Saturday, 23 November 2013

001 An Unearthly Child

EPISODE: An Unearthly Child Part 1: An Unearthly Child
TRANSMITTED: 23 November 1963
WRITER: Anthony Coburn (and CW Webber - Uncredited)
DIRECTOR: Waris Hussein
SCRIPT EDITOR: David Whitaker
PRODUCER: Verity Lambert
RATINGS: 4.4 million viewers
FORMAT: DVD - The Beginning Boxset

"Have you ever thought what it's like to be wanderers in the Fourth Dimension? Have you? To be exiles? Susan and I are cut off from our own planet - without friends or protection. But one day we shall get back. Yes, one day...."


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.

I love the start of Doctor Who. We have the familiar: A Police Box. Now today a Police Box is Doctor Who, in 1963 they were a common sight on UK streets. But what's a police box doing in a junkyard instead of out on a street?

The first actor seen on screen in Doctor Who is Reg Cranfield playing the policeman. When the initial version of An Unearthly Child, The Pilot Episode this role was played by a different actor, Frederick Rawlings (My Thanks to (Toby Hadoke for pointing this out in his book Running Through Corridors: 1. When I asked him who was in which on Twitter he said "Fred Rawlings in the pilot, Reg Cranfield in the transmitted ep. Dunno what Fred did wrong :)") Cranfield returns to the series in The Massacre part 1, War of God, as a Parisian Man ..... which also features Rawlings in a similar role!. Cranfield also features in The Gunfighters 2 & 3, Don't Shoot the Pianist & Johnny Ringo, as a Lynch Mob Member and Doctor Who and the Silurians: Episode 3 as a UNIT Soldier all of which were, like this role, uncredited. He's also got uncredited roles in other series including Doomwatch, Z-Cars, Softly, Softly and Adam Adamant Lives

Two teachers at Colehill School, Barbara Wright (History) and Ian Chesterton (Science) have concerns about a pupil, Susan Foreman, and decide to investigate.
Here's the master stroke for this story: start the setup with something familiar: a school . This is after all a children's series and nothing would be more familiar to children than a school. When Doctor Who came back in 2005 it started with the same idea: the familiar, in that case a department store, which revealed something odd going on behind it.

We get to meet most of our main cast here. Playing Science teacher Ian Chesterton is William Russell (IMDB) a famous face on television from playing Sir Lancelot in the late 50s. Jacqueline Hill (IMDB), playing history teacher Barbara Wright, was another 50s/early 60s television regular. Carole Ann Ford (IMDB), playing 15 year old Susan Foreman, was much older than her character: she was actually a 23 year old married Mother by the time this episode was recorded.

So if Susan is 15 she's either in her penultimate or (more likely) final year at school. Barbara has offered to tutor her if she wants to specialise in history. Surely by that age she'd have chosen which subjects to study at GCE/CSE level?

Ian's line about fog means the story must be in winter time, so it's probable that it happens at around the time the story is broadcast. At one point the teachers say to Susan "see you tomorrow" so it's not a Friday.

Four other actors appear in this show, uncredited, as the children: Francesca Bertorelli, Heather Lyons, Mavis Ranson and Brian Thomas. We'll assume Thomas is the one doing the Kenneth Williams impersonation over the shoulder of the two girls in the corridor.

Susan is reading a book she's borrowed on the French Revolution: the first season of Doctor Who finishes with a trip to revolutionary France in the 1790s. A later story, Remembrance of the Daleks , suggests that Susan doesn't take the book home with her but instead leaves it in the lab as that's where the Doctor's then companion Ace finds it lying on her visit to the school. The band Susan is listening to are John Smith & The Common Men: Years later the Doctor would start using John Smith as a regular alias.

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....
Right in the very first episode we get flashbacks to events before the episode took place: 3 sets of Susan responding to her teachers in class.

A line of dialogue from Barbara spring out at me.

"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....
Playing the Doctor is William Hartnell (IMDB). Hartnell had acquired a reputation for playing tough guy/heavy/military types over the years. Born 8th January 1908 he was 55, younger than he looked, when he took on the role of Doctor Who which is the same age as incoming Doctor Peter Capaldi is now.
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.
The moment where Ian and Barbara push through the Police Box doors in the junkyard and find themselves in the huge Tardis control one is quite fabulous, even now.


