Cool Things About “An Unearthly Child”
(And 18 Stupid Ones)
(But we're not telling you which is which)
(We're expecting you to work that out for yourselves)
By Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore
Previously published in Celestial Toyroom 382
1. Due to the episode/story title controversies of the Hartnell era, we haven't the faintest idea what to actually call this serial. We're settling for “An Unearthly Child,” and those of you who are mortally offended by that can just go read another article.
2. Although technically speaking, what we're reviewing isn't actually a four-part story, but a one-part story followed by a three-part story (in fact, if you include the pilot episode, you could count it as a five-parter). We're reviewing it as four (arguably five) parts anyway, because we can't get fifty Cool/Stupid things out of a one-parter.
3. Between the shooting of the pilot and the shooting of the final version, the junkyard set is cleaned up noticeably, meaning a serious reduction in actors tripping and stumbling, camera wobbles, and disturbing crashing noises on set.
4. Although unfortunately, the large carnival mask of Oliver Hardy which is clearly visible in the pilot seems to have gone.
5. Susan was absolutely right about decimalisation.
6. Carol Anne Ford has the narrow-hipped body frame of a fifteen-year-old, true, but she also has the ladybumps of a 23-year-old with a nursing infant. This no doubt prompted a wave of unrealistic expectations among the teenagers of the 1960s.
7. On the subject of Ford's endowments, in the pilot episode version, watch Hartnell's hand when he argues with Susan about whether or not to let Ian and Barbara go-- evidently he's trying to, erm, get in touch with her feminine side.
8. Also note that the cameraman discreetly adjusts the angle to cut the image off below her collar level, and, on the second take, he makes sure to get to that angle before any trouble starts.
9. Carol Anne Ford's stripy top originally also had stripy bottoms to match, but Verity Lambert made her wear dark leggings instead, on the grounds that the stripy ones made her look like a wasp.
10. Hartnell's argument in the pilot version, that Ian and Barbara knowing that the TARDIS exists would cause people in the 20th century to invent them, seems more than a little flawed. Show a caveman an internal combustion engine, and he's not likely to go out and build a BMW.
11. It's just as well it isn't included in the final version, because Hartnell then goes and gives a tribeful of cavemen some technology they can indeed use, and which will indeed change their lives.
12. Is the pilot episode canon? Because if it is, given that it contains two different iterations of the last sequence of the episode, then Ian and Barbara entered the TARDIS three times, each time doing it slightly differently, and that caveman has also wandered up the same hill and stood in the same spot three times. UNIT dating has nothing on this story.
13. In the first episode, the theme tune runs into the opening scene itself, forming the background music to most of it. This is the only time this has happened to date in the series.
14. The junkyard appears to contain a surprisingly large number of objects d'art (including what the Doctor recognises as a valuable painting), while the TARDIS console room is full of sculptures and furniture from all over history, suggesting that the Doctor's real purpose in wandering the galaxy is the acquisition of a Hermann Goeringesque collection of looted art.
15. The first episode evidently takes place on either a Monday or a Tuesday, depending on whether the words “Homework Tuesday” written on the blackboard mean “Today's homework assignment” or “Homework due on Tuesday.”
16. Watch the door in the scene where Ian and Barbara walk in to the classroom to find Susan listening to John Smith and the Common Men. The doorknob on the one side is visibly several inches lower than the doorknob on the other. This is true both in the pilot, where the door opens on the right, and the final, where the door opens on the left, suggesting that the crew went to the trouble of swapping the door around (the relative heights of the knobs in the two takes indicating that the door was turned upside-down in the process) but didn't fix the obvious problem with it.
17. The overdubs of Jacqueline Hill and William Russell on the flashbacks of the teachers' dealings with Susan make it sound like Ian's quite a kindly teacher, where Barbara's a right old battle-axe.
18. The fact that Barbara's “is that her?” is preceded by a series of very masculine chesty coughs from offstage suggests that Barbara suspects Susan of sneaking a few crafty cigarettes behind the Coal Hill bike shed.
19. “You don't understand, so you find excuses. Illusions indeed! You say you can't fit an enormous building into one of your smaller sitting-rooms, but you've discovered television, haven't you? Then by showing an enormous building on your television screen, you can do what seemed impossible.” Or, in other words, all of this dimensional transcendention is only possible because it's a TV programme.
20. In fact, the TARDIS does roll along on wheels. The prop has four sturdy castors.
21. ”Your arrogance is almost as great as your ignorance!”
22. The Doctor smokes a pipe, in the one and only instance of the Doctor smoking onscreen (presumably because the pipe was broken shortly thereafter). It's just as well he kicked the habit, as we might otherwise have been subjected to David Tennant puffing on a Woodbine.
