Like many fans I`m sure, the first time I saw AUC was during The Five Faces of Dr Who repeat season in 1981, some 15 years after it’s first transmission. Why DWM choose to be pedantic and refer to the story as 100,000BC instead of the title we all know it by is beyond me. But then when it comes to story titles, I reckon they’re both wrong as far as this first “story” is concerned…
After the excitement of finally seeing how it all started, I was struck by the fact that those first four episodes are not really a four-part story at all. They`re a self-contained single episode story called An Unearthly Child followed by a rather dull [by comparison] three-part story called The Firemaker. Or is that just me?
That second “Firemaker” story features our very first example of what`s called a Story Loop – they escape, only to get captured again and end up right back where they started: captured, escape, captured, escape. Now that may be convenient when you haven`t really got enough story to fill your timeslot and a limited number of sets but for modern viewers it quickly becomes tedious. Not that I spotted it straight away during that first viewing back in 1981 but now I spot them all the time, which is where Fan Editing comes in handy!
This Fan Edit, my first stab at a Hartnell story, was first done back in 2009. But this slightly updated version is still essentially in two parts, the first part being all the junkyard & Tardis scenes [episode 1] and part two all the cavemen stuff [episodes 2-4].
I like to think of it as a sort of SJA Invasion of the Bane-style pilot, with The Daleks coming along later to kick off the first season proper. So the first half is a mix of both the transmitted and pilot version of the first episode. See if you can spot where we cut from one to the other. When we get to the cavemen, there`s no loop – they get captured, they make fire, they escape. Simples!
One way of looking at An Unearthly Child is to see it as the Child Of The Inklings, a televisual mashup where Tolkien meets CS Lewis – a sort of The Doctor, The Teachers and The Wardrobe. The Doctor may be Gandalf, but this particular wardrobe doesn’t lead to Narnia, but to all of Time and Space!
And viewers of the time would immediately have got the dual references to both Steptoe and Son and Dixon of Dock Green, the second series of the former having transmitted some ten months earlier, whilst the latter was onto its tenth series by 1963.
Put yourself in their place for a moment. You’ve just sat through a title sequence unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, with music unlike anything you’ve ever heard before, and the first things you see are visuals that immediately put you in mind of two distinct hit shows of the time, one a comedy, the other a drama. The opening of AUC is such a clear example of intertextuality at work that it makes you wonder whether it was deliberate or unconscious…
The Fan Edit opens with a slightly amended version of the Hartnell title sequence, cut to the second version of the music. This simply involved a repeat of a couple of sections. I quite like the way the logo now recedes away at the end as the action fades up. I`ve still used the proper Hartnell font – Grotesque Condensed – but put a slight outline around it to make it stand out a bit more.
One notable omission is the policeman sequence from the original opening, we skip that and now go straight to Ian and Barbara. This first scene features the first of several additional music cues used to fill out what I felt was a rather “empty” episode aurally. It was quite a challenge to find pieces that sounded as though they fitted with the original Norman Kay cues that I couldn`t remove for one reason or another. In the end I found what I wanted on an album of Star Trek soundtrack music by Alexander Courage and I think they work really well in helping with the atmosphere. It certainly gives the story a different feel, and that difference is, after all, one of the reasons for watching a Fan edit in the first place.
Once they`re in the Tardis, there`s a couple of cuts, the most notable of which is the sequence where the Doctor electrocutes Ian. It puts me in mind of those distasteful scenes in The Twin Dilemma, and I don`t like all that “nasty Doctor” stuff. Although in this case, at least they have the defence that they were doing everything for the first time, and it’s rare to get all the elements of a successful show correct, right from the off. JNT and Saward have no such excuse for their betrayal of the character but here, Lambert and Whitaker and Hartnell are still finding their feet, finding out what works and what doesn’t.
