I’ve made a couple of commitments to myself in the new year. One, try to remember how to draw after letting my abilities wither for the better part of a decade; and two, take more time away from working and productivity to take in things I’ve been meaning to get around to enjoying. Books, movies, whatever. When possible, I will try killing two birds with one stone. As here:
…in which I finally make an effort to watch Doctor Who, which everyone I know is always going on about. No better place to start than at the beginning with the First Doctor, right? Whom I have drawn somewhat poorly here. Bear with me. I’ve got years of rust to knock away.
“An Unearthly Child” is pretty weird, even accounting for the fact that it was filmed 50 years ago. For one thing, prior to this I had seen a few of the Christopher Eccleston Doctor Whos, so trying to reconcile the curmudgeonly old coot who was the Doctor half a century ago with Eccleston’s glib mania feels a little much for my poor brain to grasp. I’m sure it all makes more sense if you see it all in sequence, but I’ve gone and done it backward.
Apparently all the old Doctor Who stories unfolded via multi-episode arcs; “An Unearthly Child” isn’t really the arc I would have picked to kick off one of the longest-running television serials of all time. Not that I imagine they had any idea they were doing such a thing at the time. I’m just saying. The first episode is actually pretty strong; it introduces the otherworldly Doctor and his companion (his granddaughter Susan) from the grounded perspective of two modern-day adults who end up tagging along for the adventure, giving the viewer a relatable window into the impending weirdness.
There are some clever ideas at work in this first episode: The TARDIS basically serves the same role as Star Trek‘s transporter (a cheap visual effect to instantly allow a change of scenery on a limited television budget) a good year before that show hit the airwaves. The “chameleon circuit” breakdown that causes the TARDIS to become stuck in telephone box form immediately gives the show an iconic visual as well as a lifeline to contemporary culture. The idea of a mysterious otherworldly old traveler who relies on the wise but bright-eyed perspective of his granddaughter for perspective has a lot of merit, too (though of course that element would change before too long). It’s a solid start for a show, laying down the rules and simultaneously managing to be both alien and familiar.
Beyond that first episode, though, the arc quickly becomes practically unwatchable. While I am rather intrigued by this early rendition of the Doctor — cantankerous, fallible, and seemingly out of his depth — the story he and his companions fall into really stinks. They end up in a prehistoric land, enmeshed in the squabbles of some semi-simian tribe of proto-humans, and frankly it’s hard to care about any of it because it’s both hammily acted and confusingly written. At no point is it really clear who we should be rooting for, and the ape-men all endanger the lives of the Doctor’s crew at some point or another. Eventually, the guy who seemed to be the straightest shooter ends up dead, and… people… angry? Murder ritual? Sun something? Eh, who knows. The second serial is called “The Daleks,” so I’m hoping that whatever they find on the mysterious irradiated world they arrive upon at episode’s end turns out to be less tedious than their first adventure.
I know, it’s not fair to judge a 50-year-old television show filmed live to tape with a pittance of a budget by contemporary standards. “An Unearthly Child” makes for an interesting pop culture curio, but I can’t imagine I’ll be watching it again anytime soon (as in, within the confines of my current life. Maybe after I regenerate).