Doctor Who (1963)

Season 1 Episode 1

An Unearthly Child

Aired Saturday 5:15 PM Nov 23, 1963 on BBC
out of 10
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122 votes

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Episode Summary

An Unearthly Child
London, 1963. Schoolteachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright are perplexed by the behaviour of one of their pupils, Susan Foreman. When they follow her home, they encounter something beyond their imagining.

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  • London, 1963. Schoolteachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright are perplexed by the behaviour of one of their pupils, Susan Foreman. When they follow her home, they encounter something beyond their imagining.moreless

    This episode is the first ever episode of Doctor Who, it's amazing to think that my parents wern't even born when this was made and yet still i've brought it on DVD! The episode is truly amazing, giving lots of useful information that can be used when watching every other Doctor Who episode, like what does TARDIS stand for (even though any true Doctor Who fan should and will know!) This episode just lets you in on what the show is about and sets you up for a adventure with some cavemen. Allthough the follow-on episodes arn't as good as this episode they're still fantastic!

    10/10! Perfect for any Doctor Who fan old and New!moreless
  • A timeless beginning!

    Possibly the best opening instalment of a long running television serial ever. The action and events are perhaps a bit short on the ground but the establishment of the characters and basic plot line are second to none. The production is confident and secure and all of the basics of the series are well presented. The style of production is on par with 1960\'s videotape techniques but that doesn\'t mean that it is below standard. As Alfred Shaugnessy (script editor of \"Upstairs, Downstairs\") once said \"Television is Electronic Theatre, not small scale cinema\". The title credits and theme music are alone well worth high praisemoreless
  • A Very Good Start

    This is a very good (not perfect) start to what would become the longest running sci-fi series ever, which is strange to think. The technology which they dream up within the context of doctor who is truly out of it's time and is excellent to witness. This first episode sees the introduction of the Time Lord as a mysterious figure (much as he is today, as we do not know his real name). For even in this first doctor stage, not even the production team knew he was a Time Lord and only when Will Hartnell had to bow out did they think up regeneration. It was only at the end of Pat Troughtoun's tenure as the Doctor when they thought up the Time Lords for his 10-episode swan-song.moreless

    London (1963) two young teachers meet a young teenage girl & follow her home one day. they to their GREATEST Surprise start a WONDERFUL adventure that for us as viewers started a LOOOOOOOONG Journey. :) A Pivitol Episode IF there EVER was one where it introduces us to "The Doctor" the 1st Doctor played by the late & GREAT "William Hartnell" (1963-1966) him being the 1st doctor that played this WONDERFUL Character. one thing that amazes me is simply this HOW this episode & soo many other ones or "Serials" as they are also called by "Who" fans, well anyways it AMAZES me that this one & the unaired "Pilot" never the less EXIST! while soo many other serials/episodes have been LOOOOOOONG since lost due to "THE BBC"S" junking policy that was active at the time at least until (1978) one also wonders HOW we even have the episodes/serials we DO in fact HAVE! when soo many other shows that had LONG runs were either erased or lost in some form or another. may it be in England or the USA or any other country for that matter. well anyways in this episode it's a start of a LOOOOONG & WONDERFUL Journey that has lasted a lifetime FOR ALL! :)moreless
  • A Man And His Police Box Written by Anthony Coburn Directed by Waris Husein

    The Doctor (to Ian/Barbara): "Have you ever wonder what it's like to be wanderers in the Fourth Dimension, to be exiles?"

    Oh please, don't be coy, do tell us what's like Doctor. The first serial that started off an entire legacy and things open with Susan Foreman listening to her music while waiting for a book on The French Revolution. Hardly earth shattering stuff but there's something not quite there with Susan and that's before it's pointed out to viewers.

    Nevertheless her school teachers, history teacher Barbara Wright and science teacher Ian Chesterton both seem banded in their suspicions of the girl. It's not that they have a dislike for Susan, it's just through flashback we see at one point she's excels in one subject while sort of flunking with another.

    But it's the way that Susan flunks that is suspicious when she mentions different systems and disrupts one of Ian's classes as a result of her inconsistency. Instead of trying to talk to Susan, Ian thinks the better option would be to follow Susan and Barbara agreed to that plan without any hesitation.

    Another thing that shot the alarm bells is where Susan lives – a junkyard with no houses nearby and when a suspect old man seems to have Susan locked in a police box, that's when the real questions are beginning to fester. Who is this old geezer and why is he so adamant that Barbara and Ian stay away from his police.

    To answer these, the police box happens to be a spaceship with the ability to travel in time and space and also the ability to be bigger on the inside and change shape (though for some reason it's now remaining a police box). In other words, he's an alien of sorts, Susan is his granddaughter and both of them have been exiled from their people. He's also less than happy with Susan's attachment to earth life as well.

