Here’s the plan – to watch all of Hartnell’s first season, Time-Team style but at the rate of one episode a week, just like they would have done back in 1963. I had planned to do this last year, what with it being Anniversary Year and all but never managed it. However, since this is Year 51, it seems like now is as good a time as any to do it. The Black & White episodes in particular are incredibly slow compared to the pace of television today, so at the very least watching them one a week, and a week apart, should make them easier to endure!
So today I watched An Unearthly Child – it’s still a great piece of television and ticks all the storytelling boxes. The ep has just three locations – the classroom, the junkyard and the Tardis – and plays out over five sequences, during which we get the set up of the problem [the mystery of Susan] the investigation of the problem [Ian & Babs waiting for Susan then following her into the yard] and finally the explanation [Susan is a time traveller from another world!] with the added complication of the Doctor. He’s the last of the four main characters to be introduced and, although he only gets mentioned in passing in the intial scene, you’re always waiting for the old boy to turn up – the delayed entrance is a standard theatrical technique and this is television as theatre with cameras.
They haven’t got his character right yet, something that arguably won’t happen until Vicki and Dennis Spooner turn up the following year [can you imagine Sixie or Twelvy electrocuting Ian? I can’t] but there’s more than enough to make up for that slight mis-step, and when he turns up the pace quickens and the revelations come thick and fast as we race towards the end of the episode and that first ever journey. Of course, we aren’t to know that it will end in some dodgy BBC cavemen next week…
Watching this, I tried to put myself in the position of someone who was watching this back in 1963 for the very first time, with nothing but the stuff in the Radio Times to go on. That’s not exactly easy to do, knowing as we do that Hartnell is a Time Lord etc etc but there’s a fun game to be had in guessing just who Dr Who is from nothing more than what Anthony Coburn & David Whitaker give us here. If I was eight years old or so watching this back in the day, then this would have me hooked and I would have been pestering Mum & Dad to make sure we were back next week for The Cave of Skulls!