An Unearthly Child, and a few more movies

#181  [archive]

Doctor Who:
An Unearthly Child
[Streaming, free] 

When I fell for Doctor Who, it was the modern show, debuting in 2005, not the original that ran from 1963-1989. Every attempt I've made to watch the original series has left me snoozing — it's so cheap the sets wobble.

The only episode I've really liked from the original series is the first, "An Unearthly Child." It's where they introduced the entire concept — grumpy old alien explores all of time and space, accompanied by his granddaughter (so the kids watching at home would have someone to identify with).

Someone named Anthony Coburn wrote the debut show, and did a crackin' good job, if you ask me (and by reading this page, you're asking me — ha!).

I've watched this first episode half a dozen times times, but recently stumbled across a colorized, spiffed-up version, made by a fan. The original was black-and-white kinescope, which is hard on the modern eye, but adding a light touch of color reduces the harshness of the imagery. Some of the scenes look startlingly clear.

For Doctor Who newbies, this episode would play as a very interesting sci-fi short, about half an hour. It's clever, funny, and thoughtful.

For people who know their Who, it's more rewarding. You get the first look at the Doctor, of course, and also the first use of the comical line, "Doctor who?"

But wait, there's more. Whoever made this fan-version has added a few minutes from the second episode to make for a smoother, more satisfying finish. They've also spruced up the ship's first time-traveling trip, and the closing credits.

It's very good, very old television, made better. I'd like it even if I didn't already love the 21st century version of the show.

Verdict: BIG YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Q I (2003-) 

[Streaming free, with ads]

Q I stands for Quite Interesting, and it's an enjoyable quiz show from BBC.

Each episode seems to feature three male guests and one female, all celebrities, all cracking jokes. They're British celebrities, so they're unknown to me unless they've been on Doctor Who, and the jokes are British too, so about half don't make it across the pond. The jokes that do, though, are frequently funny indeed.

"Hitler is judged very harshly by history, but he did kill Hitler." 

More than the playful banter, there's intelligence here, and the answers are — get this — informative, and entertaining. It's kinda like Wait Wait Don't Tell Me on National Public Radio, only WWDTM is about the news, and Q I is about a different topic every week. Also, Q I has better jokes.

What's oddest, other than the Britishness of it all, is that the show's set is frickin' huge, at least by American TV standards. It's five people sitting at tables, like any chat show, but it's filmed in a space so large that there's never more than two participants in the same shot. 

The rather brilliant Stephen Fry was Q I's master of ceremonies for many years, and for all the episodes I've seen. He's recently stepped away, and the current host is Sandi Toksvig. She's fine, I'm sure, but I'll always be a Fry man.

How different are British and American cultures? In one of the seven episodes I watched, the week's topic was medical issues, and Mr Fry said "testes" in a sentence, "anus" several times, always in a serious context — and there was no laughter from the studio audience. On Jimmy Kimmel Live, I don't think the censors would allow those words, but if they did the audience would respond with childish guffaws.

Wear a tie and enjoy the show.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Upstream Color (2013) 

[Free on DVD]

Shane Carruth's debut was the brilliant Primer, which he wrote, directed, starred in, and scored. This is his second feature, and again he wears four hats. This time, though, none of them fit very well.

Some bad guy has a mind-control bug, kinda like the icky squirmer dropped into Chekov's ear in Star Trek II. So this guy kidnaps a woman, forces her to swallow the bug, makes her read Thoreau's Walden, and embezzles from her, then lets her loose.

She meets and falls for a man, played blandly by Carruth. Their love is so very deep, perhaps because of the critter inside her (and maybe there's one in him, too?) that eventually they can't tell their memories apart.

Primer was if anything too talky, full of geek dialogue from beginning to end, but Upstream Color goes wordless for long stretches, many times. The script is underwritten or left 'mysterious'. Nobody has much to say. They're all introverts like me.

With so little said by the two main characters, I never believed a relationship between them, and what they did say kinda made them both unlikeable.

There's a bigger, louder problem, though.

Carruth's score is almost entirely what I'd call 'mumbled music' — a few notes tinkled repeatedly, or simply an ominous monotonous sound, occasionally going up or down by a note. There's also aggressive Foley work — repetitive sounds that grated on this viewer's ear. The music and sounds are supposed to amp up the tension, but it becomes audio oppression.

If you watch this, I'd recommend having subtitles on and the volume all the way off. Let me know if the movie's any good; it very well might be, but I'm flummoxed.

Verdict: MAYBE.

PS. Now I'm extra annoyed — just noticed I'd seen and reviewed this movie two years ago, which I sure wouldn't have done a second time if I'd remembered the first time.

♦ ♦ ♦

• Coming attractions •

Delicatessen (1991)

District 9 (2009)

My Life in Monsters (2015) 

Toni Erdmann (2016)

White Lotus (second season, 2022)

Within Our Gates (1920) 

    ... plus occasional schlock and surprises

    • And then •

Asteroid City (2023)

Battleship Potemkin (1925)

China 9, Liberty 37 (1978) 

The Cook (1918)

The Dark Crystal (1982)

Doctor Who (second season, 2006)

Dr Cook's Garden (1971) 

The Eiger Sanction (1975)

From Beyond (1986)

Good Night, Nurse (1918)

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963) 

Last Tango in Paris (1972) 

Manchester by the Sea (2018) 

Ménilmontant (1926)

The Scarecrow (1920)

The Six Million Dollar Man (1973)

Stalker (1979)  

Street Trash (1987)

Wisconsin Death Trip (1999) 

The YouTube Effect (2022) 


There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twenty-plex, you're missing out.

To get beyond the ordinary, I recommend:

AlterCineverseCriterionCultCinema ClassicsDocsVilleDustFandorFilms for ActionHooplaIHaveNoTVIndieFlixInternet ArchiveKanopyKinoCultKino LorberKorean Classic FilmChristopher R MihmMosfilmMubiNational Film Board of CanadaNew Yorker Screening RoomDamon PackardMark PirroPizzaFlixPopcornFlixPublic Domain MoviesRareFilmmScarecrow VideoShudderThoughtMaybeTimeless Classic MoviesVoleFlixWatchDocumentaries • or your local library

Some people even access films through shady methods, though of course, that would be wrong.

— — —

 Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free, or at least spoiler-warned. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff. 
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  1. Just want to say that I enjoy reading these. We're too old to be trailblazers but it seems like there are few places that just... write about movies. Old, new, TV, old TV, TV movie, etc.

    1. Well, thanks, and there's another TV review upchucking next.

  2. I'm still trying to catch up with the films, but I second the motion for QI. I've seen many, maybe most of the Stephen Fry episodes. They're brilliant as is Mr Fry. He's also Mr wry.


    1. You're smarter after watching an episode, but along the way it never feels like a classroom. Sorta Sesame Street for grownups.

      I am going to continue watching.


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