An Unearthly Child Review

Time to read: 5 minutes

My Review (01×01)

And here we go.  The first in about 200+ Doctor Who reviews.  I’ve loved the show for a long time, and the 50th anniversary is coming up in about 19 months from the writing of this text, so I thought I’d have a go at writing something about all the stories.  I don’t expect to write like 1,000 words+ for each story, that’d take bloody forever.  But I will say something about them all.   Some remembrances of the past, and one of my favorites, the references to the old series from the modern Doctor Who (and backwards once I get there).   I do also intend on actually WATCHING the story before I write about it, so it’s not a collection of “Am I remembering this right?” thoughts.  I do not plan on recopying the story’s plot here.  There are numerous websites that you can go to read the story’s plot – in fact, I’m linking to them in each review.  When I’m done with the series, I might turn it into some sort of eBook or something.  Will have to see if I make it that far.  Heh.   I have no set schedule for these, I’ll post a new one when I have the time and the inkling to do one, but I plan on finishing by Nov 23, 2013.  Anyway…

General Thoughts

The first story of Doctor Who went out on November 23, 1963 on the BBC, and was the first in a seriously long lived Sci-Fi show.  The basic concept was gold, and has allowed it to remain strong 48 years later.  A mysterious man and his granddaughter are in London, and attract the attention of two school teachers, and they set off on a series of adventures, that in the beginning had a quite caustic relationship between the Time Lord and the humans.

This story has always been considered essential viewing for me.  Or at least Episode 1.  Every November 23rd for the last 10 years or so, I’ll rewatch the story again.  Kind of my own anniversary “thing”.  Kind of geeky, I admit, but hey.  There’s worse things to be stuck on in life.

Story Facts

  • The Doctor: William Hartnell
  • Susan Foreman: Carole Ann Ford
  • Ian Chesterton: William Russell
  • Barbara Wright: Jacqueline Hill
  • Episode 1: “An Unearthly Child” – Nov 23, 1963
  • Episode 2: “The Cave of Skulls” – Nov 30, 1963
  • Episode 3: “The Forest of Fear” – Dec 7, 1963
  • Episode 4: “The Firemaker” – Dec 14, 1963
  • Director: Waris Hussein, Douglas Camfield (uncredited)
  • Script Editor: David Whitaker
  • Producer: Verity Lambert
  • Writer(s): Anthony Coburn, CE Webber (Ep 1, uncredited)
  • Production Code: A

Story Notes

  • This was the first thing ever aired on the BBC after coverage of President Kennedy’s assassination, which had happened the day before.
  • Likewise, due to the massive Kennedy coverage, this episode was repeated so people could have another shot at seeing it.
  • This story was repeated as part of the “Five Faces of Doctor Who” series of repeats in 1982, right before Peter Davison’s stories started airing.
  • There were a few versions of this story.  The known aired one, and the original “pilot” version.  The pilot was the actual attempt to film it, but due to several mistakes, and a desire to change the tone of Hartnell’s performance, it was reshot, and the reshoot is the public version.  This pilot has been released a few times over the years.  First on VHS in 1991, then again on VHS in 2000.  Was finally on DVD in 2006 as part of the DVD release of Unearthly Child.
  • Derek Newark (Za) later played Greg Sutton in the serial Inferno.  Alethea Charlton (Hur) later played Edith in the serial The Time Meddler. Eileen Way (Old Mother) later played Karela in the serial The Creature from the Pit, and appeared in the film Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 AD.  Jeremy Young (Kal) later played Gordon Lowery in Mission to the Unknown.  Finally Jacqueline Hill returned in 1980 and played Lexa in Meglos.
  • There is a reference to the Tardis not changing it’s shape here – the implication is that thsi was the first time it didn’t change.  Granted, that’s from watching the show later on, and having 40+ years of history behind it.  The fact that the Tardis didn’t change shape here is referenced during many stories in the show’s future, and Attack of the Cyberman actually saw the Doctor fix this for a time, although the things the Tardis turned into were quite “not properly chosen”. :)

Future References

Given this was the first overall story, it was referenced several times, most strongly in 1988 for the 25th anniversary.

