Friday, September 9, 2011

The Keys to the TARDIS: An Unearthly Child

In this installment of "The Keys to the TARDIS," Peter McClean reminisces about the anticipation he felt for the very first Doctor Who episode ever and how this episode is key to charting his trajectory as a lifelong Doctor Who fan.  He also identifies the Daleks as the key to the series as a whole, which he will talk about more in next week's column.

Doctor Who: An Unearthly ChildIf I were to identify one single thing that most signifies Dr. Who for me it would be Daleks. They are the one thing from all the Dr. Who series that has had the biggest effect on me. Dr. Who without the Daleks would never have been what it is today; and that’s speaking as someone who saw the start of the first ever episode when it was first broadcast on BBC on Saturday, 23rd November, 1963.

It took me forty-seven years and two months to watch that episode.

I was six years old in 1963. BBC had been promoting this new TV series and I had been anticipating it with great excitement.

On the previous night there had been very sad news. We had learned that President Kennedy had been assassinated. He had been greatly admired in Ireland and we all, even those of us at the age of six, were greatly saddened by the news. And yes, I remember what I was doing when I heard the news; I was in the kitchen drying the dishes.

However, on Saturday, I was still aware of the approaching broadcast of Dr. Who. At 6:15pm I was in the living-room with my eldest brother. He is some seventeen years older than me and was at that time totally unaware of the new series about to be revealed to the world (well, those that could receive BBC).

I told him I was hoping to see the programme. He turned our small, black and white TV to BBC. (There were only two channels available in those days: BBC, the British state-owned broadcaster, and ITV, Independent Television, the only commercial broadcaster in the UK.)

The now-familiar music started. Weird shapes flowed across the screen in phase with the artificially produced notes. A cobbled street appeared, lined with terraced houses. It was night time and fog swirled around. A London bobby came into view, strolling along the footpath and checking the doors of commercial properties.

He came to the ragged timber gates of a scrap yard, gave them a testing shake, and moved on.

The camera remained on the gates as they slowly opened allowing the viewers to see inside.

“This appears too scary for you, Peter. I don’t think I should let you see this,” my brother said as he switched the TV off. I was gutted.

At school the following week all the talk was about Dr. Who and how great it had been and how it was everyone’s favourite show, and how everyone couldn’t wait until next week to see what was going to happen.

There was so much talk about it at school that the whole family watched it the next week, and I was never again prevented from seeing another episode of Dr. Who, even though I did watch some of them from behind the couch. (It’s obviously the most comfortable place to watch Dr. Who from. You should try it some time.)

Oh, in terms of seeing the rest of that first-ever episode, I saw it in January of this year, 2011. My family bought me a boxed set of early Dr. Who episodes as a Christmas present, and I finally got to see the rest of "An Unearthly Child," forty-seven years and two months after I started watching it.