Sunday, November 30, 2008

Clarification to the broadcast dates of "An Unearthly Child"

In my "Cave of Skulls" post, I mentioned that (due to both the Kennedy assassination the day before and a widespread power outage on 23 November, the day it first aired) "AUC" was reshown on 30 November. It had been my understanding that this caused a delay in transmission of the second episode, but my research for last night's review claimed that "The Cave of Skulls" was also first aired on 30 November. My curiosity was piqued; was the "repeat transmission" story just old fannish myth? So I did a bit of checking and discovered both stories were correct. The first episode was repeated on 30 November...with the second episode immediately following! It's not clear to me whether "An Unearthly Child" was shown at an earlier time with the second episode in the regular timeslot or whether "Cave of Skulls" was aired quite late, but...I think I'm going to let that one go.

While I have all five of you who read this blog here, I do have a question. Ketina and I would find some feedback about our episode postings very informative. What do you like about them? What don't you like? Would you like to see more information about the production or the story? Would you like a different format? (My section is a bit more free-flow than I'd like right now, so I'd certainly appreciate any ideas you have.) Do you like that we seperate our sections or should we integrate things more? Essentially, what do you like or dislike and what might you like to see? I await any comments with baited breath. Until next time, I remain


Saturday, November 29, 2008

"The Cave of Skulls"

The Historian here. I'll note that if we were being absolutely accurate, we would be skipping a week as the BBC reran the initial episode the week after it aired. (For some reason, people weren't tuning in the day after JFK's assassination...) But, getting down to it...

Synopsis: Originally shown on 30 November, 1963. The TARDIS lands in Ice Age era Europe, where a tribe is having a disagreement over leadership. Za's father made fire, but he cannot. Kal, an interloper, claims to be able to make fire. Kal discovers the Doctor (who's left the ship to explore) smoking and kidnaps him. Ian (who's gobsmacked about not being in a London junkyard anymore), Barbara and Susan attempt to rescue him, but they're all captured and thrown into the titular Cave of Skulls--and Za declares they will be executed at the next sunrise!

Ketina, Ronelyn, Blueraccoon and I watched the episode together. I enjoyed it a lot, especially the performance by the regulars. William Russell (as Ian) was particularly good at conveying his absolute disbelief, even when confronted by the evidence of his own eyes. William Hartnell continues to amaze; he's just so darn good at both the mischievious mystery and the honesty he shows towards the end of the episode. All of the actors show a depth, with the possible exception of Jacqueline Hill, who isn't given very much to do (although her belief in spite of everything is excellent). Susan's absolute desperation at losing her only link with her home in the Doctor is really effectively played by Carole Ann Ford. The writing is just top notch, although Ketina has some issues that I suppose she'll talk about in her post.

Something I missed in last week's chaos, but that I'd very much like to keep track of, is how the show developed elements that we'll see more of later. Last week, for example, we had the introduction of the TARDIS (which Susan claims to have named from the description "Time and Relative Dimension in Space"--note the singular for Dimension) as well as our first description of the Doctor and Susan's homeworld. Susan was "born in another place, another time," and the Doctor asks Ian and Barbara if they know what it's like to be exiles. Interestingly, the implication seems to be that they can't get home for some reason (there was an early idea that their home planet had been destroyed, but it wound up not being taken up), rather than the Doctor being on the run for stealing a time machine.

This week, in addition to our first travel in time, we're shown that the TARDIS might not be entirely functional. Some gagues don't seem to work properly and the outer shell, which has apparently changed to blend in in the past (Susan's descriptions imply some interesting trips) is no longer functioning--it's stuck as a 1963 era police box!

In all, this was an good episode, keeping the interest generated by the first one up nicely. Although there are a few parts that might not work completely to modern eyes (see Ketina's post for her thoughts), for a 1963 audience I can see it as, well, perhaps not riveting, but certainly diverting for the family at tea time. We're still a few weeks away from The Moment Doctor Who Became a National Phenomenon, but the ratings were decent, and this serial certainly shows us the original educational plan for the series--back in time, then science fiction, alternating. I suppose one can wonder though if the second story (to come in a few weeks!) hadn't changed everything and become the blueprint for much of the series, how things would have gone.... But now, I shall turn things over to my companion, Ketina. Until next time, I remain



Just finished watching the second episode of Doctor Who with The Historian, The Cave of Skulls (part two of the eventually titled 100,000 Years B.C.). Please read the Historian's summary first.

