Sunday, January 4, 2015

Review - Doctor Who - Story 1 - The Unearthly Child

NOTE: This review contains spoilers. If you have not seen this story then turn back now. These reviews are based as much as on the usefulness for conversion or as inspiration for a 1eAD&D campaign as they are a commentary on the story itself.

Doctor Who - Story 1 - An Unearthly Child

This is my third or fourth time watching this story and the first time I've really enjoyed it. My Doctor was Tom Baker and it was many years before I ever saw anything of the earlier Doctors except for a brief and unflattering view of them during Peter Davison's tenure in 'The Five Doctors' story (during which Tom Baker opted out and we were treated with unaired clips from the uncompleted episode 'Shada' and, with the major disappointment I felt with the Davison stories, seeing Baker reprise his role as the 'Doctor' was what I'd been looking forward to back then).

I liked Hartnell as an actor the few times I'd seen him previously in 'The Sporting Life', 'The Mouse that Roared' and mainly from 'Carry On Seargent' . As the 'Doctor' Hartnell did not appeal to me when seeing him in this story for the first time. After gathering a larger collection of his surviving episodes and on rewatching them with a change in expectations as well as perspective I found that I could appreciate the adventure and Hartnell as The Doctor to a greater degree and divorce myself from comparison with Doctors and stories yet to come.

I've since come to enjoy Hartnell's Doctor with his greater sense of self interest, his sometimes childish lack of concern for others and without his seeming omnipotence that most recent incarnations of the Doctor envisage. Hartnell's Doctor is a good template for a wizard character or a sage. While he is not imbued with magical ability he is learned if not always possessing great wisdom.

The stories all seem to involve an adventuring party, though in more of a Call of Cthulhu than a D&D way. There is a regular aversion to the use of guns by the Good though The Doctor seems often to be helped by the use of weapons and the death of his enemies and there is normally a high mortality rate among those whom he encounters; both the Good and the Bad. In this particular story I counted only three deaths.

The adventurers find themselves among a primitive society and the Doctor is captured. The old leader has died and his son needs to do The Thing only his father could do or lose leadership (and probably his life). The son spots the Doctor doing The Thing and kidnaps him so that the Doctor will do The Thing for him and thereby guarantee that he will be leader of his tribe. Soon the entire party is caught, then released, chased after, and after saving the life of the son of the old leader (apparently by the judicious use of water and a stretcher made out of coats) they are recaptured.

The challenger to the son of the old leader is the one who captured the Doctor and Company and is driven off by the tricks of the Doctor, but after doing The Thing for the son of the old leader they are to be kept and merged with the tribe (in a very real and legally binding sense it can be supposed or maybe just to do The Thing again if it becomes necessary). Now in between doing all this the challenger returns, kills a guard and fights a nicely uninterrupted battle to the death with the son of the old leader while the Doctor and Company look on aghast, but don't interfere with. In the end by judicious use of The Thing they are able to make their escape and disappear in haste before the stone-tipped spears can damage their vastly advanced time and space machine.

All in all a very enjoyable show and a decent enough example of how to run a primitive tribe for a game of D&D. The Thing, which in this case was the secret of making fire, could easily be some magical device or ceremony that the tribe (humans, orcs, lizards...) have lost the secret to doing. The Doctor could be any kidnapped NPC, perhaps a sage of some repute, and the players are sent to retrieve him. During the adventure they find that they might just want to get the device, do the ceremony, enter the vault, awaken the temple... or simply stop the tribe from doing so, or even have to put a stop to what the tribe might have started (or summoned).

A much more fun story than I had thought originally and decent inspiration for adventure as well as an example of how to run a primitive society without looking entirely foolish. The episode titles could each be their own module;

"The Unearthly Child"
"The Cave of Skulls"
"The Forest of Fear"
"The Firemaker"

1 comment:

  1. I don't recall ever seeing this episode. I have seen a little bit of the pre-Baker (Tom, that is!) era of Who and I enjoy it. I think Mr. Baker was wise to skip the big reunion episode you mentioned. I did have the old Target novelization of this story and a stack of other; all lost to the ravages of time...