Doctor Who – An Unearthly Child

Doctor Who - An Unearthly Child
Doctor Who – An Unearthly Child

“An Unearthly Child”, also known as “100,000 BC”, is the first adventure of the first season of “Doctor Who” classic series, which aired in 1963. It’s a four parts adventure written by Anthony Coburn and directed by Waris Hussein. At that time the various episodes of each adventure had individual titles, in this case:

  • An Unearthly Child
  • The Cave of Skulls
  • The Forest of Fear
  • The Firemaker

The story

Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill) is a teacher concerned about one of her students, Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford), who is very intelligent but in many ways ignorant of facts known by everyone. In addition, at the address she provided there are no apartments. She speaks with her colleague Ian Chesterton (William Russell) and together they decide to follow her after school. Susan enters an abandoned warehouse and when they go in too they meet her grandfather, a strange Doctor (William Hartnell) openly hostile towards them.

When Ian and Barbara hear Susan’s voice coming from inside a Police telephone box, they discover that it’s bigger in the inside than outside. The Doctor is increasingly hostile towards the two teachers but explains that he and Susan are from another planet and what looks like a phone booth is actually the Tardis, the vehicle they use to travel in space and time.

Ian and Barbara don’t believe the Doctor’s words so he decides to start the Tardis, bringing them to the Stone Age, where they meet a tribe of humans who have lost the secret of fire risking their lives.

Extras

This DVD contains a fair amount of extras. Most extras are in the third DVD of the “Doctor Who: The Beginning” box set. There are typical contents such as production subtitles and a gallery of pictures from this adventure.

There are various comments in the adventure alternative audio track moderated by Gary Russell. In the pilot episode studio recording there are comments by producer Verity Lambert and director Waris Hussein. In the first episode there are comments by protagonists William Russell and Carole Anne Ford and producer Verity Lambert. In the fourth episode there are comments by protagonists William Russell and Carole Anne Ford and director Waris Hussein.

Pilot Episode – Studio Recording. The 35 minutes recording of the original pilot episode.

Pilot Episode – The Unearthly Child. The edited version of the original pilot episode.

Theme Music Video. The original “Doctor Who” full-length theme music in mono, stereo and 5.1 versions.

Comedy Sketches. Four sketches concerning the early years of “Doctor Who”.

“An Unearthly Child” is the adventure that started the legend of “Doctor Who”. The series was created to fill a hole in the BBC schedule between two successful programs in which there was a program that significantly drove down the audience. After initially assigning the task to a kind of interim producer, BBC Head of Drama Sydney Newman commissioned the production to Verity Lambert, with whom he had previously worked in the past so he knew her skills.

The new program was supposed to debut in the summer of 1963 with another adventure but production problems led to the decision to move its debut to November with “An Unearthly Child”. The original pilot episode was recorded but Sydney Newman wasn’t satisfied and it was decided to reshoot it in part with a few changes in the protagonists’ clothes but also in some more substantial elements: for example the Doctor was made ​​a little less hostile. Both versions are included on the DVD.

The debut of “Doctor Who” took place on November 23, 1963. Unfortunately, the day before U.S.A. president John F. Kennedy was murdered so the public’s interest was focused on this dramatic event. The Saturday after the pilot episode was repeated before broadcasting the second episode in order to give people the chance to watch it.

“An Unearthly Child” is an adventure composed by two different stories: the pilot episode set in 1963, where Ian and Barbara meet the Doctor, and the other three episodes set in prehistoric times. The Doctor is initially hostile towards Earthlings and about him and Susan we just know that they’re from another planet. In that meeting, Ian asks the fundamental question: Doctor who?

Some elements of the pilot episode were abandoned later in the series. On the first trip in the Tardis the visual effect from the opening titles is shown but especially Ian and Barbara faint, something that never happened again. Susan claims she coined the acronym TARDIS as in “Time And Relative Dimension In Space” but some seasons later on Gallifrey the name seems to be normally used.

The other three episodes are set in the Stone Age. The Tardis is supposed to blend in changing its appearance on arrival but the Doctor realizes that it keeps on looking like a Police box, which has become an icon. The Doctor is still hostile towards the Earthlings, so much that during this story he’s willing to kill one of the members of the tribe they meet in order to return to the Tardis more quickly.

It’s really hard to judge dispassionately the adventure that started a legend. The pilot episode is extraordinary in introducing the characters showing their different personalities. The other three episodes are the first historical adventure that sees Ian and Barbara having to face a reality impossible for them and to work together with the Doctor to save their lives. There are some cliches about the cavemen’s brutality and in some places it’s slow paced but it’s the story where the protagonists become a group.

Overall, “An Unearthly Child” is a good adventure that creates the foundations for the future developments of “Doctor Who”. Despite some flaws of the ’60s productions, starting with Barbara and in particular Susan who tend to hysteria, the characters have their own depth which starts emerging from the very beginning and they’re well played by the actors. The Doctor is very different from the friend of the Earthlings we’re used to but his development starts with this adventure as well.

Because this DVD is part of “Doctor Who: The Beginning” box set – available on Amazon UK, Amazon Canada and Amazon U.S.A. – a global judgement must necessarily be given only at the end of the reviews of the adventures it contains.

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