13 May 2013

An Unearthly Child vs. Rose: The Introduction Stories

The two stories in the title are completely different, yet they have quite a few similarities. The biggest commonality is they are both introductory stories to the greatest science-fantasy show in existence. In 1963, no one had any idea the ride they were in for when the program first aired. It was designed to be a science fiction show with a bent toward teaching children about history. When the show returned in 2005, many of the new viewers, as well as many older viewers, we're also unaware of what was in store. The older viewers knew it wasn't going to try to teach us about history, but that was all we really knew.

Let's take a look at the similarities and differences between these two stories.

Companion Introductions
Though Susan and Rose are both young, female companions, they were designed as vastly different characters. Susan was supposed to be the odd girl who didn't fit into her school while Rose was the absolute definition of the every girl in London. The strangeness of Susan was the one of the selling point for the original show. She was the character the younger viewers could identify with. Brilliant in the sciences & history but missing out on some other simple concepts [like Britain not on the decimal system yet]. A girl who was out of place. Does this difference in how they portrayed young girls/women say anything about the way society viewed females? Yes, Susan was meant to be protected against the world while Rose was an independent woman who took care of herself. An Unearthly Child also had two other companions to introduce, Ian & Barbara. Two ordinary school teachers worried about their student, Susan. These two characters were whom the adult audience was meant to identify with. The action hero and the handsome, middle-aged woman.

Rose was also an introduction story. But it needed to do more than An Unearthly Child. Not only did it have to (re)introduce the Doctor, the idea of a companion, and the general Doctor Who storyline, it also needed to appeal to older fans and to a new generation alike. And it couldn't do that with the same style of narrative used 42 years ago. The television audience had grown up and Doctor Who needed to follow along. It needed to become a much bigger show. Compare the following two sequences. Susan had long scenes where she was confronted with her uppity attitude in class while Rose's introduction was a blindingly fast quickcut montage of her life in a nutshell. We, the viewers, find out she's an ordinary shop girl with an dull boyfriend. Well I always thought he was dull. It pins her down as a very normal, ordinary girl, unlike Susan. Everyone knows the exact type, some people "are" actually just like Rose.

The Narrative
An Unearthly Child was a stand alone piece of drama, very common for its day. It was the three individual stories of Susan, Ian & Barbara, and the Doctor of how they came to together in that scrapyard in 1963. The individual stories of the main characters converged together in a clean, linear line. An Unearthly Child was a 25 minute introduction to the four main characters, the set piece, and the narrative that prepared the viewer for the following week when they went on their first adventure. Rose also is a standard drama piece common for its day. Even so, it is quite different. Rose was a 45 minute (re)introduction of the idea of the Doctor and his companion, but it contained more short stories throughout. It's the story of Rose's dull workday, Rose and her boyfriend Mickey, Rose and her life with her mother Jackie. Then it turns to Rose's interaction with the Doctor, the Doctor's secretive mission, and the Doctor and Rose defeating the Nestene Conscienceless. It's a much more complex narrative than An Unearthly Child.

Cinematographic Style
The style of British TV serials in the 60s was simpler than in the 21st century - mostly due to technologic reasons. As was most of life back then. An Unearthly Child was the meet, greet, & abduction story of Ian & Barbara, teachers at the Coal Hill School. They were worried about their student, Susan, and they follow Susan home to the scrapyard in order to inquire about the grandfather. And then time traveling ensues. A very simple narrative. Rose is designed to look like a character drama piece starting out with a quick cut montage of "A Day in the Life" of some blond girl. It evolves into what appears to be a murder mystery with that blond girl as the next victim. She wanders a dark basement with creepy shadows, a prime environment for a murder. But then she meets the Doctor and the adventure commences. Then time traveling ensues. Like its 1963 counterpart, it also takes its time introducing the Doctor. The narrative of Rose is a constant flux of genres going from a character drama, to murder mystery, to sci-fi and back to character drama and so forth. It finally ends as an apocalyptic drama with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. But then it hops genres again to Magical Girl when the young blond becomes a heroine and saves the world.

Tone of the Show
Both episodes are drama pieces. But also, both episodes are contemporary. Susan and Rose were both young girls who exemplify their culture of the day - Susan with her love of contemporary music and Rose by ending up a shop girl cause she doesn't have her A-Levels. An Unearthly Child was a straight drama with serious characters and set in London where they still haven't shaken off the war fought two decades ago. Like many other dramas of its time, there was little humour in the show. Science fiction, after all, was supposed to be serious. Even taking 100,000 B.C. and the Daleks in the analysis, it's mostly a dark show. In Rose, on the other hand, there are light, fluffy moments [Rose & Mickey at Trafalgar Square] interspersed with dark horror [Rose trapped in the basement with the mannequins which come alive]. It's difficult to pin Rose down to any one genre style unlike An Unearthly Child. That's not to say An Unearthly Child is not well written, it just unfolds in a more controlled manner. Doctor Who was originally designed as an education vehicle for children to show the wonders of science and history and it seems the early writing did not want to go in a comedic direction. The new series, however, is geared as pure entertainment. Some people say the material is done primarily just for cheap laughs.

Introduction of the Doctor
Both episodes need to introduce the Doctor to the viewer who is a mysterious figure in both episodes. The other characters are, upon that first meeting, somewhat taken aback by his strangeness. But while the First Doctor is rude and belligerent to Ian & Barbara, the Ninth Doctor appears as more like an excitable boy to Rose. The First Doctor's influence was Quatermass [a serious science fiction show] but the Ninth Doctor is more akin to Black Adder. We learn very little about the Doctor in either of these first episodes. He avoids Ian & Barbara's questions as he feels they have no rights in his world. The Ninth Doctor tells Rose to ask her questions and he stands there and answers them truthfully. But it's only enough to wet our appetite.

