Episode 001 – “An Unearthly Child”

And so it begins in a junkyard. Two nosy teachers, one mysterious student, and a strange, cranky old man combine to set us off onto a 50+ year series of adventures! Let’s get started.


There’s a lot that happens in this first story, but what I like is what doesn’t happen. We don’t get, as shows have so often done later, a full data dump of everything in one episode. We don’t know where the Doctor and Susan come from, we don’t know the name of their planet or species, we don’t know what year they’re from, we don’t know why they’re on the run. We know basically as much about them as Ian and Barbara do, and that’s a good thing.

The story really holds up well, and Warris Hussein shows some interesting directorial choices here. We get an extended version of the theme, which ends with a close-up of the TARDIS, letting us know that it’s going to be something important. His later use of first-person cameras is also quite nifty.

It’s also worth noting the acting here. William Russell and Jacqueline Hill have an instant chemistry from the first moment we see them on screen. They genuinely seem like people who have known each other and worked together for several years, and that’s hard to pull off convincingly, so well done them.

I’d also like to single out Hartnell’s performance in this, and later stories. He’s a very, very different version of the Doctor from what we see in later years. This Doctor isn’t a hero; he’s basically a coward on the run. He kidnaps Ian and Barbara rather than risk his secrets getting out. What’s particularly interesting with him is the way he grows into being a hero as the series goes on. I know the exact point where I think he goes from anti-hero to full hero, and I’ll explore that when it happens.

Also, man, there was some interesting first episode weirdness as the end. I don’t know why Ian and Barbara passed out when the TARDIS took off, nor why we got the opening credits sequence as it happened. I’m very glad they tamed things down in later episodes.

On a final note, I’ve seen this episode at least a dozen times, and so this time, when I sat down to watch it, I watched the alternate first version of the pilot. There’s some differenet dialogue, and a few scenes are shot differently, but not too many changes. Still, it isn’t quite as good, and I think I’ll be sticking to the original from now on.

Next time: “The Cave of Skulls”


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