Number : Season 1, Serial 1 of 8.
Which one : The pilot.
Cast : Doctor : William Hartnell
Susan : Carol Ann Ford
Ian : William Russell
Barbara : Jacquelline Bissett
Za : Derek Newark
Hur : Alethea Charlton
Old Mother : Eileen Way
Kal : Jeremy Young
Horg : Howard Lang
Written By : Anthony Coburn
Produced By : Verity Lambert
Length : 4 x 25 minute episodes.
1) “An Unearthly Child”
2) “The Cave Of Skulls”
3) “The Forest Of Fear”
4) “The Firemaker”
First Broadcast : 23 November – 14 December 1963.
Plot : Coalhill School teachers; Ian and Barbara, both tutor an exceptionally gifted (but impossibly naive) young girl – called Susan Foreman. They decide to follow her home to learn more about her and wind-up being kidnapped, by a time-travelling alien – called “The Doctor”.
Whats good : There is still a tangible air of mystery behind the Doctor and Susan characters at this stage. Susan belittling her intellectually inferior school colleagues, with learning of genius proportions but unable to grasp which currency is in circulation – in 1963. Ian and Barbara show early promise as a duo.
Whats bad : Clunky slow (pilot) serial, doesn’t understand yet what it wants to be. Some things introduced are later abandoned – in favour of revised backstories. I.e. Susan naming the Tardis. Hartnell doesn’t do that much, after the first episode, leaving the meat of the story, action and important dialogue for captive Ian.
Review With Spoilers :An Unearthly Child, is the beginning of Doctor Who and the pilot serial. It was broadcast on the day after the J.F.K assassination.
An Unearthly Child is like attempting to bake a cake, without a recipe. All of the basic ingredients are present but the final mixture is not quite right.
The initial setup, is suspenseful and mysterious. Introducing us, to exceptionally bright but mysterious Susan and the interplay between Susan their suspicious teachers; Ian & Barbara – is interesting.
Most of the first episode is seen through Ian & Barbara’s eyes. As they follow Susan home to force a meeting with Susan’s guardian (later revealed to be the Doctor). Uncovering bit-by-bit, who these junkyard squatters are and why they are hiding out in a junkyard.
What is not present here, is a sense of what the show will build into – over the next 27 years and the mythos it will create. As explanations given here are muddled and certain given things are later abandoned and forgotten about.
I.e. Susan inventing the name of the Tardis (after the abbreviation of “Time And Relative Dimensions In Space”). Rather than the fact a whole fleet of them already exists, on Gallifrey. The notion of the Doctor being a family man; never covered again – after this, bar fleeting references through the original series.
“We are not of this race. We are not of this earth. Susan and I are wanderers in the fourth dimension of space and time, cut off from our own people by distances beyond the reach of your most advanced science!” Doctor
Even the first trip out in the Tardis is painfully grinding and feels like the colourful trippy tunnel sequence, in 2001 Space Odyssey; with its multi-coloured lightshow.
On the plus, the suspensful feel is about right and we even get a reasonably entertaining romp back to caveman times from episode 2. Which is much more interesting than some of the later broadcast period romps.
Hartnell spends much of the time, attempting to find his feet in the role and hasn’t quite mastered the fine line between tetchy and endearing – not just yet.
Ian quickly settles into his counterpoint role (to the Doctor), in challenging the Doctor’s authority and outlook and also providing the necessary brawn – to the Doctor’s brain. Ian and Barbara have some good early scenes together, in the buildup to the reveal of the Doctor and Susan being aliens.
A reasonable opener to the beginning of a 26-year running phenomena. It sets enough of the story ingredients in place, to just about feel like what Doctor Who will evolve into.
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