"If you could touch the alien sand and hear the cries of strange birds, and watch them wheel in another sky, would that satisfy you?”TECHNICAL SPECS: The episode is on disc 1 of The Beginning DVD boxed set. It is either Part 1 or Part 2 of 100,000 B.C., depending on your point of view. First aired Nov.30 1963.
IN THIS ONE... The Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara step off into prehistory, and are soon captured (for the first of many times) by a tribe of cavemen questing for fire.
REVIEW: With all of time and space as a canvas, it may seem a little lackluster to drop the TARDIS into the Ice Age, with filthy cavemen for a guest cast. But I rather enjoy it. The cave-people's culture are given proper attention. They use a satisfyingly literate vocabulary that respects their world view (shades of the cod-Shakespearean of later historicals), worship Orb (the sun), and naively rub bones and sticks hoping to draw fire from them. We see their children playing at Hunters & Leopards. They seem real. The power struggle between the unsuccessful son of the previous firemaker, Za, and the newly arrived Kal is at times political (with public opinion swaying from one to the other depending on the circumstance), and at others personal, with Za desperate to win the hand of Hur by becoming leader. Za has Hur's support (will she prove to be a Lady MacBeth?), while the Old Mother backs up Kal (but is really more against this newfangled idea of fire), with Hur's father representing the swing vote. Though the trappings are primitive, the story of professional and romantic ambition, as old as Man itself, is universal. The choice of era and location also creates an important contrast for the TARDIS, highlighting the plot point that the chameleon circuit isn't working.
The characters are still evolving, trying to find their proper niche. Strangely, Barbara and Ian have switched their Scully-Mulder attitudes around since the previous episode. Now she's the one who believes and it's Ian who must be convinced. Either works, but it makes sense that the scientist of the two who have a more experiential approach. Susan has her first fit of hysterics, progressing towards the "scream queen" archetype that will make the show lose more than one actress over its history. But she also shows acute intuition, almost a sixth sense that makes her feel danger before it happens. It's another ability that's bound to be phased out, though it's the first hint that Time Lords may have psychic abilities. As for the Doctor, it's the only time he's portrayed as a smoker, but he loses his matches and never touches tobacco again. Otherwise, he's his recognizable self, trying to confound his prehistoric captors with words. We also get our first "Doctor who?" moment when Ian calls him Doctor Foreman, words reprised by Ian later when he wonders just who this man is and if he can be trusted. The title of the show would eventually become more mysterious - they didn't go around plugging it as often as they do today, and before reruns, would not be seen again - but here it is explained to its original audience. Crucially, the Doctor is more of an explorer than a righter of wrongs at this point. On this first trip, writer Anthony Coburn has the Doctor bring a geiger counter and take soil samples. He checks atmosphere, radiation and temperature for safety.
The TARDIS set is also evolving, its huge double doors opening up right on the barren landscape, without the dark antechamber that will later be used like a money-saving airlock. The exit doesn't match the size or look of the outside view, providing a visual shock as Hussein cuts from one to the other. The prehistoric sets don't quite make the same impression, with landscape obviously painted on drapes and obvious seams separating blocks of stone inside the caves. The Cave of Skulls, finally seen at the end, is much better, however, filled with creepy skeletons and smashed-in skulls promising a nasty end for our four captured time travelers.
THEORIES: While the year is conjectural (it can't really be 100,000 B.C. despite the production title for the story, not from what we know about the development of early Man), some have theorized that it could be the future as easily as the past, albeit a postapocalyptic future where Man has regressed, or even a parallel society on another planet. I don't believe one word of it. Ian asks the Doctor if they've really gone BACK in time, and he confirms it. Yes, the Doctor doesn't have full control of his machine and could theoretically be lying to cover that up, but I prefer to invoke Occam's Razor here.
REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - We're so early in the series that everything has special meaning. It's all firsts and prototypes, and anyone interested in the series' evolution and development should take a gander. More than that, the caveman drama is actually better than you might expect.