RRR 33 Doctor Who: An Unearthly Child

By Roy Mathur, on 2014-03-16, at 16:48:00--17:33:00 GMT, for Roy's Rocket Radio, Listen

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Doctor Who: An Unearthly Child

Broadcast: Sat 23 Nov 1963 17:16 - Sat 14 Dec 1963, one day after John F. Kennedy was assassinated!
Writer: Anthony Coburn et al (Sydney Newman, Donald Wilson, Cecil Edwin Webber)
Director: Waris Hussein
Producer: Verity Lambert
Cast: William Hartnell as the Doctor, Carole Ann Ford as Susan Foreman, Jacqueline Hill as Barbara Wright and William Russell as Ian Chesterton (companions).
Notes: See also An Adventure in Space and Time (2013).


The unearthly child refers to Susan "Foreman", an unusual new pupil at the grim-sounding Coal Hill school.

Two of her teachers, Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright, decide to follow her to a fake home address she has given the school, which turns out to be a horrible lock-up containing... a suspicious looking police box and an even more suspicious old man---Susan's grandfather. One thing leads to another and the Doctor ends up having to prove that he really does have a time machine by taking them on a trip into earth's prehistoric past.

Things quickly go wrong when they are caught up in a power struggle within a tribe of palaeolithic human hunters desperate to re-learn the secret of fire lost with the recent death of an elder.

What I thought


Great introduction to the main characters, the Doctor and his companions as well as the whole bigger on the inside thing of the TARDIS, could definitely feel that the series was going to be a hit; hackle-raising awe on my part too.

I forgot how much I like the look of the first Doctor. Very mysterious. Does also show the vulnerability of the Doctor which is refreshing given the godlike stature of his later, and particularly recent incarnations. He is old, frail, devious, arrogant, cowardly and quite, quite ruthless, even sociopathic. Yes, at one point he even seems to be considering killing a wounded character who is slowing down their escape. Somehow I doubt the Russell/Moffat guys would ever do stories like that.

Seeing Ron Grainer and Delia Ann Derbyshire's theme music and Norman Taylor's spooky "howl-around" visual effect for the title sequence proves that the original is still the best. I'd forgotten the effectiveness of those first amazing and innovative sounds and weird, swirling, hypnotic shapes. One minor, and to my mind, other thing is that you don't see the Dotor's smiling face in the sequence, which is good because it adds to the mystery and menace.

Finally, although aimed at children, the whole tone of this first adventure, is grim, violent and occasionally very bloody, given the limitations of black and white. I can't imagine some of those same scenes being filmed today!


The pre-historic plot was flat and more like One Million Years BC (1966), but without the benefit of Racquel Welch. Not that much fun.

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