Serial Review: An Unearthly Child (Season 1)
Anyone who calls themself a serious Doctor Who fan will probably have a special place in their heart for “An Unearthly Child,” whether because they actually think it is a strong episode, or because it is the first episode of something so huge and, in the eyes of fans like myself, wonderful. I think if you remove sentimentality from the picture and compare it to the other Doctor Who episodes purely on its own merit, it comes out slightly above average, but hardly a stand out.
I always thought it was kind of strange that a very clearly science fiction show barely shows any signs of being such until the last few minutes of the first episode. Up until companions Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright finally end up in the TARDIS with the Doctor, it might have just been a drama about a crazy old man and his granddaughter. That first episode is really outstanding, though, and I find it hard to fault anything about it. The pacing is perfect, and it is remarkably well-shot and directed.
I find it a bit amusing that at this point in the show, we didn’t know the TARDIS was translating for us, and yet the cavemen featured in the rest of the story speak broken English with an English accent. Even with the TARDIS translating, you would think that the TARDIS would translate it in your head to NOT be broken, wouldn’t it? This is merely me nitpicking, and doesn’t weigh in on my actual opinion of the episode. The problem is really that it’s just average, more than anything.
The Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan get into the middle of a small clan of cave men and women fighting over fire. One of them witnesses the Doctor lighting his pipe, and decide from this that the Doctor has magic powers, and kidnap him in order to force him to make fire for them. The theme of the early humans making fire and it’s influence on the course of human history is a common theme, but I feel like the overall execution should have been a bit better. While the first part had flawless pacing, the rest of it struggles from the slowness and bad cliffhangers that would be associated with most of the classic series.