Thursday, December 05, 2013

The Cave Of Skulls

I was in a hotel on Saturday night, so I'd probably have to pretend I missed Doctor Who. But we're only pretending it's fifty years ago, so let your mind slip back to half past five on Saturday November 30, 1963, and we'll watch the second episode of this new science-fiction series that was fun last week!

Actually, first, we get to watch the first episode again - repeated for the benefit of everyone who was distracted by John F Kennedy or power cuts last weekend. But now we get that spooky opening sequence again (since it was on twice in the repeat already tonight, we're getting very used to it by now), and then we pick up where we left off, with the TARDIS in a barren, rocky wilderness and an ominous shadow approaching it.

The shadow turns out to be a caveman, looking mystified, as well he might. Then we cut to a cave where a whole lot of cavepeople (wearing appropriate unidentifiable-animal-furs) gather around a man who's trying to start a fire. The camera focuses for quite some time on a woman with very 1960s-looking permed hair, for some reason, before panning up to an old woman who contemptously mocks the firemaker, Za - between them they deliver the appropriate exposition.

It really is gripping stuff, right from the start! The cavepeople talk in BBC English, rather than the usual grunting, but their dialogue and actions really capture a primitive mindset - Za's father knew how to make fire but didn't pass on the secret before he was killed, so now Za tries to recreate his actions by rolling a bone between his hands and glaring at a pile of twigs. The old woman thinks fire is a bad thing, because they didn't have it in her day. There's real personality here, it's great writing.

Will the outsider, Kal, replace Za as leader and get the most attractive woman, Hur? But back in the TARDIS, Barbara and Ian wake up among the knick-knacks. The Doctor and Susan are looking at the instruments and the scanner screen to see where they are. And when - although the yearometer is broken, so they're not sure on that point. The Doctor doesn't answer to "Dr Foreman", and is unhelpful to Ian's demands that he open the door. Still, he knows he's gone back in time and wants to establish the year with the aid of a few rock samples and his geiger counter.

Out they go, much to Ian's astonishment (Barbara takes it all in her stride, comparatively speaking). It's cold outside, there are unseen birds squawking off-camera, and the Doctor's most concerned by the fact that the police box is still a police box, rather than having changed shape to match their surroundings. He wanders off, followed by that caveman. Ian, Barbara and Susan investigate an animal skull, then Barbara tries to reassure Ian that they'll just have to put up with all this insanity.

The Doctor lights his pipe - an amazingly huge thing, is it a pipe of the future? But he's attacked by the caveman, and the others can only find his hat and smashed geiger counter. "He may have been taken," Ian intones. Susan, meanwhile, demonstrates that her acting range has two modes; deadpan and hysterical screaming. She finds the Doctor's precious notebook, which he'd never leave behind. As they go off to look for him, Ian notes that the sand is freezing cold. This gets a burst of dramatic music, as if it's important.

But we cut back to the cave, where cavechildren are playing, and the cave politics plays out between the adults - Kal has been boasting that he's seen people make fire and will probably learn how to do it if they make him leader ("Orb" will tell him). Za vows to make everyone follow him instead. Then in comes Kal, carrying the Doctor. Excellently, he describes the TARDIS as 'a strange tree', and praises his own bravery in approaching it when Za would have run away. The exchanges between the cavemen are just awesome.

Kal promises to get the Doctor to make fire and insists that the others acclaim him as leader - they live somewhere where tigers and bears are a problem, incidentally. The Doctor wakes up and tries to talk his way out of it by promising to make fire, but then it turns out he's lost his matches. Za takes advantage of this by denouncing Kal as a liar and getting the tribe back on his side. They display a talent for sarcasm as they laugh at him.

Then Ian, Barbara and Susan come in and stage a hopeless attempt at a rescue. The Doctor insists that there'll be no fire if they kill Ian, so Za reaches a compromise and announces that they'll be killed the next morning as a sacrifice to Orb. Meanwhile, they're imprisoned in the cave of skulls. While caveman-politics plays out between the various characters, our heroes are in a cave full of skulls, and do their best to get out of the bonds holding their wrists together. The cavemen seem to be good at knots. And also at splitting skulls open. Next episode, "The Forest Of Fear".

This was fun, although you would have expected a bit more focus on the four time-travellers. Instead, it's the cavemen who are the really interesting ones...

No comments: