Doctor Who: The Long Way Round: An Unearthly Child – Part 3

An Unearthly Child: The Forest of Fear

Forest of Fear

Doctor: Fear makes companions of all of us.

Barbara: I never thought once you were afraid.

Doctor: Fear is with all of us, and always will be. Just like that other sensation that lives with it.

Barbara: What’s that?

Doctor: Your companion referred to it. Hope.

Whilst the title may explicitly refer to the actual forest our time travellers enter, I wonder if it also could be said to be referring to this episode being a key narrative turning point. Up until this point The Doctor and Susan have had much to fear from humans and trust is in short supply. As I mentioned in the last episode, this scenario seems to be one of the most nightmarish they have faced. But out of that great fear seems to be emerging something else, companionship and hope.

We would be hard pressed to say The Doctor is even really friendly with the two school teachers but there is a willingness, in this situation at least, to work together. He is willing to apologise for his own role in the situation and seeks to free Ian before himself or Susan, something I would not previously expect from him. We see the emergence of roles for each of team. The Doctor seems to act as a planner, Susan uses her memory to help them remember their way back to the ship, Ian is the muscle1 whilst Barbara is the conscience of the group. This latter point is most interesting, as we see her put directly at odds with The Doctor. She is determined to help Za even though he planned to kill them because he is a human being, against the advice of the rest of the group. When the rest of the group sides with her, it is strongly implied The Doctor plans to kill Za in order to help them. But the script is careful to ensure we see both sides of the conflict:

Barbara: Why? You treat everybody and everything as something less important than yourself.

Doctor: You are trying to say that everything you do is reasonable and everything I do is inhuman. Well, I’m afraid your judgement’s at fault, Miss Wright, not mine.

The women in this episode are probably the most interesting characters. We see here Hur becoming a full Lady Macbeth, trying to manipulate Za into taking action in order to make sure he becomes leader of the tribe. Even though her plans go wrong due to an animal attack, her actions are not foolish. Kal would almost certainly have used their escape to launch a coup of the tribe whether they were present or not. I get the sense that in fact most of his rule is dependent on Hur, even though he would likely never admit it. Old Mother is the other instituter of events in this part. At first she seems like such a wildcard that it is unclear if she plans to kill the travellers or set them free. As much as The Doctor tries to form a plan of escape, it is very unlikely it would be able to succeed. Old Mother’s desire to keep their tribe free of fire is the only reason they escape. Further, Kal being able to frame her death on Za is what finally clinches his control of the tribe and their willingness to hunt down the time-travellers.

Annoyingly, we do get Ian regularly implying Susan and Barbara to be less able than The Doctor (who we see is having trouble breathing) and make him do protection and physical work. The Doctor’s desire to not be seen as the weakest member of the party explains his desire to go along with this but I am more troubled. Given my other issues with Coburn it is hard to tell at this stage if this is a character flaw or merely a symptom of his writing.

Some of the other writing of Barbara is also questionable but at least understandable. Firstly, she gets the most upset of all the party at the events going on around them. Being a history teacher this can be seen to be representative of the big difference between reading about the past in books and experiencing the violence of it herself. It also makes sense as she has probably not been in service (like Ian most likely would have) nor has she been on the run across time and space like The Doctor and Susan. At the same time, however, the optics of this first encounter with the past are a little disappointing.

We also get The Doctor dismissing Barbara’s concern about the creature in the forest as pure imagination. This is, of course, an interesting reversal of Barbara’s treatment of Susan in the TARDIS in the first episode (and this time Barbara is indeed correct), however I still question slightly the choice to make it Barbara being dismissed by The Doctor, when Ian might have made for a better contrast.

One other part that I found disappointing was the time travellers’ contention that they don’t have logic and reason. From what we have seen, this is incorrect. They merely have a different logic and reason, just like The Doctor has to Ian and Barbara (which leads to the altercation quoted above). This is the same with Hur who they state cannot understand kindness and friendship. Rather it does not seems that different from the other eras of human history, people often become concerned with their own ends when the fight for survival is on.

This applies as well to our new set of companions. In spite of the apparent team building I mentioned earlier we definitely continue to see strong conflict between Ian and The Doctor. With there only being one more part in this story, we will have to see if they can begin to work together enough to escape their situation.

1. Interestingly he seems to act as if he has some kind of military training. As we do not know the character’s age it’s hard to tell if he was old enough to serve in World War Two but would likely have been in national service unless he worked in a reserved occupation. Hopefully this is something they will explore more fully going forward.

GS Blogger: Kris Vyas-Myall

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