Doctor Who: The Beginning   1 comment

The Beginning is a DVD collection of the Doctor’s very first adventures: “An Unearthly Child,” “The Daleks,” and “The Edge of Destruction,” as well as a condensed version of “Marco Polo” with telesnaps. An earlier version of the collection included a series of comedy sketches (“The Pitch of Fear”) about the show’s origins; I was disappointed to find them missing from my version, but I still have them on the DVD of An Adventure in Space and Time (and of course YouTube). The new version – part of the reason I wanted it – includes an interview with the elusive Delia Darbyshire. (ETA “The Pitch of Fear” is still included, just not listed among the special features.)

“An Unearthly Child” was the very first DW story to air, beginning November 23rd, 1963.  The first episode went nearly unseen: the American president had been assassinated the day before, and viewers tuned almost exclusively to news channels. Doctor Who might have died a quick death that very night. Instead, it was given a second chance: episode 1 was re-aired in advance of episode 2 the following Saturday.

Nor was this its first second chance. Finding Hartnell’s portrayal of the Doctor not likable enough, Sidney Newman ordered – and funded – extensive re-shoots for episode 1. The original version is included on the DVD.

I first watched “An Unearthly Child” several years ago – possibly as many as 7 – when I had just begun exploring the classic series. For a modern viewer it presents some challenges, particularly in pacing. I recall this story as an endless back and forth parade of good cavemen and evil cavemen, with captures and escapes and recaptures ad nauseum. Much like the rest of the series, but somehow more so. I recall wondering how anyone got through it that first time.

(The answer probably has to do with expectations of television at the time, not to mention only getting one episode a week instead of all of them in a bunch. Much like the rest of the series.)

Tonight I will discover whether anything has changed since then.

I’ve recorded my thoughts below. The tl;dr is this: The story drags, but not as much as I recalled. The spooky visuals and unusual ideas are engaging right off the bat. The characters and the long-term mystery of the series are set up early and very effectively, and the ending leaves the viewer ready for more. Ian and Barbara drive the show; without them, there is nothing.

Also, I SHIP IT.

Episode 1:

  • So much has been said about that eerie opening visual, and of course the music. I often wonder what people must have thought at the time.
  • I didn’t remember getting a look at the TARDIS in the first shot. It’s spooky!
  • How could anyone NOT ship Ian and Barbara right off the bat?? ❤
  • John Smith ref straight off too!
  • The episode does an excellent job of setting up the characters and the long-term mystery of the series. Ian is brave and cheerful; Barbara thoughtful, empathetic, perceptive; Susan brilliant and odd. Susan’s teachers stand up for her fiercely.
  • “A student who’s brilliant at some things and absolutely excruciating at others” – I think that describes more and more people these days.
  • The Doctor is almost strangely forthcoming under the circumstances. Maybe he’s been longing for someone to talk to.
  • Star Trek-style movement effects FTW – and that TARDIS noise is instantly magical.

What must people have thought of these strange images and stranger ideas? I for one am thoroughly engaged.

Now, imagine a week has passed, and it’s time for episode 2:

  • Historicals were part of the original concept for Doctor Who. It’s hard to imagine this as educational; what real knowledge are they working from?
  • Barbara has fire! I love her. Ian’s skepticism is charming.
  • “Perhaps if we knew his name we’d have a clue to all this.” Why do people continue to think this? How on earth could it possibly help? 😉
  • Upset Susan is unbearable. Her voice is screechy and her behavior over the top, even for a frightened teenager. Somehow I doubt the actress is the problem.
  • I am not engaged in the Stone Age people or their problems. Were they really new and strange enough to interest people at the time?
  • Companions come to the Doctor’s rescue for the very first time. Of course it doesn’t last.
  • Susan’s screaming really is unbearable.
  • 2 significant speaking roles for women among the ancient people, one young and one old. As good or better than we often get now.

And now for episode 3!

