No. of Episodes: 4 (“An Unearthly Child”, “The Cave of Skulls”, “The Forest of Fear”, “The Firemaker”)Note: For most of Hartnell’s era, each episode had its own individual title.
Season: 1, eps 1-4
Writer: Anthony Coburn
Director: Waris Hussein
Companions: Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), Ian Chesterton (William Russell), and Susan (Carole Ann Ford)
Summary: Barbara and Ian are history and science teachers at Coal Hills High School who are intrigued by a mysterious new student, Susan Foreman. She seems to be excellent in history in science, even surpassing their own intellect), but naive at everything else. They decide to follow her home to meet with her grandfather and discuss this. They happen upon 76 Totter’s Lane, an abandoned junkyard, where they meet The Doctor, who is Susan’s grandfather, and are bewildered at the TARDIS as they step inside. The Doctor, realizing they’ve seen too much, kidnaps them and takes them to the year 100,000 BC. There, they meet a tribe of cavemen and inadvertently help them recover the secret of fire.
Review: This is an ingenious way to start the show. (And to think Hussein actually said it would never work) Susan is well-characterized, and I almost forgot how short-changed she was in later stories. Barbara and Ian are also established well. We see right away Barbara’s compassion and Ian’s rationalism.
The Doctor is enjoyable in his first appearance, despite how different he seems from later episodes. I love the scene where he tries his best to dissuade Barbara and Ian from entering the TARDIS. His irascible attitude is well-portrayed by Hartnell, and after seeing An Adventure in Space and Time, I’ve come to respect Hartnell even more than I had when I’d dabbled in a few of his episodes.
The cavemen are really the only complaint they have. They tend to bog down the story and just aren’t as interesting as they should be. We should realize that cavemen only seem unintelligent because our society has evolved so much since their time. They really were more resourceful than we may think. Of course, they had to be in order to survive.
This was an excellent introduction to the series. If you’re curious to see where the fun all began, I say give it a try. It’s a must for any true Whovian.
Overall Rating: 8/10
Continuity: In “Attack of the Cybermen”, the Sixth Doctor returns to Totter’s Lane. While there, he attempts to repair the Chameleon Circuit. In “Remembrance of the Daleks”, the Seventh Doctor returns to 1963 to retrieve the Hand of Omega and keep it out of Davros’s hands. In “Journey’s End”, Donna, having absorbed TARDIS energy, proposes a way to permanently repair the Chameleon Circuit. In the 50th anniversary episode “Day of the Doctor”, Clara is teaching at Coal Hills High.
Trivia: There are two alternate titles for “An Unearthly Child”: “100,000 BC” and “The Tribe of Gum”. Susan mentions decimalizing English currency, which actually did happen several years later. The serial was actually rebroadcast due to the fact that it aired on Nov 23, 1963, the day after John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald. (This was insisted by Verity Lambert, as I learned in An Adventure in Space and Time