    What is perhaps more inconvenient is that this old man is called The Doctor and is far from happy with the array of questions, hostility and scepticism that Ian and Barbara inflict on him throughout the serial. It's sort of brave to present The Doctor here as a cantankerous old grouch because although William Hartnell is excellent in the role, I admit to having difficulty with warming to his Doctor in the same way I'll have warming to the Sixth Doctor 21 years down the line.

    Conceptually the TARDIS is a great looking exterior and the theme tune is evocative and quite haunting. What's also great is that while Susan might obey her grandfather, both Ian and Barbara have no problem with questioning his authority or the logic of time travel. It's also interesting that in his attempt to explain it properly, The Doctor uses the invention of TV as a defence mechanism. It's too bad for him that Ian is generally having none of it.

    In terms of trips, instead of space, we're given a time journey into 100,000 BC where a battle with cavemen and their quest to get fire is the source of the tension for this episode. The Doctor is the first to get snatched by the tribe and pretty soon Ian, Barbara and Susan all get abducted too.

    Dynamic wise, the cave people are okay to an extent. There's an ongoing feud between Kal and Za/Hur for the role of leader and eventually the former meets his end but it's the sabotage of the Old Woman that's slightly more interesting. The TARDIS team jump back and forth between being allies at one point (when they give fire to the cavemen) and captives at the other (when they want to leave). To deal with the cavemen problem Susan is smart enough come up with the plan of using skulls and flames to help their escape is one of the most inspired things. That and the fact that when do get away the serial ends with the TARDIS' radiation detector marking "Danger". I certainly can't wait to see what that leads up to.

    Also in "An Unearthly Child" The original story line for this story was entitled "Nothing At The End Of The Lane". There had been a theory that originally the entire first season of the show could've been a psychotic fantasy of Barbara Wright. It's a good job that everything was real then, huh?

    Ian: "Let me get this straight. A thing that looks like a police box, standing in a junkyard, it can move anywhere in time and space?"

    Susan: "Yes".

    The Doctor: "Quite so".

    Ian: "But that's ridiculous!" The titles of the four episodes of this story are An Unearthly Child, The Cave Of Skulls, The Forest Of Fear and The Firemaker.

    The Doctor: "You still think it's all an illusion?"

    Ian: "I know that free movement in time and space is a scientific dream I don't expect to find solved in a junkyard".

    The Doctor: "Your arrogance is nearly as great as your ignorance". Ian: "So that when we go out of that door, we won't be in a junkyard in London in England in the year 1963?"

    The Doctor: "That is quite correct. But your tone suggests ridicule".

    Ian: "But it is ridiculous. Time doesn't go round and round in circles. You can't get on and off whenever you like in the past or the future".

    Originally the names for the Doctor's companions were to be Bridget ("Biddy") instead of Susan, Lola McGovern (instead of Barbara Wright), and Cliff instead of Ian. I think the names we got for them are better.

    The Doctor (of the TARDIS): "It's still a police box. Why hasn't it changed? Dear, dear. How very disturbing". It's in this episode that the meaning of TARDIS is established. Susan explains to Ian and Barbara that it stands for Time and Relative Dimension in Space.

    Barbara (to The Doctor): "You treat everybody and everything as something less important than yourself".

    The Doctor: "You're trying to say that everything you do is reasonable and everything I do is inhuman. While I'm afraid your judgements' at fault, Miss Wright, not mine". A pilot version of the first episode was made and exists in various versions. It's included on the DVD which was released on a set called The Beginning in January 2006 which contained "An Unearthly Child", "The Daleks" and "The Edge Of Destruction".

    The Doctor: "Just as long as you understand that I won't follow your orders blindly".

    Ian: "If there were only two of us, you could find your own way back to the ship".

    The Doctor: "Aren't you a tiresome young man?"

    Ian: "And you're a stubborn old man". The bones used in the cave of skulls were real bones taken from an abattoir and were very unpleasant to smell under hot studio lights. Za: "They have strange feet".

    Hur: "They wear skins on their feet". Somewhere in this story the alias John Smith also surfaces as well. I think it might have been when The Doctor first talked to Ian.

    Ian: "Just a minute. Did you try and take us back to our own time?"

    The Doctor: "Well, I got you away from that other time, didn't I?"

    Ian: "That isn't what I asked you".

    The Doctor: "It's the only way I can answer you, young man".

    Standout music: Susan s listening to John Smith and the Common Men during the start of this story.

    For an opening episode of an iconic series, I can't help but feel that "An Unearthly Child" falls a little on the mundane side. That isn't a bad thing considering the heights this show will soar to in it's 40 plus years of existence. Cavemen aren't especially compelling and while Susan is slightly annoying, she's watchable. That being said its Ian and Barbara who I tend to root for a little more during this era of the show.moreless

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (5)

    • Continuity: The Doctor uses the same control to electrocute Ian that Susan used to close the door.

