BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

24 September 2014

BBC Homepage

Entertainment Cult

Contact Us

An Unearthly Child

Production Code: A

First Transmitted

An Unearthly Child - 23/11/1963 17:15

The Cave of Skulls - 30/11/1963 17:15

The Forest of Fear - 07/12/1963 17:15

The Firemaker - 14/12/1963 17:15


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, the TARDIS, which looks like an ordinary police box but actually houses a huge gleaming control room. The TARDIS takes them all to a Palaeolithic landscape where they encounter a tribe that has lost the secret of fire.

Episode Endings

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

The four travellers are sealed in the tribe's Cave of Skulls with the bones of many previous prisoners, and the Doctor notices that the skulls have all been split open.

An escape attempt by the four travellers is foiled when they find the tribesmen lying in wait for them outside TARDIS.

The TARDIS's next point of arrival is a strange alien planet. Unseen by the occupants, its radiation detector registers 'Danger'.


Dixon of Dock Green.

Steptoe and Son.

Target Luna and its sequels.

H. G. Wells' The Time Machine.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (the Doctor's motivation for kidnapping people).

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

One Million B.C. (1940).

William Golding's The Inheritors.

Dialogue Triumphs

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

Susan Foreman : "I was born in another time, another world..."

The Doctor : "Have you ever thought what it's like to be wanderers in the fourth dimension? Have you? To be exiles...?"

Za : "My father made fire."

Old Mother : "They killed him for it. It is better that we live as we have always done."

Za : "Without meat we go hungry. Without fire we die!"

The Doctor : "Fear makes companions of all of us, Miss Wright."

The Doctor : "This doesn't roll along on wheels, you know."

The Doctor : "If you could touch the alien sand and hear the cry of strange birds and watch them wheel in another sky, would that satisfy you?"


The Doctor doesn't answer to the name Foreman. [An invention of Susan, who took it from the junkyard name. I. M. Foreman would still appear to own the junkyard in 1985 (Attack of the Cybermen), although he obviously does keep a close watch on the place as the TARDIS was never discovered.]

Susan can read very fast, is a brilliant scientist, and calculates in terms of five dimensions [all Time Lord characteristics]. She likes 20th-century England. The children of the Doctor's civilisation are advanced (he doesn't count Susan as a child). There is no suggestion that she isn't his granddaughter. She and the Doctor are cut off from their own planet, without friends. They've been in London for five months [probably mending the TARDIS: the Doctor speaks of replacing a faulty filament].

She was born in 'another time, another world', and says she invented the name TARDIS (in this and other early stories, TARDIS is said to stand for 'Time and Relative Dimension in Space'). [Susan was a precocious young Time Lady, and her name for travel capsules caught on.]

The TARDlS console can be electrified, and the ship has a malfunctioning 'yearometer' and a radiation counter. Ian and Barbara are knocked out on take-off [either the TARDlS telepathic circuits are also faulty, or they were thrown about by the TARDIS's movements and physically stunned]. The Doctor, aware of the need to dispose of the Hand of Omega secretly (see Remembrance of the Daleks), deliberately takes Ian and Barbara off with him. [Thereafter the TARDlS frequently returns to Earth to allow the Doctor to ensure that the Hand has not been discovered.]

Ian teaches science, shares Susan's knowledge of the pop group John Smith and the Common Men, and owns a car. Barbara teaches history, and lives in a flat.

The Doctor smokes a pipe. This is the first time that the [chameleon circuit] has failed. The Doctor claims that if he had established exactly when they had landed, he could have got them straight home [using the fast return switch: see The Edge of Destruction]. The Doctor keeps a notebook with key codes to all the ship's machines, and maps of the places he's visited.

The tribe have lost the secret of fire. [They await winter with trepidation, not the ice age, which took so long to happen they wouldn't be aware of the changes.]


The Doctor's Family

The Doctor's Doctorate

The TARDIS Scanner


A stretch of barren land [in Africa or the Asian steppes between the ice ages (non-glacial Europe would have been verdant), 500,000 BC-30,000 BC].


The Doctor and Susan have probably been in France at the time of the Revolution (1789-1799) and in England after the introduction of decimal coinage (1971). [However, Susan, interested in Earth, might have learnt these details while on Gallifrey.]


There is a dummy with a crushed head in the junkyard, perhaps foreshadowing the caved-in skulls that the time travellers later see in the Palaeolithic era.