Although their outfits are nothing alike, both Doctors dress according to a certain style. The First Doctor dressed conservatively in an Edwardian-style outfit and sported long flowing white hair. Nothing out of the ordinary, a very grandfatherly sort of image. The Ninth Doctor also wore an clothing befitting the style of the day, but his was a black, mid-length leather coat, he sported a very short haircut, and didn't act grandfatherly at all. This was the case for it being " It's not your parents' Doctor Who".

The first glimpse of the TARDIS in An Unearthly Child is in the opening sequence when a policemen passes it by in the scrapyard. It doesn't return until Ian & Barbara enter the scrapyard more than halfway through the episode. In Rose, you first see it as Rose runs away from the building explosion. Again, just a passing glimpse. The camera pans the street following Rose who is running down the street. The camera stops following Rose and homes in on an object in the alley. An object which disappeared from the city streets decades ago, the police call box. The blue box was nothing unusual in 1963, but in 2005 it sticks out like a sore thumb.

The First Time...
The "First Time in the TARDIS" moments are polar opposites. Barbara & Ian confront the Doctor in the scrapyard and upon hearing Susan's voice, they push their way past him into the TARDIS. They are astonished to find a box that is bigger on the inside. The grandfather is far from being a nice, old man. In fact, he can be downright irritable and mean. Rose was invited into the TARDIS by the Doctor. She thinks the Doctor is crazy thinking that wooden box will protect them against the Auton Mickey so she seeks to escape through the alley but fails. She enters the TARDIS to plead for the Doctor to help her and can't believe her eyes. But it takes far less time for Rose to accept the size differences than it did Ian & Barbara.

Walk Around the TARDIS
Both Ian and Rose do the walk all around the TARDIS. Ian walks around the TARDIS before he enters the box, whereas Rose walks around after she is startled by the size of the interior. Two completely different walk around.

Explaining What TARDIS Stands For?
The name is explained by Susan in An Unearthly Child and by the Ninth Doctor in Rose. Both episodes get that out of the way. Except that Susan claims to have made up the name. But we'll forgive them as the production crew was new to this and didn't know it would be such a big deal decades later.

The Sonic Screwdriver
The First Doctor had no screwdriver. The introduction of the sonic screwdriver in Rose was subtle. To a new viewer, it was some tool the Doctor used in the episode. It never stole the scene but was always there to help.

Running seems to be a de facto activity in Doctor Who nowadays. But there was no running in An Unearthly Child. Except if you count that little sprint of Ian & Barbara as they rushed into the TARDIS.

The villain
There is no real villain in An Unearthly Child. It was an episode about discovery. The First Doctor actually appears to be the most dangerous thing in the show. And in Rose, the villain was only the secondary story of the narrative. If the Nestene Consciences wins, the Earth would be lost. But we know that won't happen. The mannequins in Rose are a callback to the classic series. A way of making a connection to the mother show [although they were never called that in the episode].

New Fans - Old Episodes
I understand why some fans of the new series have trouble watching old shows, especially those black & white ones. It doesn't look or fell like what television ought to be. Instead of a carefree, humorous, lovable character, The Doctor was mean, arrogant, and creepy. He kidnapped two teachers who had the best interest of his granddaughter at heart. He taunted the two teachers, kidnapped them, and took them back in time against their will. But to many fans, that is exactly how we envision the Doctor. He just grew into a different person over the years - and we watched as it happened.

The Rest of the Cast
There are no other regulars in An Unearthly Child, only a few non-speaking or wallpaper parts. A few other students are seen but little interaction with the main characters. In Rose, we get her home life with her mother [Jackie], her social life with her boyfriend [Mickey], and the search for the Doctor with the Doctor Expert [Clive].

What Worked
An Unearthly Child had a wonderful, mysterious build-up which extended into the next couple seasons. This was due to the audience having no previous experience with the characters or the show. The mysterious figure of the Doctor doesn't appear until halfway through the show, but when he does, you know he's the center of everything. But Barbara's entrance into the TARDIS for the first time wins as it feels like the most believable reaction to something so fantastic.

Rose did a marvelous job of re-introducing many concepts of Doctor Who. The alien nature of the Doctor, the TARDIS, the sonic screwdriver, and the shock and awe the companion feels for the first time upon entering the TARDIS. One thing older viewers might miss was the lack of a cliffhanger. For all those years, we had a cliffhanger going to the next episode of each story. And the refit of the TARDIS was splendid. All that was magical in Doctor Who's previous 26 seasons was recaptured that night in 2005.

Both episodes had a tremendous burden and both did a marvelous job.

What Didn't Work
An Unearthly Child was the first act of the next 50 years of Doctor Who and as such, a mere 25 minutes was not enough to do it justice. Even though the pacing was slow, this story felt rushed. There was too much to jam into that short span of time and quite a bit felt left out. Possibly it was left out due to the production crew not being entirely sure where they were going with it. But the world came to know more and more about the Doctor in the later years.

The item in Rose which didn't work at all was the attack of the flying Auton hand. How, or why, the arm defied gravity, hovered, and making a beeline to the Doctor and then Rose makes no sense. If the arm could fly, why can the Autons fly too? It wasn't so much horror as it was a comedic pause. And the Autons were never called Autons in Rose.

All in all both episodes did a marvelous job of introducing, or reintroducing, the Doctor.

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