Dr. Who: The first episodes

The first four episodes of Doctor Who are included on an extra DVD that comes with the BBC film about the creation and early days of the series, An Adventure in Space and Time. I’ve already reviewed the pilot, “An Unearthly Child,” which aired in late November 1963 and introduced two UK schoolteachers and the general public to a mysterious and somewhat cranky old man from another planet who traveled around time and space with his teenaged granddaughter in a police box. Now it’s time to see what happens after that.

In its very earliest days, each individual episode of Doctor Who was given its own title; it wasn’t until later that all the episodes covering one storyline had an overall name. I’ve decided to go through all three of these at once.

Last

Cave of Skulls

This episode picks up where An Unearthly Child left off, with the Tardis sitting in a desolate, sandy landscape and the shadow of a human figure nearby. We now see that it’s a caveman; the flashback that follows reveals that his name is Kal and gives us the situation that sets the plot up. In short: Kal is a scheming outsider who has recently come to the local tribe, and sees a situation he can take advantage of.

Among this tribe, the one who can make fire is their leader, but the last Firemaker has died and didn’t pass on the secret. His son, Za, has no clue how to go about it and sits pathetically rolling what looks like a humerus (upper arm) bone between his hands over a pile of twigs and invoking Orb, the sun god to give him flame. Uh, no.

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An Unearthly Child

One of the extra features on the DVD/BluRay set for An Adventure in Space and Time is an extra disc containing both the rejected pilot for Doctor Who and the version of “An Unearthly Child” that aired on the BBC on November 23, 1963, as well as the rest of the first storyline.

While the script of both versions is pretty much the same, I’m going to make note of interesting differences between one and the other as I go through the story that introduces us to the Doctor and his original companions.

Tardis scene: rejected version
Tardis scene: Rejected Pilot
Tardis scene: aired version
Tardis scene: Aired Version

We start with a policeman on patrol a foggy night outside the tall, closed wooden gates of a scrapyard belonging to I.M. Foreman. He doesn’t go inside, but after he walks on, the camera “pushes” the gate open to show us something that the policeman would have found strange and remarkable: a contemporary police box sits quietly humming among the bits of scrap metal and a number of creepy-looking manikins or statues.

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Doctor Who: An Adventure in Space and Time

“This is the BBC. The following program is based on actual events. It is important, however, to remember that you can’t actually rewrite history–not one line. Except, perhaps, when you embark on an adventure in space and time…”

On the Tardis set

This TV movie, made for the BBC in 2013 as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations for Doctor Who, is about that show’s origins and the people both aboard the Tardis and behind the scenes who made it what it was. For nerdy, long-term fans like me, it’s a delight.

After the opening announcement above, the story begins with a police box sitting by the side of a country road at night. A car drives up and stops. The old man inside (David Bradley, playing William Hartnell, the first Doctora) sits quietly for so long that a policeman emerges from the box to tap on the car’s window, ask if he’s all right, and to tell him he’ll have to move on.

Cut to Mr. Hartnell in his dressing room at the BBC, smoking fretfully and telling the stagehand who knocks on his door to “sod off”. He doesn’t want to go out.

In the studio, an original-style Cyberman hangs around beside the Tardis, also smoking while the stage crew throw fake snow over everything. They’re waiting to start shooting the scene, whenever their star is ready.

Smoking Cyberman

Tell him to get his skates on,” the Cyberman says impatiently. “Some of us have got a bloody planet to invade.”

People who are up on their Dr. Who trivia will realize that the Cybermen made their first appearance in “The Tenth Planet,” William Hartnell’s final episode as the Doctor before he retired from the show.

Which explains why he doesn’t want to come out and finish up his last day on a job he’s loved.

When he does finally emerge, costumed and ready to do his scene on the interior Tardis set, the Tardis starts up and the camera zooms in close on the “Year-Ometer,” showing us that it’s 1966. The numbers flip backwards–65… 64… until it’s 1963.

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DVD Review: The Signalman

On June 9, 1865, the boat train from Folkestone to London derailed. Among the passengers on that train were the famous novelist, Charles Dickens, accompanying his mistress, actress Ellen Ternan, and her mother. None of them were badly injured in the crash, but Dickens aided and helped tend to other injured passengers, some of whom died. The accident left him shaken and understandably reluctant to travel by train.

Smoke from the tunnel

This train crash and the Clayton Tunnel disaster of 1861 are attributed as the inspiration for Dickens’s ghost story, The Signal Man.

It’s surprising that the BBC’s Ghost Story for Christmas only used one of Dickens’s short stories, since he was the man who re-popularized the old Christmas ghosts tradition during the Victorian era. A Christmas Carol has been overdone to death in film and television, but Dickens did turn out other spooky pieces regularly at the holiday season–many of which are forgotten today.
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DVD Review: Quatermass II, Part 6

Episode 6: The Destroyers

"All your rocket base are belong to us."At the end of Part 5, Captain John Dillon, missing since the second episode, returned under the aliens’ influence. He and a group of zombified soldiers have taken over Quatermass’s rocket base to stop the rocket from being launched.

Quatermass wants his daughter to leave the Rocket Group offices right away, but Paula refuses to go and abandon him.

They’re too late in any case, since Dillon comes up from the base just then. He shows them his written orders to take over–“from the very top,” which shows how high the alien influence has reached up into the British government at this point.

Leo notes that these orders were issued before the explosion at the plant and tells John to send the soldiers with him away. And John does.

Quatermass and Paula try to reach the man they knew before the aliens got to him. Quatermass brandishes a fragment of that first meteorite at Captain Dillon, reminding him of how this all began only four days ago. He explains what happened to Dillon… and what will happen to the rest of humanity if the ammonia-breathing aliens succeed in taking over their world: submission first, then suffocation as Earth’s atmosphere becomes more noxious to accommodate the invaders.

As he appeals to Dillon to find whatever’s left of the individual human being, the scene recalls the lost ending of the original BBS version of The Quatermass Experiment, in which the professor talked to the monster Victor Carroon had become and brought him back to his humanity.

It does seem as if John Dillon struggles with his identity as Paula and her father plead with him, but it isn’t until Leo Pugh tells him bluntly “The rocket must go” that Dillon is really influenced. After a moment of confusion, he agrees to speak to his men down at the base and tell them there’s been “A change in plans. Withdraw all troops. Stand down.” However, he hasn’t shrugged off the aliens’ control over him.

Astute viewers may have noticed that Leo’s been a bit odd since Quatermass found him sitting outside the destroyed factory, but Quatermass himself won’t notice for awhile.
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DVD Review: Quatermass II, Part 5

Episode 5: The Frenzy

Professor Quatermass stands stunned by the ammonia-breathing alien he saw at the very end of Part 4, when one of the guards finally notices him and demands to know why he opened the “investigation window.” When he doesn’t answer immediately, other guards with guns drawn converge upon him… but before they surround the professor and shoot him down on the spot, they are abruptly called away. There’s an emergency situation at the entrance gate.

Villagers storming the factory.

Remember the men from the pub in the pre-fab village, who were at last convinced that they’d been duped into assisting the aliens? Well, they’re out there now.

They don’t have pitchforks, and the only torches they carry are the kind that Americans would call flashlights, but they’re angry and determined. They want some answers about what’s really going on at the plant. The union shop steward, the elderly man who was celebrating his 25th anniversary, wants to see the manager. The others want to know what the projectiles they call “overshots” actually are and if the things are dangerous.

When the guards try to clear the gate and force them back, a fight ensues. Men on both sides are killed, but the workmen get hold of a couple of guns and make their way into the central control room for the plant.
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DVD Review: Quatermass II, Part 4

BBC Logo Before this episode begins, the BBC warns us that what we’re about to see may not be “suitable for children or those of you with a nervous disposition.”

So brace yourselves!

Episode 4: The Coming

The story picks up where it left off at the end of Part 3, with Dr. Leo Pugh locating the asteroid in its hidden orbit; it’s coming closer to Earth and will be at its nearest point in about 3 hours. Everybody expects that more of those fake meteorites containing ammonia-breathing entities will be launched then.

Quatermass expounds further on his theories about the “colonial minds” of these creatures and what they’ve been up. The UFO scare/meteorite shower a year ago tells him that this invasion has been going on for at least that long. The first “showers” to hit Earth were more-or-less at random, but the creatures in the little projectiles took over enough of the local population in places like Winnerden Flats to get themselves organized. Their plans are moving into the final phase now.

He tells Fowler that the secrecy surrounding Winnerden Flats must end and the danger it presents be made known to the public. Fowler heads back to the Ministry to do what he can.

Paula has also been speculating about the asteroid that’s on its way toward Earth. It’s too small to hold any kind of atmosphere, so it can’t be natural. Her dad has also figured that much out. The Quatermasses agree that the source of the asteroid and the creatures on it must be one of the outer planets; the professor favors Saturn’s moons.
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DVD Review: Quatermass II, Part 3

Episode 3: The Food

At the end of Part 2, one of the men on the Winnerden Flats synthetic food project committee was revealed to have been marked by exposure to the so-called “meteorites” that have been falling in the vicinity of the top-secret factory. It’s assumed by Quatermass and the viewer that the other committee members are also under the influence of whatever’s inside those objects, even though the marks on them aren’t in such obviously visible places.

Member of Parliament Vincent Broadhead, who’s called this committee meeting, mentions the objects and calls them “missiles.” He’s afraid that these things are an attempt to sabotage the delicate food cultures at the plant by some means of infection.

The marked man Quatermass takes the plastic model of a “meteorite” out of his briefcase and shows it to them. The reaction is dead silence. He shoves it toward the man with a mark on his face and asks him if he’s ever seen anything like it before.

The marked man seems to struggle with himself and tries to answer. “If I could tell you–” he begins, but he’s shouted down by one of the others, who insists there is no infection and the project will go forward. These questions must not continue.

Quatermass is asked to leave the room.

He returns to Fowler’s office, where he declares that he felt real menace from the men around that table in the last few minutes he was there.

Fowler finds this incredible. “Menace? In the Ministry?” About 20 minutes have passed since Quatermass left the meeting, and he and Fowler return to the conference room to see what’s going on.

The room is now empty, except for Broadhead, who sits slumped over in his seat at the end of the table. There is a faint, lingering smell of ammonia in the air.

Broadhead is at first woozy and disoriented, but as he recovers he tells them, “Inquiry’s over. Nothing to find out. Everything’s in order.” He also has the beginning of a double-circle mark on the side of his neck.

A doctor arrives, and doesn’t answer Fowler’s question about who sent for him. The doctor has that same stilted speaking voice that the security guards and committee members displayed, so he’s obviously One of Them.

While the doctor tends to Broadhead, Quatermass and Fowler quietly confer on the other side of the room. Quatermass whispers that he must get inside that top-security facility and see what’s going on.

They meet up a little later in an espresso bar with a cheerfully vacuous young man named Rupert Ward. Rupert’s job is Public Relations, and one of the things he does is escort important people to see the Winnerden Flats factory. Politicians, mostly, and members of the press. He only takes them there; he assumes someone else brings them back.

For the first time, Rupert seems to think this odd. But nothing’s happened to anyone he’s taken to the plant, he assures Quatermass. “They all turned up again. You see their names in the papers.”

At this point, you might be thinking that this story is similar to Invasion of the Body Snatchers–but that film didn’t come out until the following year.

Rupert still has his security pass, so he agrees to escort Quatermass and Fowler to Winnerden Flats for an official tour.

