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PRODUCTION INFO

Name

An Unearthly Child

Serial Code

A

First Transmitted

23 November 1963

Final ratings

4.40m

DVD RELEASE

DVD

VHS RELEASE

VHS

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CAST

Regular Cast

William Hartnell (Dr Who), Carole Ann Ford (Susan), Jacqueline Hill (Barbara), William Russell (Ian)

Guest Cast

Derek Newark (Za), Alethea Charlton (Hur), Eileen Way (old Mother), Jeremy Young (Kal), Howard Lang (Horg)

CREW

Written by Anthony Coburn
Directed by Waris Hussein
Produced by Verity Lambert

sypnosis

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.

plot

An Unearthly Child (1)

On a foggy London night, a policeman makes his rounds, passing I.M. Foreman’s junkyard at 76 Totter’s Lane. In the junkyard stands an incongruous-looking police box emitting an eerie hum.

Another day of classes ends at the Coal Hill School. History teacher Barbara Wright and science teacher Ian Chesterton compare notes on an enigmatic student, Susan Foreman. Her knowledge of history and science surpasses the rest of the class and possibly the teachers. However, she has very curious gaps about present-day culture — for example, she forgets that England has yet to adopt a decimal currency. Barbara has encouraged her to specialise in history, but Susan is resistant to her suggestion about in-home tutoring, saying her grandfather, with whom she lives, doesn’t like strangers. Barbara tells Ian she got Susan’s address, 76 Totter’s Lane, from the school secretary. She went there and found, not a house, but a junkyard. They find Susan so Barbara can lend her a book on the French Revolution. Ian offers Susan a ride, but she declines. Ian and Barbara resolve to follow her home. After they leave the room, Susan reads the history book and remarks, “That’s not right!”

Arriving by car at 76 Totter’s Lane, Ian and Barbara see Susan enter the junkyard alone. Following from a distance, they search the junkyard for her in vain. Ian is transfixed by a police box there which hums. Touching it, he exclaims that it’s alive. They hear someone coming and hide. An old man approaches the police box and unlocks it. The teachers seem to hear Susan’s voice from inside, greeting him. They confront the old man, who brusquely shuts the door and refuses to acknowledge that anyone is inside. When they threaten to go to the police, the old man calmly dismisses their claims. The door opens from the inside. Hearing Susan’s voice again, the teachers push past the man. They are astounded to find themselves in a much larger space, with futuristic electronic panels and a central hexagonal control console. Susan is shocked to find her teachers there. The old man, her grandfather, is furious at their untimely intrusion.

Susan and her grandfather, who calls himself simply the Doctor, say the police box is actually a disguise for their space-time ship, the TARDIS. They are alien refugees from another planet and time. Despite Susan’s protests, the Doctor prepares the TARDIS for takeoff, saying he must kidnap Ian and Barbara to protect Susan and himself. The sudden takeoff renders the two schoolteachers unconscious. The TARDIS arrives on a Palaeolithic landscape, over which falls the shadow of a man.

The Cave of Skulls (2)

A tribe of cavemen are gathered around one of their members, Za. Za is the son of the tribe’s previous leader, who never taught his son the secret of making fire. As Za futilely tries to make fire, a female tribe elder throws scorn on Za’s abilities and states that Kal, a stranger from another tribe, would be a far better leader. This frustrates Za. Hur, a young cavewoman, tries to pacify him but also warns him that if he loses his position as the leader of the tribe he will lose her; her father is intent on her bearing children for the leader.

Back at the TARDIS, Ian and Barbara regain consciousness to find the Doctor and Susan puzzling over readings displayed on the TARDIS’ main console. The Doctor tells them they have gone back in time. This annoys Ian, who demands concrete proof. The Doctor opens the door, revealing the barren desert. All four go outside. The Doctor professes confusion as to why the TARDIS has retained the shape of a police box. Ian apologises to Susan and Barbara for stubbornly disbelieving the Doctor’s story. Susan is also surprised that the TARDIS is still in the shape of a police box. The Doctor is elsewhere, checking the environment for radioactivity, when the caveman who was watching the TARDIS sneaks up on him and attacks him. His three companions hear him shout and run to his rescue. When they get there, all they find is the Doctor’s bag, hat and Geiger counter smashed. Susan hysterically runs off to look for him. Ian and Barbara soon follow but not before Ian finds the sand is freezing cold.

Horg, Hur’s father, tells Za that Kal claims he knew how to make fire in his old tribe. Za angrily responds that Kal’s tribe all died out. Kal would have died too if this tribe had not saved him.

Hur again warns him: Kal is bringing in meat and winning favour amongst the tribe. Za says if he has to kill a few people to exert his authority, he will. At this point, Kal, who attacked the Doctor, comes in with the old man’s unconscious body. Kal tells the tribe that he saw the Doctor make fire and he should be leader of the tribe now, that the Doctor had immense strength and fighting prowess. Za scorns and mocks Kal, but Horg states that Kal is doing far more for the tribe than Za and if his captive can create fire, Kal should be made leader. Za says the Doctor should be taken to the Cave of Skulls and sacrificed so Orb will return.

At this point the Doctor wakes up. He says he can create fire for the whole tribe without any need for killing, but he soon realises he has lost his matches. When he tells the tribe he will need to go back to the TARDIS before they get fire, Za mocks Kal, saying his promise of “an old man who can make fire” was lies. The tribe turns against Kal. In his frustration, he pulls his knife on the Doctor. Kal is on the verge of killing him when Susan, Barbara and Ian attack the tribe, knocking Kal off the Doctor. The companions are soon overpowered. Kal approaches Barbara. Before he can kill her, Za gets in the way and says the four must be taken to the Cave of Skulls and sacrificed as a gift to Orb. The Doctor and his companions are led away. Horg tries to take Hur from Za, but Za insists that with the Doctor’s sacrifice, Orb will return and fire will return also. The tribe will retain Za as leader. Horg seems to accept this.

The four travellers are sealed in the tribe’s Cave of Skulls with the bones of many prisoners. The Doctor notices that the skulls have all been split open.

The Forest of Fear (3)

Still in the Cave of Skulls, Ian, Barbara, and Susan try to escape; however, the Doctor seems disconsolate and unhelpful. Ian shouts at him, prompting the Doctor to suggest that they use the bones of the dead to cut the ropes that bind their hands and legs. The group begins to unify.

Back at the main cave, the tribe is asleep. The female elder wakes up. She steals Za’s knife and heads towards the Cave of Skulls. Unbeknownst to the old woman, Hur has seen her. When she arrives at the Cave of Skulls, she is met by a large stone that blocks the door. However, she seems to know an alternate route.

Inside the Cave of Skulls, the Doctor and the others are trying to free Ian so he can defend them if needed. Susan screams as the elder bursts though a gap in the undergrowth that blocks the cave.

Hur wakes Za and calls him out of the cave to inform him that the elder took his knife and headed out of the cave. They decide she went to the Cave of Skulls. Hur believes the elder is afraid of fire, so she will kill the four to prevent the tribe from learning the secret.

However, the elder is using the knife to free the four, whilst outside Za and Hur try to move the stone. Just as the stone budges, the four escape out the back of the cave. Za, frustrated, throws the elder to the floor. Hur convinces Za that the only way he will retain the tribe’s leadership is by capturing the Doctor and harnessing the fire. Za and Hur plunge into the forest in pursuit of the Doctor.

The foursome are lost in the forest, trying to find their way back to the TARDIS. Yet again, Ian and the Doctor fall out as Ian takes the lead. Whilst they argue, Barbara trips and falls. She lands on a dead boar and screams. This alerts Za and Hur. The movement of the undergrowth impels the Doctor and his companions to hide.

When Za and Hur catch up with them, Za is attacked by a wild beast and injured badly. Against the Doctor’s wishes, Barbara and Ian try to help Za. The Doctor tries to stop Susan from going, insinuating that he would leave Ian and Barbara behind. Ian and Barbara help Za, to Hur’s bemusement. She does not understand the idea of friendship. Hur is openly hostile to Susan, thinking she is trying to steal Za from her. The Doctor picks up a small stone intending to get Za to draw their way back to the TARDIS, but Ian, still hostile to the Doctor, stops him, inferring some sinister intention to the Doctor’s act. The Doctor reminds his companions that the tribe elder is still with the cavemen. He worries she may wake them and set off in pursuit of the travellers. This prompts Ian to build a makeshift stretcher to carry Za back to the TARDIS to heal him there.

Back at the settlement, Kal has returned to the cave to find it empty. He questions the prostrate elder, who says she set the Doctor and his companions free. Kal kills her. He returns to the tribe to inform them that it was Za who let the Doctor free so he could keep fire to himself. The tribe are sceptical and Kal says the elder will back him up. When Kal returns to the cave to “discover” the dead elder, he says it must have been Za who killed her. Kal declares himself leader and takes his new tribe off to find Za.

The Doctor and his companions happily find the TARDIS. However, their escape attempt is foiled when they see the tribesmen appear. They turn to flee but they find the way blocked by Kal and the other tribesmen.