My reactions:
Silly bits -- the gob smacked cave man Kal, as he stared at the Tardis shortly after it landed.

Boring bits (in my opinion) -- The lengthy debate between Za and Kal regarding what to do with the strange old man who could make fire from his fingers. They each made their point, which seemed long enough to me, and then proceeded to make pretty much the exact same points again two more times. If I had to watch Kal wiggle his fingers again "he made smoke come out of his fingers" I was going to hit the fast forward button. But then, we would have missed the ENTIRE episode. They didn't even get to the proverbial Cave of Skulls until the very end of the episode.

Irritating bits - Susan is quite the screamer, isn't she? Quite feisty however!

Weird bits - the fight scenes seemed very disjointed to me. Lots of close ups, hands and feet and bits, making it very difficult to see what was going on. While Susan joining the fight was evident, both by her screams and when we see her jump onto a caveman's back, it wasn't clear to me that Ian and Barbara were in the fight until the end when we see they have been captured. It reminded me a lot of the type of confusing and frustrating fight choreography found in current films.

Good bits -- as long as the scenes went, the acting was quite good. I also loved the characters of the cave lady who wanted to be given to Kal, and the old woman who thought fire was a bad idea. They were fun characters.
I also loved the continued banter between Ian and Barbara, continuing to establish their reaction to the amazing things happening around them. Ian continues to doubt while Barbara is more open minded about events.

Overall I did enjoy the episode, but believe that the pace could be tightened up significantly.

Ketina, the Impatient Companion


Sunday, November 23, 2008

"An Unearthly Child"

The Historian here, welcoming you to the official beginning of the TARDIS Project! Our format for these posts is still a bit in flux, so I invite our readers to offer suggestions of what you'd like us to talk about in regards to each episode. But until then...

Today, Ketina and I, along with this week's companion contingent of Ronelyn, Schmallturm, Kroroboros and BlueRaccoon, sat down to watch the first episode of Doctor Who, "An Unearthly Child," originally shown on November 23rd, 1963. The summary: schoolteachers Ian Chesteron (science) and Barbara Cartwright (history) decide to investigate the home life of a strange schoolgirl, Susan Foreman. They follow her to her home address, discovering it is a junkyard run by a mysterious old man, her grandfather. They force their way into a Police Box, from which they heard their student's voice, discovering the TARDIS and beginning a journey in time and space....

The reactions from our group was generally positive. I opined that the whole thing felt a bit like a stage play, given that the studio scenes were shot in order with minimal editing. Ronelyn found the set-up and characters reminicent of a John Wyndham novel, with ordinary people stumbling into an extraordinary situation and trying to figure it out logically. (See Ian's bafflement with the interior size of the TARDIS: "I walked all around the thing!") Kroroboros: "Susan was cute."

All in all, this was an auspicious start. I can see how it would have intrigued both children and their parents. It presented a mystery and doled out just enough information to whet the appetite for more. And the ending, with the shadow falling over the landscape before the TARDIS was a great cliffhanger. Even though I know, I still can't wait to see what happens next!


Turning things over to my Partner In Time, Ketina:

