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From TARDIS Index File, the free Doctor Who reference.

"It's an illusion, it must be!"
―Ian Chesterton
An Unearthly Child
Series: Doctor Who - TV Stories
Season Number: Season 1
Story Number: 1
Doctor: First Doctor (Introduction)
Companions: Susan Foreman (Introduction)
Barbara Wright (Introduction)
Ian Chesterton (Introduction)
Enemy: Kal
Writer: Anthony Coburn
Director: Waris Hussein
Producer: Verity Lambert
Broadcast: 23rd November - 14th December 1963
Format: 4 25-minute Episodes
Prod. Code: A
Previous Story: The Pilot Episode
Following Story: The Daleks

An Unearthly Child was the first televised story of Doctor Who. It premiered on Saturday, 23 November, 1963 and first introduced viewers to the Doctor, played by William Hartnell, and his fantastic machine, the TARDIS.



Curious about an unusual pupil, Susan Foreman, two school teachers follow her home to a junkyard. This leads to an encounter with the mysterious Doctor and his police box which turns out to be a craft capable of travel in time and space.

Afraid that the teachers will reveal his secrets, the Doctor whisks them back in time. They arrive in 100,000 BC and encounter a group of cave people desperately trying to create fire. Kidnapped and imprisoned in a cave filled with skulls the unwilling travellers have to work together to create fire and escape their captors.



An Unearthly Child (1)

Ian and Barbara discover the secret of Susan

On a foggy London night, a policeman makes his rounds passing I.M. Foreman's junkyard at 76 Totters Lane. In the junkyard stands an incongruous-looking Police Box, from which emanates an eerie hum.

Another day of classes ends at the Coal Hill School. History teacher Barbara Wright and science teacher Ian Chesterton compare notes about an enigmatic student, Susan Foreman. Her knowledge of history and science surpasses the rest of the class, and possibly even the teachers' themselves, but has very curious gaps about present-day culture (she forgets, for example, that England has yet to adapt the decimal system of currency). Barbara had previously asked Susan about in-home tutoring, but Susan adamantly refused, stating her grandfather ("isn't he a Doctor, or something?" Ian asks) with whom she lives doesn't like strangers. Barbara admits to Ian that she got Susan's address from the school secretary, following it to find not a house but a junkyard. Ian offers Susan a ride, but she declines. Ian and Barbara resolve to follow her home.

Entering the junkyard that night, Ian and Barbara search in vain for Susan. Ian is transfixed by the presence of a Police Box which appears to hum as if it were alive. Hearing someone coming, they hide. An old man approaches the Police Box and unlocks it, and the teachers hear Susan's voice inside greeting him. They confront the old man, who brusquely receives them and refuses to acknowledge that anyone is inside. Hearing her again, Ian and Barbara push past the man into the Police Box, and are astounded to find themselves in a much larger space, with futuristic electronic panels and a central hexagonal control console. Susan is shocked to find her teachers there, and the old man, her grandfather, is furious at their intrusion.

Susan and her grandfather, who calls himself simply The Doctor, explain that the police box is actually a disguise for their space-time ship, the TARDIS, and that they are alien refugees from their own planet and time. Against Susan's protests, the Doctor prepares the TARDIS for takeoff, and must kidnap Ian and Barbara in order to protect their identities. The sudden takeoff renders all four passengers unconscious. The TARDIS materializes on a barren, rocky landscape. An ominous shadow falls across it.

The Cave of Skulls (2)

The Doctor lights his pipe

The TARDIS has traveled back to the Stone Age. The two Humans blame the Doctor for kidnapping them from the present day. They also have difficulty believing they have actually travelled in time, but the remoteness of their situation and the vileness of the society they encounter convince them that they have indeed been taken far back into the past. The Doctor is concerned too because the exterior of the TARDIS does not seem to have changed when the ship landed. Susan explains that the TARDIS is supposed to change its appearance to blend in with its surrounding, but for some reason it has remained in the shape of a police box.

