50 Years of Who 1-1: An Unearthly Child

An Unearthly Child is the first serial in the first series of Doctor Who, originally broadcast in late 1963. Written by Anthony Coburn, and starring William Hartnell as the Doctor. Warning: Spoilers.

Synopsis of An Unearthly Child

Painfully British schoolteachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright grow concerned over brilliant prodigy Susan Foreman’s homework efforts, and decide to use it as a pretext to satiate their curiosity about the girl and her mysterious doctor grandfather. In what I’m sure is part of the standard 60s Brit schoolteacher job description, they stake out the junkyard the girl lives in until Susan arrives home, then follow her inside. Unable to immediately locate the girl, they stumble around in the dark, shouting her name, until her grandfather arrives.

They hide while he works at unlocking a police box. When they confront him, he denies that Susan’s present, or that he even knows who she is, until Susan calls out from inside the box. Ian and Barbara force their way past the doctor into the box, and are immediately confronted with the fact that it’s bigger on the inside. Susan begs her grandfather first to let her teachers leave, and then to be allowed to stay in the 20th century, but the old man simply laughs at her and expresses fears that they should be exposed.

Ian seems convinced that this is somehow some sort of an illusion, and the doctor agrees to let them leave, only to actually activate the machine and send them into the past. They end up in an undefined paleolithic era and are abducted by cavemen whose politics revolve around the fact that none of them know how to make fire. The cavemen decide to kill them in the morning, but an old woman helps them to escape on the condition that they don’t make any fires for the others.

They flee through the forest towards the TARDIS, pursued by pair of cavepeople, one of whom is attacked by a shrubbery because the producers lacked the budget to actually show any wild animals. Despite the Doctor’s urging that they should just leave, Ian and Barbara insist upon helping the wounded caveman. Ian stops the Doctor from murdering the caveman while everyone’s backs are turned.

Wounded caveman in tow, the group reaches the TARDIS to discover that somehow the rest of the tribe has gotten there first. They are recaptured, but make a deal with the wounded caveman to teach him fire if he’ll let them go. They do, but the caveman decides that they should join his tribe again. They put some skulls on torches to freak the cavemen out, then run while they’re cowering. They reach the TARDIS with heavy pursuit and escape.

The Doctor reveals that he can’t take them home directly, and the TARDIS re-materializes in some kind of weird radioactive forest.

Michael Coorlim

Michael Coorlim is a teller of strange stories for stranger people. He collects them, the oddballs. The mystics and fire-spinners, the sages and tricksters. He curates their tales, combines their elements and lets them rattle around inside his rock-tumbler skull until they gleam, then spills them loose onto the page for like-minded readers to enjoy.

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