In which the TARDIS seriously malfunctions and everyone goes a little crazy.
“One minute you’re abusing us and the next you’re the perfect butler.”
It is hard to know what to make of this episode. On the one hand there is the intriguing premise that some entity has infiltrated the TARDIS and may be possessing one of the crew. On the other, there is the acting. Granted, this is a story that may be too ambitious for the 1960s. Body-jumping creatures are a common sci-fi trope by 2010, and even Doctor Who will come back to this concept time and again, but at this point in the show’s history (and possibly on television) it seems new and uncertain. The possibility of possession is still a theory this early in the story, and so that may not be the case. Shortly after the TARDIS malfunction, everyone is acting unusual, and in some cases they have difficulty recognizing one another. Evaluation of the actors’ success in pulling this off will have to wait until the next episode where the menace is revealed, but I think I can say at this point that the acting is a mixed bag. On the one hand, William Hartnell and Jacqueline Hill do a superb job. On the other is Carol Ann Ford and William Russell. Russell is usually good, very much a leading man of the time, but this particular story would probably bring its own challenges. We are firmly in conceptual science fiction, not the alpha male leadership that we have needed from Ian so far. Ford as Susan runs the gamut of chilling and ridiculous. I feel sorry for this actress who has had such mixed success thus far in portraying an emotional teenager who is also not human. No offense to her, but I’m not sure she has really pulled it off at this point. Hartnell plays his usual cunning, manipulative, and scheming Doctor. He is quick to start formulating theories, but his primary theory is to distrust the “Other”. In this case, the Other would be the newcomers–Ian and Barbara. Jacqueline Hill as Barbara gives The Doctor a good tongue-lashing. She has had it and points out all the ways she and Ian have saved The Doctor in the previous two stories and tells him, “you should get on your knees and thank us!” The power of this scene is slightly undone by a shot of a melting clock. It is meant to be horrifying and frightening, but for the most part it is just too difficult to make out exactly what is happening.
So, uncertainty. I said before that this is conceptual science fiction, by which I mean the ideas present are probably ideas that are hard to achieve on screen. They would be easier with the use of CGI to perhaps give us character perspectives or more successfully create the melting time-pieces, but CGI is a long way away from this episode. I’ll see how the next episode progresses and pass final judgment at that point.