So, background to my watching these is: the first part of the season finale to Matt Smith’s first run as The Doctor on BBC1 thrilled me so much, and there have been so many references to the legacy of all the old Doctors in this latest series, that I decided to watch the whole thing from the beginning. My plan was to watch everything (reconstructed episodes where necessary – a lot of stuff was “junked” by the BBC in the 70s) in the order that it aired or was released, and there were a few episodes between these two movies, but I ended up watching them one after the other, reasoning (despite the fact I really hate when fans talk of “canon”) that they’re not really canon anyway.
I’m kinda-sorta sure I may have seen the first of these at least before, but my early Doctor Who experiences are a major blur and the imagery so iconic across the board that I could really be remembering anything. Both these movies are remakes of existing stories in the Hartnell years, but from the very title music and credit design, you know the approach is gonna be different. The Doctor is painted here as a much more fun and contemporary character than he was in the early years of the TV series, if only through the way he’s presented (Peter Cushing’s actual performance is beautifully refined as ever).
You’ll find way better informed views on why the TV versions of these stories were ideologically better than these lavish remakes all over the net, and that’s why I decided to blend these two movies into just one review here. What will bring me back personally to watch both movies again is two-fold… firstly, that very lavishness in the design. Early Doctor Who on the TV was adventurous but because of the sheer number of episodes frequently came out wobbly, cheap, even to the point of line-fluffage from the actors. There’s none of that here, and the sets, effects etc are simply beautiful.
Secondly, and more importantly, there’s Roberta Tovey. I love that they make The Doctor’s granddaughter so much younger here. There’s something just plain more aesthetically satisfying about Susan being genuinely precocious, not to mention her physical size, in these environments. She’s far more convincing as “An Unearthly Child” for me than the teenaged Carole Ann Ford (though fine in her own way) ever was in the TV series, and her presence just makes the whole thing a little more fun. If I ever did see either of these when I was younger, there’s no doubt I related most immediately to her, and I’m not sure if anything’s changed
In short, these movies aren’t exactly essential viewing for anyone be they film-lovers, modern Who-fans or passing sci-fi geeks. But if you’re just a little of all the above, they are worth a look. For the time they were made they have crazy production values and Cushing makes for a Doctor so good (if, as I said, you can ignore the presentation) that you almost wish there was more.