An Unearthly ChildBookmark and Share

Saturday, 4 December 2004 - Reviewed by Lance Hall

Most first episodes tend to be a let down. Who can forget the dismal freshman outing of Star Trek: The Next Generation. However, for Doctor Who the first 25 minutes are among the best of the series. Sadly, the remaining 75 minutes of the initial "story" are somewhat less gripping. The "Tribe of Gum" aside, "An Unearthly Child" soars. The mystery surrounding the TARDIS, and the origins of the Doctor himself, are more tangible in this episode than any in the 26 seasons that followed. Rather than introduce us to the eccentric title character directly, we meet him through the eyes of the two befuddled teachers. The indeed unearthly Susan is the perfect bait leading us into the story and finally to the hook. The hook of course is the Doctor. Unfortunately, William Hartnell's Doc is not the most likeable, and in many ways the least likeable of the first TARDIS crew. As we move into the last three episodes of the story, and meet the Tribe, the Doctor very nearly becomes villainous. The disagreeability of the Doctor is almost made up for when he argues his case with the bloody and not-so-bloody knife. Where I come from that's called fancy lawyerin'! Good practice for his Matlock-esque performance in "The Keys of Marinus."

There are a few problems with this classic. The Tribe of Gum is aptly named as the plot seems to get slower and stickier the further along we go. Okay, I am well aware of the TARDIS translator/Time Lord gift whachamacallit, and with a few exceptions it provides a charming solution to the age old enigma concerning why every alien race in the Universe speaks the Queen's English. This is one of those exceptions. Cavemen who can express themselves as eloquently as this group need less a quest for fire, and more a quest for literary agents. Isn't Horg writing for the New Yorker now? 

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking I'm making too big a deal about the caveman vocabulary. Here's a challenge. Go read the Target novelisation and tell me if the level of conversation is Neanderthal or more like something you'd over hear at the Grocer's in 1963 England? Also, I'm surprised that a Tribe that lives exclusively on the darkest soundstage in London would choose the Sun as their deity. Have they ever seen the sun? I guess you don't have to see something to worship it, after all I've never actually seen Louise Jameson.