Many people have attempted to record online the marathon of watching every Doctor Who episode from start to finish but an important area of Who scholarship remains unresearched. Starting today, it is my new project to watch and analyse every First Doctor episode from AN UNEARTHLY CHILD through to THE CHASE but not on the basis of how good the story is or how scary the monsters are. I shall be examining in forensic detail all the different modes of address the Doctor has for Ian. I have long believed that the First Doctor’s character arc from cantankerous old git to lovable grandad figure can best be traced by the various ways in which he addresses Ian. So join me as we explore the Doctor’s dramatic journey from “May I ask what you’re doing here, Sir?” via “my dear boy” through to “Please, Ian. Just one last tender kiss to remember you by.”
Do you know, I reckon there might even be a book in it.
On our journey of discovery, I’ll also be taking the opportunity to muse either briefly or at length on any thoughts which occur to me, particularly any contrasts with my hazy memory of these stories. Most of what I remember of the Hartnell era comes either from the TARGET novelisations or from Sunday morning omnibus broadcasts on UKGold in the mid 1990s during which I was usually hungover and kept nodding off. Given that I hold the world record for falling asleep during eleven consecutive attempts at watching THE WAR GAMES, I don’t hold out much luck for my being able to last the distance with THE DALEK MASTER PLAN. So you’ll have to bear with me and let’s hear no snickers during the coming marathon.
We start with AN UNEARTHLY CHILD. When there’s such an evocative title option, I don’t see why some people insist on calling it 100,000BC or the super-imaginitive THE TRIBE OF GUM.
What struck me immediately was that the rapport between Ian and Barbara is evident right from the start in that classroom. All my memories of rather stilted acting were blown away. Apart from the Received Pronunciation (which I actually prefer to the modern penchant for exaggerated regional accents), William Russell’s and Jacqueline Hill’s acting is a match for anything we get in New Who, and a cut above a lot of it. Susan has a strangely manic personality and Barbara screams helplessly a little too much but I hadn’t realised quite how much the story revolves around Ian and Barbara rather than the Doctor. There appear to be the beginnings of a lesbian subtext to the characterisation as Susan repeatedly refers to Barbara as “Miss Right” suggesting that, in her History teacher, Susan has found her ideal woman. It will be interesting to see whether the writers develop this in future stories.
One thing which goes against my memory is that the Doctor isn’t nearly as irrascible in his first story as fan wisdom might lead us to think. Even when trying to fob off Ian and Barbara in the junk yard, he treats their presumption with amusement rather than anger.
I have friends working in the farming sector who think that episodes 2, 3 and 4 of this story are fascinatingly engaging but I can’t agree. My interest in the story palls whenever any of the TARDIS “crew” aren’t involved in a scene. This may be unfair though as such crewless scenes generally comprise indistinguishable cavepersons giving us variations on “Ug, I’m the firestarter” and “Grunt, no, I’m the firestarter”. The utter tedium of this stands out even more in comparison with the cracking opening episode.
Ian’s little bit of nonsense about: “John Smith is the stage name of the honourable Aubrey Waites. He started his career as Chris Smith and the Carollers” was something I hadn’t remembered. It’s delivery by William Russell is deliciously judged as he uses a humorous tone to bring it off. It could so easily have come across as a teacher patronising his pupils by trying to be one of the kids. As it is, it’s a promising start for Ian and Barbara and you can well imagine 1960s children (those with TV sets) thinking wouldn’t it be cool if they were my teachers.
Anyway, getting to the point of my investigations, we find disappointingly little evidence as the Doctor restricts himself throughout the story to two instances of calling Ian “young man” and one of calling him “Chesterton.” It’s perhaps a little hard in 2013 to pick up the social nuances involved in one adult man addressing another just by his surname. Outside a uniformed work environment, it would almost be rude nowadays unless done with irony. However, it would have been sufficiently common in the Sixties not to be remarkable.
Despite this inauspicious start, in the next story, the Doctor starts throwing different forms of address around like confetti.