Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Formula is Set - We're Off and Running!

Librarian in the TARDIS - Unearthly Revisited, Part 4

Title: The Firemaker
Written by: Anthony Coburn
Team TARDIS: First Doctor, Susan Foreman, Ian Chesterton, Barbara Wright
Adversary: The Cavemen
Originally Aired: December 14, 1963

(Tragical History Tour is back in business and the screencaps come from them!)

My Review:

Where “The Forest of Fear” sort of meanders about with Team TARDIS getting captured and escaping and being chased by killer cavemen and frightening creatures, “The Firemaker” finally gets around to the business of tying up the loose ends and moving on with the story. It’s not a bad ending to this initial four-part story of Doctor Who.
Doctor Who Season 1 - A Portrait in One Panel
It starts out with Team TARDIS being ambushed on the way back to the ship.  But it's kind of okay because they were planning on taking the wounded caveman back to the tribe anyway, much to the surprise of the one cavelady, who remarks that this new tribe treated them like a mother caring for a child. Still, no good deed goes unpunished in early 1960s Doctor Who and the four are tossed back into the Cave of Skulls - but this time, they aren't tied up (maybe that was the tribe’s idea of mercy, who knows?) Either as a last-ditch attempt to get the cavemen to let them go or out of sheer boredom (or both), Ian, Barbara and Susan work together to try to make fire.

I sort of feel like I need a peppy song about teamwork to go here.
And here, we get another interesting scene that informs on future interactions within Team TARDIS. The would-be caveman leader comes into the cave and sees Ian trying to make fire the old-fashioned Scout Camp way with a couple of sticks, some string, and dead leaves. The caveman asks if Ian is the leader of their tribe and Ian defers to the Doctor. He doesn’t give a reason for doing that - maybe it’s because the Doctor is the owner of the TARDIS and he’s the seasoned time-traveler or it could simply be old-fashioned deference and respect to someone older. Either way, it’s kind of a nice moment, considering the relationship between the Doctor and Ian up to this point has been prickly at best.

(Again, I don’t have much to say about the cavemen because I don’t find them that interesting beyond giving Team TARDIS an obstacle to overcome. But I do have to wonder - when you’re cast as a caveman and you’re told you’re perfect for the part, do you feel insulted or complimented? I’m asking for a friend...)

Caveman discovering fire for the first time or your typical fifteen-year-old Boy Scout? Really, is there a difference?
Anyway - back to the story. Another part that I absolutely love is when Susan starts fiddling around with the fire and she sticks a skull on top of a burning torch. For one thing, she’s gotten over her fear of dead things (which is remarkable, considering there’s a recently-dead caveman in there with them). And here we have one of the best escape plans in the history of escape plans - which probably only works because we’re dealing with superstitious cavemen here, but that’s beside the point

*obligatory Hamlet joke*
Ian gets the idea to stick four skulls on torches and pretend like they all died from - what? Fire exposure? Falling into the firepit? Poking each other with flaming sticks? (I tell you - boredom!) Who knows, but all we've got is a prank and a prayer and let’s hope this thing works! Which it does, funnily enough (hey, we've only got five minutes to close out and get back to the TARDIS!) While the cavemen are scared spitless, Team TARDIS takes this chance to sneak out the front door and take off running through the forest (*cough* BBC crew brandishing palm fronds *cough, cough*). The cavemen come to their senses at the last minute and give chase, but it’s too late. Team TARDIS has made it back to the ship and they take off, not knowing exactly where they’re going but at least it’s away from the cavemen.

Last one to the TARDIS gets out first on the next hostile planet!
Which still isn't good enough for Ian and Barbara. While these four did unite in their ordeal with the cavemen, once they get back to the TARDIS it’s back to the whole “Get us back home!” conflict. This is going to strain at the dynamic between the Doctor, Ian and Barbara with Susan caught up in the middle. It makes for a fascinating character study, even though it’s not at the forefront of the main story until “The Edge of Destruction,” which is among my very favorite Classic Who stories. This conflict is something that I quite like in these early days, though I am glad that it gets resolved later-on.

By the end of “The Beginnings” boxset, this Team TARDIS settles into a really neat little family dynamic that makes this group an iconic (dare I use that overused term?) set and would carry Doctor Who into it’s first wave of intense popularity. Sure, the Daleks were there to keep the public interest coming, but without these wonderful and compelling characters, even the cool-factor of the Daleks wouldn’t have been able to keep things going. Doctor Who was off and running from the very beginning and this story set forth the template for fifty years of great storytelling and madcap adventure, changing lives and influencing so many kids and adults to look at their world in a whole new light.

Or, simply to give us all something to look forward to.

Thus, ends the Librarian in the TARDIS: Unearthly Revisited series - I hope you've all enjoyed it as much as I've enjoyed going in-depth on the story that started Doctor Who.  I mean, we talk about the Daleks and how that really kicked things into high gear - but you really need some great core characters for the weeks the Daleks aren't terrorizing the universe and I think this initial story really gave the show a good foundation to work from. You don't get to 50 years without a solid starting-point and "An Unearthly Child" (or "An Unearthly Child" plus "100,000 BC" - whatever you want to call it) laid the groundwork in spectacular fashion.  In the weeks following, viewers would get caught up in the Daleks and the historicals and so many other great characters and plotlines - but this is where it all started and this is what we're all celebrating.

Previously -
Part 3 - The Best Out of a Bad Situation

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