We’re still a full year away from Doctor Who’s Golden Anniversary. No one can wait to see what Timey-Wimey excellence Story Master Steven Moffat has up his sleeve. Will the old Doctors return? Chris and David will, won’t they? Will it have anything to do with the past series? Those questions will be answered…eventually. Until then, let us at least take some time today to honor the show’s 49th birthday.
An Unearthly Child was the first Doctor Who story to ever be transmitted. You could not ask for a better introduction into the expanding world of the Doctor.
A patrolling policemen strolls through a foggy junkyard. He passes a Police Call Box and thinks nothing of it. And why should he? They may not be as common place as they once were but I’m sure it wasn’t strange to see a few about, especially in a junkyard. The scene is quiet, understated, ominous, mystifying. Somehow you know that box is important, or will become so soon.
This dissolves to two teachers, Ian and Barbara, discussing a brilliant yet odd and often spacey student named Susan Foerman. They worry about her declining homework and this doctor grandfather of hers. Barbara tells Ian she went by Susan’s address to persuade her grandfather to take some interest in her studies. Only there’s nothing there. All she finds is a junkyard. She and Ian agree to investigate this mystery further.
In the old junkyard they meet a crabby old man who wants nothing to do with them. This is Susan’s grandfather and he’s hiding something. Susan then walks out of that police box from before. Seeing her, worried for her safety, they try to get her to leave. When she and this Doctor enter back into the police box, Ian and Barbara follow. The thing is bigger on the inside. There are strange lights and a control console. This is a spaceship!
The cranky old man, only going by The Doctor, explains that he and Susan are exiles from another world and that this is their time/space travelling machine. They call it the TARDIS, which stands for Time And Relative Dimensions In Space.
Assuming that all this is some outrageous fabrication by the Doctor, Ian and Barbara attempt to save Susan from his obviously psychotic clutches. And then the engines of the TARDIS rev. Everything begins to shake. And they disappear from the junkyard, only to arrive in some kind of wilderness, with a human shadow looming.
Many of us were first introduced to the Doctor in the 2005 episode Rose. A girl alone in the basement of a department store. Plastic people coming to life. A hand takes hers in. She looks at the man. He looks back and says, “Run.” It sets the standard for each following adventure
That is a fun, action-packed adventure that sweeps you off your feet into the impossible world of the Doctor and his TARDIS. A wonderful way to be introduced to the character. It wastes no time and hardly gives the viewer a chance to breathe. I love it.
But I have to say that An Unearthly Child is very effective. Instead of setting the standard for what’s to come, it sets the stage for them to play out on. The reason Doctor Who can tell so many different kinds of stories and imagine so many different kinds of worlds is because of this quiet mystery that begins in a junkyard and winds up across the universe.