EPISODE: An Unearthly Child Part 1: An Unearthly Child
OVERALL EPISODE NUMBER: 001
STORY NUMBER: 001
TRANSMITTED: 23 November 1963
WRITER: Anthony Coburn
DIRECTOR: Waris Hussein
SCRIPT EDITOR: David Whitaker
PRODUCER: Verity Lambert
FORMAT: DVD - The Beginning Boxset
I love the start of Doctor Who. We have the familiar: A policeman walking down a street on patrol walking past a junkyard whose door opens to reveal a Police Box inside.... a Police Box that hums. Now today a Police Box is Doctor Who, in 1963 they were a common sight on UK streets. Then a school, this is after all a children's series and nothing would be more familiar to children than a school. Two teachers, Barbara Wright (History) and Ian Chesterton (Science) have concerns about a pupil, Susan Foreman, and decide to investigate. Talking together in the car they share their experiences teaching Susan with each other which highlights what an odd pupil she is. Following her home she goes into the Junkyard we saw earlier and decide to follow....
A line of dialogue spring out at me. Barbara: "I feel frightened, as if we're about to interfere in something best left alone" Wonderful foreshadowing of what's going to happen. Of course we know what they'll find in there and what that will lead to but viewers in 1963 wouldn't.
The Police Box inside hums as if alive..... and in through the door behind them walks an old man. Ian & Barbara, hiding from him, hear Susan call out to him from within the telephone box and address him as Grandfather.... After an exchange with "Grandfather" they hear her call out again, forcing their way in through the doors....
Within the find a huge control room, far bigger than the Police Box that contains it. Susan and her Grandfather are from another planet in the future, travelling through space & time in the Tardis, exiles from their own time & people. Grandfather wants to imprison Ian & Barbara in the Tardis to stop them revealing it's existence, Susan wants to let them go. In trying to escape Ian electrocutes himself on the Tardis console. Susan and Grandfather argue about what to do in the course of which Grandfather activates the Tardis which takes off, rendering the teachers unconscious.
The Tardis/Police Box now stands on some sand with a shadow being cast towards it....
It's a brilliant 25 minutes of television slowly dragging you in from the familiar into this odd other world. Even if you understood what's going on as you watch it you've no idea where the Tardis is at the end, just the ominous NEXT EPISODE: THE CAVE OF SKULLS caption before you as a hint.
My first encounter with An Unearthly Child was on Monday 2 November 1981 when it was repeated at the opening of BBC2's Five Faces of Doctor Who season. That's not it's first repeat though: it was shown again on Saturday 30/11/1963 just before the broadcast of the second episode of the first Doctor Who serial.
There's a couple of odd little details in this episode that would have been missed by original viewers and both are found in Miss Wright's class room. The band Susan is listening to are John Smith & The Commonmen: Years later the Doctor would start using John Smith as a regular alias. Susan is left reading a book on the French revolution. Less than nine months later the Tardis would be materialising in France at that same point in history for the crew to witness the events at first hand.
And having now watched the Pilot & An Unearthly Child in close proximity to each other I can see lots of differences.
I got the video of An Unearthly Child while at University. We watched it for the RHBNC Sci Fi Society (IFIS) Doctor Who Thirtieth Anniversary Video Night in November 1993 (along with Destiny of the Daleks & Earthshock) and I think I've watched it every year on November 23rd since then. So it's quite possible that I've seen an Unearthly Child more than any other episode of Doctor Who. In this case familiarity has not bred contempt: I still love it to bits.
If you've not seen An Unearthly Child then buy Doctor Who - The Beginning Boxset. It's in the Amazon DVD sale mentioned bellow for £8.99 and for that you get the Pilot Episode, the 4 part Unearthly Child, 7 part the Daleks and 2 part Edge of Destruction. That's 75p an episode. In fact I'd be interested to hear if anyone reading hasn't seen it.
Anyway, 47 years ago today Doctor Who started. Happy Anniversary everyone!