They soon become involved in the power struggles of a Stone Age tribe, where leader Za is being mocked for not being able to produce fire, which his father, the previous leader, was able to do. Kal, an interloper from another tribe, only heightens the tension when he offers himself as an alternative leader who could make fire. His evidence is the Doctor, whom he saw trying to light his pipe, but the old man has dropped his matches and is unable to help. As a punishment the four time travellers are incarcerated in the hideous Cave of Skulls, containing remnants of executed people and sacrifices, and promised a similar fate for refusing to co-operate. They are freed by Old Mother, the naïve widow of the last tribal leader, who believes that they could make fire but does not want them to do so, as she considers it a bad omen. The four travellers then flee into the forest pursued by Za and his wife Hur.

The Forest of Fear (3)

From left to right: Barbara, Ian, the Doctor and Susan in the forest

When Za and Hur catch up with them the tribal leader is attacked by a wild beast and seriously injured. The Doctor is so desperate to leave that he contemplates killing the caveman, but is stopped by Ian. They build a makeshift stretcher to help convey Za back to the tribal settlement, hoping by doing so to prove their good intentions. However, in their absence Kal has killed Old Mother and blamed it on Za. Kal assumes leadership of the tribe and leads a party of tribe members after the strangers, capturing them just as they reach the TARDIS.

The Firemaker (4)

Susan devises an escape plan.

The four travellers are returned to the encampment, but the Doctor is able to convince the tribe that Kal killed Old Mother and leads them in an attack which drives Kal into the forest. The recovered Za is once more declared leader, but instead of expressing his gratitude by freeing the travellers as the Doctor expected, he orders them returned to the Cave of Skulls, this time with Old Mother’s body for company. Ian is eventually able to make fire for Za using friction for a spark, hoping that this gift will convince the cave dwellers to set them all free. As Za watches intently, and the travellers try to explain to him how "in our tribe, the fire maker is the least important person," they are attacked by Kal, who has killed Za's guard and slipped into the cave, seeking revenge. Za fights with and kills Kal, further confirming his leadership of the tribe. With fire at his disposal, he is now undisputed leader. In this security he decrees that the travellers will merge with his tribe rather than leave and orders them confined to the Cave indefinitely.

Susan eventually devises a plan to scare and distract the tribes’ people enough to allow them to flee. Four skulls are placed on top of burning torches, and this ghoulish vision is enough to distract the tribe and allow the travellers to escape back into the forest. This time the four travellers make it back inside the TARDIS before the tribe can capture them and, once they are ensconced, the ship dematerialises once more.

The Doctor explains that he has no idea where or when they will end up next. In time the viewscreen shows their new destination, a mysterious jungle whose trees appear petrified. The travellers venture outside the TARDIS doors while, behind them on the console, the radiation detector's needle passes into the "Danger" zone...





  • At the start of Episode 2, caveman Za is attempting to create fire. He references his father, who made fire, but was killed for it. Later on, the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan are forced to give the cavemen fire in a struggle to be leader of the tribe.
  • Police box
  • The Doctor refers to television to help describe how the TARDIS is bigger on the inside.
  • Time travel
  • This is the first time the TARDIS has had a problem with the chameleon circuit

Astronomical objects

  • The cavemen worship the Sun God, which they call Orb
  • Both Space and Time are mentioned by Susan as being related (with regard to dimensions).

London locations


Cultural references

  • Susan refers to decimalisation. In 1963, the United Kingdom was working to a system of 240 pence to a pound. Decimalisation actually took place on 15th February 1971 and it was just a guess by the production team that decimalisation would take place at some time.
  • Reference is made to the Doctor and Susan having visited the French Revolution (1789 - 1799). It is also suggested that they have visited The UK after 1971 as Susan is aware of the introduction of the decimal system.
  • Susan is listening to John Smith and the Common Men when Ian and Barbara walk in, John Smith being the stage name of 'the honourable Aubrey Waites, also known as Chris Waites according to Ian. (This piece of music was also used in the documentary "Verity Lambert: Drama Queen", a tribute to the late Verity Lambert which was first broadcast on 5th April 2008 on BBC4.) The name John Smith would later become known as one of the Doctor's many aliases.

