to be a Doctor Who fan and not like it. The rest of the serial…not so much. I actually didn't finish it the first time I watched it and just moved straight on to "The Daleks" after Episode Two. Then I skipped all the way ahead to "Blink."

    I love the First Doctor because of his beautifully executed character arc. He started out as a total jerk (and why wouldn't he? He's a Time Lord, after all). The first couple stories are full of moments like these. There's a wonderful scene in the third serial ("Edge of Destruction") where Barbara calls the Doctor out on his shit. Over the course of the first season and a quarter or so he very gradually and naturally morphs from a pompous, curmudgeonly old fart to a kindly, eccentric, grandfatherly figure. Seriously, watch a Season Two story ("The Time Meddler," f'rinstance) and compare it to this. It's a testament to how good of an actor William Hartnell was. He laid the groundwork for every one of the Doctor's defining traits – brilliance, eccentricity, arrogance, and, underneath it all, a kind heart.

    They tried to pull off this same "asshole-to-likable" character arc with Six, and it just didn't work at all. Not on television, at least – poor Colin would have to wait until Big Finish came along before he really got his chance to shine.

  3. Neil says:

    Those first 25 minutes are kind of perfect. I first saw the story on a repeat run in 1981 on BBC tv called "The Five Faces of Doctor Who" and the wonderfullness of that first part has always stuck with me no matter how many times I've seen it.

    Hartnell's Doctor has a jorney that is well worth following through. Most of his first two years exist and in amoungst some very dated TV there are some real gems and some great performances to be found.

  4. FlameRaven says:

    Ooh, "The Impossible Astronaut"? I hadn't heard the title yet. Still SO EXCITE.

  5. Shiyiya says:

    One is SUCH A DICK. I started watching the first episode and gave up on Old Who and my intention of watching all the old series entirely for a while. (Then I watched Seven, and The Three Doctors and The Five Doctors and I appreciate all of the Doctor better now. Lots of people have a "this is MY Doctor". I do not. I just love the Doctor.)

    • VictoriaLeigh says:

      Everything you have said is right and true.

    • Elexus Calcearius says:

      This comment is amazing. I love the Doctor. Not a specific one, all of him.

      ….that doesn't mean that One isn't a pompous, rude old man, though.

    • Arthur says:

      "Wonderful chap, all of them," as the Brigadier would put it. 😀

    • Mark says:

      I wouldn't judge the entirety of One's character on a single episode. When I first watched the classic series, I too thought he was a bit of a twat. By the time I was into his second/third seasons, he was my favourite.

  6. God, I love part one of this serial. It's the very first Who I watched, right before you started Watching Who, and right before I went into Rose. And yeah. So much love. The other parts of the serial? …I made it about five minutes into part 2 before I got bored. XD

    • RJM says:

      I think I made it fifteen minutes in? And until Moff Tiem happened I was almost exclusively an Old Who fan. The cavemens are just that rubbish.

  7. @kaylasavard says:

    I wish I had something more exciting to say than AWESOMESAUCE AS ALWAYS, but I don't.

    OH and also, if worst comes to worst with your BBC America problem, there are probably going to be about a billion streaming links online.

  8. Sparkie says:

    I enjoyed it too, although I have to ask which version of the first episode you watched. The first time I saw it I had inadvertently been watching a different edit where Susan drew weird ink dots and said they were from the 49th century (maybe 48th). But apparently they changed the script to make her more normal and only released this other version later.

    • monkeybutter says:

      Was that the pilot? I watched that version because it's on youtube (very legal, yes). I don't know what was up with the inkblots, but I assume the hexagon she drew was for the Tardis console. I like weird Susan! She's friendly.

      • Sparkie says:

        I think so, although they didn't do pilots as such in those days. Huh, I hadn't thought of it as the console, that does make some kind of sense though!

        • xpanasonicyouthx says:

          I watched the original version of the pilot mashed with some of the re-edits. That's the only legal version available. It came from Netflix.

          • Neil says:

            The "pilot" was recorded 27 September 1963, with two versions of the TARDIS scene being completed. An edit of this was released on the DVD, using footage from both versions of the TARDIS scene

            The whole thing was re-recorded on 18 October for the broadcast version. Istead of the ink-blot TARDIS you get Susan reading "The French Revolution" and saying "that's not right" at something. She also refers to being born in "another time, another place" where the pilot has her saying "the 49th century"

            Although the two versions cover the same story, Hartnell is leass offhand in the broadcast episode it's a more nuanced performance and the production is also technically more accomplished.

            The easy way to tell the difference is during the titles. The "pilot" starts with a thunderclap not used in the broadcast episode.

