Doctor Who: The Long Way Round: An Unearthly Child – Part 1

An Unearthly Child: An Unearthly Child

An Unearthly Child

Whilst officially the start of a new four part story, this is really the wind-up to the four part sojourn in early 60s London. And the conclusion is the depressing one we might expect, that it is not a place where Susan and The Doctor can be safe. We have already seen that whilst London has many immigrants it’s not overly accepting. We further learn that the pastoral care and governmental systems are not designed to deal with cases outside of the strict norms of the time.

For, even just on Earth, we have seen Susan go through horrendous tragedy and every time she thinks she is making a connection to another human it results in her being alone again. Just in this episode we get an explicit contrast between the other pupils of the school mucking about, gossiping and generally just acting like teenagers. Susan is in the classroom alone, the comforts she seems to have are getting lost in the music and the mystery of the darkness. She enjoys being cloaked by something else now, rather than making friends any more.1

And yet, that does not appear to be the real concern for her teachers. Ian is the first one to note that the concern about their homework is just an excuse and really what they are doing is satisfying their own curiosity, something today that would likely lead to their suspension2. The Doctor also further queries why teachers would be spying on one of their pupils and they cannot give a satisfactory answer. They state they are concerned about her now they have followed her but make no attempt to justify their actions.

And there could easily be a legitimate reason for Susan’s actions which could be a reason for safeguarding. However,what the situation is actually closest to is people feeling persecution or put in a form of witness protection. Today, procedures are in place for these circumstances, and it would be approached carefully by proper authorities. In fact in one set of safeguarding guidelines I found it stated:

“…staff should be cautious about attempting to question or interview children, as fear of providing information may cause families to withdraw from school again. Similarly, confidential information must be shared with caution, to avoid unwitting disclosure about a family that may put them at risk.”3

However, Ian and Barbara bring so much of their assumptions to the situation. Susan’s grandfather is a doctor therefore he must be fine with visitors. Something mysterious must be going on with a pupil because the knowledge she has is different from their own4. They even go so far as to declare she must be a part of their culture as she “looks like” them and she “sounds like” them, they have such a strong conception of “The Other” as being so different I have to wonder if they accuse French people of lying if they don’t sound like a Monty Python sketch and walk around in berets with onions draped over their necks.

It should be noted, however, they do seem to be slightly beyond the rest of the adult world we have observed so far. Whilst Susan is right to state (from our observations) that humans minds reject what they don’t understand, Ian and Barbara do not completely. Barbara is able to sense that they are going to become involved in something big5 and they are able to notice something is odd about the police box which apparently escaped Col Rook. Now the reasons for this are (as yet) unclear, is it something about them or just the result of the TARDIS6 working again. Once they are inside, the response is also very interesting between The Doctor and Susan and with Ian and Barbara. Outside, The Doctor attempts to distract, use logical argument and even force, but all fail to keep the teachers out. Inside, even when he claims they will not understand, he continues to be determined to make them see the truth7. He could easily play into their belief it is an illusion or they are drugged or any other set of beliefs keeping them none the wiser to the truth.

Whilst, in spite of everything, Susan was still happy to remain on Earth we get the definite sense The Doctor has been feeling trapped and worried about discovery. We get the reminder of that right at the start, of the policeman looking through the darkness and coming very close to seeing the actual TARDIS. Whilst I don’t believe he is the actual “Truant Officer” as he does not match the description, it’s a reminder that there are authorities from the Doctor and Susan’s Home looking for them and may well close in on them. The Doctor also has fears about the police in general as well. Partially, this may be the thefts he was making recently and the situation with Col. Rook showing that the authorities may be aware of him, but I think it may well be he is simply distrustful of the civilian authorities in general and the power they may have. For we see The Doctor appears to be much more jolly in spite of the crisis than ever before, now he can finally leave. Whilst Susan wants to stay he is determined to have his freedom and, although she threatens to leave, she seemed resigned at the start of the story to remaining, declaring that she “expects” that she would see her teachers tomorrow, not a certainty that she would always be here.

We cannot, of course, leave without discussing the decision The Doctor makes at the end. For the first time we have an outsider enter into the TARDIS, a breaking of the two worlds. Outside has always been cold, whether the desolate Iwa, the danger of The Cold, or the London Fog. The inside is a sleek modernism, well lit, apparently warm enough for them to take their outside clothes off but not so hot as they would bake in them. They are also able to control everything inside and protect themselves from intruders. Whilst there was previously an offer of flight in the early part of Frayed, it does not seem The Doctor was really that interested in keeping up this end of the bargain. The Doctor and Susan are wanderers cut off from aid and protection but they always have the TARDIS to return to. Now we finally have those from a part of what The Doctor and Susan have always observed entering the place they call home instead. None of their actions necessarily put them in the best light. Ian and Barbara not only deny what they see and attempt to convince Susan it does not exist, they seem willing to try to just take Susan away from what they don’t understand. Susan seems caught between her desire to stay on Earth, her care for humans and her understanding of what her Grandfather has said, that it will be dangerous to stay. The Doctor’s choice to leave and take them with him is also understandable but he takes the choice away from everyone else. Rather than try to convince Susan he tells her she is simply being “sentimental and childish”. His flaw is that he assumes he knows best and people should just accept what he is saying rather than being willing to listen to others.

So we now have outsiders entering the TARDIS for a journey. And not willing passengers either, it should certainly shake up the dynamic we have seen at least and hopefully lead to more innovative storytelling.

1. Interestingly, in spite of everything we have seen, Susan is still willing to declare the last five months have been the happiest of her life. Now this could be argued away as simply a lie in the situation but I don’t think so. As other areas of this episode seem to indicate the mind-fog she was suffering from in Time and Relative is lifting I think she genuinely feels this way. As it cannot be simply a case of travelling being the issue as she would have been happy at Home (now Susan seems to remember it is definitely another world) the question of what else had happened to them becomes quite a disturbing one.

2. In fact Barbara actually goes further into disturbing territory. She states she “almost” hopes she was meeting a boy, implying that under usual circumstances a 15-year old girl having a relationship could be the worst thing that would possibly happen!

4. Which represents an interesting parallel with Gillian previously as her kind of intelligence also goes unnoticed by the school system.

5. Although this does annoyingly play into the women’s intuition trope.

6. The appearance of the name in the previous part is now explained as being made up from the initials by Susan for Time And Relative Dimension In Space. Although where she got these initials from requires too much speculation on too little information for now.

7. There is however one particularly irritating moment when The Doctor compares them to “Red Indians” “savage mind” thinking the steam train is an illusion too. Now, I am willing to slightly look past this on the part of The Doctor as 1) he seems to be considering all humans as savages compared to them & 2) this may well be the information they have picked up from spending so long in London. However, I will judge Mr. Coburn for putting that line into The Doctor’s mouth.

GS Blogger: Kris Vyas-Myall

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