Doctor Who (1963–1989)
13 user 9 critic

An Unearthly Child 

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


Waris Hussein, Douglas Camfield (uncredited)


Anthony Coburn, David Whitaker (story editor)

On Disc

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Episode complete credited cast:
William Hartnell ... Dr. Who
William Russell ... Ian Chesterton
Jacqueline Hill ... Barbara Wright
Carole Ann Ford ... Susan Foreman


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

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


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Release Date:

23 November 1963 (UK) See more »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


Susan is reading a book about The French Revolution. In the final serial of the season, "The Reign of Terror", the travellers actually go to Revolutionary France. See more »


After entering the TARDIS the top of the set is visible above and behind Ian as he says "you can't keep us here." See more »


Susan Foreman: Is that the book you promised me?
Barbara Wright: Yes.
Susan Foreman: [Barbara lends Susan the book on the French Revolution] Thank you very much. It will be interesting. I'll return it tomorrow.
Barbara Wright: Oh, that's not necessary. Keep it until you've finished it.
Susan Foreman: I'll have finished it.
See more »

Alternate Versions

Four versions of this episode exist. Besides the final broadcast version there was also a trial pilot run-through that was not broadcast initially due to technical problems. The 2006 DVD release "Doctor Who: The Beginning" contains an unedited version of this pilot, with several different takes of the TARDIS sequence. A specially made re-edited version of the pilot is included for the first time in this set, using the best takes and digitally manipulating others to remove errors. Previously, an alternate edit of the pilot -- which included dialogue and prop errors -- was broadcast on the BBC and released on VHS. See more »


Featured in Girls! Girls! Girls! The 1960s (2009) See more »


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

Doctor Who at its best
12 November 2006 | by dr_foremanSee 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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