Doctor Who

An unearthly child (1963)

About this serial

This is a four-part serial, first broadcast between 23rd November - 14th December 1963. The serial was written by Anthony Coburn, produced by Verity Lambert and directed by Waris Hussein. The script editor was David Whitaker.

Plot summary

Teachers Ian and Barbara follow a strangely precocious student home, and find that 'home' is a police box in a junk yard. But things only get really weird when they meet her grandfather...


Actually, this is a one-off episode followed by a three-part serial. In part one the Doctor, his granddaughter Susan, the two unwilling companions Ian and Barbara and the Tardis are introduced. In the remaining three episodes the four of them travel back to prehistoric times and have their first adventure.

Part one is terrific. The direction and the camera work give it a remarkably modern look and feel, the story is intriguing and unfolds at a steady pace, the acting is excellent and the characters and the relationships between them are nicely established.

The subject matter for parts two, three and four doesn't look promising - let's face it, it's about cavemen, and grunting people dressed in furs tend to look and sound daft. I understand that even the BBC itself had some reservations about the idea. Still, these episodes aren't bad at all.
On the one hand, we get more character development for the four regulars. The Doctor is fairly ruthless at this point. He's kidnapped Ian and Barbara at the end of part one to keep them from telling the rest of the world about him, and in these episodes he seems quite willing to bash in an injured cavemen's skull in order to save his granddaughter and himself. Ian and Barbara don't trust the Doctor but depend on him to get them home, Susan is caught in the middle, and it's interesting to watch how relationships between the four of them develop.
The cavemen story, with the Tardis crew getting caught up in the quest for fire and a power struggle between two would-be tribal leaders, is pretty good. The cavemen speak the same archaic English that the writers would use for the Aztecs in one of the later serials, and they're probably more eloquent than their historical counterparts, but the whole thing never gets unbelievable. The cavemen's performances are outstanding, with everyone keeping the whole thing from becoming silly by playing their parts with total and utter conviction.

The bottom line


Part one is essential viewing for any Doctor Who fan. The other three episodes aren't bad, either.

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