Doctor Who Review: 001-An Unearthly Child


Episode Number: 001
Production Code: A
Number of Episodes: 4
Original Broadcast Date: November 23, 1963
The Doctor: William Hartnell
Companions: Susan (The Doctor’s Granddaughter), Ian, Barbara
Location: Earth
Main Enemy, Alien or Monster: Kal

  • Sometimes referred to as 100,000BC, but it was re-titled before release.
  • First appearance of The Doctor, the TARDIS, Susan, Ian, Barbara
  • The Doctor smokes a pipe.
  • The actress who plays Susan came up with TARDIS by making an acronym from the full name of the device printed on the console.
  • The bones in the Cave of Skulls episode are real human bones.


Susan Foreman,a student, confuses her teachers, Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright. In some ways, Susan is unusually gifted. Her knowledge of the past and (she says) the future is oddly specific, yet she has serious issues dealing with common, everyday knowledge and cultural references most kids her age know by heart. They decide to follow her home one night to a deserted junkyard. Inside, they discover a derelict police telephone box and Susan’s grandfather, who calls himself the Doctor. Ian and Barbara think something nefarious is going on in the blue box, and they force their way in. They discover the interior is bigger than the exterior.

The Doctor decides to take them on a trip to teach them a lesson. They end up in the year 100,000BC, still in the London area. They meet a tribe of humanoids who are struggling to make fire. There is an internal power struggle concerning who has the ability to make fire, and there is talk about sacrificing members of the strangely garbed intruders. After an old woman is killed, the intruders are accused, but they finally are able to show how to make fire and escape back to the TARDIS.

My Thoughts:

I certainly enjoyed the appearance of the first Doctor. Barbara and Ian reminded me of some of my grade school teachers, while Susan reminded me of Audrey Hepburn.

William Hartnell was rather grumpy in the debut of Who. Throughout the first story arc, told through four episodes, he seems to be an old man yelling for those damn meddling kids to get off his lawn, or to get out of the junkyard and out of his TARDIS. He doesn’t seem to have the Doctor’s knack to solve situations, but again, none of the characters have really explored their roles yet.

The story starts reasonably, and Barbara, Ian, and Susan set up an interesting mystery that I was drawn into in the first episode. These three actually seem to get into character by the end of the second episode. The 100,000BC humans speak proper English, but we haven’t been told why everyone can understand what should be a bunch of grunting like from the movie Quest for Fire. I did like the Old Woman, she did the best job of acting like a proto-human from the ancient ages. Kal, who would probably be considered the villain although there was danger from several characters, was able to appear menacing even though I thought Ian could take him out with a good karate chop to the neck.

The Doctor had some good ideas, but many of the important ones came from Barbara and Ian. He seemed to be a foil for the companions to bounce ideas off of. As things progressed, we could see things changing and the Doctor taking charge a bit more often.

This is an old, old, OLD black and white show. The cameras they used were not the best, and bright flashes leave lasting afterglows that take a while to recover. The audio sounds like it was recorded on an ancient Walkman cassette. Noises interfere with the dialog, and everyone’s footsteps are oddly magnified. Things improved as the series went on, but the campyness and the ridiculous costuming and monster effects became something “cool”, even though kids these days will look at it and say “Where’s David Tennant or Matt Smith?”

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