  • The younger woman is a conniving one. The story is more engaging than I recall.
  • Lots of good quotes in this story. “Fear has made companions of us all” this episode; in episode 1, “wanderers in the fourth dimension,” and in episode 2, “wheeling in a different sky.” All oft quoted and familiar.
  • I’m reminded of a moment from the Clan of the Cave Bear series: A wife is a status symbol to a man; if he loses his status, he loses his wife. If she loves him, she fights for his status as much as he does. This chieftain’s wife must love him.
  • Poor frightened Barbara. I just want to hug her.
  • I can see why Carole Ann Ford was disappointed. Her character should have been much braver and less lost. Barbara’s reactions are much more accurate to who she’s supposed to be. Her fear, even to the point of losing it, is believable, where Susan’s panic seems overblown. Then Barbara turns on a dime to help their injured pursuer, and it’s still believable.
  • The Doctor, however, is a bit of a harsh bastard. Does he really intend murder?
  • I don’t understand why the old woman is afraid of fire.
  • There are two women, but they don’t have names, and now one is dead.
  • Captured, round 2…

And on to the final episode!

  • The Doctor pulling his magician act is delightful.
  • The firelit fight scene is hilarious in its ridiculousness – and the cave has suddenly gotten much bigger!
  • Susan invents Ghost Rider! 😀
  • The whole tribe does have lots of women – much better than some more recent Viking stories…
  • The TARDIS escapes, leaving quite an impression on those left behind.
  • The Doctor can’t get Ian and Barbara home, but he can give them a chance to get cleaned up. (Does the TARDIS wardrobe appear so early?)
  • The episode ends on a delightful piece of foreshadowing involving radiation.

Overall the story is not great; the cave people storyline is tough to stomach in places, as is the Doctor’s repeated use of “savages” to describe them and others. However, it’s strong enough to pull a viewer through, and leaves me ready for the next one.

Next time: “The Daleks!”

 

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Time Ladies!   Leave a comment

I may have a new favorite blog: The Time Ladies

Not only do they have an excellent interview with DWM’s Emily Cook, with a “behind the scenes” series promised to follow, and of course a whole host of other lady-focused DW goodness, but they had a thing I didn’t know! A thing I was so excited to learn!

Black Panther‘s delightful Shuri was once on Doctor Who!

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Ok, maybe not that exciting for anyone but me. Still, I felt I knew her when I saw her, but my (obviously too cursory) review of imdb did not turn anything up. I feel vindicated – not to mention thrilled that such a favorite was once a part of my show! ❤

As far as the Time Ladies go, the writing is quite good* and the topics interesting and varied. I expect to lose lots of time down that rabbit hole.

 

*ETA in spite of some flagrant apostrophe abuse…

Posted March 29, 2018 by Elisabeth in Cool Stuff, Guest stars

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DW: The Long Way Round   Leave a comment

It seems like forever till S10 and Doctor 13.

How to make that time fly? Cram in as much classic DW as possible. Yes, my next rewatch will begin with The Beginning, 1963’s “Unearthly Child.” I have DVDs and Britbox, and even some Loose Cannon to fill in the gaps. I have at least a night or two a week all on my own.

Anything could happen. And when it does, you’ll read about it here.

Posted March 27, 2018 by Elisabeth in Classic, The Long Way Round

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Pure Imagination   Leave a comment

I’ve said before, one of the things I love most about Doctor Who is the imagination. The idea that anything is possible, somewhere; the freedom to play, to make the most lunatic dreams come true. Space whales! Pig-people! A box that’s bigger on the inside! And because Doctor Who plays with sincerity and love, it works.

Unless you’re a massive cynic, in which case this is probably not the show for you.

At the movies* last weekend we saw a trailer for an updated Mary Poppins. The original is a childhood favorite, one I watched again and again. My husband had never seen it as a child; some years ago, we went to a special screening in LA, and I learned how different the movie appears to an adult. Every song references a different drug, far too blatantly for a children’s movie – except those references aren’t there. They’re added by the cynical adult mind, the mind that’s forgotten how to use the imagination. The mind that needs chemical assistance to achieve the unfettered creativity natural to childhood.

