It is 100,000 BC. There is no number one single. There is no music industry. Indeed, there is no industry period. There’s not even really a humanity, period, with the great leap forward of behavioral modernity still lurking 50,000 years in the future. The peak of the ice age currently being enjoyed is about 80,000 years in the future. On a hillside, a blue box appears with a strange wheezing, groaning sound.
More usefully, it is the 30th of November, 1963. The Beatles recapture #1 with “She Loves You,” the biggest selling single of the 1960s, which is charting for the second time. It will hold that chart position for two weeks, before giving way in the final weeks of the year to “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” The Kennedy assassination has long since turned to farce with Lee Harvey Oswald himself being murdered two days later. Now the world waits uncomfortably, aware that the progress of history has been diverted, but not knowing where, or towards what.
In later episodes, the disparity between the internal and external sizes of the TARDIS will be explained in terms of the interior being a different dimension. But last week, in the first episode, it was instead explained by analogy, with the Doctor referring to the way in which television allows a much larger world to be contained in a smaller space. It is an odd analogy, in no small part because, in the context of a fictional TV show, it appears to suggest that the interior of the TARDIS is fictional even within Doctor Who. Still, it is an explanation of sorts. We were invited to leave our world via the television. Who can blame us for doing so?
Escape is treated by the captives as an end in itself. It is not until you escape that you quite realize that escapes are not merely exits but entries. When last we left them, Ian and Barbara have fallen out of the world. Now we come to see where they have landed, and it is terrifying. Almost immediately, everything goes wrong. The Doctor is kidnapped by cavemen, sending Susan into a panic such that Ian and Barbara, skeptical and afraid as they are, go to help him.
The rescue is a complete disaster, and the four of them quickly find themselves tied up in the Cave of Skulls, named for its primary decorative feature, a large number of skulls that have been split open by an axe. From here the story is a fairly staid and at times repetitive sequence of escapes and recaptures. But over time, the reality of all of this sinks in. The three episodes’ most striking feature, in many ways, is Barbara’s nervous breakdown as the four leads wander through a forest (having escaped from the Cave of Skulls).
The breakdown is stunning in its realism. Eventually the show will get to the standard of people being absolutely thrilled by the adventure and excitement that traveling with the Doctor entails.…