Upon viewing the very first episode of Doctor Who, would anyone have believe that the series would still be on the air fifty-plus years later? Yes, there were gaps, but you know what I mean.
In retrospect, “An Unearthly Child” is probably the most un-Doctor Who story of all, but everything has to have a beginning. There have been any number of TV shows that evolved over the years, and some of them for the better. The X-Files started off in an episodic “story of the week” fashion, but when the mythology and serialized storylines were introduced, it really became the show we remember. Then it went on far too long and nothing seemingly was ever resolved, but that’s another story.
Series creator Sydney Newman had the idea to create a science fiction series for childen that was also eductional, so it makes sense that the opening scene is in Coal Hill School. We meet Susan, (Carole Ann Ford) a student that seems to know more than most scientists of the era. Two of her teachers, Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill) and Ian Chesterton, (William Russell) have concerns about Susan. One evening they go to what is listed as her home address, 77 Totter’s Lane, and find a scrapyard. But… That’s not all they find.
Upon further inspection, Ian and Barbara come across what appears to be a disused police box, but now we the viewers know it’s far more than that. I cannot even imagine what it would have been like to see that police box for the first time. Having not seen Doctor Who until I was a teen and knowing the secrets, it didn’t have quite the same effect.
But it was still cool.
Ian and Barbara hear a humming noise and realize it’s coming from the police box. It’s almost as if it’s a machine, or is it alive? What it is, is downright creepy.
Susan exits the box and explains that this is her home; not the scrapyard–the box. Needless to say, Ian and Barbara were not convinced. And then we meet Susan’s grandfather.
Another striking aspect of “An Unearthly Child” is that the Doctor isn’t quite the Time Lord we recognize today. Yeah, Peter Capaldi’s Doctor can be surly and Scottish, but William Hartnell’s Doctor could be downright mean on occasion. Over the course of time, the Doctor did soften up a bit, and he was not a character without humor. A few stories later, he accidentally becomes engaged. Some things never change.
I would also like to take a moment to mention original series producer Verity Lambert. Without her hard work, dedication, and utter brillance, Doctor Who would be yet another show that never quite made the cut. We all owe her a great debt.