            Both the "pillot" and the broadcast verions have merits, but the broadcast version is better.

            • GotyourConk says:

              I have both versions on my dvd. I remember watching the "pilot" first and being completely shocked at what a complete jerk One is, and then I watched the broadcast version and was glad they toned him down a bit, at least at the start of the episode.

  9. NB2000 says:

    It's been a few months since I watched this serial (I didn't have time to rewatch it today) and my overriding memory of it is OKAY, I GET IT, THE CAVEPEOPLE NEED FIRE! ENOUGH ALREADY, MOVE THE PLOT FORWARD I have to believe that if I'd been watching this show in order I'd have given up on it after the second episode (and then picked it up again a few years later when everyone started going on about how awesome it had become). The first episode was very good, especially that cliffhanger with the TARDIS in the desert and the approaching shadow (oh and how much do I love that the TARDIS is technically the first character we see? Oh only a lot.).

    Oh and: OMG less than a week before series 6! YAY!

  10. Hotaru_hime says:

    Barbara and Susan scream a lot, Ian pushes people out of the way and announces that he's going to do something, and the Doctor… well he just insults everyone and insinuates that he's better.
    I LOVE IT.
    You have now met my favorite companion, IAN CHESTERTON. They're all a bit thick in this serial but I love Ian. I love him so much, it's fucking ridiculous.
    An Unearthly Child! Poor Susan, tagging along with her grandfather then decides to go to Earth school. Child, you have the entirety of the TARDIS and you choose to go to some backwater school?
    The beauty of Classic Who, especially in the First Doctor's era is that the whole thing was really about money. They did want to change the TARDIS but oh look, no money. We need creepy looking aliens, but all we've got are plungers and egg beaters. We'll make do.
    It's also pretty much make shit up as you go along. I don't remember when they classify the Doctor as an alien and I don't think they mention Gallifrey for a long time yet, let alone classify the Doctor as a Time Lord.
    Hartnell is a total jerk in comparison to his later regenerations, but keep this in mind- he is the YOUNGEST of all the Doctors we've seen. It's so funny to think of it that way, when he was the oldest appearing, hmm?
    Oh please watch the Rome serial, you don't even need to review it. It just underscores how much the Doctor has changed.

    • Lauren says:

      Ian is also my favourite companion. He's basically what the Doctor would eventually become.

      And yes Mark, if you want to see more Hartnell then please watch 'The Romans'. It's a historical comedy, and Hartnell's softened up by then. He really is a fantastic Doctor.

  11. monkeybutter says:

    Also not the case, as I’m discovering that I exist in some weird vacuum of fandom, with people coming and go between the two sites I run based on what I’m doing, with some people re-appearing since I finished Harry Potter now that I’m doing Avatar.

    There's a lot of nerd overlap!

    I only watched the first part, which is unfortunate because I would have continued if I had known there was homoerotic caveman wrestling. I laughed at your MST3K reference, because while I was watching them creep around the junkyard, I was thinking "crap, where are Joel, Tom, and Crow?" It was so weird and 60s, and I agree that an angry, misanthropic Doctor feels odd. I definitely liked Susan better than her grandfather. But it's cool to see that the Doctor had such a different personality at the start.

    The one thing that jumped out at me in the first episode was this

    <img src=""&gt;

    I can just imagine a young Moffat seeing that and developing a lifelong love of creepy masks. It's different from New Who, but it still feels familiar. I think it was a good but hokey start to the series; time travel with a crank and his granddaughter! I should really finish watching the rest of this serial.

  12. jackiep says:

    It's worth watching the next two adventures, the first one involving a future iconic monster and then the first (two part) adventure when the first batch of budget had clearly run out. This trio of adventures do end up with the dynamic slowly changing and the start of the first proper Team Tardis.

    It is the last time we see the Doctor quite so openly prepared to commit murder to get rid of an inconvenient caveman. However it is interesting to see the Doctor so distrusted by his companions, as they're clearly terrified that he'll dump them in the stone age so that they won't be able to tell anybody about the Tardis.

    A subtle moment, but when they note that the Tardis hasn't changed to blend in with its surroundings, the Doctor is clearly very disturbed indeed. Something has broken and he obviously isn't sure if he can fix it.

    Susan is rather tragic here. Her teachers notice her because she doesn't fit in at all whilst Susan is begging to stay because she's never felt so much as though she's belonged somewhere with friends. The outsider who doesn't even realise how much of an outsider she actually is.

    • FlameRaven says:

      Susan is rather tragic here. Her teachers notice her because she doesn't fit in at all whilst Susan is begging to stay because she's never felt so much as though she's belonged somewhere with friends.

      This makes me really wonder about life on Gallifrey. I mean, from what I gather not everybody on Gallifrey was a Time Lord, you had to go to Time Lord Harvard or something for that. But… seriously, what kind of society would develop a planet where at least some of the population could live for centuries (or longer)? But always in different bodies? The info I've picked up about Old!Who Time Lords is that they're very stuffy in their ridiculous hats and stick strongly to non-interference (but aren't afraid to break the rules if it suits them), but given some of the information the Doctor drops in the new episodes, it doesn't sound like childhood on Gallifrey would be all that awesome. Actually, life in general had to be complicated. Can you imagine the awkwardness at family reunions if people kept changing their entire bodies?

      I'm sure we'll never get that info, because it's not as exciting as random aliens and time-travel shenanigans, but I like to think about these things, and it is exciting whenever we see anthropology-in-space in scifi. Probably the best (and only) example I've really seen though is Orson Scott Card's "Speaker for the Dead."

      • anobium says:

        Ursula K. Le Guin has done some good anthropology-in-space. (Her father was an actual anthropologist.)

  13. Weston says:

    Will the hyperventilating sound like a materializing TARDIS?

  14. George says:

    I've got to agree, I was pretty astounded when I saw the Doctor just start encouraging everyone to throw rocks at Kal, I know he was a douche and probably deserved it for killing the old lady, but not what I expect from the Doctor!

  15. Bobcat says:

    Oh crikey! I had no idea this was coming.

    And, I've not seen it.

    I've only seen one First Doctor serial… a story called The Web Planet, and it's reportedly considered a bit pants by fandom at large. I really liked it, though. It's my only foray into sixties Who, and I found it strangely… soothing. I like the rickety sets, the slow dialogue, the sheer AGE of it all. Comforting. Like the Clangers.

    I also found I quite liked Hartnell's portrayal, although I won't comment on how closely it matches his character as apparently portrayed here.

    Brilliant excuse to familiarise myself with a TV event that I should've watched long, long ago.

    SO RIDICULOUSLY excited for The Impossible Astronaut, by the way. It's going to be astonishing.

    Also! Question for Mark. Don't have to answer this, but as you read all the comments I just thought I'd throw it out there. Now you're all caught up with modern Doctor Who, are there any plans for a summary, of sorts? I'm a bit curious as to how it all comes together, for you. Favourite Doctor, favourite companion, favourite series, favourite episodes, etc. As you go along, you occasionally say "oh I think this character could turn out to be my favourite" but that's all before you've seen it in the context of everything else.

    Sorry. More work, I know. I'm just curious. :p

    • Kaybee42 says:

      Yeah I'd be interested to know too- I mean he/you (Mark) watched it all in such a quick succession that any of the doctors could become YOUR doctor! I know you/he said Tennant would probably become yourfavourite, but that was before you saw Matt Smith, who is pretty damn fantastic! (And my doctor is ten- so he must be fab!)
      I wonder if Donna was displaced by Amy or Rory? Whether Blink or midnight or family of blood/human nature was defeated by the big bang or amy's choice or vincent and the doctor! I MUST know, Mark! 😛

  16. fantasylover120 says:

    I haven't seen much of Classic Who so I have no idea how he goes from a douchebag to … less of a douchebag? Cause honestly he does sometimes still act like a jerk (I say this with love Who fans, don't flame me please). My only guess is the Time War (which I stil know next to nothing about) had something to do with it.
    But God I am so excited for Season 6. I am working that night, so I'll have to watch the re-airing of it later in the night but I still get to see it! .

    • FlameRaven says:

      But the Time War is an invention of the new series– it apparently only happened sometime between Eight and Nine. So I'm not sure it would have affected One's temperament.

      Maybe several centuries of hanging around humans is what lets him loosen up by the time we get to the new Doctors. *shrug*

  17. maccyAkaMatthew says:

    The Doctor was conceived as an anti-hero, the inspiration being Professor Challenger from "The Lost World". I think his douchebag side is still running through the character to this day, in acknowledgement of where they started. I won't say anything about how things develop but this, as far as we can guess, is the first time he's travelled with humans and had to deal with them as companions. We know that later Earth and humans become very important to him.

    I was thinking about when he says to Susan, "Remember the Red Indian when he saw the first steam engine his savage mind thought it an illusion too." Now I'm pretty sure that's as much an expression of the post-imperial British mindset of the early 60s as anything but it's also a pretty good indication of what would become Time Lord attitudes. The Doctor is from the Planet of the Douches, so it's not surprising that he carries that with him. In 2005 we have Ten going on about "stupid apes", which isn't that different.