    • When this episode was first aired, there was a power failure affecting Britain. Only about 4·4 million people saw it.

    • Susan is seen not knowing how many shillings are in a pound and the explanation she gives is that she thought the UK was on the decimal system. The UK would actually switch to a decimal currency system seven years later, on 15 February 1971.

    • The date the companions travelled to was not given in this episode. The Doctor indicated that the "yearometer" was broken and gave the date only as "zero".

    • Susan never takes the book about the French Revolution home. "Remembrance of the Daleks" shows the book in Ian's lab. How does it get in there? Ian and Barbara leave Susan alone in Barbara's classroom, not Ian's lab.

  • QUOTES (7)

    • Susan: The TARDIS can go anywhere.
      Barbara: TARDIS? I don't understand, Susan.
      Susan: Well, I made up the name TARDIS from the initials, Time And Relative Dimension In Space. I had thought you'd both understand when you saw the different dimensions inside from those outside.

    • Ian: Let me get this straight. A thing that looks like a police box, standing in a junkyard, it can move anywhere in time and space?
      Susan: Yes.
      The Doctor: Quite so.
      Ian: But that's ridiculous!

    • (Barbara lends Susan the book on the French Revolution.)
      Susan: Thank you very much. It will be interesting. I'll return it tomorrow.
      Barbara: That's not necessary. Keep it until you've finished it.
      Susan: I'll have finished it.

    • The Doctor: You say you can't fit an enormous building into one of your smaller sitting rooms?
      Ian: No.
      The Doctor: But you've discovered television, haven't you?
      Ian: Yes.
      The Doctor: Then by showing an enormous building on your television screen, you can do what seemed impossible, couldn't you?

    • The Doctor: You still think it's all an illusion?
      Ian: I know that free movement in time and space is a scientific dream I don't expect to find solved in a junkyard.
      The Doctor: Your arrogance is nearly as great as your ignorance.

    • The Doctor: I tolerate this century, but I don't enjoy it.

    • The Doctor: Have you ever thought what it's like to be wanderers in the fourth dimension… to be exiles?

  • NOTES (8)

    • DVD: Doctor Who: An Unearthly Child released as part of the Doctor Who: The Beginning box set (BBCDVD 1882) in January 2006. Released in U.S.A./Canada (Warner Home Video E2487) in March 2006.

      Video: Doctor Who: An Unearthly Child (BBCV 4311) released in February 1990. Released in U.S.A./Canada (Warner Home Video E1096) in January 1991. Remastered version (BBCV 6959) released in September 2000.

    • Novelisation: Doctor Who and An Unearthly Child by Terrance Dicks (ISBN 0 426 20144 2) first published by W H Allen in 1981.

    • This serial replaced the planned opening story of the season entitled The Giants in which the Doctor tries to take his three companions back to earth, but they return as miniature people in a classroom.

    • Filling in the Gaps
      The short story "Playtime" takes place during this episode, just before Ian and Barbara follow Susan into the junkyard. The main character of the story is seven-year-old Sarah Jane Smith. The story is written by Vanessa Bishop. The story is in the 1992 Holiday Special of Doctor Who Magazine.

    • The film inserts for this episode were shot on Stage 3A of the BBC's Ealing Studios on Thursday 19th September 1963.

    • There are two versions of the first episode: a pilot version and the broadcast version.

    • The TARDIS was originally intended to change shape to blend in with its surroundings upon each new landing, but budget restrictions made this unfeasible. Due to the first episode being transmitted the day after JFK's assassination, it was repeated the following week when people were more likely to be watching TV.

    • Doctor Who was conceived as an ongoing series, lasting for at least 52 weeks, consisting of various stories each of between four and seven episodes.

      The first 118 episodes (1963-1966) were aired with individual episode titles, and the final episode of each serial would commonly link directly into the first of the next. No episode titles were broadcast for the first 25 serials. Over the years, the titles of the first 25 serials has been the subject of much discussion.

      In June 1963, Anthony Coburn assigned the working title "The Tribe of Gum" to his draft script, and internal BBC documents refer to "Doctor Who and the Tribe of Gum". By October 1963, the production was being referred to internaly as "Dr. Who and a 100,000 BC". Camera scripts, normally a reliable guide, refer to "Serial A". Overseas sales documents consistently refer to the serial as "Dr. Who and the Tribe of Gum". A tenth anniversary tribute magazine from the BBC's Radio Times in 1973 named each of the first 25 serials after its opening episode, so the serial was incorrectly renamed as An Unearthly Child. Unlike some of the other titles on this list, this new title for Serial A stuck. A novelisation in 1981, and a video release in 1990, both adopted the new form.