Story Notes

  • This is the first story broadcast on television.
  • This is the first broadcast story featuring the First Doctor, Susan Foreman, Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright.
  • This story is also known as 100,000 BC, The Tribe of Gum, The Firemakers and Cavemen. See disputed story titles for more information.
  • The episodes of this story went by different titles during the production stage. Episode 2 was originally known as The Fire-Maker, Episode 3 was originally known as The Cave of Skulls and Episode 4 was originally known as The Dawn of Knowledge.
  • All episodes exist in 16mm telerecordings.
  • All episodes are held in the BBC's Film and Videotape Library.
  • The first episode was repeated just before the second episode because of a power outage. This repeat was not however shown in Northern Ireland.
  • The original story line for this story was entitled Nothing at the End of the Lane. A short story by the same name written by Daniel O'Mahony can be found in Short Trips and Side Steps. It suggests the entire first season of the show may just be a psychotic fantasy in the mind of Barbara Wright.
  • Originally the names for the Doctor's companions were to be Bridget ("Biddy") instead of Susan, Lola McGovern (instead of Barbara Wright), and Clif instead of Ian.
  • The makers of the show originally considered the idea of having a functioning chameleon circuit but ruled it out on cost grounds.
  • The bones used in the cave of skulls were real bones taken from an abattoir and were very unpleasant to smell under hot studio lights.
  • Although assumed there is no evidence to suggest that episodes 2,3 and 4 are even set on Earth.
  • Other proposals considered for the first story included The Giants by C. E. Webber which was partially rewritten for the season 2 episode Planet of Giants and The Living World written by Alan Wakeman.
  • A pilot version of the first episode was made and exists in various versions. For more info on the pilot see the Pilot Episode.
  • The First Episode, An Unearthly Child has come to be seen as a classic of Science Fiction, which is in contrast to the less positive reaction of critics when it was first broadcast.
  • Bernard Lodge was the uncredited designer of the original title sequence.
  • We see the Doctor smoking a pipe in the Second episode but he is never seen smoking again.
  • According to the DVD text commentary, the striped top Susan wears in this and later stories belonged to Carole Ann Ford and was part of an alternate costume she suggested for the character after it was decided to abandon the more adult, futuristic look of the unaired pilot. According to the commentary Ford's suggested outfit also included black leggings and boots, which were rejected as too sexy, so jeans were worn instead. Ford would wear the same striped top in her later movie The Great St. Trinian's Train Robbery.


  • The first broadcast of An Unearthly Child received only 4.4 million viewers. This was likely due to the assassination of John F. Kennedy the previous day, coupled with a power outage in some parts of Britain that prevented some viewers from tuning in.
  • For this reason, on Wednesday 27 November, the Programme Review board decided to repeat the first episode immediately before the second episode. This repeat gained a significant more amount of viewers – 6.0 million. Although such replays are common today (particularly on American networks), such a rerun was almost unheard of back in 1963.
  • An Unearthly Child was the first Doctor Who story to be broadcast internationally, appearing on Canada's CBC network on January 25, 1965.


  • An Unearthly Child First Broadcast - 4.4 million viewers
  • An Unearthly Child Second Broadcast - 6.0 million viewers
  • The Cave of Skulls - 5.9 million viewers
  • The Forest of Fear - 6.9 million viewers
  • The Firemaker - 6.4 million viewers


  • An Unearthly Child was broadcast 10 minutes late due to an extended news report into the assassination of President Kennedy the previous day. (It was transmitted only 1 minute and 20 seconds later than the scheduled 5.15 p.m.) [1]
  • C. E. Webber co-wrote the story with Anthony Coburn. (Webber had actually been working on a proposed episode known as The Giants which was originally intended to be the first story but was later rejected).[2]
  • This story was broadcast live. (No episode was ever broadcast live. This rumour likely originated due to the fact episodes of the day were often videotaped in one continuous take with only occasional recording breaks).[2]
  • Jackie Lane was offered the role of Susan. (Although she auditioned for the part she withdrew before the role was cast).[2]
  • Waris Hussein spotted Carole Ann Ford in BBC play called The Man on a Bicycle when he was looking for someone for the role of Susan.[2] (This play was actually broadcast months before Hussein became involved with Doctor Who. However according to a documentary included in the DVD box set "The Beginning" Hussein spotted her in an episode of "Z-Cars".).
  • Jacqueline Hill worked as a model in Paris. (She didn't.)[2]
  • The original police box was a prop left over from Dixon of Dock Green. (It was specially made for Doctor Who.)[2]

