Reviewed By: Mercury
Review Date: 11/16/18 1:34 pm
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The first ever episode of Doctor Who is wonderful and effective. It is then followed by less impressive episodes which make up the remainder of the first serial 100,000 BC. They are not awful but are not great and they are a poor indication of what the show will be like.
Episode 1: An Unearthly Child is a truly excellent episode giving the best possible start to the series which would go on to be one of the greatest TV shows ever.
It is incredible in a way that they got it so right straight from the beginning. It is not really surprising that the remainder of the first 'serial' which covered the following three episodes shows some flaws, it was a new show, it was experimental, it was low budget and filmed on a tight schedule. It is far more surprising that the first episode is such incredibly high quality. Those following episodes whilst good were perhaps not the best story to launch with (it was actually meant to be the second story) but the opening episode is near perfect.
An Unearthly Child is very well written (it merges writing by Anthony Coburn with C.E. Webber's script for the original opening story which this replaced), very well acted, intriguing, a little bit unnerving, atmospheric and well conceived in every respect.
The episode features two teachers who are intrigued by a pupil with unusual knowledge and behaviour. They follow the girl into an old junkyard where they encounter 'The Doctor', a time-traveller with hidden origins, as played by William Hartnell. His portrayal is mysterious, rather sinister and severe. He was to soften and develop into a multi-layered interesting and endearing character over Hartnell's tenure as The Doctor but right from the start Hartnell is superb and makes a brilliant Doctor, even viewing it after all the subsequent actors who replaced him in the role. Ian and Barbara the teachers who become companions in time travel with The Doctor by accident are excellent characters as they develop over the series and even in the first episode are well acted and characterised. Susan Foreman, grand-daughter of The Doctor, is also very good in this first episode and it is sad that the character would not be developed well as the series continued. She turns into a screaming, annoying character too much of the time. In this debut though she is very interesting.
The fact that over 50 years later the same main character (after numerous changes in actor), same concept, same time machine design, same theme music (though re-arranged) and other aspects, are still working with massive success shows what a brilliant idea it all was in the first place. All Doctor Who fans should watch this first episode.
Following on from the brilliant opening episode the remainder of the '100,000 BC' story is a slight disappointment.
It is not remotely bad as it has interesting elements and is of good quality in all respects but it is somewhat ill conceived to start the series with a story set in a prehistoric world with cavemen and their squabbles over the discovery of fire.
Any criticism that the story is not correct historically can be answered in that it is not specified that the setting is actually Earth. It could, therefore, be another planet at a time of caveman civilization. Also, criticisms of how cavemen could converse in English are explained because later on in Doctor Who we are told that the Doctor's time machine - the TARDIS - allows the travellers to converse with aliens or people speaking other languages via some sort of telepathic means. However, it is somewhat less interesting and somewhat more confusing for viewers of the day than if they had an opening serial featuring alien beings or a more suitable human era such as recent past or the future. Also why would Ian and Barbara not question the fact the cavemen speak English?
The discovery of fire story with tribal in fighting is not really typical of the series to follow and does not afford good guest characters or sufficiently intelligent plot to get really into it. There is some very annoying screeching and grunting at times and the cavemen are somewhat lacking in interest. There is, though, a lot more intelligent scripting and interest provided with the Doctor and his companions. Their characters begin to be fleshed out and their relationships begin to develop. That aspect of the story is very good.
Overall 100,000 BC is really good but could have been an all time classic with aliens instead of cavemen to follow up the wonderful debut episode.
My Ratings: Episode 1 - 10/10, Episode 2 - 7, Episode 3 - 7, Episode 4 - 6.5