The Firemaker (4)

The four travellers are returned to the encampment. At first, the tribe is hostile to Za and his friends, especially when they accuse him of killing the tribal elder, but the Doctor convinces the tribe that Kal killed Old Mother by tricking Kal into showing the tribe his bloody knife. The Doctor and Ian lead the tribe in an attack which drives Kal into the forest. The recovered Za is again declared leader, but instead of expressing his gratitude by freeing the travellers as the Doctor expected, he orders them returned to the Cave of Skulls where he will either learn the secret of fire from them or sacrifice them to Orb.

In the Cave of Skulls, Ian makes fire for Za, using friction for a spark, hoping this gift will convince the tribe to set them free. Za comes to speak with them and is entranced by the fire. Ian says that in his “tribe” all members know how to make fire. Za asks Ian if he is the leader of his tribe. He responds (with a nod to Susan) that the Doctor is the leader.

Meanwhile, Kal sneaks back into the camp. He kills the guard outside the cave and attacks Za. Kal sees the fire and immediately slashes at Za with his axe. Za grabs a thick branch to defend himself and breaks Kal’s axe with it. Finally, Za gains the upper hand, chokes Kal in a headlock, and knocks him to the cave floor. Za picks up a big stone, while Barbara turns her head away, knowing what Za intends to do will be too gruesome to watch. Za smashes the stone on Kal’s head with a skull-crushing blow, killing Kal and confirming his leadership; the Doctor is visibly disturbed by this barbaric action. With fire at his disposal, Za is now undisputed. However, he still leaves the Doctor and his companions to languish in the cave.

After going out hunting, Za decrees that the travellers will merge with his tribe rather than leave and orders them confined to the cave indefinitely. The four try to think of a means of escape; absentmindedly, Susan places a skull in a flame. This leads Ian to devise a plan to scare and distract the tribe enough to let them flee. Four skulls are placed on top of burning torches. This ghoulish vision distracts the cave dwellers, allowing the travellers to escape into the forest. This time, the four travellers make it back inside the TARDIS; the Doctor only just makes it in before the tribesmen catch up with them. The TARDIS dematerialises as the tribesmen throw spears at the craft, leaving them staring in amazement. Za, however, looks on in defeat.

The Doctor explains that he has no idea where or when they will end up next because the TARDIS is not displaying any data to help him direct the ship. In time, the scanner shows their new destination, a mysterious jungle with strange-looking trees. Before they go out to explore the planet, the Doctor asks Susan to check the radiation levels. They are at the normal level. As the four leave the console room to clean themselves, the radiation detector’s needle passes into the “Danger” zone..

NOTES

  1. An Unearthly Child is the first serial in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who. It was first broadcast on BBC TV Order the DVD
  2. The very first words in Doctor Who were spoken by Barbara Wright: "Wait in here please, Susan. I won’t be long."
  3. 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.
  4. 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".
  5. All episodes exist as 16mm telerecordings and are held in the BBCs 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 storyline was rejected, Coburns script was promoted to premiere and retooled accordingly. A short story titled Nothing at the End of the Lane written by Daniel 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.
  6. The names for the Doctors companions were originally to be Bridget ("Biddy") instead of Susan, Lola McGovern (instead of Barbara Wright), and Cliff instead of Ian.
  7. At no point is the name "Tribe of Gum" uttered on screen.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. A pilot version of episode 1 was made and exists in various versions. For more info, see the Pilot Episode.
  11. 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.
  12. Bernard Lodge was the uncredited designer of the original title sequence
  13. 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.
  14. It is never explicitly stated on-screen that the Stone Age episodes of the story are set on Earth.
  15. However, the comic story Hunters of the Burning Stone states that these episodes are set on Earth.
  16. 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 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.
  17. This story was one of those selected to be shown as part of BSB Doctor Who Weekend in September 1990.
  18. The story was also repeated on BBC Four on November 21, 2013 to celebrate the shows fiftieth anniversary.
  19. 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.
  20. 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.
  21. 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.
  22. 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.
  23. 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.
  24. 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 Kennedys 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.
  25. An Unearthly Child was the first Doctor Who story to be broadcast internationally, appearing on New Zealand 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".
  26. 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 paintwork 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.
  27. 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, overrunning.[7] 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.)
  28. 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.)
  29. 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.)
  30. There is a dummy with a crushed head in the junkyard, perhaps foreshadowing the caved-in skulls that the time travellers later see in the Palaeolithic era.
  31. The Doctor is apparently put off smoking for life when he is attacked by Kal while about to light a large, ornate pipe.
  32. 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.)
  33. Jacqueline Hill worked as a model in Paris. (She didn’t)
  34. The original police box was a prop left over from Dixon of Dock Green. (It was specially made for Doctor Who.)
  35. 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.)
  36. 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. Thats hardly an original concept, so its 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 & its very possible that in Gallifreyan another name might be used, but we never hear what that is.)
  37. 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)
  38. 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)

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