An Unearthly Child

First Broadcast November 23rd, 1963 @ 5.15pm (4.4m viewers)

Where it all began.

It’s hard to comprehend how strange and unique the first episode of Doctor Who was. Although it predates the other major science fiction franchise which also originated in the 1960’s, Star Trek, Doctor Who was not the first venture into the genre on British television. A trio of Quatermass serials in the 1950’s had proven popular with audiences as were other productions such as ‘A for Andromeda’. Doctor Who however, would be a weekly production with the first season ultimately totalling 42 episodes. It’s central concepts, which continue more than 50 years later, were carefully unveiled. Beginning with a mysterious schoolgirl, a creepy junkyard and an unhelpful old man, the episode would culminate with a completely unexpected turn of events.

Doctor Who - The Unearthly Child (c) BBC
Doctor Who – An Unearthly Child (c) BBC
Memorable Moment (Spoiler Warning)

A police telephone box was a common site to the general public of Great Britain in the early 1960’s. However, the idea that inside one of these contraptions, which could be found on street corners across the country, could provide entry to a whole world was as alien as the room which schoolteachers Ian and Barbara stumbled upon. That set proved to be as iconic as the Ship’s exterior would become. The hexagonal console and roundel covered walls captured the imagination of viewers but nowhere near as what would happen next.

Doctor Who - The Unearthly Child (c) BBC
Doctor Who – An Unearthly Child (c) BBC
Memorable Moment 2 (Spoiler Warning)

If a Police Box which has a whole other world inside it, long before the “it’s bigger on the inside” cliche, wasn’t enough, the episode concludes with the revelation that this seemingly innocuous box can move in space and time. The final shot is the first of many iconic images that the programme would deliver. The juxtaposition of a modern, at the time, artefact now out of place on a strange landscape is spectacular. To complete the moment a sinister shadow looms over the box and the journey has begun…

As first impressions go ‘An Unearthly Child’ is pretty revolutionary. Plenty of television series have failed over the decades. However somehow Doctor Who has continued on. The Police Box time travel machine. The mysterious Doctor. The endless possibilities. This first episode managed to capture lightning in a bottle. A new show that was unique and fresh and exciting and that people still want to watch. Of course, the programme would develop a lot over the years but that first episode set the tone for everything that would follow.

Cast:
  • Dr. Who – William Hartnell
  • Ian Chesterton – William Russell
  • Barbara Wright – Jacqueline Hill
  • Susan Foreman – Carole Ann Ford
  • Kal – Jeremy Young
  • Za – Derek Newark
  • Hur – Alethea Charlton
  • Old Mother – Eileen Way
  • Horg – Howard Lang
Crew:
  • Writer – Anthony Coburn
  • Director – Waris Hussein
  • Producer – Verity Lambert
Also First Aired On This Day…
  • The Invasion: Episode Four
  • Dragonfire: Part One
  • Silver Nemesis: Part One
  • The Day of the Doctor
  • The Five-ish Doctors Reboot

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