    As for the story: in this season, more than any other, they're still working out what they can do with the format. This particular writer was never asked back (in fact there was something of a falling out) and I think maybe there was some acknowledgement that this was a rather dull way to start things off.

    As for this being the first episode, in some ways there is no essential beginning to the series since for most of its life (at least until the mid eighties) the idea that anyone would see it after it was broadcast was an alien one. So in some ways the Doctor Who story is an endless ride that you can jump onto at any point – some elements make more sense in order but not the extent that your viewing is spoiled if you watch in a different way. Battlestar Galactica, by the way, is a mere whippersnapper, being from September 1978 (when Doctor Who's 16th season was underway). Also, the new version of Galactica is a reboot rather than a continuation, so watching the original doesn't augment your viewing in the same way, as the basic idea is treated very differently in the two series.

    Anyway, a couple of links, first the BBC documents from the creation of the series:

    To get a sense of where they were starting from.

    And, when I think about how the Doctor seems to get younger with each regeneration I think of this:

    Byrds version as I think it's a rare case of a cover version improving on the Dylan original, but if you prefer Bob:

    It's also not on YouTube (at least not in the UK) but I did choose the Byrds version without knowing that.

    • monkeybutter says:

      "Planet of the Douches" is a thing of beauty. Thinking about, yeah, the Doctor is still a bit of a jerk. He isn't inciting murder, but he isn't polite or kind in a human way either. It ranges from ignoring Martha and making fun of pregnant Amy to killing off the Racnoss (with an assist from Harold Saxon), though the Doctor's usually just aloof. Being a douche seems like a part of being a Time Lord, even if he isn't as bad as the rest of them.

    • drippingmercury says:

      Now I'm pretty sure that's as much an expression of the post-imperial British mindset of the early 60s as anything but it's also a pretty good indication of what would become Time Lord attitudes.

      That was basically how I explained the Time Lords to my partner when I finally got him to watch Who (until series 5 he would only watch Classic Who) – that they have this paternalistic, post-imperial British attitude toward the rest of the universe. I think it actually made him enjoy the show more, at least from an analytical/historical standpoint… but then again, we're both the sort that enjoy miserable real-life parallels.

  18. Radagast says:

    Episode one here is so great on its own. I re-watch it every year (on Nov. 23, of course) as a ritual. Love it every time.

  19. gembird says:

    One is such an arsehole. I love it. Then again, I love it whenever the Doctor decides to be a huge jerk to everybody. I don't like HIM as much when he does it, and I hate it when people act that way in real life, but it sure is fun to watch on television.

    Mark, I know you've seen episodes with some of the Classic Who Doctors, and one multiple-Doctor episode. Do you think you'll watch one storyline from each Doctor? I think it would be cool to do that, if you get time, so you get to know him with all his different faces. Also I can't remember if that was the original intention, so yeah, sorry if I'm suggesting something you already plan to do!


  20. Albion19 says:

    Woo hoo! I watch the first part of this and usually stop, tbh. It's fantastic and while One is a shock, after seeing the "older" incarnations, being a git is part of the Doctor.

    Susan is really intriguing. What happened to her parents/the Doctor's kids? Hmm…

  21. Stephen_M says:

    For a nice in-series view on the crankiness of one watch the children in need special with ten and five, Time Crash. I will say no more about that other than it's a Moffat penned special and, therefore, brilliant 😉

    Oh and if you REALLY want to confuse yourself dig around on the webs for details on The Cartmel Master Plan and how it was meant to finish before the show got out on hiatus AND what the expanded universe did with regards Susan's back story when it picked up the dangling plot threads in the 90's.

    Now if you'll excuse me I must get back to counting the seconds to Series 6!

  22. enigmaticagentscully says:

    I also love your comment about being a in a weird fandom vacuum. 😛 I've been pretty lucky so far in that all the stuff you've done on both Watches and Reads have been fandoms I already know and love (or, in the case of Twilight, just know).

    Because I am apparently the ~biggest nerd eva~

    Except for A:TLA, which I'm watching for the first time! You are introducing me to new things! Yay! 😀

  23. Tauriel_ says:

    Ian is cool. And I LOVE Barbara's hair. 🙂

  24. Maya says:

    Mark, please don't watch the original series of Battlestar Galactica. Not that it isn't good, but unlike Doctor Who, the new Battlestar Galatica series is a complete reimagining. So, there's no real continuity between the series. Half the characters are different. Also, the new one is WAY AWESOMER SO PSYCHED FOR YOU TO WATCH.