The Doctor and Susan show surprise when the TARDIS remains stuck as a police box, and Susan explains that it is supposed to change its appearance to blend in with its surroundings (an idea seriously considered by the series' creators but ruled out on grounds of cost).

The Doctor is apparently put off smoking for life when he is attacked by Kal while about to light a large, ornate pipe.

'TARDIS' was originally intended to be the name of the Doctor's ship (in the same way as one might name a sailing boat) rather than purely a descriptive acronym.

The bones used in the Cave of Skulls scenes were obtained by designer Barry Newbery from an abattoir; the smell they gave off under the hot studio lights was extremely unpleasant.


100,000 BC: An Unearthly Child was transmitted ten minutes late owing to rescheduling as a result of the assassination of President Kennedy the previous day. (It was transmitted only eighty seconds later than the scheduled 5.15 p.m.)

BBC staff writer C E Webber co-scripted 100,000 BC: An Unearthly Child with Anthony Coburn. (Webber was responsible for a story, The Giants, that was originally intended to open the series but was eventually rejected. Coburn drew some inspiration for 100,000 BC: An Unearthly Child from the draft script for Webber's first episode.)

The Stone Age episodes are set on Earth. (This may be the case, but it is never explicitly stated here. It could be the Stone Age of some other planet.)

Doctor Who was originally transmitted 'live'. (It was always pre-recorded.)

Actress Jackie Lane, later to play the Doctor's companion Dodo, was offered the role of Susan before Carole Ann Ford. (Lane went to an interview for the role, but withdrew when she discovered that a one year contract was involved; she was never offered the job.)

The programme in which Waris Hussein spotted Carole Ann Ford when looking for someone to play Susan was the BBC Suspense play entitled The Man on a Bicycle. (The Man on a Bicycle was transmitted some months before Hussein became involved with Doctor Who; it must therefore have been in another programme that her performance impressed him.)

Jacqueline Hill once worked as a model in Paris. (She didn't.)

The original police box seen in Doctor Who was a prop left over from Dixon of Dock Green. (It was specially made for Doctor Who.)


Before Ian gets zapped by the console, somebody in the studio calls out a cue.

William Hartnell and William Russell interrupt each other whilst examining the TARDIS.

Ian says that the Doctor closed the door, when in fact it was Susan who did this.

At the end of the episode, the caveman's shadow extends too far across the landscape.

Cast & Crew


The Doctor - William Hartnell

Barbara Wright - Jacqueline Hill

Ian Chesterton - William Russell

Susan Foreman - Carole Ann Ford

Horg - Howard Lang

Hur - Alethea Charlton

Kal - Jeremy Young

Old Mother - Eileen Way

Za - Derek Newark


Director - Waris Hussein

Assistant Floor Manager - Catherine Childs

Associate Producer - Mervyn Pinfield

Costumes - Maureen Heneghan

Designer - Peter Brachacki

Designer - Barry Newbery

Fight Arranger - Derek Ware

Film Cameraman - Robert Sleigh

Film Editor - unknown

Incidental Music - Norman Kay

Make-Up - Elizabeth Blattner

Producer - Verity Lambert

Production Assistant - Douglas Camfield

Production Assistant - Tony Lightley

Special Effects - Visual Effects Department of the BBC

Special Sounds - Brian Hodgson

Story Editor - David Whitaker

Studio Lighting - Geoff Shaw

Studio Sound - Jack Clayton

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

Writer - Anthony Coburn

Writer - C E Webber

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

'I know that free movement in time and space is a scientific dream. I don't expect to find solved in a junkyard.' Twenty-five of the most important minutes in British television. For a 'family series', Doctor Who's debut is a remarkably grownup drama. As well as utilising directorial techniques that would never be seen again, the episode gained a unique aura from real life events that no other Doctor Who episode would have. 'That's not his name. Who is he? Dr who?'

After the wonderful first episode, this is very dull. The Doctor, according to many commentators a sinister, ruthless man, is likeable, telling Barbara that he's 'desperately sorry' for getting her involved.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

100,000 BC can be subdivided into two distinct sections with very different settings and qualities: the first episode and the remaining three.

Contemporary reaction from the general viewing public to the first episode, An Unearthly Child, seems to have consisted mainly of bemusement, and in some cases even hilarity. While acknowledging that it was 'all good, clean fun,' a retired Naval officer quoted in the BBC's internal Audience Research Report on the episode said: 'Tonight's new serial seemed to be a cross between Wells' The Time Machine and a space-age Old Curiosity Shop, with a touch of Mack Sennett comedy. It was in the grand style of the old pre-talkie films to see a dear old police box being hurtled through space and landing on Mars or somewhere. I almost expected to see a batch of Keystone Cops emerge on the Martian landscape.'

