Doctor Who: Season 1, Episode 1

An Unearthly Child (23 Nov. 1963)

TV Episode  -   -  Adventure | Drama | Sci-Fi
8.4
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Ratings: 8.4/10 from 629 users  
Reviews: 8 user | 6 critic

Two schoolteachers investigate the personal life of one of their brilliant students and her mysterious grandfather.

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Cast

Episode complete credited cast:
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William Russell ...
Jacqueline Hill ...
...
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Storyline

Two schoolteachers, Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright, become concerned by the unusual behavior of their fifteen-year-old student, Susan Foreman. When they follow her home, they meet her mysterious grandfather, the Doctor, and find themselves unwilling passengers on his time ship, the TARDIS... Written by Sarah Hadley

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Release Date:

23 November 1963 (UK)  »

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1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

In the original script, Ian was Susan's form master, and called her: "the all-time, A1, dyed-in-the-wool enigma of Coal Hill Comprehensive". See more »

Quotes

The Doctor: Have you ever thought what it's like to be wanderers in the fourth dimension? Have you?... to be exiles? Susan and I are cut off from our own planet, without friends or protection. But one day we shall get back. Yes, one day. One day.
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Connections

Featured in Verity Lambert: Drama Queen (2008) See more »

Soundtracks

Three Guitars Mood 2
(uncredited)
Performed by the Arthur Nelson Group
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User Reviews

 
Doctor Who at its best
12 November 2006 | by (Brooklyn, NY) – See all my reviews

I like pretty much every era of the original Doctor Who, but lately I've developed a particular fondness for the first season, featuring William Hartnell as the Doctor.

In fact, I think "An Unearthly Child" is the best single episode of Doctor Who ever made. It's got a creepy atmosphere and an aura of genuine mystery (something that's sadly lacking in modern Who). William Hartnell gives a great performance - his Doctor comes across as brilliant, paranoid, xenophobic and downright sinister. Later on, the character would become a heroic stereotype, but here he's three-dimensional and very real (considering that he's an alien).

William Russell and Jacqueline Hill also give good performances as the schoolteachers who are drawn into the Doctor's weird universe, though I should note that their acting gets even better and more naturalistic in later episodes. Carol Ann Ford does pretty well with the key role of the Doctor's granddaughter, Susan, though sometimes she comes across as too whiny and petulant (in fairness to her, I think this is because series creator Sydney Newman told her to play up these aspects of the character).

The episode is also very well-written and directed. The script intelligently explores the stark contrast between the everyday world and the somewhat surreal existence of the Doctor. And director Waris Hussein, who labored under very primitive conditions (he was reportedly stuck working with huge, practically immobile cameras), manages to enhance the drama with some interesting camera angles and plenty of dramatic close-ups.

Unusually for Doctor Who, "An Unearthly Child" even boasts a pretty cool special effects sequence, when the TARDIS first takes off from Earth and enters the swirly-whirly time vortex. I suppose it's rather primitive by modern standards, but I think it remains an eerie and arresting sequence and it looks much better than you'd expect, given the series' reputation for cheapness.

Though I've focused most of my comments on the first episode, I should also note that the subsequent three-part caveman adventure is much better than its lowly reputation among fans would suggest. I once read a review that mocked the cavemen for appearing to be "dental-flossed," which in retrospect I find bizarre, since the cavemen in fact have busted-up and dirty-looking teeth, and generally filthy appearances. In fact, their semi-realistic presentation is part of what makes the story so good.

Perhaps the only strike against "An Unearthly Child" is that it's very different, in many ways, from traditional Doctor Who. The character of the Doctor here is self-absorbed, somewhat cowardly and semi-evil, which is strange considering that he would quickly evolve into a straight-up good guy. Also, there's a distinct lack of alien monsters in this serial; starting with the very next adventure, "The Daleks," Doctor Who would establish a tradition of featuring such monsters in pretty much every story.

But, if you're open to a slightly different vision of Doctor Who, you should definitely check this out. Compared to the episodes that followed, "An Unearthly Child" is surprisingly adult and sophisticated, and it represents the very best of science fiction television.


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