An Unearthly Child
23 November 1963
|Written by||Anthony Coburn|
|Directed by||Waris Hussein|
|Produced by||Verity Lambert|
Schoolteachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright decide to follow a strange pupil, Susan Foreman, home one night. “Home” turns out to be a time machine — the TARDIS — whose outer appearance of a battered blue police box leads to a dizzyingly immense futuristic interior. The TARDIS is owned by Susan’s grandfather, the Doctor, and the two are really alien wanderers in time and space. To prevent Ian and Barbara from revealing what they’ve discovered, the Doctor makes his temperamental machine leave 1963 England, only to land in the era of the caveman. Captured by natives, the four must escape back to the TARDIS before they are sacrificed by a tribe which is trying to regain the secret of making fire.
- This is the first Doctor Who story broadcast on television. – Order the DVD
- The very first words in Doctor Who were spoken by Barbara Wright: "Wait in here please, Susan. I won’t be long."
- This story is also known as 100,000 BC, The Tribe of Gum, The Firemakers and The Cavemen. See disputed story titles for more information.
- The episodes of this story went by different titles during the production stage. Working titles included "Nothing At The End Of The Lane" for the first episode; episode 3 was called "The Cave of Skulls", episode 2 was entitled "The Firemaker" and episode 4 was originally called "The Dawn of Knowledge".
- All episodes exist as 16mm telerecordings and are held in the BBC’s Film and Videotape Library.
Originally, the premiere storyline was to have been a serial by C. E. Webber that carried the working titles Nothing at the End of the Lane and The Giants, with An Unearthly Child initially scheduled to be the second serial of the first series; when Webber’s storyline was rejected, Coburn’s script was promoted to premiere and retooled accordingly. A short story titled Nothing at the End of the Lane written by Daniel O’Mahony can be found in Short Trips and Side Steps. It suggests the entire first season of the show may just be a psychotic fantasy in the mind of Barbara Wright. The GIants, meanwhile, was partially reworked for Series 2 as Planet of GIants.
- The names for the Doctor’s companions were originally to be Bridget ("Biddy") instead of Susan, Lola McGovern (instead of Barbara Wright), and Cliff instead of Ian.
- At no point is the name "Tribe of Gum" uttered on screen.
- The makers of the show originally considered the idea of having a functioning chameleon circuit but ruled it out on cost grounds, feeling it would have been too expensive to build a new, disguised spaceship for every story. At one point, they also considered making the TARDIS invisible.
- The bones in the Cave of Skulls were real bones taken from an abattoir and were very unpleasant to smell under hot studio lights.
Other proposals considered for the first story included The Living World, written by Alan Wakeman.
- A pilot version of episode 1 was made and exists in various versions. For more info, see the Pilot Episode.
- Episode 1 has come to be seen[by whom?] as a classic of science fiction, in contrast to the less-positive reaction of critics when it was first broadcast.
- Bernard Lodge was the uncredited designer of the original title sequence
- The Doctor smokes a pipe in episode 2, but is never seen to do so again after he loses both this and his matches on Stone Age Earth.
- It is never explicitly stated on-screen that the Stone Age episodes of the story are set on Earth.
- However, the comic story Hunters of the Burning Stone states that these episodes are set on Earth.
- According to the DVD info text, the striped top Susan wears in this and later stories belonged to Carole Ann Ford and was part of an alternate costume she suggested for the character after it was decided to abandon the more adult, futuristic look of the unaired pilot. According to the commentary, Ford’s suggested outfit also included black leggings and boots, which were rejected as too sexy, so jeans were worn instead. Ford would wear the same striped top in her later movie The Great St. Trinian’s Train Robbery.
Ford’s hairstyle as Susan was created by famed stylist Vidal Sassoon.
- This story was one of those selected to be shown as part of BSB’s Doctor Who Weekend in September 1990.
- The story was also repeated on BBC Four on November 21, 2013 to celebrate the show’s fiftieth anniversary.
- A lizard was accidentally brought on set along with the tropical plants for the forest. Carole Ann Ford took it home and kept it as a pet.
- The piece of music that is purported to be John Smith and the Common Men is called "3 Guitars Mood 2," by The Arthur Nelson Group. It is featured on a CD called Doctor Who: Space Adventures. This piece of music was also used in the documentary Verity Lambert: Drama Queen, a tribute to the late Verity Lambert which was first broadcast on 5 April 2008 on BBC4. "3 Guitars Mood 2" was reissued — this time credited to John Smith and the Common Men — for a special vinyl single in 2013.
- Susan claims that she made up the term TARDIS from the initials of Time and Relative Dimension in Space. It is later revealed that Gallifreyan society is several million years old. One explanation for this apparent inconsistency is proposed in the novel Lungbarrow. Other speculative explanations also exist.