These sentiments were echoed by the Daily Mail's TV reviewer Michael Gowers, who wrote in a piece published on 25 November 1963: 'William Hartnell gazing from under locks of flowing white, and the appealing Carole Ann Ford, represent the Unknown Them, William Russell and Jacqueline Hill the ignorant, sceptical Us, and their craft is cunningly disguised as a police callbox. The penultimate shot of this, after a three-point touchdown, in a Neolithic landscape, must have delighted the hearts of the Telegoons who followed.'

More recent reaction to the story's opening episode has been almost uniformly positive, and it is now generally regarded as a bona fide TV classic. John Peel, writing in 1980 in the fan reference work Doctor Who - An Adventure in Space and Time, was positively rapturous: 'Mysterious origins, flights across forever, and the chance meeting in a junk yard of two teachers and that which is utterly beyond their comprehension. An Unearthly Child was a work of loving craftsmanship, worked out to perfection by all concerned.'

Certainly the episode is very effective in establishing the premise of the series and in introducing its principal characters and concepts. The dialogue between the four regulars in their earliest scenes together is superbly written and well conveys the sense of wonder and incredulity of the two ordinary schoolteachers coming up against the complete unknown. William Russell and Jacqueline Hill strike just the right note as Ian and Barbara, making them instantly recognisable characters to the thousands of youngsters in the viewing audience. Carole Ann Ford is also suitably quirky and mysterious as Susan Foreman, complete with her specially created Vidal Sassoon hairstyle.

The real acting honours, though, go to William Hartnell as the intriguing and irascible Doctor. His performance is quite simply superb. The only thing that matches it for impact in An Unearthly Child is the revelation of the TARDIS interior. Even today this scene is breathtaking, but just imagine how it would have struck the viewer of 1963, when nothing like it had ever been seen before and the idea of a ship bigger inside than out was truly novel. Designer Peter Brachacki's short involvement with the series was, by all accounts, not a happy experience, but in creating the TARDIS interior he was responsible for one of the most outstanding, innovative and memorable sets in TV history.

The impact of this set is arguably all the greater for the stark contrast it presents to the ship's mundane police box exterior. The shockingly incongruous sight of the latter standing on a barren, rocky landscape at the end of An Unearthly Child provides the series with an excellent first cliffhanger and neatly sets the scene for the remainder of the opening story.

Reaction to these following episodes set in the Stone Age has been relatively lukewarm. It has been noted that they were completely untypical of the kinds of settings and situations that would normally be seen in Doctor Who - arguably not a good idea for the opening story of a series, which really ought to give viewers a fair idea of what they can expect. It has also been said that the Stone Age setting was inadvisable, as it resulted in the story having a narrow scope and lacking in visual interest. Even its producer Verity Lambert later opined that to open with a story in which the guest cast wore costumes akin to fur rugs and could communicate in little more than grunts was a mistake.

These criticisms are somewhat unfair, however. While they may admittedly lack the impact of the phenomenal opening episode, these three instalments are nevertheless intense, highly dramatic and, as Peel noted, pervaded by 'an atmosphere of violence, squalor and a grotesque horror... Dismembered skeletons, burning skulls, rotting animal carcasses. A succession of macabre images masterfully create a realistic picture of life at the dawn of time.'

There are some interesting contrasts here between the different attitudes, expectations and abilities of the three groups of characters - the alien time travellers, the human schoolteachers and the primitive cave dwellers. As Peel put it, 'In theme, we see in An Unearthly Child Ian and Barbara as two modern-day intelligent humans. Yet to the Doctor they are as primitive savages. Ian and Barbara are unable to understand this until, ironically, the roles are reversed. In the prehistoric past it is Ian and Barbara who are the intelligent "aliens", and the cavemen the primitive savages.' The environment into which Ian and Barbara (and, by identification with them, the viewing audience) are thrust is certainly just as strange and threatening as that of any far-distant planet.

All in all, 100,000 BC gave the new series a positive start - particularly in its opening episode - and provided a solid foundation upon which it could build as the season progressed.

< The Pilot EpisodeFirst DoctorThe Daleks >

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.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy