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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