Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Whovian Diary Reviews - An Unearthly Child

Hello and welcome to this brand new series. I was a little stuck on where to start this series, but then I decided it would be a great idea to start with the start. So here we go: my thoughts on An Unearthly Child.

About this Story

TitleAn Unearthly Child
No. of Episodes4
Season No.
Serial No.
Season 1
Serial 1
Broadcast Dates23rd Nov -
12th Dec 1963
WriterAnthony Coburn
DirectorWaris Hussein
ProducerVerity Lambert
DoctorFirst Doctor
CompanionBarbara Wright
Ian Chesterton
Viewers get their first glimpse
of the TARDIS interior


Written by Anthony Coburn, this serial was originally meant to be the second serial of the season, but it was brought forward after plans for the first serial fell through. Production staff reworked the script so that it was able to be used as an opener, though there were several attempts to drop the story completely and write a new script. However, time constraints meant that production carried on regardless. This serial would be Coburn's only contribution to the show, though he did write other drafts, all of which were rejected. Waris Hussein later went on to direct the missing Marco Polo.

The Review


Ian and Barbara are essential in setting up the
mystery surrounding the Doctor and Susan
An Unearthly Child gets off to a brilliantly mysterious start, with Ian and Barbara speculating over their strange student, Susan. The foggy night setting adds to the mystery and tension. The pace is brilliant leading up to the reveal of The Doctor and Susan's identity, with the cliffhanger at the end of Episode One being excellently executed.

However, once in the Stone Age setting, the plot begins to fall away, with the pace slowing as new plot threads are introduced. As the group of travelers are sealed in the cave to die, the story loses direction, at least until they escape again, giving the story a stop-start feel. One scene that was done particularly well was the fight scene between Za and Kal.

Structurally, the story peaks at the end of the first episode, with the remaining episodes acting as build up to a less important peak, the fight scene between Za and Kal. The early peak means the rest of the story seems a bit flat, thought it doesn't completely lack direction and still reaches a secondary peak.

Plot Score: 5/10


The tribe of cavemen offer little
in terms of a scare factor.
This story is rather lacking in a particular enemy for the Doctor to fight. The tribe of cavemen just cast the travelers into a cave and leave them there to die, and don't actually actively take a part in killing them. However, when the travelers are running through the forest to escape the tribe, the chase indicates an element of danger, as well as the attack from the wild beast.

The direction of the story makes the viewer take on the viewpoint of Ian and Barbara for much of this story, as they're the outsiders to the Doctor and Susan's travelling. Therefore, in scenes in which the Doctor wants to leave them behind in the Stone Age also come a cross as a threat to the main characters, which is quite unusual, and a little disturbing, to see the Doctor acting in such a way.

Overall, the story suffers due to the absence of a major threat, though there are some minor, yet not as effective, moments in which you feel the main characters are in danger.

Threat Score: 3/10


The Doctor and Ian get off to a shaky,
albeit well acted, start.
The main cast were exceptional in this story, particularly in the opening episode. Hartnell's characterisation of the Doctor as a grumpy old man is spot on here, but I am glad that the character evolved out of this quite swiftly as he clashed with Russell's Ian a bit too much. Russell and Hill play the schoolteachers well, carrying their teaching instincts throughout the story when they go back to help their captors when Za is attacked. Ford's Susan is brilliantly acted as a clever young woman in the opener, but she slips out of this for the next few episodes, before thinking up their escape plan in the fourth episode, albeit accidentally.

The guest cast are grating, though that's more their characters' caveman language than anything. Acting as a caveman isn't exactly a great way to show off an actor's ability, though they tried their best, with Derek Newark's Za probably being one of the strongest performances.

On the whole, the acting in An Unearthly Child was great, though let down somewhat by the restrictions of the cavemen.

Acting Score: 7/10

Audience Engagement

The Doctor's attitudes towards Ian and Barbara
alerts the viewers perception of him.
As mentioned earlier, this story seems to be more focused on the viewpoint of Ian and Barbara so the viewers' feelings towards the events are swayed by their experiences. For example, the mystery in the opening episode is set up by the two teachers being curious about Susan. The viewer is also made to take Ian's side in his spats with the Doctor, perhaps viewing the latter in a lower light, while regarding the former as the hero of the programme.

The story also makes the viewer get involved in the politics of the tribe of cavemen. When Za is wrongly accused of killing the Elder, the viewer is left waiting for justice, which comes when the Doctor unmasks Kal as the killer. Other than this, the cavemen characters aren't easy for the viewer to identify with.

Considering we have only just met the main characters, there is a considerable amount of opportunity to relate to them and identify with them, with much of this coming in the first episode.

Audience Engagement Score: 8/10


Firstly, despite some rather negative comments above, I'd like to highlight this as a MUST WATCH just because it is the first story. However, if you do watch it, go into it thinking of two stories, a one-parter and a three-parter, because the opening episode is in another league compared to the rest. However, in reality this is one large story, and the score is given on that basis.

On the whole, a fairly average story with some outstanding moments surrounded by endless padding and irritating caveman-speak.

Overall Score: 6/10

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