Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Baptism By Fire

Librarian in the TARDIS - Unearthly Revisited, Part 2

Title: The Cave of Skulls
Written by: Anthony Coburn
Team TARDIS: First Doctor, Susan Foreman, Ian Chesterton, Barbara Wright
Adversary: Kal and the Cavemen (sounds like an 80s punk-rock band, doesn’t it?)
Originally Aired: November 30, 1963

Synopsis (basically the same as yesterday)

Again - screencaps from Tragical History Tour

My Review:

"The Cave of Skulls" is really a story of two halves. There's the wrap-up of what was left over from "An Unearthly Child" - convincing the audience that, yup, we've time-traveled. And then… there's the caveman storyline. Which, I'm going to freely admit, I've never been that invested in. As far as I'm concerned, the cavemen serve only two purposes: (1) To prove that the TARDIS can travel in time (see also: "The End of the World") and (2) to create drama and conflict for the four main characters to interact with. The whole thing with making fire - eh, not that important. At least, not in and of itself. Mostly it’s there just to make Team TARDIS look good on their very first outing.  Which makes sense, when you have this core group of the Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara that you're going to be following throughout this series, you want the audience to connect with them.  You're not terribly concerned about these periphery characters that are just there to propel the story onward.

But that doesn't mean there’s nothing here to love. Most of fandom may just skip over these three episodes, but I've got plenty to say about them. So, let’s get going!

A New World For You

The Gallifreyans: Just another day at the office. The humans: ...the hell??
Once the cavemen characters have been established, the story cuts back to the TARDIS. Ian and Barbara are slowly coming back to consciousness from their first trip through the time vortex, and the Doctor and Susan are at the console, blissfully pretending that nothing out of the ordinary has happened. From this very first shot, you can tell that this isn't the first time the Doctor and Susan have done this. The image is very much that of Captain Kirk and his crew on the bridge of the Enterprise or even Han Solo and Chewbacca piloting the Millennium Falcon. Just another trip through time and another day to check the instruments. I seriously love that sight of complete normalcy on the part of the Doctor and Susan, but Ian and Barbara are in the background helping each other up with looks on their faces of "What the hell just happened?" It's one of my absolute favorite things about this serial!

I have no reason to include this picture other than I like it.
Now, through the last review, I often referred to Ian and Barbara together. They work together, they came to the junkyard together, they were kidnapped by the Doctor together. They're fantastic individual characters, but I love their interactions together. That being said, I love how this first scene establishes that there are times when they are such very different people. No where does this happen better that when the Doctor and Susan are trying to convince Ian and Barbara that they're not in 1963 London anymore. Barbara believes them a lot quicker than Ian does. There's even a sense that Barbara is eager to get out of the TARDIS and see things for herself. Ian… not so much. He's actually more argumentative about it - vehemently insisting that this has all been a trick and there's no way they could possibly be anywhere except the junkyard (or maybe he's a bit worried about leaving his car parked out on the street for who knows how long - that's just me reading between the lines). You really can't blame him at all - Ian's a scientist. He's made his life around experiments and scientific proof and what he can see in front of him. He doesn't trust anything he can't see, hear, or touch, so it's no wonder that he doesn't believe what the Doctor is telling him until he's actually outside the TARDIS doors - but he's also reluctant to go there. At least, until Barbara asks him if he's coming.

Remember how I said I wasn't going to fangirl-squee over Ian and Barbara anymore? You know I was lying, right?
(Side Note: Something I never noticed when I've watched this before is when the TARDIS doors open out into the wilderness, the Doctor takes off his hat. Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but he almost does it out of respect and reverence - as if William Hartnell did it on purpose to mark the historic moment when the TARDIS opened up onto an alien landscape for the very first time. Or maybe his head was itchy. Who knows?)

Disguising Itself Wherever It Goes

Nope. Definitely not Shoreditch anymore...
And here we get another brilliant piece of Doctor Who mythos - the TARDIS Police Box. That little moment when the Doctor first sees that the TARDIS hasn't changed and he's mumbling "how disturbing" it is, that used to bother me. Like William Hartnell wasn't quite putting his all into those lines. But then I thought about it some more and it makes more sense. Up until now, the Doctor has been the epitome of confidence in his time-and-space ship. Confident to the point of condescension, especially when he's dismissing Ian's protests that none of this can be possible. But then something goes wrong, and suddenly the Doctor's been wrong-footed. Suddenly, he isn't the smartest person in the room. He doesn't know why the TARDIS hasn't changed, but he doesn't want to admit that he might not be totally in control of the situation. So, he's going to run off and look for rocks or plants or whatever.

It falls to Susan to provide explanation. And seeing as how the Doctor's off… wherever... and Ian's still wondering "What the hell just happened?", Barbara is the one who's more keen on the newness of everything she's seeing. For reasons that aren't as easily explained as Ian's scientific skepticism, Barbara just soaking up this experience. She doesn't have a rational explanation, but she's more willing to go with it. She even admits that she doesn't really know why - she just believes that this is what's happening. So, it's fitting that Barbara is the one that figures out that the TARDIS is supposed to disguise itself wherever it goes. And, she actually sounds impressed by it. That one line is just so Barbara - she's rational and intelligent, but willing to accept new things that's she's presented with and add them to her ever-growing knowledge of the universe. It's something that I totally love about her character - and it makes her a perfect foil to Ian. In fact, that's probably the point when Ian starts to accept everything that's happened - he probably wouldn't have if Barbara wasn't willing to roll with it all.

Fire Will Kill Us All

I said that I wasn't too into the caveman storyline, and I'm really not. But I do have to talk about the end fight scene. Actually - before that. When the cavemen bring in the Doctor and the Doctor's laying unconscious on the rock, it's only when the Doctor wakes up that the scene gets interesting. Coming from New Who, I have no problems believing that this incarnation of the Doctor is still so very young and inexperienced. It's one thing to show off your shiny, futuristic toys to confuse people. But get him away from the TARDIS and all of his equipment - there's not much to him other than bluster. This is a Doctor early-on in his travels and he hasn't quite mastered the art of Social Interaction (compare this to later stories like "The Reign of Terror" when he convinces the jailer at Conciegerie Prison that he's some government official - well, a fluffy hat will do that). I know I'm coming at this backwards and a 1963 audience wouldn't have had that interpretation, but it's still something of note.

Caveman Negotiation 101 clearly wasn't covered at the Time Lord Academy.
Then, the cavalry arrives! For all the talk that Ian is the action hero (and he is, don't get me wrong!), it's interesting that Susan is the first one to jump one of the cavemen threatening her grandfather. Since realizing her grandfather was missing, Susan's been pretty much in a blind panic. I don't know how her travels with her grandfather have been up to this point, but I get the impression that she hasn't been separated from him very much, if at all. Plus, we're not sure of the circumstances of how they left their home planet. In many ways, Susan is probably a very lonely girl. I don't mind that she screams and panics a lot - many fans kind of dismiss her as just a screamer. But given everything that's implied to have happened to her (admittedly we don't know much - though I do know Big Finish has had some fun with pre-Unearthly Child stories), I really don't mind that she gets scared easily. In fact, I would be worried if she didn't get scared.

So, Team TARDIS gets captured by a bunch of irate cavemen who just want some fire (remember how Ian didn't have matches in the last episode? Boy, oh, boy he probably really wishes he had some now) and… what's this? The Doctor apologizes for getting all them into this mess? The condescending jerk that kidnapped Ian and Barbara and took them thousands of years into the past so they could get tied up and tossed into some smelly, disgusting cave?

Would you two on the left stop being all adorable and crap?? It makes it my job even more difficult!
That, my friends, is called character development. And there'll be more of it in the next episode!

Next Time, on Librarian in the TARDIS: Unearthly Revisited -
Part 3 - In which there is an enormous amount of running involved.

Previously -
Part 1 - All There in the Manual

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