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The Pilot Episode
Series: Doctor Who -
TV Stories
Doctor: First Doctor
Companions: Susan Foreman (Introduction)
Barbara Wright (Introduction)
Ian Chesterton (Introduction)
Enemy: The Doctor
Setting: 1963
Writer: Anthony Coburn
Director: Waris Hussein
Broadcast: 26th August 1991
Format: 1 25-minute Episode
Following Story: An Unearthly Child

The Pilot Episode was the first Doctor Who story. It was an early version of what became "An Unearthly Child," and in fact three different versions are known to exist. The story had many differences from the final version and was scrapped by Sydney Newman. It was not broadcast until the early 1990s.



School teachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright are curious about their student Susan Foreman, who is brilliant in many areas of science and history but is ignorant of such mundane matters as how many shillings make a Pound Sterling. They follow her home one evening to discover that she seems to live in a police box in a junkyard. Soon after meeting the girl's irascible grandfather, they find that the police box is in fact a fantastic vessel, the TARDIS, capable of travelling through space and time. Fearful that the schoolteachers will tell others of what they have seen, the mysterious old man, the Doctor, activates the machine's controls and whisks them away from the world they know...


The Pilot is made up of two sections.

An unearthly doodle by an unearthly child
  • Section 1 is the near-identical scenes of An Unearthly Child set in the School, Ian's car and the Junkyard. They are very similar to the broadcast version but with a few minor differences. For example, rather than read the book Barbara has loaned her, Susan plays with dropping ink on a sheet of paper, then doodling with the resulting inkblot, creating an image which looks like a strange alien creature (though it's also been compared to a depiction of the TARDIS control console). The resulting image frightens Susan. A few dialogue and technical problems occur during this section.
  • Section 2 is made up of 3 parts:
Part 1 - The scenes set inside the TARDIS Console room. This version has several technical problems and problems with the dialogue.
Barbara forces her way into the quite visible TARDIS interior.
Part 2 - Begins with the teachers and Doctor entering the TARDIS, there is some kind of problem and the take is abandoned. A noticeable difference between this and the final version is that the interior of the TARDIS is visible as Barbara forces her way through the doors. This effect was not used in the final transmitted version or in any stories of the original series though it has become standard in the new series.
Part 3 - The scene from the teachers first entering the TARDIS until the end of the episode, complete with end credits of "An Unearthly Child." There is no "Next Episode" caption.

Alternate versions

Several versions of the pilot have been circulated.

The version initially broadcast in 1991 incorporates several of the dialogue and technical errors that occurred during filming (Carole Ann Ford muffing her line about John Smith and the Common Men, Jacqueline Hill getting caught in the door, William Russell knocking over a prop, the TARDIS doors banging, etc.

Two alternate edits were released to home video on The Hartnell Years and as a bonus with the UK VHS release of DW: The Edge of Destruction.

When the episode was included in the DVD release The Beginning, two versions were prepared: a raw unedited version containing all takes, errors and footage shot during production, and a newly edited version that minimizes and in some cases eliminates some of the dialogue and technical errors that occurred during production, resulting in a somewhat more polished-looking production than the edit broadcast in 1991. Both DVD versions were put through the VidFIRE process, which restored the film recordings back to their original videotape appearance.


