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1 January 2013

Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...

Dear diary,

Hello! Happy New Year. 2013 - surely this is the year to be a Doctor Who fan? Anyway, resolutions made (same as ever, I promise to visit the gym more. I'll go later. Or maybe tomorrow.), and it's time to settle down to watch the first episode of my marathon.

Now, let's be under no illusions, right here from the start. I'm not coming to 'classic Doctor Who cold. Not even slightly. Since I saw my first episode way back in 2003 (weyhey! it's been a whole decade. I've only just noticed that!), I've seen a large chunk of televised Who. There's a few select stories that I know nothing about, but for the most part, I know what's coming.

This is especially true of An Unearthly Child. It's hard to imagine, with this year seeing the final few releases for the DVD range, but there was a time I didn't have (almost) the entire series sat on my shelf in shiny disc form. I didn't get to see this first episode until 2006, when the 'Beginning' box set was released. Since then, I've seen it plenty of times.

I like that I had to wait to watch it way back when! I can still remember picking it up from Woolworth's on my way to college, and some of my friends looking at it in a lecture. We'd had the Ninth Doctor by this point, but Doctor Who still wasn't 'cool' among most of my friends at the time. It took David Tennant to bring many of them into the fold.

But they were genuinely interested! Because here was a Doctor Who DVD of a story made some forty-three years earlier! Yes! It had that much history! Brilliant! Fantastic! And their excitement only made me more excited! It was bad enough that I had lectures and classes all day, I wanted to get home and watch the first episode!

Of course, the mistake I made upon actually getting home was to select 'play all' from the menu, so I watched the pilot episode first, assuming it was the first episode, then got very confused when the second instalment was the same thing with some subtle changes to it.

Since then, though, I've seen it plenty of times. It must be up there with The Five Doctors in terms of how often I've sat down to watch this episode. There's a common conception among Doctor Who fans that these 25 minutes are bloody brilliant, and some of the best the show has ever produced.

And you know what? Much as I'd love to be all contrary, they're right!

It's quite hard to watch this story in isolation. 50 years of history have attached a significance to this opening episode that it just wouldn't have had on its first television outing. I've read plenty of blogs that describe the opening shot, which tracks from a policeman in the fog, through the gates and unto the mysteriously humming Police Box as being 'iconic', but it simply wasn't. Not then, anyway.

We've given in this meaning in the years that have followed, because we know that 25 minutes later it'll be stood on a rocky plain, and then in a few weeks it'll be on Skaro, then captured by Marco Polo, before being sent off to Marinus, etc, etc. It's bloody difficult to take this episode for what it is; just another piece of TV.

This time round, though, I'm in the right frame of mind. Just before Christmas, Network DVD had a massive sale of their archive titles. I've spent the last few weeks sat in front of episodes of Danger Man, The Saint, 1960s episodes of Coronation Street and The Army Game. Just a few weeks ago, I was watching William Russell ride a horse around Camelot as Sir Lancelot!

My screen has been more black and white than it has been colour in the last month or so, and you know what? This episode fits right in. It doesn't feel ground-breaking. It's not iconic. It's just another piece of drama. It's very good drama, don't get me wrong, but in the context of the day, it's just another half-hour programme.

But you know what? It's better for that! I've never enjoyed this episode more than i have tonight. I've never seen it so detached from the weight of what's to come. There's plenty of good dialogue, and the four main cast turn in performances which I'm sure I'll be praising over the next few months, but it's a surprisingly low-key start to this most famous of series.

It's so very tempting to move right on. I know many people who watch this one episode and then skip the next three, but this first cliffhanger is a great one. This first episode might be little more than normal, but the last few seconds promise something bold and different to come…

Next Episode - The Cave of Skulls

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