Hi, I’m Dave. And I’m a Doctor Who-a-holic.
[Altogether now – Hi, Dave!]
So, Doctor Who blog.
Where to begin?
Well, I’d like to start at the beginning. Or better yet, being as how we’re all time travelers here, the pre-beginning. I’m talking about the pilot episode. The one that was never aired. The one that might have been.
It’s my opinion that the pilot episode is important mainly for its flaws. And it is flawed – in terms of the staging, character, and production. That’s not to say it’s not enjoyable to watch. It stands as a marvelous curiosity to things that might have been. But I think a lot of the high regard given to the pilot episode nowadays stems from the re-edits that have taken place on the VHS and DVD releases that attempt to remove as many of the flaws as possible in order to present as “clean” a version as can be.
In actuality, the pilot episode, as originally produced, was plagued with production problems. Actors fluffed lines and knocked things over, stage hands could be seen and heard, and, most famously, the TARDIS doors that refused to close prompting a remount of the entire sequence where Ian and Barbara first enter the TARDIS. Now I’ve read conflicting takes on whether the pilot was planned as just that – a “pilot” to see how things would work or if it really was planned as the first episode but was deemed unsuitable to air. But whatever the case may be, these faults are what instigated series creator and Head of Drama, Sydney Newman, to order a do-over. Or should I say a Doctor Who-over? (and I’m apologizing already). Thus, if the pilot episode wasn’t as flawed as it was, we may never have gotten the gem of a first episode that resulted.
Disclaimer: I’ve watched a lot of TV in my day, especially genre programs. (I’m also a sucker for first episodes and final episodes). So, despite accusations of bias, I will come out and say that I think the first episode-proper of Doctor Who is not only one of the finest first episodes of any series, but one of the finest episodes of any science fiction series. Without the dry-run that was the “pilot”, it would not be nearly so polished a production.
It is amazing to watch both the pilot episode and the premiere episode side by side. The basic framework is all there – the school, the unearthly child, the junkyard, the abduction by the Doctor – but the final production is far superior to the one that came before.
For example, compare the staging of the scenes of the policeman doing his rounds, or that of Ian and Barbara talking discussing Susan in the classroom. Even little things like Susan’s eyeline when she talks to the camera (as the teachers’ point of view) are better realized in the finished version.
And I’m so glad they got rid of Susan’s ink-blot scene. That never made any sense to me.
[Susan’s thought bubble]: “The teachers are gone. Good. Think I’ll just saunter over here and sprinkle some ink of this paper. Fold it. Add a few lines and… Ooh, I think I foreshadowed!”
The characterizations are a lot better as well. The interplay between Ian and Barbara in the first episode is far more natural and easy going than in the pilot. And the Doctor, though still quite intimidating, is not quite as ruthless as he appears in the pilot (“I blame you, you stupid child!”).
This slight softening of the part introduces a vulnerability to the character that feeds well into his gradual transition into the hero he is to become. My only regret character-wise was in the watering-down of Susan’s character, turning her from the “unearthly” child to the “Odd and somewhat spazzy” child, a portrayal that was never fully righted enough for my liking.
Finally, the dialogue! This is especially evident in the TARDIS sequences where we go from:
“We are wanders in the 4th dimensions of space and time cut off from our own planet and our own people by eons and universes that are far beyond the reach of your most advance sciences” to “Have you ever thought what it’s like to be wanders in the fourth dimension? Have you? To be exiles?”
We go from “I was born in the 49th century” to “I was born in another time, another world.”
We go from “don’t expect any answers from me. You wouldn’t understand anyway” to “You’ve discovered television, haven’t you?…Then by showing an enormous building on your television screen, you can do what seemed impossible, couldn’t you?” Love that explanation of the TARDIS – pure genius in its logical absurdity.
I feel I could ramble on for hours on this (Must seem that way to you already). So I think I’ll save some thoughts for later, when I talk more about the premiere episode in relation to the premiere story. In the meantime, I’ll pass this off the Shawn, my “partner in crime”, if you will, and get his take on the beginning of Doctor Who. Take it away.
Bonus Discussion points:
What does that girl whisper to her friend in the school hallway? I think there’s a whole untapped area of fan fiction in the waiting. Or perhaps a new product line for Big Finish – “Students of Coal Hill”.
The theme music “thunder clap” from the pilot episode – Love it or hate it?
In the premiere episode, when Susan is trying to stop the Doctor from leaving and the ship starts shaking, the Doctor pushes her away saying what sounds like to me “Get back to the ship, child!” What does that mean? Aren’t they in “the ship”? I’m either hearing it wrong or it’s got to be the first in a long line of senior moments from the 1st Doctor.
Why did Ian & Barbara get knocked out as the TARDIS took off? Surely we’ve seen worse buffeting about in the TARDIS without people passing out? (Well, okay, the 6th Doctor did hit his head on the console forcing a regeneration, but still…)