Sorry, technical problems are causing me difficulties in blogging on my own. Reversing the polarity just ain't working. Ketina here, the impatient companion. I call myself impatient as watching only one episode per week is gonna result in my gnawing my own arm off before this is over, but I digress.
Loved the episode. I relate best to Susan's character - I would have loved to have been a girl like her when I was young. The pacing of the episode wasn't as slow as I remembered it being, in fact it didn't seem very slow at all. At least so far. There's also a nice mystery too things. She's smart and savy, yet still naive. She's not willing to outright disobey her grandfather, but she'll still stand up to him when she doesn't agree with his actions.
Something else I noticed in particular was the episode's sound track. I noted how long the opening music continued into the episode. Rather than ending as soon as the scene started, it continues well into the scene, although thankfully not over any dialog. The background music continues setting the mood throughout the episode and I liked it.
Other characters. Ian is rather mean and pushy, barging past "grandfather" and shoving his way into the Police Box. Barbara is quite noisy but more curious and concerned. I loved the scene in the car when Barbara comments that they are there as much out of curiousity as they are concern for their student. I like that honest part of her character, which establishes her well.
The Doctor is just awesome. His mumbling to himself is great, the way he hints at what he's thinking. I agree with The Historian's earlier assessment about the stage play feel, as The Doctor's side comments in this epsiode feel like asides in a stage play. A little Shakespeare in feel. But is still cool to see in his head a bit. He doesn't come across as a nice man, given that he's supposed the main character, and yet he kidnaps half the cast in opening episode.
Okay, that's my stream of consciousness on the spot review. Both the Historian and I may add more to this later, and we refine our process. Like the first story of Doctor Who, we're still trying to figure everything out.
Until next week!


Thursday, November 20, 2008


(Note: I originally posted this on my personal blog, but since it is about Doctor Who pre-production reports, it only makes sense to crosspost it here. --THE HISTORIAN)

In 1962, the new Head of Drama at the BBC commissioned a report on the idea of development of a science fiction program for the channel. The "Quartermass" series (beginning with 1953's "Quartermass Experiment") and "A for Andromeda" serial (1961) had led to the belief that a regular SF TV series might be possible.

Well, we all know where the report led, but most people have never actually read the thing. Now we can; to celebrate Doctor Who's 45th anniversary, the BBC Archive has put a bunch of original documents detailing the program's development online. I've read the original report and it's a fascinating "outsider's" look at SF in 1962 and why it might or might not be popular with the public at large. Although talking about the British public in general, I think the general ideas were probably applicable to a US television audience as well, especially in the "general audience will have to catch up with science fiction, rather than vice versa." To be honest, reading this and the obvious work done to lay the groundwork for what would become Doctor Who, I think I might understand a little more about why it ran (essentially) uninterrupted for 23 years, watched by a wide variety of people, whereas the original Star Trek lasted for 2 for a general audience, then got a third season thanks to die-hard fans and stayed a cult/kids show until the late '70s. Not to say one is any more quality than the other, but the planning and production of both were vastly different. Doctor Who seems to have been quite consciously developed as "bringing the people to SF," whereas Trek was certainly "bringing SF to the people." DW brought the audience to them, ST had to wait for the general audience to catch up with it.

Anyway, I found it really interesting. Anyone else?

I do make a distinction between TV and radio here; it's true that radio shows like "X Minus One" had been moderately successful at adapting SF stories, but they used sound rather than visuals which I think makes a big difference. I don't know; I feel like there must be a distinction there, but I'm finding it hard to articulate. Again, anyone else?

Additional: Here's the follow-up report identifying possible sources of adaptation (or ideas) for SF TV series. Notice which one has been highlighted by someone receiving the report; I had no idea the seed of Doctor Who came from a Poul Anderson novel! I should probably read that at some point...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Archive Opens

I no sooner hit "post" than word came through that the BBC has opened their Archive for the 45th anniversary and put early works about the development of Doctor Who online! As this has direct bearing on our project, I plan on reading through a good deal of it over the weekend and will undoubtedly post more about it then. I encourage you to take a look at some of these documents yourselves--remember, history isn't just kings and queens. This is history too!

Still I remain


Lost in Time-er, I mean Thailand?

Hello, the Historian here. While we're gearing up for our grand premiere on Sunday (and Companion Ketina still assures me she'll introduce herself at some point), I have the shadow of good news. According to a story in the Daily Telegraph, it seems a researcher has traced episodes of "Marco Polo" and (probably) "The Reign of Terror" to Thailand! There's nothing to say, of course, that copies survive, but it seems the Thai television stations never returned the films to the BBC. It's at best the shadow of a hope of a dream, but there's still at least the loosest possibility, if this researcher's work bears fruit, that we could be seeing more than just reconstructions of stories like "Marco Polo" (like the ones Ketina and I will be viewing in a couple of months' time) someday!