Production crew

Story notes

  • Version 1 of the Pilot was broadcast on BBC Two on 26th August 1991 as part of The Limegrove Story, a series of programs marking the closure of Lime Grove Studios where the episode had first been recorded. It consisted of Section 1 and Section 2 part 1.
  • After viewing the original pilot Sydney Newman decided that the episode needed to be remade. He even described this version as "...the worst piece of work I've seen in a long time." (In Their Own Words Volume One)As well as numerous technical and dialogue problems, changes were also made to the story. These primarily consisted of changing the characters of the Doctor and Susan. The Doctor was made more likeable and less confrontational, while the character of Susan is made less alien (notably her costume was made to look more childlike and less adult in the second version). Sydney Newman acknowledged Captain Nemo as a major influence in his original concept for the Doctor's character and personality.
  • Although the BBC Production Paperwork states that Reg Cranfield plays the Policeman, some websites say Fred Rawlings was the actor. As three different versions were made before the final transmitted version of "An Unearthly Child," it is possible that the two actors may have both played the role, only in different versions.
  • In this version, the TARDIS interior is briefly visible as Barbara forces her way through the doors. Curiously, this effect was not used in the final transmitted version or in any story of the original series, with actors being seen entering a dark interior of the police box prop. Viewing the console room from outside, however, has become a standard effect of the new series.
  • A slight difference exists in the Doctor Who theme in the pilot, with the incorporation of a thunderclap sound effect which was removed for the televised version.

Filming Locations


  • The Pilot differs considerably from DW: An Unearthly Child. As it contains numerous discrepancies from the broadcast version, it is generally not considered canonical.
  • The Doctor shows genuine anger towards Susan rather than the affection he showed in the broadcast version. At one point he refers to her as a stupid child.
  • Susan says she and the Doctor come from the 49th century and makes no reference to being from another world; this was removed from the broadcast version and replaced with "I was born in another time, another world," establishing her and the Doctor's alien origins.
  • The Doctor is seen wearing a suit and tie, rather than his Edwardian costume.
  • Susan is depicted as being more sensual and adult in both her appearance and her behavior. According to the DVD text commentary for for broadcast version of the episode, the original script emphasized her sexuality even more, before things were scaled back in order to make Susan more identifiable to children in the audience.

Discontinuity, Plot holes, Errors

  • There are numerous technical and dialogue difficulties throughout all of the versions. Some of these errors are retained in all versions, while some were eliminated for the reedited version of the pilot released to DVD. Among the notable errors:
  • For reasons not clear on screen, Jacqueline Hill and William Russell are seen having difficulty getting through the doorway leading into the classroom where Susan is listening to the radio, forcing Carole Ann Ford to extend her "dance" for a few additional moments. This is the earliest known recorded "blooper" of the Doctor Who franchise.
  • Susan says John Smith and the Common Men went from 2 to 19 in the hit parade before correcting herself and saying 19 to 2.
  • There is a lighting problem while Ian and Barbara discuss Susan in the car, with William Russell's face being completely obscured by shadow for much of the scene, which is retained in all versions of the pilot.
  • During the exploration of the scrapyard, Ian trips and falls down, dropping his flashlight. Although this was scripted, the subsequent loud crash as a junk prop also falls over was not. This error is retained in all versions of the complete pilot.
  • During the scrapyard sequence, a camera runs into a piece of scenery. (Coincidentally the experience of cameras running into things was a frequent occurrence during early seasons of The Avengers, also created by Sydney Newman.)
  • During one of the takes of the initial TARDIS control room scene, the doors leading into the room fall open and bang against the scenery several times. Unlike the previous errors this disrupts the scene sufficiently that the take has to be abandoned and started over (a rare occurrence in those days).

DVD, Video, and Audio Releases

Cover for "The Hartnell Years" video compilation.
  • Version 2 of the Pilot was included on The Hartnell Years Video. It consists of Section 1 and Section 2 part 3. It has never been broadcast on television.
Cover for "The Edge of Destruction/The Pilot Episode" video set.
  • Version 3 of the Pilot was included on The Edge of Destruction Video. It consists of Section 1 and Section 2 parts 1, 2 and 3.
  • The DVD Box Set "The Beginning" (released January 2006) included both the complete 45 minute film of all recorded footage for the pilot (in other words the above listed various 'takes'), as well as a new 25 minute edit using the best takes.
  • The 1991 broadcast version of the Pilot has never been released to home video.

External links

  • BBC Episode Guide Page
  • Encyclopedia of Fantastic Film and Television

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


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