Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day Four - The Firemaker (Episode Four)
I'm only four days in, and watching Doctor Who in this way is already having an effect on me. I'm used to watching the 'classic' series in one sitting, or at least a few sittings across a single day/weekend. My pattern for the last nine years has been to buy the DVD, rush it home and watch it, for the most part.
But on the way back from work earlier on, pondering what to cook for dinner before sitting down to watch The Firemaker, I realised; I was ready to move on from the whole cave man set up and see something different. Not that I've not been enjoying it - I have - but I've just had enough of this setting.
It feels as though I've been watching this particular story for absolutely ages, rather than just a few days. It's a strange sensation, and I'm not sure I entirely dislike it. It's far closer to the experience of watching the programme week-by-week on first transmission. I'll defer to older fans for this, as I wasn't born until the show's dying years in the 1980s; did stories seem to stretch on for ever? This would have taken a month to watch in 1963, and the next story would have taken almost two!
I've therefore spent much of the afternoon wondering why I'm feeling this way. As I've said above, I'm still enjoying this story, despite the slight blip in Episode Two, but at the same time, every time Za and Her come on the screen, I just want to move onto something different.
I'm wondering if it may be the weight that this story holds? This is the very first story, so obviously it has to do an awful lot. It establishes huge swathes of the series (and the next story makes another huge contribution to that), but it's quite unlike anything else the series has ever done.
The more I think about it, the more I realise that the cave-men-looking-for-the-secret-of-fire storyline is mere window dressing. This whole story is about the Doctor and Ian, and the way that they interact together. Ian tells the tribe that he is not the leader of their group, but there's an on-going power struggle with the Doctor right up until the end of the story and their return to the TARDIS.
The story is very much about these characters and the way that they interact with each other. I've commented before that the first episode of the series didn't feel especially distinct from a lot of 190s telly, and this is true to some extent as far as this episode. Yes, we've been through time and space to get here, but it's still not particularly 'out there'.
With the next tale standing at almost twice the length, I'm interested to see if I'll end up with the same feeling of simply wanting to move on with things.
Now comes the interesting bit, where I'm going to have to sum up my thoughts on the story over-all. I've been rating episodes individually as I go, which was the main reason for doing this marathon an episode a day. I'm interested to see how I react to stories where one episode lets them down, or picks them up.
Taking the ratings for An Unearthly Child, The Cave of Skulls, The Forest of Fear and The Firemaker, I'll be giving this story (which I'm titling over-all as An Unearthly Child, no arguments, please);
Do expect some graphs and charts and figures once we reach key stages in the marathon. Love a bit of figure analysis, me. There'll be some thoughts about my ratings system at the bottom of today's post, too.
I think, on the whole, I like An Unearthly Child, but it's just not Doctor Who as we know it. I like a lot of it because of the history and what it begins. I've mentioned a few times that people often say it's one episode, followed by three mediocre ones, but actually, there's a lot to love.
As I seem to keep saying, these episodes are about the characters themselves. Doctor Who characters aren't often given as much thought and development as our quartet are in this story, and it's lovely to see. At the end of these few episodes, I feel I know the Doctor and Ian well enough, though Barbara has had little to do overall.
My main complaint, I guess, comes down to format. I stated yesterday that Episode Three avoided the trap of being 'capture-escape-capture', but looking back, that's very much the whole story. They're captured by the tribe in Episode Two, escape for Episode Three, are re-captured for Episode Four, before making another escape.
It's not the end of the world, though, and I'm glad to say that I'm excited to be moving on to a new time and space, so perfectly teased in the final moments of this story…
* * *
And now, a word on my rating system. Often online, I see ratings of '9' or '10' being thrown about far too easily. I've seen it said in some forums that people wouldn't rate a story below a '6'.
To me, though, this simply defeats the point of rating something out of ten in the first place! Surely '10' is the absolute pinnacle, '1' the nadir, and '5' just pretty average? I've been rating these episodes as I go along purely on gut instinct. An Unearthly Child, for me, contains a couple of episodes that are little more than average, and a couple that rise above that.
So, this is my scale of '1-10' ratings. I'll be using these definitions in my mind as I continue in the marathon…
10 - Perfect. The absolute pinnacle.
9 - They don't get much better than this.
8 - Fantastic!
7 - Well above average.
6 - Above Average.
5 - Average.
4 - Below Average.
3 - Poor.
2 - Dreadful.
1 - Why am I doing this, again?