January 2: "The Forest of Fear" / "The Firemaker"

(An Unearthly Child episodes 3 & 4)

The drama which began last time continues here.  As before, the direction in both of these episodes is excellent -- shots like Za being attacked by the beast and the fight between Za and Kal are particularly well done.  And the actors continue to take things utterly seriously, which really helps.  This is a genuinely scary place, as alien and unknowable as anything the Doctor and his fellow travelers may encounter.  Anthony Coburn's script does a good job of highlighting this: the scene with Za remembering what Ian told him, while Hur fails to understand, is just one such example of the thought that's gone into things.

Susan gives Ian an idea ("The Firemaker") ©BBC
Really, these four episodes could be viewed almost independently, telling the tale of two teachers ripped from their own time and thrown into a terrifying situation in which they have to learn to work with their fellow travelers in order to survive.  It's not really what we would nowadays call Doctor Who, but that's a strength here: you get the sense that anything could happen afterwards.  Although let's get this "the Doctor is a selfish dangerous old man" stuff out of the way right now: other than that scene where he picks up the rock, Hartnell gives us a person who is desperate to survive but still somewhat compassionate.  He may not have wanted to help Za, but he did save Ian's life and apologize to everyone for getting them into trouble.  He's not the crusader for justice that we see later, but neither is he completely self-centered.

An Unearthly Child as a whole may not resemble the shape of things to come, but what we get is still a compelling piece of television, even 50 years later.  Anthony Coburn may have grown to dislike the show after his treatment on his next, unproduced story (sometimes called The Masters of Luxor or The Robots), but he should have been proud of what he helped create here.  A very impressive beginning.