Hartnellical Materialism

Gallibase has relaunched ‘Timelash’ as a story-per-day affair. Along with others, I’ve managed a review (ranging from a terse comment to a bloated essay) for every story. It goes without saying, I don’t have a girlfriend.

Anyway. Today, we got to ‘The Tenth Planet’ and so I thought I might post my comments here – or the more interesting ones anyway (everything being relative) – and make it a regular thing every time we finish with a Doctor. Basically, I’m very bored.

As you will see, my view of the Hartnell era is much influenced by the work of V. Gordon Childe, Walter Benjamin, historical materialism in general, the wobbly ‘permanent arms economy’ theory, William Morris, Shakespeare, Marlowe, Edward Said and lots of thinly veiled class hatred. There’s also some stuff in here that might remind you of the About Time books… but, with all due respect to Miles and Wood, I’d already thought of it all before I read them. When I mention something that I got from them, I acknowledge it.

‘An Unearthly Child’

It’s been said before but its true: the first episode is amazing, the other three are disappointing… but only by comparison.

The first episode really is extraordinary; an example of pure TV alchemy. A fusion of literate sci-fi, children’s fiction, folklore, the aesthetics of ‘everyday life’ drama, urban gothic and the uncanny. Somehow, everything comes together to create something fascinating, suggestive, oneric and scary.

The stuff with the tribe is rather grim and plodding by comparison… yet, note how seriously it demands to be taken. And note the thought that went into the themes.

To the Doctor, Ian and Barbara are savages… just as the tribe are to Ian and Barbara. Fire is technology, the future… to be acquired by a society struggling in cold and darkness… just as the TARDIS is a symbol of the same quest for power through technology. The reluctant crewmates of the TARDIS find themselves forced to be a tribe, to be a society in miniature.

Note, also, the characterisation of the Doctor. His intellect (which is ruthless and cold) is undermined by his emotional reactions. When he doesn’t think too hard, he reacts with instinctive compassion. “If he dies, there will be no fire!” And then he proceeds to deduce who murdered The Old Woman (nice character for an actress to be offered) and ruthlessly engineer the coup against Kal.

Note also, how many of the series long running concerns are already present: technology, tools, political struggle, tyranny, literacy, death, social and universal and technological entropy…

Really, this story libels tribal societies. Hunter-gather societies (in which humans lived for the vast majority of their history) were almost certainly very egalitarian and probably dominated by social altruism. Certainly, most tribal societies that survived into the modern era demonstrated startling ethics of fairness and sharing. They didn’t behave like the Tribe of Gum, who are ruthless and selfish throatslitters, preying on each other, yearning for hierarchical domination and unable to understand compassion.…

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