- When the TARDIS dematerialises for the first time, both Ian and Barbara faint. This effect is unique to this story as Ian and Barbara show no further ill effects in subsequent dematerialisations (at least not of this nature and not caused directly by the TARDIS activating), nor do any future new TARDIS passengers.
- The first broadcast of episode 1 had only 4.4 million viewers. This was likely due to the power cuts in some parts of Britain that prevented more viewers from tuning in. It was not, as the urban myth suggests, due to coverage of Kennedy’s assassination
For this reason, on Wednesday 27 November, the Programme Review board decided to repeat the first episode immediately before the second episode. This repeat gained a significant number of viewers — 6.0 million. Although such replays are common today (particularly on American networks), such a rerun was almost unheard of in 1963.
- An Unearthly Child was the first Doctor Who story to be broadcast internationally, appearing on New Zealand’s Christchurch regional channel CHTV-3 on 18 September 1964.
The story was repeated on BBC2 on consecutive evenings from Monday 2 to Thursday 5 November 1981 as part of the repeat season The Five Faces of Doctor Who. The Radio Times programme listing for the repeat transmission of "An Unearthly Child" was accompanied by a black and white head-and-shoulders publicity shot of the Doctor, with the accompanying caption "The Doctor (William Hartnell) leads his companions into a strange land and the unknown dangers it holds… The Five Faces of Doctor Who: 5.40".
- For the remounted Unearthly Child transmission the TARDIS prop had a wash of matt blue paint applied as well as a covering of matt black to dirty it down. This was supplemented by heavy distressing to the overall paint work to give it a more weathered feel, as the original paint work made the prop look too pristine as seen in the Pilot episode. However, the original Ealing Studio filmed inserts made prior to the studio recordings both for the Pilot and transmitted episode resulted in a continuity error surrounding the look of the TARDIS prop. In the establishing filmed shot of it standing on the barren landscape at the end of episode one and the beginning of episode two, as well as its dematerialisation shot in episode four, it reverts back to its pristine condition; gloss blue paint and door handles on both the "Pull to Open" panel and the main entrance doors. The door handles were removed after the prop was refurbished for the studio recordings.
- Episode 1 was broadcast ten minutes late due to an extended news report on the assassination of President Kennedy the previous day. (It was transmitted only one minute, twenty seconds later than the scheduled 5.15 p.m., due to the previous show, Grandstand, over running. A related myth is that the delay occurred due to coverage of the killing of Lee Harvey Oswald, but Oswald was not shot until the 24th.)
- C. E. Webber co-wrote the story with Anthony Coburn. (Webber had actually been working on a proposed episode known as The Giants, which was originally intended to be the first story but was rejected. He was, however, involved in helping put together the original format documents for the series.)
- This story was broadcast live. (No episode was ever broadcast live. This rumour likely originated due to the fact episodes of the day were often videotaped in one continuous take with only occasional recording breaks.)
Jackie Lane was offered the role of Susan. (Although Lane auditioned for the part, she withdrew herself from consideration when she discovered a one-year contract was involved; she was never actually offered the job.)
- Waris Hussein spotted Carole Ann Ford in BBC play called The Man on a Bicycle when he was looking for someone for the role of Susan. (This play was actually broadcast months before Hussein became involved with Doctor Who. However, according to a documentary included in the DVD box set "The Beginning", Hussein spotted her in an episode of Z-Cars.)
- Jacqueline Hill worked as a model in Paris. (She didn’t.)
- The original police box was a prop left over from Dixon of Dock Green. (It was specially made for Doctor Who.)
- Pop singer Billie Davis appears as one of the females. (This has been mentioned on a number of websites, including the Internet Movie Database, but according to the DVD production notes, the Billie Davis in this story is a male actor; the singer Davis at the time the episode was produced was still recovering from a serious automobile crash and was unlikely to have been in any shape to take on an acting role.)
- Susan came up with the name of the TARDIS, and thus all later references to the term being used before her or by other Time Lords constitute a continuity error. (Susan does not claim to have made up the name Time and Relative Dimension in Space; she only says she came up with the TARDIS name from its initials. That’s hardly an original concept, so it’s not surprising that others might have also done the same over the years. Also, in the narrative concept of the series, we are only hearing what people say in English – it’s very possible that in Gallifreyan another name might be used, but we never hear what that is.)
- After arriving in the past, the Doctor is puzzled over why the TARDIS is still a police box. The Eleventh Doctor travelled back to 1963 and sabotaged the chameleon circuit, shortly before this. (Hunters of the Burning Stone)
- The Eleventh Doctor hears various voices from his past when a time rift does the past leak into the TARDIS. One of those voices is Susan saying. "I made up the name ‘TARDIS‘ from the initials:. Time and Relative Dimension In Space". Another voice is Ian Chesterton asking, "A thing that looks like a police box, standing in a junkyard, it can move anywhere in time and space?". (Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS)