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2 January 2013

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

Day Two - The Cave of Skulls (Episode Two)

Dear diary,

The common conception of An Unearthly Child as a story is that it's a brilliant first episode, followed by three instalments of dross. I've always riled against this - I love to be a bit different, after all. That said, the scenes with Kal and Za fighting over leadership of their tribe are bloody dull.

The first few minutes of the episode, following an extended reprise of the fabulous cliffhanger from yesterday are just boring. There's no other word for it. Watching Za (The son of the great Fire-maker, don't-cha-know) rub his hands above a pile of sticks, while promising that today is the day the Great Orb will show him the secret of fire is… well…

I should explain. I've set myself a few rules for this marathon, aside from the whole 'no more than one episode a day' thing. One of these rules is that I'm not allowed to play with my phone at all while I watch. If I'm busy playing Angry Birds, then I'm not realign getting the full benefit of watching through, am I? Anyway, the point is that it's not a good sign if three-and-a-half minutes into an episode, I'm glancing toward my phone and wondering if it's too early to break that rule.

Things do pick up once we join our four time travellers in the TARDIS, though. Yesterday, I commented that there would be plenty of time to praise these four, and this seems like an ideal opportunity. The Doctor and Ian confronting each other around the TARDIS console is a marvellous scene; Ian simply refusing to hear what the Doctor is telling him (he almost goes full-on Victor Meldrew when Barbara tells him she's willing to accept it!), and the Doctor treating him as a child in return.

Hartnell and Russell really have a great time with this material, though you do rather side with Ian on the debate. Yes, fair enough, they've just entered a police box in a junk yard and found it to be bigger on the inside, but that's no reason to simply believe that they've actually moved just because the TV on the ceiling shows an image of a desert. For all Ian and Barbara know, the Doctor could be watching an episode of Zoo Quest.

The enjoyment continues outside the ship, when the travellers set off to explore. I love that the Doctor carries a bag with him, and that Susan insists he'd never go anywhere without his note book. The Doctor really comes across as a scientist, here, taking his geiger counter outside and seeming positively thrilled by the chance to study the rocks and find out where they are.

He spent a while in the last episode telling us how much he disliked being settled in 1963 (though he tolerates it), and so he's clearly enjoying the freedom here and now. His concern that the TARDIS hasn't changed shape to blend in with the surroundings is one of the lines from this story that's often quoted, but I've never noticed how much it's set up as a mystery.

I've always taken it for granted that the TARDIS looks like a London police box because it was stuck that way after a time in the junk-yard, but you forget that it's explained away like that so early. Susan later draws attention to it, commenting on how unusual it is to have not changed. It almost feels like they're setting this up as an on-going mystery, though I'm not sure if that's the case. I've never noticed it before, so I'll be interested to see if it's brought up again, or forgotten after this point. 

Now, Susan. I'm going to have to address this topic at some stage, so we might as well do it here, because it's already started. Susan really gets on my nerves. She's fairly hysterical in this one, when she finds the Doctor has gone missing, and there's a lot of shrieking, and jumping on cave people's backs.

Be warned. There's likely to be more than one moan about Susan over the next couple of months…

Next Episode - The Forest of Fear

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