The Tardis set looks wonderful as a scale far far bigger than it could possibly be if it was inside the Police Box. The work of designer Peter Brachacki, who worked on just this episode (and it's prior "pilot" version) stands the test of time and the basic elements of it endure to this day. Over the years the console room would shrink somewhat and I think this is the largest it ever is in the original series.

Susan and her Grandfather are from another planet in another time, travelling through space & time in the Tardis, exiles from their own time & people.
It's be another 6 years before we saw the Doctor and Susan's home planet. Another 10 before we discovered it's name
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.
Here elements of the title sequence are used with a zooming out picture of London to show the Tardis flight.
The Tardis/Police Box now stands on some sand with a shadow being cast towards it....


The end of episode 5, the Dead Planet, is praised for it's cliffhanger with a mysterious thing threatening a member of the Tardis crew but this one's just as good. Who or what is the figure observing them? Where and when are they?

The shadow is cast by extra Leslie Bates who'd feature in the next episode, The Cave of Skulls as a Tribesman. He'd later return for 3 episodes of Marco Polo 1: The Roof of the World as a Man at Lop, 3: Five Hundred Eyes as a Mongol Warrior and 5: Rider from Shang-Tu as a Mongol Bandit, all of which were directed by Waris Hussein, before appearing in The Massacre: Bell of Doom as a 2nd Guard - note how the Massacre appears on the CV of two other extras in this episode as well. He'd then return in The Smugglers: Episode 1 as a Villager at Inn/a Pirate, The War Games: Episodes 3 & 4 as a 1862 Confederate Soldier, The Dæmons: Episode Two as a BBC3 TV Crewmember, Frontier in Space: Episode Three as a Lunar Guard and Episode Five as a Draconian, Invasion of the Dinosaurs: Part One as a Extra and finally Death to the Daleks: Part One to Three as an Exxilon.

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.

Some of the people associated with the start of Doctor Who don't have much involvement in the show beyond it's beginnings: This is the only script that writer Anthony Coburn ever produced for Doctor Who. Director Waris Hussein would return for the fourth story, the currently missing Marco Polo, but that would be the end of his involvement in the series. You can hear more about the story of how Waris Hussein came to direct for the show by listening to Toby Hadoke's Who's round #6. Producer Verity Lambert would helm the first two years of Doctor Who before going to forge a very successful career in television production that lasted right up to her death in 2007. Script Editor David Whitaker left the show's staff at the end of the first year of production but would continue to contribute scripts into the early 1970s, including the recently recovered Enemy of the World, and would pen the very first Doctor Who novel, Doctor Who and the Daleks. The member of the behind the scenes staff that contributed the longest to the series is this episode's production assistant Douglas Camfield who would end up directing for the series by the end of it's first year and continue to do so very successfully right into the mid 1970s. This post provides a link to the present day series: Camfield's Production Assistant on his last story, the Seeds of Doom, was Graeme Harper who directed two stories for Doctor Who in the 80s and then returned to work on several new series stories.

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. You've just missed another repeat for An Unearthly Child, and the three episodes that follow it, on Thursday 21st November 2013 at 22:30 on BBC4. The same night BBC2 broadcast An Adventure In Space & Time a dramatisation of the creation of Doctor Who. At the time of writing An Adventure In Space & Time is still available on the iPlayer at

On October 15th 1981, to tie in with the Five Faces repeat season, an Unearthly Child was finally novelised by regular Doctor Who Books author Terrance Dicks. I can remember borrowing a first edition copy, complete with metallic foil logo, regularly from my local library. The first Doctor Who book ever, The Daleks, gives a very different version of the events that lead Ian & Barbara into the Tardis involving a car crash on Barnes Common.... A new Audiobook version of the story was written by Nigel Robinson and recorded with narration by William Russell but the recent collapse of publisher AudioGo has scuppered it's release.

An Unearthly Child was released on Video on 5th Feb 1990. I got the video while I was at University, possibly as a Christmas/Birthday present in either 1991 or 1992. 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, usually as close to the original 5:15 start time as I can. 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. Amazon currently have it for sale at £8.75 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 63p an episode. In fact I'd be interested to hear if anyone reading hasn't seen it.

Anyway, 50 years ago today Doctor Who started. Happy Anniversary everyone!

No comments:

Post a Comment