Filming Locations

Discontinuity, Plot Holes, Errors

  • When Susan says "I like walking through the dark" neither Ian nor Barbara seem bothered about the thought of a teenage girl walking alone at night. However, this was 1963, a more innocent time.
  • Why does Susan ask Barbara for a book about the French Revolution and then leave it in the classroom (as revealed when Ace finds the book in Remembrance of the Daleks)? As far as she is concerned at this point she will be at school the next day. When last seen, Susan is reading the book and stating "that's not right" in response to what she was reading. Perhaps she thought the book was unsuitable and abandoned it. Or she might have sped-read the book right then and there; later, the Doctor would be shown on several occasions to have this ability. It could also have been a different printing of the book as this is a chunky brown book while the version in Remembrance of the Daleks is sleek and black with gold lettering.
  • Just before Ian is electrocuted by the console someone in the studio can be heard shouting a cue.
  • At the end of episode one the caveman shadow is seen to extend much further than it really should. That depends on the angle of the light source.
  • We see Horg leave to go and capture the travellers at the end of episode three, but at the beginning of episode four he is back with other members of the tribe, waiting for the rest to come back.
  • Whatever happens to the Doctor's bag? It's recovered by his fellow travellers after he gets captured, yet they clearly lose access to it when they too are caught. But why did they not ask for it back? The Doctors matches were in it, thus it would make their fire-making much easier. Not to mention leaving it in the tribe's possession could prove disastrous to history.
  • Susan's claim to have made up the name TARDIS is not supported by later stories that indicate that it's a term in widespread use on Gallifrey. Some names catch on quite quickly. Presumably she thought of it on their planet and others heard it and liked it. That or for reasons unrevealed young Susan was under the impression that she'd come up with the acronym.
  • Susan states that 5 dimensions have to be used to solve a simple math equation, with the fourth, Time, and the fifth, Space, in addition to the length, width, and height that she was given. However, space is not the fifth dimension according to physics, but is made up of the first three. Maybe time lords have different names for things than we do. Susan is not referring to Space in that sense (length, width, height), but more as a hypothetical construct much like Time is. There are multiple dimensions of Space just as there are multiple dimensions of Time. She needed to go at least to the fifth dimension to solve the problem to her satisfaction. Or maybe she was meant the space between parallel universes and the space that these universes occupy.
  • The door closes behind the travellers as they leave - how did it know to do this, and why doesn't it do it in other stories? It sometimes does. The TARDIS, as later shown, is semi-sentient. Additionally, the TARDIS doors can be closed by someone inside the ship from the console.
  • If Kal and Hur can barely move the great stone, how did the old woman get in - surely she couldn't be that strong? As is explained clearly in the episode, she knew a secret entrance to the cave, which Kal later discovers and places a guard in front of.
  • The Cavemen at the end of episode 4 are different to the ones in the rest of the story
  • How did the cavemen beat the travellers to the Tardis in episode 3 - and how did they know where it was in the first place? They live there, and know the quickest route to get somewhere. They knew where it was from decription of where one of their tribe had originally grabbed the Doctor.
  • How do the cavemen see inside the cave during the night (while orb is not shining) if they don't have fire?


