“Can’t you imagine an animal unless it’s flesh, blood and bone?”
Broadcast Date: 21st December 1963
Here we are with the first episode of the second serial, deemed another of the all time classics, but more on why in my 1x06 blog. The closing moments of the previous episode set the scene, showing the planet is full of radiation. The next shot is clearly there to be experimental in the science-fiction genre, displaying the jungle on the ‘dead’ planet. This negative shot doesn’t really do it for me, making me fear there’s a visual problem with my DVD rather than the BBC’s cameras.
However this problem is at the back of my mind, I’m more mesmerised by Ray Cusick’s absolutely stunning sets. The further through the episode the characters travel, the more I love Cusick’s designs. Every one of them looks like the budget has been blown apart. His jungle looks petrified, his metal city looks alien, and everything just works on a visual scale.
There’s even a healthy sense of continuity between the episodes, this being the first not written by Anthony Coburn. Ian and Barbara get given more fear and worry about never getting back to Earth. We get more of the Doctor’s thirst for knowledge, his need for adventure and discovery and, unfortunately for him, his lack of being able to fly the TARDIS. And Susan, well Susan gets to scream, finds a pretty stone flower and then wonders why nobody believes her story of someone being alive in this jungle.
Halfway through the story, Williams Russell and Hartnell get a beautifully acted and written scene in the TARDIS together. It’s so great because these sorts of scenes only exist in the first three stories. Ian is worried that only the Doctor can fly the ship, yet he’s always getting himself into danger. If anything should happen to him…
I think the first episodes of Doctor Who are so amazing to most people because they are so quintessentially British. Even more so than other episodes! The crew return to the ship to have bacon and eggs on a futuristic food-making machine after a brief wonder through the jungle. You can’t get more British than that! In these first episodes there are also far more little sci-fi machines in the TARDIS that the audience can believe. A machine that makes food instantly, a fault-locator (self-explanatory) and a log of the ships past travels. A far cry from some of the more unbelievable contraptions that turn up later in the series, such as a button to bring the Doctor back to his ship (in ‘The Time Monster’).
Despite almost fifty years having past, this episode is a classic case for post-World War II television, even to today’s audience. At one point, the team find a small metal container and fear it’s an unexploded bomb! This episode and serial as a whole really feels like an example of a script by someone affected by the war, as author Terry Nation was.
I end this episode how I began, by looking in awe at the scenery. What’s different this time, however, is no dodgy camera technique, rather some fantastic editing to give a real claustrophobic atmosphere. Pair this with a screaming Barbara and a small glimpse of the shows first living alien and there’s TV magic. But this alien is one that would change the face of British television forever.