The experiment begins…
An Unearthly Child
This is Sue’s first reaction to the episode. She absorbed it in complete silence, except for a very early aside about vaguely remembering who Dixon of Dock Green was.
Me: Is that all you’ve got?
Sue: I thought it’d be a lot longer than that.
Of all the opening gambits I could have expected - ranging from a gushing “Wow, I understand why you love it now” to a rueful “We missed The One Show for that?” – this wasn’t on my list.
Me: And? What did you make of it? It’s a genuine classic, so no pressure.
She sighs deeply before telling me that she’s shocked by Hartnell’s curt, abrasive manner and she finds it hard to believe that this is the same character currently portrayed on television by Matt Smith. I don’t tell her this is a softer version of the character who evolved from an untransmitted pilot.
Sue: He’s arrogant, snide, spiteful, and, above all else, he’s a bit creepy.
What captivates her is the back story (or distinct lack of it) to Susan and the Doctor’s predicament. She is especially intrigued by her namesake’s desire to stay on Earth; she wants to know why Susan wishes to hang around in 1963 when she has all of time and space to explore. And why does she bother going to school in the first place, especially when she appears to be distressed and harassed during her academic flashbacks. She doesn’t appear to have any friends to speak of, and its this lack of clarity and motivation for Susan’s desire to stay on Earth that really bugged Sue. I could give her a Kim Newman novella at this point, but it’s probably too soon.
Interestingly, she didn’t pick up on Susan’s claim that she invented the word TARDIS, but she does ask the other obvious question:
Sue: Is she really his granddaughter?
Me: Er… wait and see.
When asked to sum up her feelings for this landmark episode, she concluded that it was sufficiently mysterious and different enough for her to appreciate why audiences in 1963 must have been dazzled and amazed by it. Now, not so much.
But it’s the character of Susan that really captures her imagination.
Sue: This is all about Susan, isn’t it? It’s her story. The Doctor doesn’t get a look in. He’s horrible.
One episode down. Several hundred to go…top
The Cave of Skulls
It was Sue who brought up the subject of this experiment the very next day.
Sue: Is it time for Doctor Who yet?
She pretended that she was vaguely annoyed at the prospect, but I could tell she wanted to find out what happened next.
She is a lot more vocal during the screening of this episode and her commentary is aimed solely at William Hartnell.
Sue: He’s a smoker! You’d never get away with that today. Imagine Matt Smith pulling out some Lambert and Butler.
As the episode plays out, Sue’s agitation begins to increase exponentially.
Sue: He really is useless, isn’t he? Look at him! He’s just lying there as everyone talks over him. When does he sit up and take control of the situation?
She is not overly impressed by some of the supporting artistes either, but she is beginning to warm to the TARDIS crew. She is particularly impressed by William Russell’s ability to deliver the now familiar “Doctor who?” gag with a perfectly straight face.
As the credits roll, I ask her to sum up.
Sue: It can’t compete with that opening episode. There are far too many scenes of cavemen bickering and not enough action. And the special effects are rubbish.
Me: But there aren’t any special effects.
The Forest of Fear
Once again, it is Sue who reminds us that it’s time for our daily dose of Doctor Who. I don’t know whether to be happy, suspicious or afraid.
It doesn’t take long for her to outraged by Hartnell’s brusque, selfish behaviour that shows no signs of abating. At one point, Barbara falls over and he practically tramples her underfoot.
Sue: What a ****! Are we supposed to like the lead character? Because the show is doing a terrible job if we are supposed to root for this git.
Sue has already taken sides with Ian, and she’s impressed that Barbara appears to be having a nervous breakdown, a very realistic prospect given what’s happened to her.
But a word that’s never very far from my wife’s lips is “bleak”. The levels of violence in the episode leave her incredulous.
Sue: This is never a kid’s show! What time did this go out again?
Me: A quarter past five.
Sue: Bloody hell. That’s ridiculous.
It’s at this point that the Doctor contemplates the act of braining a wounded cavemen to death, just so he can get the hell out of this story.
Sue is appalled. And then an old woman is brutally murdered.
By the time the cliffhanger has arrived, my wife is very disturbed. She’s alarmed by just how brutal and grim this is. She sums it up with a venomous barb.
Sue: They should call the lead actor William Heartless.top
Sue made us plough on with the last episode. Either she wanted to get it over and done with or she genuinely wanted to see how events panned out.
The violence continues to amaze her. By the time Za has smashed Kal’s head in with a boulder, she has practically turned into Mary Whitehouse.
Sue: I just don’t see how they got away with this. You assume that things were a lot tamer back in the past but this is brutal stuff and certainly inappropriate for the time slot it went out.
Sue is also surprised (but in a good way) that the regulars are very keen on simply legging it back to the TARDIS so they can leave the bickering tribe to their own devices. And she is increasingly annoyed at just how quickly and easily Susan has gone from being an enigmatic protagonist to a whimpering child. She’s not impressed by the claustrophobic feel to the programme either, even when I explain to her that they are probably working in the most inappropriate television studio imaginable.
Sue: This looks pretty cheap by today’s standards, but I can see that back then it must have looked acceptable. If you squint at it.
When our heroes finally make it back to the the TARDIS, Sue is relieved that this particular journey has come to an end.
Sue: Look at the state of them! What a mess. I’m amazed that no one seems to be very heroic in this thing so far. I can’t tell who we are supposed to root for from one minute to the next. And there was far too much grunting!
When the ship’s radiation meter jumps into the red, Sue lets out a tiny “Oooh”; either she’s humouring me or she’s genuinely interested in what happens next on ‘The Dead Planet’.top
The Final Score
When I ask Sue to give a final score for the four episodes, collectively known as – actually, let’s not get into that now – she doesn’t hesitate.
She can tell by the look on my face that she’s done something terrible.
Sue: Is that too harsh? Is there worse to come?
Me: Oh yes.
Sue: Really? Oh God.
For the very first time, Sue appears worried.
She then goes on to explain that she enjoyed the first episode a great deal but the remaining three episodes got bogged down in the politics of the cavemen and she didn’t really care about them all that much. In the end we decide, just this once mind, to give separate marks for the opening episode and what she refers to as “the stone-age nonsense”. So that’s -
Join us next time when we’ll -
Actually, don’t tell her. I don’t want to spoil the surprise.
The experiment continues…top
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