At number 45 in our countdown, we have to go back to the very beginning. Today, as we approach fifty years of our favourite show, it’s hard to imagine just what an effect An Unearthly Child must have had on the unsuspecting audience of 1963. An audience more used to police dramas and plays of the week, were suddenly faced with a strange little series about two every day people who meet a mysterious teenager and her even more mysterious grandfather and who appear to live in a spooky old junkyard inside a beaten up Police Box.
The shows entire premise is cleverly set up within the first 10 minutes and Ian and Barbara’s reactions to all this are wonderfully portrayed and absolutely mirror how the viewing public must have reacted after seeing the first episode of what is sometimes called “100,000 BC”. Nothing like it had ever been seen before on television.
We’ve become so used to seeing Doctor Who on our screens that it’s almost impossible to imagine what they must have thought when the inside of the TARDIS was revealed. Ian and Barbara perfectly convey the feeling of complete wonderment at seeing this amazing futuristic machine inside on old wooden box. That scene is still one of the best in the entire history of the show and is certainly the best “companions see that it’s bigger on the inside” scene ever.
Because it was the first. There was no precedent. It’s a staggeringly well-crafted scene, as is the entire first episode. The script is intelligent, a sense of eeriness and mystery pervades everything and William Hartnell is simply amazing as the eccentric and often irascible Doctor. The whole of what Doctor Who would represent from then on is in that first episode. And it ends on a fantastic cliffhanger that must have genuinely left people with a sense of amazement and wondering what could possibly happen next week.
So if An Unearthly Child is so good, why did I not put it higher on my list? Simply because “100,000 BC” is really made up of a fantastic first episode and then three more fairly average ones, sadly. The prehistoric setting doesn’t lead to a very interesting story, plot-wise and is visually quite boring. It’s a shame, with all of time and space to visit, that the producers chose that setting for its first story. However, the first episode is so stunningly good, in every sense, that it easily deserves a place in our top 50 stories.
Doctor Who had arrived and the world would never be the same again. — Steve
The countdown continues next week with #44.