  25. sabra_n says:

    The homoerotic subtext to Kal and Za, culminating in them rolling around in the sand for a few minutes, their shanks shining in the light of a BBC studio set.

    AHAHAHA YES. This is pretty much the only thing I remember of this serial aside from the iconic first few minutes of it. The whole caveman story was…less than successful, for me. But it's still pretty awesome to see so many of the beloved elements of the show sliding into place for the very first time.

  26. RJM says:

    Hahahahah. Yeah, the caveman episodes are pants. Good thing the very next serial had SPOILER or the show might not have lasted long.

    Originally Ian was supposed to be the hero! This is part of why One is a dick in this. But then Billy Hartnell blew everyone away over the course of the first season and the show became the Doctor's.

    Once you start watching more Classic Whos again–on Mondays starting during the S6 hiatus, right? I hope I understand your plan correctly–you should totally watch The Aztecs. Same TARDIS Team as The Unearthly Child, but a whole different ball game in terms of character interactions. You can really see the affect the season has had on them.

    And the episode quality is SO MUCH BETTER than the three with the cavemens that it's just ridic. HOMG AZTECS I LOVE YOU.

    • RJM says:

      Effect, not affect, dammit. Stupid goddamn homophones.

    • BBQ Platypus says:

      THIS. So much. I was about to suggest the same thing. After the first half of the season is over, watch the Aztecs. It is an amazing story – one of my all-time favorites.

    • Hotaru_hime says:

      I love The Aztecs. That serial and the Crusades have such epic brown facing, it's ridiculous.

  27. jennywildcat says:


    Ahem – on to my comment:

    "Sometimes I feel that Susan, Ian, and Barbara (especially those last two) were the ones trying to save everyone while the Doctor just puttered about"

    YANA. I went back a while ago with the grand design to watch all of Classic Who from the very beginning (ha ha – YEAH RIGHT!), and something I discovered about the Hartnell era is that I did not care at all what the Doctor was doing – I was more interested in what Susan, Ian and Barbara were doing. Especially Ian and Barbara – they are both FANTASTIC! "The Romans" and "The Aztecs" are both wonderful serials and I cannot recommend them enough.

  28. Hotaru_hime says:

    Barbara/Ian OTP- it might not have officially been canon, but come on.

  29. @magfrypie says:

    And let's not forget that Patrick Troughton (Two to those non-Classic-Who-savvy) is the grandfather of the guy who plays Dudley Dursley! 🙂

  30. LittleCaity says:

    Augh augh augh I'm not going to be able to read for MONTHS now because I have to wait for Doctor Who! Nuuuuuuuu!

    Stupid Australian Broadcasting Corporation, you always fasttrack the specials but never the SERIES…

    • maccyAkaMatthew says:

      You'll have to wait just under a week. ABC will show the premier on Saturday 30th April at 7.30pm. They aren't allowed to show it in advance of the UK, so that rules out Saturday 23rd, because of the time difference. So, they're showing it as early as possible without moving it away from Saturday nights.

      It'll also be on iView, although there's no news yet as to whether it'll be available there in advance, like it was last year – it'll possibly be online on Friday 29th.

  31. pica_scribit says:

    The first episode of this serial is such a great introduction to the concept of the show. The Doctor. The TARDIS. Susan. Companions. It really couldn't be much better. The rest of the serial…. It goes on a bit, doesn't it? I feel like it could have been done in a lot less space. Dragging the "caveman" plot out for three episodes is just…painful. Maybe moreso for me as an archaeologist/anthropologist. I mean, c'mon! Portraying primitive man as a bunch of animalistic thugs? We got to where we are today because of our big, squishy brains, and we had those even then! The whole thing just feels like lazy writing. And it bothers me how helpless Susan often acts and how much time she spends screaming. Shouldn't she be used to adventures like this, given her background?

  32. Zac says:

    I love Hartnell as a crochety old man. That being said the doctor is a major dick bag in this episode, and the plot was awful. I watched the special features for it on the DVD, and even the surviving actors and cast thought the story was shit. the only way i was able to do it was shooting the cavemen on the tv with my nerf gun

    If you want a truly great episode of the first doctor watch "The Edge of Destruction" It's the third serial they made. it was filler between The Daleks, and Marco Polo because the sets for the second weren't ready yet.

    I also feel this needs to be said, according to the special features on this one, Doctor who was originally intended to last like half a season, it was filler between two popular game shows. 7 weeks became almost fifty years

    • maccyAkaMatthew says:

      Doctor Who was originally intended to air all year round, for as long as it lasted, but they only agreed to production in smaller chunks. Initially the go ahead was give just to the first four-part serial. However, before it was transmitted, they were given permission to make another nine episodes. That's why David Whitaker ends upwriting a two-part filler story, to round of the original commission*. Of course the success of the Daleks meant that its immediate future wasn't in doubt.

      The show didn't run all year round, but in the 60s it ran pretty close:

      s1: 23 Nov 1963 – 12 Sep 1964
      s2: 31 Oct 1964 – 24 Jul 1965
      s3: 11 Sep 1965 – 16 Jul 1966
      s4: 10 Seo 1966 – 1 Jul 1967
      s5: 2 Sep 1967 – 1 Jun 1968
      s6: 10 Aug 1968 – 21 Jun 1969

      It was only with the move to colour that the seasons were cut to around 26 episodes of 25 minutes each. In terms of screentime, that's still what we get (13 x 45 minutes) but it's over twice as quickly.

      *referenced here:

  33. who_cares86 says:

    I was going to point that out today but I kind of got distracted and forgot Mark was going to do this today.

  34. who_cares86 says:

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    Anyway the first episode holds up remarkably well after all these years. They even predicted the move away from shillings correctly. Of course it all works because the original cast is both as simple as it is brilliant. Doctor Who was meant to be a family show and that's reflected in the cast. Ian and Barbara are essentially Susan's parents with the Doctor being the grumpy and slightly naughty grandfather. Of course the Doctor would mellow out significantly over these first few years. A good example is the Romans in which Hartnell shows his talent for comedy.

    The inclusion of the teachers is also a very clear sign of the intent of the show to educate. It would alternate between teaching about history and science and there would be no bug-eyed monsters, anything but that was the idea but then came the second story which would focus on science. Dalekmania was about to hit Britain and while the show continued it's focus on education and history for a while. It wouldn't be long before the creators realised that bug-eyed monsters was exactly what people wanted to see.

    • RJM says:

      Someone needs to write a fic where Ian is Dean Thomas's dad. Just cos.

      • who_cares86 says:

        Hey we never did find out who his dad was. Well according to Jo Dean's dad left the family without ever revealing he was a wizard to his muggle wife and was killed by Death Eaters who were trying to recruit him. Of course none of that is actually in the books so it's easy to pretend that never happened.

    • anobium says:

      There's a lovely story about Verity Lambert, the first producer, being hauled up on the carpet when she gave the Daleks the green light, despite having been instructed that there were to be no bug-eyed monsters, and defending herself by pointing out that, technically, the Daleks weren't bug-eyed monsters.

      • maccyAkaMatthew says:

        And Sydney Newman admitted he was wrong after it aired – it only went ahead because they didn't have another script ready. Also, the Daleks aren't bug-eyed monsters, Newman's objection was an entirely sensible one and the Daleks are much more sophisticated than just being scary alien monsters.


        And as I'm saying that, it turns out that someone from Cambridge University (not Professor Chronotis) has reached a similar conclusion:

        Further investigation shows that they're plugging an essay in a book from last December:….

        Must be a new series soon, eh?

    • maccyAkaMatthew says:

      The decimalisation prediction isn't especially remarkable, there was a programme on Radio 4 earlier this year when they talked about how the formal switchover in 1971 was the culmination of many years of debate and planning:

      A quick scoot over to Wikipedia reveals that the first decimal currency proposal was in 1824 and that the report that formed the basis of the system that was adopted was published in 1963 – so it would have been a contemporary reference.

      I know it's Wikipedia and that article isn't very well sourced, but that squares with my recollections of the radio programme.

      For anyone curious about the pre-decimal system:

  35. elvwood says:

    I don't know if you know much about how the show was made back then? It wasn't that long since they started recording for TV over here (before that it was all just broadcast live), and they were still figuring out what to do. Each episode was recorded on a Friday evening, and because tape was expensive they weren't allowed to make many cuts – so you had almost no editing allowed! If they went above their quota (I forget what it was – something like half a dozen for an episode), the director and producer had to justify it to the higher-ups. This means it was treated much more like a stage play – no retakes for fluffed lines, for example. Also, most scene changes were done by turning the camera off, moving to another part of the set, and starting again. It was also, at this stage, entirely studio-bound – no exotic quarries or gravel pits to film in yet! So don't expect too much in the way of special effects in the early days. The time-travel sequence was actually pushing the boat out fairly far. As with most restrictions, this leads to endless creativity from those who worked on the show, though, so there are some good surprises too.