Maybe this is why Doctor Who is considered a kids’ show: the adults can’t handle it.

 

*The movie was A Wrinkle in Time. I loved the book as a kid, of course; rereading it not long ago, it was the imagination that struck me. The film too is gloriously imaginative, in ways only film can be. I adored it.

Posted March 16, 2018 by Elisabeth in Themes and Ideas, Video

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Fifty Years of the Brigadier   Leave a comment

Read this.

Posted February 22, 2018 by Elisabeth in Classic, Companions, Cool Stuff

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The Beast Below   1 comment

In the wake of the passing of Ursula K. LeGuin, I finally read “The Ones who Walk Away from Omelas.” The story has apparently been taught in schools for years and has won many awards. I even own the book it first appeared in, yet I had no recollection of reading it before.

(I read it online but I can no longer find the link. Get it, read it, or risk spoilers to follow.)

It reminded me of “The Beast Below.”

In each case, the good of the many is dependent on the suffering of one. The question “Omelas” asks is, is it worth it? What cost our perfect world? Some deny the child: it would do no good to change things anyway. Some consider the trade worthwhile. Some cherish the sweetness and beauty of their world all the more for knowing its cost. And some few walk away, preferring to face the unknown, to risk pain and suffering themselves, rather than live life bought at such a price.

The citizens of Starship UK face a slightly different scenario. They depend not for their ease but for their very survival on another’s pain. They have the luxury of forgetting. The Doctor struggles to balance millions of lives against the suffering of a single creature. Though he chooses to end the torment and carry those millions more deaths on his conscience, he is saved by the Star Whale itself: freed, it declines to abandon its tormentors, and Starship UK lives.

The Doctor would free that Omelan child in an instant.

I wonder sometimes what the Doctor would really do with our world. He doesn’t step in and change society, though he might inspire some to take it on themselves. He doesn’t end slavery every time, or stop every war. Sometimes, as Gwen speculates in Torchwood: Children of Earth, he turns away in horror. Others, he’ll stop everything to comfort a crying child.

Sometimes, that’s all we can do.

 

The Doctor and the lawyer   Leave a comment

Recently it came to light that there may have been some conflict over use of the name Lethbridge-Stewart in the most recent Christmas special. While the parties involved downplay any kerfuffle, it brings to mind the odd status of many of Doctor Who‘s most beloved inventions, as described in this post shared by a lawyer friend:

The Strange Copyright of Doctor Who

The Daleks are of course the most famous example of shared ownership between the show and a writer: Terry Nation and his estate pushed for Dalek spinoffs, held up novelization of Dalek episodes, blocked several of those episodes from streaming on Britbox, and very nearly prevented the Daleks’ return to the show in 2005. But they are not the only ones. Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis, both deceased, are credited on every appearance of the Cybermen. The son of writer Anthony Coburn recently demanded credit and compensation for his father’s alleged invention of the TARDIS. Now, the Brigadier joins the parade.

On the other hand are the unsung, uncredited, uncompensated BBC employees behind these creations and many others. Delia Derbyshire, an employee of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, was denied ownership of her most famous contribution – the arrangement of Ron Grainer’s theme – and was credited only on the 50th Anniversary Special. Raymond Cusick, the mind behind the Daleks’ iconic look, has none of the control or compensation Terry Nation and his family have enjoyed. And who did design the TARDIS interior, some invisible employee suggested in An Adventure in Space and Time but unsung even today?

As mentioned in the post above, the TARDIS itself has been a point of contention between the BBC and the London Metropolitan Police. Unfortunately, that body waited too long to lay claim to their famous Police Box: by the time they came forward, the box belonged firmly in the minds of the public to Doctor Who.

Other entities may own a share of the Daleks, the Cybermen, or the Brigadier – but that doesn’t make them less a part of Doctor Who.

 

Posted January 30, 2018 by Elisabeth in Piffle

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