Monday Review – Doctor Who: The Cave of Skulls


The Cave of Skulls, for the uninitiated, is the title of the second episode of Doctor Who, waaaaay back in November 1963. It follows on directly from An Unearthly Child, which I took a look at a couple of weeks ago. It’s rubbish.

No, really, it is. The Doctor has kidnapped a couple of well-meaning teachers and taken them off to the stone age for no adequately explained reason, and there he has to be talked down from almost braining a caveman with a rock, among other fairly unpleasant things. Quite why the Doctor started out with such an epic mean streak I’m not sure, other than perhaps because nobody really knew who or what he was. Certainly the programme’s creator’s could not have seen the show thriving 50 years later; even the Time Lords, Gallifrey and the very concept of regeneration were years off at this point.

In fact, just about the only important (to the wider Whoniverse) observation to be made during the stone age adventure was that the Tardis had not changed its appearance to blend in with the background. Yes, that broken chameleon circuit dates back to week two of the show, and still hasn’t been fixed.

Back when I first started, at the very beginning, I was always trying to be old and grumpy and important, like you do when you’re young.

OK so we’ve agreed that the Doctor is trying to be old and grumpy and important, as he would go on to admit as a later incarnation; thankfully Susan is there to reign him in and bring out the grandfather in him. But that is far from all that is wrong with this first serial.

The main problem with the four-parter generally referred to as An Unearthly Child is that nothing much happens after the pilot episode has set the premise up. Our four heroes annoy some cavemen, argue among themselves, invent fire and then bog off back to the ship – a term used far more often than Tardis in these early episodes.

I don’t recall it having been specifically mentioned whether they had landed on prehistoric Earth or some other planet; possibly it doesn’t really matter. I think it was assumed to be Earth, setting up the time travel device as a way to introduce some nominally educational aspect to the series (which was, after all, a children’s programme from the outset).

Essentially what I’m trying to say is that without that strong pilot giving a hint of a deeper mystery to unfold, on the strength of the first story I probably wouldn’t have become a fan. Unless, that is, they came up with something pretty darned spectacular for the second story…


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2 Responses to Monday Review – Doctor Who: The Cave of Skulls

  1. Stephen says:

    One important observation on this serial to me is the importance of the Doctor’s companions.

    Whether it was intended that way or not at the time, it reminds if Donna Noble’s line when she initially refused to join the Doctor “Sometimes you need someone to stop you.”

    Which is precisely what Ian does during rock incident. Haven’t seen myself, but Barbara is supposed to chew him out, too, in the third serial.

  2. Steve Trower says:

    Good point, those first companions (Ian especially) definitely didn’t take the Doctor’s brashness lying down – perhaps that’s why he got so bad-tempered at times?

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