Six Smart Women Discussing Doctor Who

VerityEpisode102As promised, for our year of firsts, we’re taking you back to the very beginning! Join Deb, Erika, Liz, and Tansy as we dive into the very very first Doctor Who story, “An Unearthly Child”. We’ve all seen the first episode more times than the latter three, but we have a surprising(?) amount of positivity about the rest of the story. Those cavemen aren’t half bad!

What do you think of the Doctor’s first onscreen outing? Let us know in the comments!


Also covered:

Bonus links:
Lazy Doctor Who covers “An Unearthly Child”: Part 1, Parts 2-4

Download or listen now (runtime 1:22:38) 

Comments on: "102 – Unearthly Cavemen Bits" (14)

  1. MJ Fouldes said:

    Well my Doctor Who marathan-watching friends and I started watching Doctor Who, naturally, with this story and we love, love, LOVED the first part – even though we accidentally watched the Pilot episode (which I think is BETTER in places – I liked a weirder Susan and a tetchier Doctor!). It was so ususual and really was a great start to the series….

    …And then we had parts 2 to 4 which, to use a Verity phrase, were so dumb!
    It was just lots of “Ug, make fire – ORB!!!” Thankfully we only had three parts of that.
    It was a shame as the title “The Cave of Skulls” promised SO much more!!

    So “An Unearthly Child” is a story of 2 parts – part 1 (yay) and parts 2-4 (meh). Ian and Barbara are wonderful throughout and would continue to be so. Susan is disappointing in that she doesn’t get a chance to be that weirder character that the pilot promised. And I like grumpy Doctor!

    The series would get better as the next stories would show (The Daleks is great, if it is a little long and stretched. Edge of Destruction is a marvellous piece of TV. And Marco Polo is gloriously lovely with such great characters – such a shame it’s missing!)

    Cheers me dears!

  2. Instead of a “gap year,” we could call it “the long path”…

  3. Neil Ottenstein said:

    I wanted to echo Tansy’s recommendation of The Diary of River Song. I listened to it with my son as we drove from Maryland to Connecticut in January. We both enjoyed it a lot. It felt like they were enjoying themselves a lot as well.

  4. I first saw this in 1981, when it was shown as part of the ‘Five Faces of Doctor Who’ repeats, and I really liked it! It was my first experience of 60s Who, and it was a bit jarring at first, but I was soon swept away by the fabulous atmosphere of mystery in that first episode.

    Contrary to received fan wisdom, I really enjoyed the other three episodes too. Maybe it helped that I was always into prehistoric tales, but there was a palpable sense of threat for our time travellers, which was rarely matched again in classic Who, or New Who, for that matter!

    I’ve watched it again fairly recently (my partner and I re-watched all the classic Who DVDs in sequence over the past few years) and it still stands up really well. It’s dark stuff indeed, and there’s something very adult about it all. It’s fascinating to see how the Tardis crew start to fall into their roles, and I think it’s a fine introduction to the classic series.

  5. Anton B said:

    I’ve commented here before and described how I vividly remember the cold and foggy November London night in 1963 when my seven year old self watched An Unearthly Child and was hooked on the mysterious Doctor for the rest of my life. I fell in love with Susan and thought Ian and Barbara were just the kind of knowledgeable, well meaning but stuffy and stuck in their ways teachers I encountered every day at my own school. (Summerside Junior not Coal Hill unfortunately).

    Re-watching the first episode still gives me shivers. It’s like a British Twilight Zone episode, but one that promised to continue every week. (Though even I wouldn’t have predicted I’d still be watching it in my sixties!)

    Just this thought for you –

    The Doctor never actually states they have travelled back in time. Bearing in mind the Cold War tensions of the era and the threat of nuclear winter being ever present in our minds in 1963 is there actually anything in the ‘caveman story’ to suggest it is taking place in the past? Could it not just as easily be set in a post-atomic war future? One where humanity has lost all knowledge of technology. Watching it with that ambiguity of setting certainly adds a different tension to the experience.

  6. Great show, ladies! “An Unearthly Child” is one of my all-time favourites. But, just like Tansy, I tend to skip “the caveman bits.” Fortunately, the first time that I ever saw this particular episode (in 2006!), I had just spent the weekend watching old episodes of the Outer Limits. So by comparison, this story just zipped along! I also feel that the Susan we got in that first episode was a delight. And it was because of that introduction to her that I was very forgiving when she quickly degenerated into “screamy teen.” But I also agree with Erika. When the Doctor first appeared, he was a real jerk. I’m glad he got better as the show progressed.

    By the way, because the universe is just that strange, this little coincidence happened. I was listening to your show on the way in to work this morning, so cavemen were already on the brain. But as soon as I fired up my computer, what came across my office’s daily news feed but an article about the fall of the Neanderthals. Yes, I know the Doctor Who story was about Cro-Magnons, so it’s an apples-and-pears sort of thing. But I was amused anyway.

    Deb, I noticed your disgust with the Wikipedia entries, and so I thought you might like to try the Tardis Data Core wiki. It’s maintained by actual fans of Doctor Who, so it’s far more comprehensive (and therefore useful) than Wikipedia. I find that Wikipedia’s strength lies in the peripheral information that is found in their articles. For example, the article page for the Doctor devotes quite a bit of space to the argument over the Doctor’s actual chronological age.

    With regards to the upcoming “wilderness year,” I do have a concern. The BBC (in their infinite capacity for self-immolation) have pulled Doctor Who from Netfilx, Hulu, iTunes, the works. Yes, this is obviously because they want Doctor Who to be the tent-pole for their new subscription service. People who are already fans of Doctor Who as well as other fine BBC programming will have no problem with this, providing the service is acceptable. What makes this a tragic mistake is that the BBC will be cutting off the countless potential new fans who might have discovered the show because it was conveniently right there on Netflix, no effort required. The other problem is that we have no estimate yet on when the BBC’s new service will launch. And let’s face it, we Americans are a flighty lot. How many casual fans will move on to something else, some other show that catches their fancy, because Doctor Who is no longer there, at the touch of a button? When the show comes back with new episodes, it will certainly get the viewership of its devoted fans. But I am concerned that there will be significantly less return viewers because of the “out of sight, out of mind” factor.

    P.S. Tansy, I have to disagree with you about the console room. You said that it got smaller and smaller as the show progressed which was true. But then you said that it didn’t get big again until the twenty-first century. However, my absolute favourite Tardis console room is the Eighth Doctor’s cathedral-sized console room. People tend to forget those sorts of details about the TV movie because the script had so many obvious flaws. But there were some things about that show, such as Paul McGann’s performance and the console room, that I really enjoyed.

  7. An Unearthly Child was my first Doctor Who episode (and this year marks 30 years of being a fan! Woo hoo!), so it has always held an important place in my heart(s). I always loved the first part. The bit where Susan reads the French Revolution book and says “That’s not what happened!” Is what reeled my into the show. The rest depended on my mood. I definitely thought there was a lot of improvement from the unaired pilot and the final result. And it was fascinating to watch the reconstruction in An Adventure in Space and Time.

  8. Risa Romano said:

    I watched Doctor Who in a strange order, but i saw all of the new series when I first stated (at that point I think we were somewhere in season 6), before seeing any of the classic series.

    I did try this one very early on (I think I saw the pilot and then episode 1). And I remember finding An Unearthly Child really intriguing and fun and then being mind-numbingly bored during the rest of the serial. This resulted in my jumping around from Doctor to Doctor, trying to find a good entry point.

    The Second Doctor was the first of the classic Doctors that I watched all the way through (recons and all) and he’s maybe my favorite ever.

    I did eventually make my way through all the classic series and I do think An Unearthly Child on it’s own would be a good episode to show to people trying to get into classic Who, but not the rest of the serial. I’d come back to it later.

  9. Laurie said:

    So I watched this recently because I was playing along with lazy doctor who podcast. Can Erika also be a bit more lazy i’ve got lazy podcast episodes stacked up from the aztecs? But yeah unearthtly child i also like the caveman bits. I rented the beginnings dvd set which is amazing and every doctor who fan should have. For the vam if nothing else. I’ve got to admit the first time i watched it i thought it was ok bit it has got better every time i’ve watched it even the cavemen bits. I also think it was such a brave move for the doctor to start of so dark and i think it makes hos heroism later on seem so much better knowing his origin. I do like susan but i do agree with Tansy that there’s a great promise in episode 1 which isn’t bought out in the rest of the season

  10. Don Pettyjohn said:

    Call it the Big Finish Blast!

  11. jediwan said:

    I set out to watch all episodes–up to and including the, then, current ones back in 2013. I had already seen “An Unearthly Child” back in the Eighties, when PBS and The New Jersey Network had been showing them. I liked it this second(?) time around…I even sat through the caveman fight. I liked The Doctor’s response to the two nosy teachers and Susan’s knowledge of everything and of nothing. Watching the classic episodes with “full” knowledge of what’s coming is cool…not unlike a bow tie or fez. I do get rather annoyed at how much they Did Not do with Susan. A missed opportunity on an, already, innovative show. Overall Thumbs Up, here.

  12. I rewatch An Unearthly Child recently and decided to brave watching the caveman stuff. To my surprise, I found myself enjoying it a lot more than I had in the past. One thing stood out at me that I don’t think you mentioned. When Barbara and Ian are trying to help the injured caveman, the Doctor is trying to make an argument for returning to the TARDIS instead. I forget his exact words, but he says that the caveman is too primitive to understand compassion, kindness or friendship and wouldn’t do the same thing if the situation were reversed. It’s hard to argue with the Doctors logic here. He’s right about the caveman. It’s not a very human argument to make, but he’s not human and hasn’t spent much time around them at this point.

  13. MJ Fouldes said:

    Hello chapesses! What a good podcast that I listened to on my long Saturday dog walk! I feel I need to reward the caveman bits and try and appreciate the Orb talk more!!

    Question to you, you kept saying “The Pilot Episode”. Now is this just Verity speak for the first episode or do you mean the actual pilot episode? They are quite different creatures in many ways! When we started our own marathon watching group we pressed “play all” on the Dvd menu, not realising it automatically played the pilot first and THEN the real first episode. We actually preferred the pilot as the Dr was nasty and scarier and Susan was nicely weirder!!

    Interested to see which one you all saw.

    • For this ep we watched the proper ep 1, though I believe we’ve all seen the original pilot. I think we even mentioned the fact that they had to rerecord the whole first ep after the pilot was unacceptable, though it’s been a while since we recorded it, so I could be thinking of another conversation.

      As for the pilot, it’s an interesting bit of tv archaeology to watch, but I think Sydney Newman was right. I doubt the show would have lasted 50 years if it had started that dark and unapproachable. I have enough trouble appreciating the 1st Doctor as it is. The version in the pilot wouldn’t have even gotten a second ep out of me. (Spooky Susan was neat though.)

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