  • In Remembrance of the Daleks it appears to have been just weeks or even the day after the conclusion of episode 1 of "An Unearthly Child".
  • It is revealed in Remembrance of the Daleks that the Doctor was hiding the Hand of Omega in London when the teachers discovered his presence.
  • Susan states that she and her grandfather have been in London for five months at this point.
  • The fact the first episode occurs in the year 1963 (and not some later or earlier year) is confirmed in episode 2 when Ian asks to go back to 1963.
  • EDA's Interference - Book One and Interference - Book Two explain the importance of Foreman's Yard to the Doctor's timeline and introduces the character of I.M. Foreman.
  • During this adventure the Doctor encounters his Eighth Incarnation who has travelled back along his own timeline (EDA: The Eight Doctors).
  • The events of this story can be seen to follow on from those in TN: Time and Relative.
  • DWM: Operation Proteus takes place a short time prior to this story.
  • Susan claims that she made up the term TARDIS from the initials of Time and Relative Dimension in Space. But it is later revealed that Gallifreyan society is several million years old. An explanation for this apparent inconsistency is proposed in NA: Lungbarrow.
  • When the TARDIS dematerializes for the first time, both Ian and Barbara faint. This effect is unique to this story as Ian and Barbara show no further ill effects in subsequent dematerializations (at least not of this nature and not caused directly by the TARDIS activating), nor do any future new TARDIS passengers. (It's possible the rather chaotic way the TARDIS entered flight somehow messed with the humans' equilibrium, as opposed to later, more-orderly dematerializations.)
  • This story leads straight into DW: The Daleks, beginning a pattern that would continue through much of the 60s, with one story leading straight into the next.


DVD, Video and Other Releases

DVD Release

Region 2 Box art

This story was released (as Doctor Who: An Unearthly Child) as part of the DVD box set The Beginning, together with The Daleks and The Edge of Destruction.


PAL - Roadshow ????
NTSC - Warner Video E2489

Video Release

Cover for the original 1990 VHS release
  • First Release: Released as Doctor Who: An Unearthly Child


PAL - BBC Video BBCV4311
NTSC - CBS/FOX Video 3401
  • US ????
NTSC - Warner Video E1906

Notes: The 'Next Episode' caption has been removed from Episode 4.

Cover for the Remastered 2000 VHS release
  • Second Release: An unedited, remastered edition that the BBC originally intended to release in a box set with The Daleks and The Edge of Destruction. They changed their plans and decided to release each story individually.


PAL - BBC Video BBCV6959

Notes: A version of the Pilot has been released on The Hartnell Years video. The complete take has been released on The Edge of Destruction video.


Original Target cover
1990 Re-issued cover
Main article: Doctor Who and an Unearthly Child

Titled Doctor Who and an Unearthly Child and written by Terrance Dicks, the book was published on 15th October 1981 by Target Books and priced at £1.25. With a cover by Andrew Skilleter, the book was issued in a 30,000 copy print run (ISBN 0-426-201442).

It was the first book published after a six month gap caused by a Writer's Guild strike and was later numbered as number 68 in the Target Books Doctor Who Library.


  • 1982 (£1.25)
  • 1983 (£1.25)
  • 1984 (£1.35)
  • 1985 (£1.50)

The book was re-issued as Doctor Who - An Unearthly Child on 15th February 1990 (priced £2.50) with a print run of 5,000 copies. It featured new cover art using Alister Pearson's painting for the BBC Video release.

Script book

In January 1988, Titan Books published the original teleplays for the serial in one volume as part of Doctor Who: The Scripts, using the serial's working title The Tribe of Gum.

See also

External links

  • BBC - Doctor Who - The Classic Series - Episode Guide: An Unearthly Child
  • Doctor Who Reference Guide - Detailed Synopsis - An Unearthly Child
  • Doctor Who: A Brief History of Time (Travel) - A Brief History of Time (Travel): An Unearthly Child
  • An Unearthly Child entry at Encyclopaedia of Fantastic Film and Television


  1. Howe, David J., Stammers, Mark, Walker, Stephen James, 1992, Doctor Who: The Sixties, Doctor Who Books, an imprint of Virgin Publishing Ltd, London, pg.12
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Howe, David J., Walker, Stephan James, The Television Companion, BBC Worldwide Ltd, 1998. pg.9
Season 1
An Unearthly Child  • The Daleks  • The Edge of Destruction  • Marco Polo  • The Keys of Marinus  • The Aztecs  • The Sensorites  • The Reign of Terror

This article uses material from the "An Unearthly Child" article on the Dr Who wiki at Wikia and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License.


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