23. Or Jon Pertwee firing up the bong.
24. Accents in the Paleolithic apparently range from a very clear RP to a distinct West Country.
25. Although there has been much debate over when this story is set, there actually isn't anything which necessarily contradicts the alternative story title “100,000 BC,” as early modern Homo sapiens existed at that point, and as ice ages took place frequently over human history.
26. Some of the more peculiar fan theories which have emerged from this debate include that the TARDIS has gone into the future and the tribespeople are living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland (slightly contradicted by the Doctor himself saying the TARDIS has “gone into the past, all right”, and arguably by the normal radiation reading), and that the crew are on the planet Desperus from “The Daleks' Master Plan” and are dealing with a group of stranded criminals.
27. Kal and Za's dust-up in episode 2, featuring two men of limited vocabulary ponderously berating each other about some obscure and slightly misunderstood point for long periods of time while everyone else looks around and scratches, is distinctly reminiscent of fights on Internet forums. How times fail to change.
28. There are several cave-children in the Tribe of Gum.
29. However, the tribe has no domesticated animals (this would not occur until around 12,000 years ago).
30. If the Doctor and Susan really are mysterious travelers from another place and time, how is it they speak perfect middle-class English and appear to be more or less normal middle-class English people of the mid-twentieth century?
31. When Ian suggests carrying the out-of-breath Doctor, the Doctor replies “I'm not senile!” Since senile dementia affects the mind rather than the ability to run, this seems a strange connection to make.
32. ”They have strange feet,” is Za's assessment of shoes.
33. Hartnell gives a great performance, portraying the Doctor as a man who's conscious of the failure of his mental and physical powers in old age, but still insisting on dominating the group.
34. Barbara, seeing the corpse of a wild pig, screams hysterically for some time. Has she never seen a butcher's shop window?
35. Za's girlfriend Hur seems surprised at the concept of absorbent material, suggesting that the tribe is so primitive that they've never encountered moss, sponges, or wool.
36. ”These people do not have logic or reason,” says the Doctor. This scene is immediately followed by one in which Kal figures out everything that's happened in his absence using exactly those qualities.
37. Likewise, Ian's assertion that Hur doesn't understand kindness or friendship is undermined by the very fact that she's been hovering over her injured boyfriend for the past few scenes. True, she finds it hard to understand the concept of not killing your enemies, but when you've spent your whole existence in a life-or-death struggle with other tribes for food and space, this is rather excusable.
38. Just to carry on with the racism theme here, Ian compares Barbara's compassion for Za and Hur to caring for stray cats and dogs. Who's the person who doesn't understand kindness or friendship again?
39. The cavemen's political setup is in fact a very complex one. There are many examples, but a good illustration comes in episode 4 in which Za essentially explains that, although he doesn't believe the TARDIS crew to be supernatural beings who must be sacrificed to Orb, that if they don't produce fire he's going to have to acquiesce to the faction of the tribe who think this is the case. That's no less sophisticated than modern politics, albeit writ small.
40. They're also apparently scientifically complex enough to have figured out that the sun is an orb, not a flat disk.
41. Famously, this is the story in which the Doctor contemplates murdering a caveman, leading him down a slippery slope which culminates in several incidents of mass genocide. “The man who never would,” indeed.
42. In episode 3, as the camera follows the feet of the fleeing TARDIS crew, a tipped-over plant pot is clearly visible in the “jungle”.
43. Although Susan goes by the name “Susan Foreman” at school (as this is the name both teachers know her by), she clearly hasn't told her grandfather this, as when Ian addresses him as “Doctor Foreman,” he replies “Doctor who?” in obvious confusion.
44. Za refers to other tribes from “over the mountains.” If the story takes place in Britain, this suggests the action is set in Snowdonia.
45. The climactic fight between Za and Kal is very well choreographed and surprisingly brutal.
46. How is it all the skulls in the cave seem to have kept the lower mandible, which is attached to the main skull by ligaments and falls off when those ligaments decay?
47. The teeth of the cavemen appear to be in worse shape than those of the skulls in the cave.
48. The next serial isn't really much of a change for the TARDIS crew, as they go out into yet another jungle in the aftermath of yet another environmental catastrophe, to encounter yet another primitive tribe in conflict, and wander unawares into yet another political minefield.
49. At that, it has a number of similarities with “Marco Polo”, “The Keys of Marinus,” “The Aztecs,” “The Myth Makers,” “Galaxy 4,” “The Daleks' Master Plan,” “The Ark” and “The Savages.” Coming soon: Hartnell-Era Recyclingwatch!
50. However much the TARDIS crew may deride the Tribe of Gum, it has to be said that they are completely at the tribe's mercy through the whole three-episode adventure, with the cavemen repeatedly being two steps ahead of the modern people, and it's only when the tribe fall briefly into superstition that they are able to get the jump on them.There's a lesson in this somewhere.