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24 September 2014

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The Pilot Episode

Production Code: NONE

First Transmitted

An Unearthly Child - 26/08/1991 14:15


Schoolteachers Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton become intrigued by one of their pupils, Susan Foreman, and visit her home address - a junkyard at 76 Totter's Lane - where they meet her grandfather, the Doctor. The Doctor and Susan are aliens who travel through time and space in their ship, TARDIS, which looks like an ordinary police box but actually houses a huge gleaming control room.

Episode Endings

TARDIS arrives on a Palaeolithic landscape, over which falls the shadow of a man

Dialogue Triumphs

Barbara Wright : "But you are one of us. You look like us, you sound like us."

Susan Foreman : "I was born in the 49th Century."

Ian Chesterton : "I know that free movement in the fourth dimension of space and time is a scientific dream I don't expect to find solved in a junkyard!"

The Doctor : "For your science, school-master. Not for ours. I tell you, before your ancestors had turned the first wheel, the people of my world had reduced movement through the farthest reaches of space to a game for children."

The Doctor : "I cannot let you go, school-master. Whether you believe what you have been told is of no importance. You and your companion would be footprints in a time where you were not supposed to walk."


The Doctor and Susan are from the 42nd Century.

The TARDIS has a different interior and take-off noise.

The Doctor's character is noticeably harsher, and more "alien".

Instead of reading a book, Susan makes her own ink-blot test, drawing a hexagonal pattern across it.


A number of aspects of the pilot that were changed for the transmitted version of the episode:

The opening theme music features a loud thuderclap noise at the beginning. (No such noise is present in the transmitted version.)

As the policeman does his rounds in the first scene, the air in Totter's Lane is clear. (In the transmitted version it is foggy.)

After saying goodnight to Ian and Barbara in the classroom, Susan splashes ink on a piece of paper, makes a Rorschach blot from it and then draws a hexagonal design before screwing up the paper. (In the transmitted version she reads a book about the French Revolution and spots a mistake.)

After putting his key in the TARDIS lock, the Doctor starts to withdraw the entire mechanism from the door. (In the transmitted version, he simply turns the key.)

Susan wears a formal long-sleeve dress in the TARDIS. (In the transmitted version she changes to informal, 1960's style fashions in the TARDIS.)

The Doctor wears an ordinary suit and tie. (This was superseded by what would become his familiar costume.)

As the Doctor activates the ship toward the end of the episode, Ian, Barbara and Susan try to pull him away from the controls. (In the transmitted version only Susan realises what is happening and tries to pull him away.)

The TARDIS's dematerialisation sound is a random selection of bleeps and tones intermixed with snatches of what would eventually become the standard effect. (In the episode as transmitted, the standard effect is heard.)

In addition, much of the dialogue, particularly in the junkyard and TARDIS scenes, was amended for the transmitted version.

Cast & Crew


The Doctor - William Hartnell

Barbara Wright - Jacqueline Hill

Ian Chesterton - William Russell

Susan Foreman - Carole Ann Ford


Director - Waris Hussein

Assistant Floor Manager - Catherine Childs

Associate Producer - Mervyn Pinfield

Costumes - Maureen Heneghan

Designer - Peter Brachacki

Designer - Barry Newbery

Film Cameraman - Robert Sleigh

Film Editor - John Griffiths

Film Editor - John House

Incidental Music - Norman Kay

Make-Up - Elizabeth Blattner

Producer - Verity Lambert

Production Assistant - Douglas Camfield

Special Sounds - Brian Hodgson

Story Editor - David Whitaker

Studio Lighting - Sam Barclay

Studio Sound - Jack Clayton

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire

Visual Effects - Visual Effects Department of the BBC

Writer - Anthony Coburn

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

It was always intended that Doctor Who's first recorded episode could be accorded the status of a pilot - in other words, a trial run - if it failed to live up to the expectations of Sydney Newman. The making of pilots for new series was (and remains) fairly common practice in the television industry and the BBC actually had at the time a special budget allocated to finance such programmes.

After viewing the episode, Newman decided that it should indeed be remade. The pilot was somewhat rough around the edges in terms of production (for example, the doors in the TARDIS control room refused to close properly); there were a couple of line fluffs by cast members (for example, Carole Ann Ford got the chart movements of John Smith and the Common Men - a pop group that Susan was listening to on her radio - the wrong way round and hastily corrected herself); and Newman felt that the character of the Doctor, who appeared cold and unlikeable in the pilot, should be lightened, and that Susan, who came over a little too 'alien', should be made more like an ordinary human schoolgirl.

Uniquely for a sixties Doctor Who episode, all the material recorded for the pilot has been preserved (as a film transcription) in its raw, unedited state. It consists of a single take of all the scenes leading up to the recording break at the point where Barbara and Ian push their way into the TARDIS; a first take of all the scenes following the recording break; a brief 'false start' to a second take of the latter; and a complete second take of the latter. It is unknown what sections of this material would have been edited together to form the finished version of the episode had it been given the go-ahead for transmission at the time.

A version of the pilot was eventually shown on BBC2 in 1991 as a part of The Lime Grove Story - a collection of programmes marking the closure of the BBC's Lime Grove studios, where they had all been recorded. This consisted of the first section of the episode edited together with the first take of the second section. A different version was included on the BBC video The Hartnell Years, released in 1991; this time the complete second take of the second section was used.

< Main IndexFirst DoctorAn Unearthly Child >

This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.

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