Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Thursday, January 3, 2013


Doctor Who and an Unearthly Child by Terrance Dicks, based on the script by Anthony Coburn (1981)

In this the Golden Anniversary year of the  Doctor, I thought it appropriate to go back to the beginning -- to the very first episode of the long-running television show.  Docotr who and the Unearthly Child novelizes that adventure, and (help me along here, memory) does a journeyman job in doing so.  this episode, strangely enough, did not get novelized until 1981, placingit at Number 68 in Target Books' Doctor Who Library.

Schoolteachers Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton are concerned about one of their students, fifteen-year-old Susan Foreman.  Susan is very bright and is obviously more knowledgeable than either of her teachers,  to the point that Susan seems to know things that have not yet actually happened.  According to school records, Susan lives with her grandfather at an address that (as Barbara discovers) is actually an empty junk yard.  Barbara and Ian watch as Susan goes home one day, they see her go through the gate, and follow her only to find...nothing.  An empty lot with no sign of Susan.  Nothing but pieces of junk strewn around the lot...and a blue police call box.

Yep. Susan's grandfather is none other than the Doctor in his first incarnation:  cantankerous, imperious, and sometimes forgetful.  Soon Barbara and Ian find themselves travelling with the Doctor and Susan to a prehistoric time in which a local tribe is desperate to rediscover the secret of fire.  The tribe's previous leader has died before passing on the secret to his son Za.  Without the ability to make fire, Za is in danger of losing his new leadership role (as well as Hur, the hottest girl in the tribe) to an outsider named Kal.  (Okay.  I grant you that early 60s Brit kiddie SF television was not too sophisticated in naming prehistoric people.)

Anyway, the Doctor goes off to sit on a hill and smoke his pipe while cogitating the secrets of the universe or some.  You can see where this is going.  The Doctor...alone...smoking...pipe...hmm, leadership...this dude must know the secret of fact, this dude is a ticket to tribal leadership and that hot chick Hur.   At least that  was Kal's resoning as he spied upon the Doctor from the bushes.  And so the Doctor is conked on the head and taken prisoner.  Then everyone else is taken prisoner.  Several times.

You know our heroes will live on to fight another day.  And we're told at the end of the book that that other day bill be on the planet Skaro where the Doctor will have his first encounter with the Daleks.

All in all, a fairly banal beginning to a series that would  eventually bring us the coolest evil  snowmen ever in last month's Christmas episode.

Some points of interest.  Evidently it was Susan who gave the TARDIS its name -- at least she claims credit for it here.  And the TARDIS seems to have had its "chameleon circuit" damaged, which would have allowed it to change its shapeand appearance to fit to whatever time and place it had landed -- but it's now a blue police call box and will remain one forever, possibly because none of the following ten Doctors bothered to fix the chameleon circuit.  (The Doctor is still not fully knowledgable about the workings of the TARDIS -- he has to reply on a little notebook he compiled.) And who the hell is Susan anyway?  The Doctor has a granddaughter?  We learn only that Susan and the Doctor are both aliens and cannot not (for unspecified reasons) return to their home planet in the foreseeable future.  I only watched the first episode of the show's first season and have no idea how the Susan thing will resolve itself.  (Looking back from a fifty-year perspective, it is kinda creepy to have an old man with a fifteen-year-old girl.)  It appears the Doctor is not (yet) the last Time Lord if his next adventure is to  be facing the Daleks for the first time.  I pulled out the novelization of that episode (Doctor Who and the Daleks by David Whitaker) and hope to get to it sometime this month.


  1. I feel I have missed something by not seeing this but people who think you can jump in are wrong. There are far too many missed references when you try to do this. The mythology is just too great.

    1. The best times to get on board are when there is a new Doctor or when he gets a new companion. Matt Smith will continue as the eleventh Doctor for at least another year, but Clara -- the new companion -- was just introduced in last month's Christmas Special, so this would be a good time to jump in. The mythology tends to sort itself over a season. I find the current shows to be smartly written and well-acted. The Doctor may not be your cup of tea, Patti, but the upcoming season is worth a look.