Living in hope, as all Doctor Who lovers must, I remain


Monday, November 10, 2008

Practical Effects

Hello everyone, the Historian here. There's still a fortnight or so until the Project begins, but I wanted to write a bit about something I don't think many people realize about early Doctor Who--indeed, about the series in the sixties and (to a certain extent) seventies in general. Too often, I see statements like this one (though admittedly, that example is an attempt to play for laughs) that dismiss old Doctor Who as "cheap." Now, of course, some things are a matter of taste, but I think taking that attitude betrays a certain misunderstanding of television production (especially in Britain) of the time. The fact of the matter is, in some ways, Doctor Who was often at the forefront of "special effects," which is all the more remarkable given both budget and production.

In this post-"Star Wars" era, people seem to forget that most special effects tended to be more practical in nature than not. In the early sixties, in fact, practical effects were a necessity. Essentially, these consisted of various things (small explosions, fires, whatever) that could actually be filmed in the studio as taping was going on. It's important to understand that Doctor Who in the sixties had, at best, minimal post-production time; there was a year, in fact, where the timing was so tight that studio recording took place only a week before the episode was due to be broadcast! Early on, studio scenes (and there was very little that was not shot in the studio) were filmed in order, allowing for minimal time needed for editing. (Evidence for this can easily be seen over Hartnell's tenure as the "Billy-fluffs" were often left in the final product.) Add to the production schedule the necessity to build entirely new sets every few weeks (if not every week) on the budget reserved for a "children's show," it's really quite remarkable what Doctor Who of the sixties achieved, in its average of forty-two episodes a year. (Contrast this with "Star Trek's" higher budget, shorter seasons and post production time and what Doctor Who achieved in comparison is even more remarkable.) There's the oft told story of a call to the production office in 1965 by Stanley Kubrick's 2001 team enquiring how they'd achieved a weightless effect seen in that week's episode. ("Counter-Plot," episode five of "The Dalek Master Plan.") The model work done for the series was also ahead of its time; not all of it worked, some of the manipulation was a bit naff, but a great deal of it was tremendously ahead of its time. (The final scenes of 1967's "Evil of the Daleks" look amazing, even today. I'm looking forward to getting to them in...a few years. I only wish more of it survived; there's amazing footage on the Lost in Time set of how the models were filmed.)

The scope of this blog is basically Doctor Who in the sixties, but the seventies continued the show's experimentation with effects, thanks to a shorter season and greater post-production time. It may look silly in our age of computer generated work, but Doctor Who's use of CSO (aka "Green Screen/Blue Screen," which was actually partially developed by the BBC) to expand the show's horizons past the painted backdrop anticipated effects seen in today's movies like 300, the Lord of the Rings, etc., etc. Did it all work? No, of course not. But to call it "cheap," or "terrible" or "primitive" shows a deep misunderstanding of not only how the show was made, but what was actually technologically possible at the time. In fact, Doctor Who of the sixties and early seventies was just as advanced as the show is today.

More to come, I'm sure, in anticipation of Doctor Who's big anniversary on the 23rd! As always, I remain


Friday, November 7, 2008

Hmm? What's that? Who's there! Oh, it's you.

Ahem. Welcome to the TARDIS Project. I am the Historian and, together with my courageous companion Ketina, we will be journeying through the mists of Time to explore the early televised history of Doctor Who. To put it more simply, Ketina and I (and any others we may pick up and drop off along the way--time travellers have a tendency to do that, you know) plan to watch every episode of the first six seasons of the BBC series, one at a time. Ideally, our schedule will be an episode a week, though Ketina has promised to continue to attempt to convince me to watch more at a time. I shall, of course, continue to resist. (We shall see who wins out in this battle of wills and how long it might take!) We will do this using both televised episodes and, where necessary, reconstructions of episodes that are missing. This web log will be used to chronicle our travels with the Doctor, looking at the show's development, the characters who come and go, our views of the production and probably many other things along the way. Ketina and I invite you to follow us in our quest! Postings should be at a minimum of once weekly from the 23rd of November when we sit down on Doctor Who's 45th birthday to watch "An Unearthly Child." We may have to skip a few weeks, we may have multiple posts in a week, so keep checking back!

Until next time, I remain