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 traveling 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.
Okay, so… in case you don’t know, there was a pilot episode of Doctor Who that was shot way back in 1963 and was never aired. This pilot was re-shot and became “An Unearthly Child” and, while almost identical in some respects, there are some major differences in others… The Doctor, for example, is played much more like a sinister figure in the unaired pilot.
While I actually like William Hartnell’s darker and more alien take on the fledgling Doctor Who character, this episode is a mess of botched lines and terrible production values. Cameras bang into things and seem unable to follow actors, doors won’t open and close properly, and actors miss cues and stutter lines. I know that early Doctor Who didn’t have extraordinary production values or budgets, but this is ridiculous. There are cable access shows shot with no budget that do a better job.
Looking back, however, Carole Ann Ford and William Harnell’s performances were quite extraordinary. Harnell is cold and dark while Ford is alien and distant. I know that subsequent episodes cool this characterization, but in the pilot episode, it’s fascinating to see what a bleak anti-hero The Doctor almost was and, with no amount of uncertainty, I can say that it would have killed the show.