The series overall is referenced in Episode 2 of the story “Remembrance of the Daleks” from 1988.  In that story, Ace has a television on, and runs out of the building she was in.  As she is leaving, the TV narrator is heard to say “This is BBC Television.  The time is a quarter past five, and Saturday viewing continues with an adventure in the new Science Fiction series, Doc…”    It’s probably the ultimate meta reference the show has ever had.

The school that Ian & Barbara from this story (Coal Hill School) also appeared again in “Remembrance of the Daleks”.   Also, in the first episode, Ian lends Susan a book on the French Revolution.  That book (albeit looking differently) is still in the lab when Ace and the Seventh Doctor show up there some years later.


This particular series was referenced a few times in the future.  In specific the Foreman scrapyard was shown again in the 1985 serial, “Attack of the Cybermen”, and again in 1988 in the aforementioned “Remembrance of the Daleks”.    As an extra bonus, when the sixth Doctor sees the “IM Foreman” sign, he calls Peri “Susan”.  When the Foreman scrapyard was shown in 1988, the name was misspelled as “IM Forman”.



My thoughts on Story

As I said above, Episode 1 is truly essential viewing.  It contains many of the basic show elements that would still continue on into 2012.  It has an atmosphere that was immediately lost in Episode 2, and the odd “feel” of Episode 1 was never really recaptured again.   Episode 10 of “The War Games” sort of has that feel, but not nearly as well executed.    Once they get into Episode 2, and we spend all of our times in the 100,000 BC part of the story, it’s not nearly as good to me.  It’s not like Episodes 2-4 are awful, they’re OK.  But given how outstanding Episode 1 was, the other three are a letdown.  For the longest time, I would watch the first episode, and then stop.  It was such a change, such a difference that it turned me off.  Later on, I realized that was part of the point – that we were supposed to be shocked at how different the “Tribe of Gum” stuff was.   Over time I softened on that stance, but still feel Episodes 2-4 aren’t nearly as good.

The Doctor’s general attitude towards his companions was one I liked.   This attitude of the Doctor towards his human companions changes a lot during this story, and the next two (The Daleks & The Edge of Destruction), and to some extent story 4 as well (Marco Polo).  By the time we get to the fifth story (Keys of Marinus), he seems to actively like his companions.  I felt the show tried to recapture this a bit with the caustic relationship between Doctor #6 & Peri, but that kind of attitude didn’t fly in 1985 as much.

Much of Episodes 2-4 is the Tardis crew trying to figure out how to get back to the Tardis.   A lot of the dialogue is stuff like “Za is leader!”.  It’s really banal dialogue, which fits the setting, but I could never get into it.  The Tardis crew spend a few episodes trying to trick the primitives, as well as show them how to make fire.  Not heady Sci-Fi adventure stuff, there.   I read somewhere that the entire budget for a single episode was about $4200 or so (depending on what currency conversion was in 1963).  Some of that shows on screen.  In specific, at the end of Episode 4, when the crew is being chased back to the Tardis by the primitives, the chase through the jungle was just the actors standing there with others brushing leaves and whatnot by their faces to make it seem like they were in the middle of the jungle.  The effect is odd, knowing that fact.  I wonder if I would have felt different about it, not knowing that.  Still, the overall effect comes off well, I just don’t like the plot/story for Episodes 2-4 terribly much.

Overall, I give the story a 7 out of 10.   Episode 1 is a 10 out of 10 (might be a “But this goes to 11”).  However, 2-4 are about a 5 or so, so I averaged it out to 7.

External Links

Purchase Links

  • DVD (as part of the “The Beginnings Box Set”)
  • DVD (as part of the “The Beginnings Box Set”)


Speak Your Mind