    Another thing to remember is that in the early 60s this truly was a continuing serial. The audience never knew how long a story was going to continue, because you only had individual episode titles. (Have you just watched one story, or two? I'd say two, because so much is different about the first episode.) This means they weren't plotted like a film, with a gradual build up of tension, climax, resolution, etc. There is a little of that there, but the main aim was to produce something entertaining every week, 45 weeks a year. How we watch this now – with carefully delineated story boundaries – is NOT what it was written for. This is worth remembering.

    Finally, a piece of trivia: An Unearthly Child (the first episode) was the first non-news program broadcast on the BBC following Kennedy's assassination the day before…

  36. @Nycteridae says:

    Eeeee I do love this serial for pretty much the reasons you said. ALSO I AM IN LOVE WITH SUSAN JSYK. AND DID YOU SEE THE PART WHERE BARBARA TOOK ON A SABER-TOOTHED TIGER (off screen for budgetary reasons)?

    I actually started watching this whole show in order, and I'm in the 8th season (Third Doctor) now, so I've already gotten through all 108 recons. It's completely doable. I have a friend who watched the entire series in a year, recons and all. But I recognize that not everyone has the patience for reconstructions. An alternate way of experiencing the lost episodes that I suggested for a friend of mine who just can't slog through the recons is that the BBC made audiobooks of the lost episodes, they're basically the complete audio track of the episodes with an actor from the show providing narration for the parts you'd normally see. That way she can put them on her iPod and like, get through the lost episodes while working out. I think they sell these on iTunes.

    If you want to try reconstructions, don't want to download anything and can't deal with Loose Cannon's medieval VHS distribution system, there's a user on dailymotion named recon_mission who does his own reconstructions, usually using the narrated soundtracks plus telesnaps (which are actual pictures made by pointing a camera at a TV–screencaps, 1960's style) from the BBC website, and they're quite good.

    In any case, if you want to keep watching, the next two serials are also surviving. 🙂

    • maccyAkaMatthew says:

      I've emailed Mark details of every recon I can find (including the recon_mission ones) along with links to summaries, audiobooks and electronic copies of the novels that I could find. I've done this for all the episodes and included links to stuff that's not lost but also isn't on DVD yet. Some of the recons use the BBC audio, with the narration, so that makes things easier.

      To break things up a bit I've also suggested going season 1; season 7; season 16; season 1; season 7; season 16 etc. That way you get different doctors but also start at pretty good jumping on points (An Unearthly Child, Spearhead from Space, The Ribos Operation). Hopefully, that should make the recons and/or audios a bit easier to deal with when they start coming thick and fast in season 3. I've also given a cut down schedule of around 100 stories that covers 1963-89 pretty well, in continuity terms at least. After that there are about 60 stories to go back to.

      I've also sent a list that avoids the recons (it suggests reading a summary of the missing stories to get the continuity points) if Mark can't face them. I don't know what Mark's decided to yet, but he has plenty of resources to plan a schedule with.

  37. Dragonsong12 says:

    It's kind of fun to think about with one as well, that technically, he's the YOUNGEST we see the Doctor.
    It's baby Doctor…as a crotchety old man! haha!

    • who_cares86 says:

      Hilariously lampshaded by 10 in Time Crash.

      "Back when I first just started I was always trying to be old or grumpy or important like you do when you're young…. and then I was you"

  38. Kaze says:

    Actually, the show began with the intent of "let's teach kids about history with ~~TIME TRAVELLING~~" and such, it isn't for a few more serials that they jump headlong into sci-fi. 🙂

    • anobium says:

      You forgot "and science": the plan was for about half the episodes to be set in the past, and teach kids about history, and half to be set in the future, and teach kids about science.

      The whole "teaching kids about the best way to defeat alien monsters" thing came much later. And by "much later", I mean the very next serial, the second ever.

  39. jackiep says:

    Horrible news just broken. Lis Sladen who played Sarah Jane Smith has died.

  40. Meadow says:

    R.I.P. Elizabeth Sladen. You were wonderful!

  41. Meadow says:

    Is this free online or on DVD somewhere? I want to see it but I don't know where.

  42. Mandi says:

    MARK!!!! I don't know if you saw it yet, but iTunes has FINALLY posted the Season 6 pass for Doctor Who! Three days before the air date… but whatever, they finally posted it! You don't have to worry about finding a place to watch it because you can buy the episodes on iTunes! And I was worried they were going to fail us….

  43. Ashley says:

    Loved this story, though it has been two years since I've seen it. I need to re-watch it…

    Ya know what I especially love? The whole old-school sci-fi feel to the TARDIS—black and white, the sounds of the set, the TARDIS layout. The whole of it feels more "alien" than any sets or special effects or strange creatures they can make today.

  44. ldwy says:

    I haven't been watching the classic serials with you, and so haven't been reading your reviews for those. I just felt that I had enough on my plate following along with your "modern" stuff.
    But today I had a little time. What to do? So I watched the first serial of Doctor Who ever. (I needed something Doctor Who to tide me over until the end of the week and SERIES 6. Okay, back to what I was saying.
    I enjoyed watching it. There were a lot of problems, as you pointed out, but it was just so fun watching the origins of something I have totally grown to adore. At this point, I have seen this serial, the movie, and New Who. So I've got this sense of an amazing and bizarre mystery–how did this man, Doctor number one, turn into the Doctor I know and love? It's fascinating to compare. It feels like watching something backwards. Or reading the last book in a series and then the first (um, not that I've ever done this, but I assume it makes for WEIRD SHIT). Basically it was really fun, and since I've never commented on one of your serials reviews, I figured I'd leave a quick message.

  45. WinterRose says:

    I would suggest very strongly that you do watch SOME of the original Battlestar Galactica. And to do so before you watch the new one. While knowing the previous one isn't necessary to enjoying the new one, the reboot is RIFE with in-references to the original to the degree that there are GeekGasms aplenty as you progress through a show that's got a plan, but clearly adjusting on the fly to ratings and a cancel-happy network telling Ronald Moore, "A 7 season plan, eh? Now that we're in the middle of the 3rd, can you tie it up in 4?"

    Now when I say watch SOME of the original show, I do mean that you watch SOME. Not all. And I know that may be anethema to your very organized viewing patterns. But trust me. The 1978 version had some howlingly bad episodes. It was a show promised all manner of freedoms creatively, which ran into network interferance on one hand, and Standards and Practices on the other. What they DID manage to get on screen was astonishing. And (I think) to date is still (adjusted for inflation) the most expensive TV show ever produced.

    Some one shot bottle eps are sickeningly cute. Others are entirely derivative versions of popular movies. But between the clangers, which I'd say comprise fully 1/3rd of the show, are moments of iconic sci-fi that resounded hard enough into our present century to produce two ongoing shows and who knows what else to come. And if anything, this is a snapshot of what science fiction was in the late 70's as it went into the early 80's. And perhaps an inkling of what would follow after it left its mark on the genre.

    My suggested viewing list is as follows…

    Saga of a Star World (parts 1 – 3, The Pilot which actually got some time in the theaters for a bit.)
    Lost Planet of the Gods (Parts 1 & 2. Which are really parts 4 and 5 of the pilot, really.)
    The Long Patrol (NECESSARY if only for a smidgen of the ongoing plot.)
    The Gun on Ice Planet Zero (Parts 1 & 2, shown frequently together as a movie on UHF stations.)
    The Living Legend (Parts 1 & 2 – A tactical thriller!)
    War of the Gods (Part 1 & 2 – Very Very Essential. More of the metaphysical side of this show.)
    Greetings from Earth (parts 1 & 2 – Just ignore one part. You will know which one. RAGE!!)
    Baltar's Escape (A must, if only for more of John Colicos' portrayal of Baltar.)
    Experiment in Terra (More of the big white pointy thing and its superbeings!)
    The Hand of God (Enough of this crap. I'm'a open up some whoopass on ya!)

    The Lost Warrior (Perhaps a necessary clanger. Galactica's 1st detour into a Western Homage.)
    Fire In Space (Meh… Take it or leave it. If you liked the Towering Inferno, you'll love this.)
    The Man with Nine Lives (Watch or not. If you like Starbuck, you'll like this.)
    Murder on the Rising Star (If you like murder mysteries, and I know you do, you'll like this.)
    Take the Celestra (A bottle ep you can take or leave.)

    The Magnificent Warriors (If you loved The Magnificent 7 or The 7 Samurai, you'll HATE this.)
    The Young Lords (Oh gods… One little cute kid was not enough. Here's a whole BUNCH of em!)

  46. Reddi says:

    Oh, and the cavemen were embarrassing, but it was a kid show in 1963. It gets better. The very next serial.. and it gets better.

  47. Noybusiness says:

    "Well…wait. Wasn’t there an original Battlestar Galactica series? I’m probably going to skip that. SO MUCH FOR THIS STATEMENT.)"

    Not really the same thing. The new Battlestar Galactica doesn't share a universe with the old, it has some characters with the same names and starts with a similar plot, but that's it. Some things that are relics in-universe have an Old BSG look as a shout out, but Old BSG didn't "happen" as far as the New BSG is concerned and the shows have a very (if not completely) different mythology. New Doctor Who is a continuation of Old Doctor Who.

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