Of course, you can see the arrival of Ian and Barbara as the very thing that changes the Doctor into the man we know and love today but I still prefer to tone down the anti-hero aspects of the character. So the electrocution gets cut, it’s gratuitous and exactly the sort of Un-Doctor-ish thing Saward would have had Colin do. So don`t look for Billy contemplating crushing Za`s skull with a rock either. I suppose my removing stuff that I find objectionable can be viewed as a retcon but then that’s what a fan edit is, in effect. I prefer to think of it as the Head of Dept putting his foot down and saying to the Producer “you can’t put that out at tea-time on a Saturday!” Just imagine an office on the Sixth Floor that says “Doctor Who Fan Edits”!
One of the things I really wanted to do in the edits of the first few stories, where the Doctor’s character isn’t fully formed yet and he is more anti-hero than the hero we all know now, the man he will become, was to soften the more abrasive edges of his character, to try and make him more grumpy then nasty. After all, the Doctor as we know him now doesn’t actually show up for quite a while, arguably not until Vicki comes along…
There are more questions than answers in the first ever episode and it’s worth remembering when you watch An Unearthly Child today that everything that we now associate with the show wasn’t there at the start. There were no Time Lords and no regeneration, just a mysterious old man on the run from something or other with his mildly annoying Grand-daughter.
The Doctor here really is “Doctor… Who?” and more so than he will be at any other point in the show’s history up until the revelations of The War Games six years later. Here at the start of it all he’s very much a background character. It won’t be until the Pertwee Years that the character will really move centre stage and into the spotlight. In the first three stories in particular, and for quite a while thereafter, to a lesser extent, he’s a bit like Dr Zachary Smith in Lost In Space. And I can just imagine Jonathan Harris as an “Unboud” Hartnell…
After all the excitement of the events in Totters Lane, The Firemaker is all a bit humdrum. I can’t help but think that if they were alien cavemen instead of humans the story would have been a lot more engaging without having to change a single word of the scripts. You could have avoided all the usual cavemen cliches that way and upped the dramatic ante. You wonder why nobody thought of it at the time.
The main problem is that there’s never any real doubt that the Doctor and his friends will manage to outwit the cavemen. Okay, so it’s neat that, out of all of them, it’s Susan who comes up with the way out of their predicament instead of the more expected Ian but you never really doubt that the Tribe are a match for the travellers. If the cavemen had been alien however, that might have made the outcome less predictable and thereby more engaging. That’s my theory anyway.
Just imagine, if they had run into Planet of the Apes instead of Captain Caveman, how much better might that have been? A lot I reckon.
So, with your Fan Brain constantly reminding you that you could be watching the pesky pepperpots that are up next instead, the Fan Edit gets through Dr Who and The Cavemen as quickly as it can before Billy and his chums leg it and end up on Skaro.
To finish off the edit there’s a newly created end title sequence. I was always a bit disappointed that the Hartnell & Troughton credits ran against black, without a version of the opening tiles behind them so I`ve rectified that and used a loop from one of the tests that didn`t make it into the finished sequence. I really like it and for that reason I do something I don`t do on any other Fan Edit – a full set of closing credits.
I`m very proud of my work on this story, but the one sequence that gives me the most satisfaction is my amended version of the Tardis` first journey from the junkyard to the cavemen. It`s not just different, it`s better as we finally get to see something the original missed out on – the Ship dematerialising away from that junkyard in Totters Lane and setting off on a journey that has lasted, so far, for nearly fifty years and, we all hope, for so many more.
Having viewed the edit again recently, I was struck by how much I enjoyed it. I had expected to watch it and totally disagree with the editing choices I’d made six years earlier but for the most part I genuinely didn’t. There wasn’t very much I would do differently, and certainly not enough to warrant tackling the edit all over again, but I did feel that the music was just a little bit too loud in places but in my defence it was one of the earliest stories I edited, and is about the only one from back then that I haven’t completely redone.
And so I went back and took the music further down in the mix, which involved ripping the relevant sections from the DVD and then laying the ripped audio over the edited audio so they matched without any echo due to them being ever so slightly out of sync. There were only two or three short sections I needed to patch this way, the rest of it simply needed me to take the volume down. I also took the opportunity to slightly tweak the cue I used for the moment when Babs enters the Tardis for the first time.
Other than those audio tweaks, this mk2 version of my An Unearthly Child Fan Edit remains unchanged from the 2009 original.