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DVD Review: Quatermass II, Part 2

Episode 2: The Mark

At the end of Part 1, Quatermass’s prospective son-in-law Capt. John Dillon got a face full of whatever’s inside those meteorites. Quatermass said there was something on Dillon’s face, but as this episode begins, it’s already disappearing.

Examining his companion’s face, Quatermass observes that’s there still some discoloration near the hairline, but Dillon is behaving weirdly. Like the old farmer, he’s woozy and disoriented, and he’s hostile to Quatermass touching him.

Guards from the super-secret research facility arrive then and take Dillon away. They tell Quatermass that he must leave—now. Dillon will be looked after. They speak in oddly stilted and atonal voices and I don’t think it’s just bad acting. Quatermass wants to come with them to be sure his friend is all right, but they all–Dillon included–refuse this request. Dillon snarls that Quatermass mustn’t follow. The guards put him into their truck and return to the facility.

Quatermass stands alone–no, wait, not alone. A homeless man who’s been hiding himself in the ruins of a cottage emerges now that the guards are gone (Wilfrid Brambell, not to be confused with Wilfrid Brimley; this guy would later star in the British comedy Steptoe & Son and play Paul McCartney’s “clean” grandfather in A Hard Day’s Night.) Wilfrid Brambell

The old man, who isn’t very clean at the moment, tells Quatermass that he used to travel this way regularly on his vagabond rounds and didn’t believe the whole village could be wiped out so completely since his last visit about a year ago. He was informed of the village’s destruction by the inhabitants of the new, pre-fab town a few miles down the coast on the other side of the secret facility; the workmen for the place and their families live there.

As Quatermass looks over the bulldozed rubble of the former village, he notices something more disturbing. Among the ruins are many, many broken fragments of meteorites similar to the one that just landed, only these are crumbled and weathered, having been exposed to the elements for some months.
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DVD Review: Quatermass II, Part 1

This is the second of the three Quatermass stories that aired on the BBC. After the great success of the The Quatermass Experiment in 1953, this sequel followed the further adventures of Professor Bernard Quatermass and his Experimental Rocket Group in 6 episodes in the autumn of 1955.

Episode 1: The Bolts

Before we catch up with the professor’s activities, the first episode opens at a military radar station somewhere out in the English countryside. They are picking up a weak signal–something too small, too low, and too slow-moving to be an airplane.

“Another one of them,” says the sergeant watching the radar screen, and tells the officer in charge, Captain John Dillon, about it.

They continue to track this mysterious object until it comes down about 2500 yards from the radar station.

An elderly farmer is out riding a tractor across his field nearby, when a meteorite lands in front of him. He gets off the tractor to go and have a closer look.

A Farmer out sitting in his fieldPeople in science fiction stories should already know instinctively: Don’t put your face near that thing!

John Hurt could tell him why this is unwise. But put his face near it he does.

Unaware of the farmer’s discovery, Dillon and the sergeant have gone out in a jeep to try and find the object themselves. As they drive along, their conversation informs us that this is the third such object they’ve tracked since they set up their radar base, though they weren’t able to find the other two. There was also some sort of UFO scare about a year ago, perhaps explained by a large meteorite shower in the area. Since then, the army has orders not to discuss any UFO-type sightings with the general public to avoid further panics.

The farmer’s anxious wife is standing at the roadside ahead of them; she flags down the jeep, asks for their help with her husband, and takes them to where he’s still sitting in the field. On the ground beside him are the broken remains of the meteorite. At least, there’s no sign that a crustacean-like, alien face-hugger or similar creature was inside it, but whatever was has caused him to become woozy and disoriented.

When asked, the farmer reports that the meteorite broke apart after it hit the ground, and that there was a funny smell. “Like old stables.”

He seems well enough not to need medical help. Dillon gathers up the broken meteorite fragments. He and the sergeant feel as if they ought to contact some about them. But who?

“There’s a man I know named Quatermass,” Dillon tells the sergeant.

The sergeant knows just who he means. “The Rocket Man?”
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