Blurb: Something has caused the TARDIS console to explode in mid-flight, plunging the ship into darkness and rendering the crew unconcious. As they slowly recover, they find themselves suffering from loss of memory and odd headaches. The TARDIS behaves oddly, as the doors open and close of their own accord. Has the ship been possessed in some way or is something more dangerous happening to the time travelers?
Format: Television drama transmitted from February 8, 1964 - February 15, 1964. Released on DVD as part of The Beginning box set, published March 28, 2006.
Setting: The inside of the TARDIS, time unknown. They are said to be at the beginning of a solar system but that could be any solar system in any place and in any time of the universe.
Continuity: When this story opens, Barbara is still holding onto the fabric that was given to her on Skaro. The TARDIS food machine makes another rare appearance as does the fault locator (see The Daleks). Susan mentions that they almost lost the ship on Quinnis in the fourth universe (see Quinnis). Susan's irrational behavior is never explained although several commentators have linked it to her latent telepathic abilities (see Hunters of Earth, The Sensorites, Transit of Venus, and The Witch Hunters).
DVD: Since this was a short story, we seem to get the most extras here. Although there are no commentaries, but we do have 4 documentaries. One deals with the origin of the show, another deals with the creation of the TARDIS, and the final one discusses the making of this particular story.
Discussion: It's hard to imagine now when Doctor Who is pretty much everywhere and fan experts learned in the lore of wikipedia claim to know everything about the show's past that there was a time when the TARDIS was a complete mystery. The production team on Doctor Who in the 60's was left with a conundrum. They were originally told that the show would be 52 episodes, but when the powers that be saw the cost overruns for the first story (to create the TARDIS sets no less, not realizing that the cost would be amortized across the entire season) they got cold feet and told them they could only do thirteen and if spending wasn't kept in line then the show would be cancelled. An Unearthly Child and The Daleks together created 11 episodes. If they planned to go straight into the next story, Marco Polo then they had the potential of only going two episodes in and then getting cancelled. Instead they decided to make a 2-part story with only the regulars and using the already built TARDIS set and thus saving a ton of money on those two episodes. Then we can make the most of the fact that these people don't really know each other and their relationships are still at a very early stage and have a story that capitalizes on those relationships.
The difference in the Doctor's relationships with his crew are one of the first things that people going back to watch the history of the show notice. The Doctor is far from the romantic hero in these early stories. It's telling that they made him a grandfather because that's what he comes off as. He's an old grandfather, stuck in his ways and suspicious of strangers. Once you get to know him he's lots of fun, full of experience and wit but you have to get through that initial period of mistrust first. In a way, that's what these first 13 episodes are about. As the audience learns about the characters, the characters are learning from each other. The Doctor even says in this story, "as we learn about each other, we learn about ourselves." The Doctor starts out very suspicious of Ian and Barbara suspecting that they've sabotaged the Ship in some way and willing to put them off the Ship wherever they've found themselves. The audio story, Hunters of Earth, gives some basis for the Doctor's suspicions about Ian and Barbara, but regardless of your own view of canon it still remains that this is the story that gets to the crux of the matter when it comes to all the animosity that has been brewing since Day 1.
This is a story that runs on atmosphere. When its all explained at the end most people go "huh?" While I think that there is a kind of logic to the proceedings it requires inferring a lot of information that just isn't explained onscreen. Whether that was the author's intention or not this story is basically a haunted house story with the Ship as the stand-in for the spooky mansion on the top of the hill. It's really interesting that Susan brings up the idea that an outside force got into the Ship and may have possessed one of them. It's the typical fair of a haunted house story. The main surprise is that it isn't true at all. Everyone's acting paranoid because their fears are getting the best of them and its leading to paranoia not because of some alien influence. For those like me who have known this plot their whole lives I almost gloss over this fact and it really only hit home with me when I showed this story to a friend. Right up until the last minute he was waiting for the "reveal" of the alien intruder, so the idea that the TARDIS itself was causing the problem was a big surprise and hits home.
Its hard to imagine but back in those days the TARDIS was still a new thing. Even among those creating the show there were differences of opinion if it should be treated more like a magic box or like a really advanced rocket. This story makes a lot of the fact that we just really don't understand the TARDIS. It means that even when the characters are in their "home" it's still a place of wonder where anything can happen. What's even more surprising is the TARDIS "thinks". Nowadays that's taken for granted, but in those days a ship that thought and tried to protect the crew was a new and interesting concept. That's really the twist of the story. It's not necessarily untrue that possession has nothing to do with this story though. A lot of people have noticed that Susan acts out of character in a way that the other three regulars don't. One wonders if this has something to do with her telepathic abilities and the fact that everyone else is feeling so uneasy and afraid that it finds expression in her actions. Her acting when in "psycho mode" is really chilling and the violence of the scissor stabbing scene was said to have shocked viewers.
What's really striking viewing the series as a whole and running through it is that this story has a very well defined character arc. After this, the four regulars act like a group of close friends and family. They trust each other. The Doctor changes the most. He goes from the grumpy and angry old man to something more akin to Yoda from Star Wars. He occasionally has bouts of anger but he's also all about being silly and fun. A lot of people who only watch this far turn off the the Hartnell years and declare that he's just "an angry old man". Those who do so miss out on the nuance of his performance and the fact that many of the Doctor Who standards were really invented by Hartnell despite what many latter-day revisionists now say about Troughton defining the role. From here on out the Doctor is about having fun interspersed without outrage over injustice and it never stops after this.
I'd be remiss by not mentioning the plot. The sad thing is that apparently Hartnell misses some lines that would have explained some of what happened. If you see this as the TARDIS telepathically trying to warn the crew that it was rushing backwards in time to a dangerous point in history where even its structural integrity would be compromised it does make a kind of sense. Although the Doctor's terminology is a bit off it does seem to mirror his speech at the end about the exact nature of the threat that they're facing. There's some weird stuff that goes on though. Like a half drugged Ian supposedly trying to get the Doctor from touching the console but instead of a poor attempt at dragging him away or pushing into him he's quite clearly throttling him seemingly just to create some artificial tension for a cliffhanger. The fact that the TARDIS is going backwards in time to a point when the forces outside the TARDIS may destroy the ship because of a faulty spring keeping a button stuck on the console seems very very silly and its a huge anticimax after the story that the characters have experienced. In a way, it does mirror life when you troubleshoot a complicated device for hours before realizing that you forgot to apply power or something along those lines but it does feel like a let down when you're watching it. Overall, though, I think that this time a story done purely on atmosphere works and it definitely serves its purpose of tying the crew closer together.
Final Rating: 7/10
Recommendation: "Time was taken away from us, but now it's being given back because it's running out." The story is absolutely bonkers and you'll hurt your head trying to work out exactly what's happening. But if you watch this for the character arc and wanting to watch some really good performances then this can be a very effective and creepy story where even the safety of home can be invaded by paranoia and fear. I definitely recommend it.