TARDIS Index File

An Unearthly Child (TV story)

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An Unearthly Child
Novelised as: Doctor Who and an Unearthly Child
Script release: The Tribe of Gum
Doctor: First Doctor
Companion(s): Susan, Barbara, Ian
Main enemy: Kal
Main setting: London, 1963
Earth, 100,000 BC
Key crew
Writer: Anthony Coburn
Director: Waris Hussein
Producer: Verity Lambert
Release details
Story number: 1
Season/series: Season 1
Premiere broadcast: 23 November - 14 December 1963
Premiere network: BBC tv
Format: 4x25-minute episodes
Production code: A
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Doctor Who television stories
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The Pilot Episode The Daleks
You may be looking for the year 100,000 BC.

The first televised Doctor Who serial was produced under the title 100,000 BC, but later marketed under its more popular name, An Unearthly Child, which it also shared with its own episode one. It introduced viewers to the Doctor, played by William Hartnell, and the TARDIS.

As the first story, it laid the groundwork for the Who story of capture and escape; in this case, the Doctor and company are captured by primitive humans. An Unearthly Child was the only televised story in which the Doctor smoked.

By 1963 standards, An Unearthly Child and Doctor Who were launched with a publicity blitz. A trailer ran a week before broadcast and Hartnell narrated a radio advert. Radio Times ran a large feature on the show; it was originally intended to be the cover story but Kenneth Horne's return to radio was judged more important.

Rex Tucker was originally listed as the director, but filming schedules interfered with a holiday he had planned to Majorca. The seat went instead to the inexperienced Waris Hussein.


Schoolteachers Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton are intrigued by one of their pupils, Susan Foreman. They visit her home address - a junkyard at 76 Totter's Lane. There they meet her grandfather, the Doctor. The Doctor and Susan are aliens who travel through time and space in their ship, the TARDIS. It looks like an ordinary police box but actually houses a huge, gleaming control room. The TARDIS takes them all to a Palaeolithic landscape where they encounter a tribe who have lost the secret of fire...


An Unearthly Child (1)

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Ian and Barbara watch the Doctor about to enter the TARDIS
Busdoc77Added by Busdoc77

On a foggy London night, a policeman makes his rounds, passing I.M. Foreman's junkyard at 76 Totter's Lane. In the junkyard stands an incongruous-looking police box emitting an eerie hum.

Another day of classes ends at the Coal Hill School. History teacher Barbara Wright, and science teacher Ian Chesterton compare notes on an enigmatic student, Susan Foreman. Her knowledge of history and science surpasses the rest of the class and possibly the teachers. However, she has very curious gaps about present-day culture - she forgets, for example, that England has yet to adopt a decimal currency. Barbara has encouraged her to specialise in history, but Susan is resistant to her suggestion about in-home tutoring, saying her grandfather, with whom she lives ("He's a doctor, isn't he?" Ian asks), doesn't like strangers. Barbara tells Ian she got Susan's address, 76 Totter's Lane, from the school secretary. She went there and found not a house, but a junkyard. They find Susan so Barbara can lend her a book on the French Revolution. Ian offers Susan a ride, but she declines. Ian and Barbara resolve to follow her home. After they leave the room, Susan reads the history book, and remarks, "That's not right!"

Arriving by car at 76 Totter's Lane, Ian and Barbara see Susan enter the junkyard alone. Following from a distance, they search the junkyard for her in vain. Ian is transfixed by a police box there which hums. Touching it, he exclaims that it's alive. They hear someone coming and hide. An old man approaches the police box and unlocks it. The teachers seem to hear Susan's voice from inside, greeting him. They confront the old man, who brusquely shuts the door and refuses to acknowledge that anyone is inside. When they threaten to go to the police, the old man calmly dismisses their claims. The door opens from the inside. Hearing Susan's voice again, the teachers push past the man. They are astounded to find themselves in a much larger space, with futuristic electronic panels, and a central hexagonal control console. Susan is shocked to find her teachers there. The old man, her grandfather, is furious at their intrusion.

To be continued...1
A shadow approaches the TARDIS.
OttselSpy25Added by OttselSpy25

Susan and her grandfather, who calls himself simply the Doctor, say the police box is actually a disguise for their space-time ship, the TARDIS. They are alien refugees from another planet and time. Despite Susan's protests, the Doctor prepares the TARDIS for takeoff, saying he must kidnap Ian and Barbara to protect their identities. The sudden takeoff renders the two schoolteachers unconscious. The TARDIS arrives on a Palaeolithic landscape, over which falls the shadow of a man.

The Cave of Skulls (2)

The shadow is of a man dressed in animal skins. He watches the TARDIS ominously.

A tribe of cavemen are gathered around one of their members, Za. Za is the son of the tribe's previous leader, but he never taught his son the secret of making fire. As Za futilely tries to make fire, a female tribe elder throws scorn on Za's abilities and states that Kal, a stranger from another tribe, would be a far better leader. This frustrates Za. Hur, a young cavewoman, tries to pacify him but also warns him that if he loses his position as the leader of the tribe he will lose her; her father is intent on her bearing children for the leader.

Back at the TARDIS, Ian and Barbara regain consciousness to find the Doctor and Susan puzzling over readings displayed on the TARDIS's main console. The Doctor tells them they have gone back in time. This annoys Ian, who demands concrete proof. The Doctor opens the door, revealing the barren desert. All four go outside. The Doctor professes confusion as to why the TARDIS has retained the shape of a police box. Ian apologises to Susan and Barbara for stubbornly disbelieving the Doctor's story. Susan is also surprised that the TARDIS is still in the shape of a police box. She says it has been an ionic column and a sedan chair in the past. The Doctor is elsewhere, checking the environment for radioactivity, when the caveman who was watching the TARDIS sneaks up on him and attacks him. His three companions hear him shout, and run to his rescue. When they get there, all they find is the Doctor's bag, hat and geiger counter smashed. Susan hysterically runs off to look for him. Ian and Barbara soon follow but not before Ian finds the sand is freezing cold.

The Doctor is threatened with his life because he will not make fire.
OttselSpy25Added by OttselSpy25

Horg, Hur's father, tells Za that Kal claims he knew how to make fire in his old tribe. Za angrily responds that Kal's tribe all died out. Kal would have died too if this tribe had not saved him.

Hur again warns him; Kal is bringing in meat and winning favour amongst the tribe. Za says if he has to kill a few people to exert his authority, he will. At this point, Kal, who attacked the Doctor, comes in with the old man's unconscious body. Kal tells the tribe that he saw the Doctor make fire and he should be leader of the tribe now, that the Doctor had immense strength and fighting prowess. Za scorns and mocks Kal, but Horg states that Kal is doing far more for the tribe than Za and if his capture can create fire, Kal should be made leader. Za says the Doctor should be taken to the Cave of Skulls and sacrificed so Orb will return.

At this point the Doctor wakes up. He says he can create fire for the whole tribe without any need for killing, but he soon realises he has lost his matches. When he tells the tribe he will need to go back to the TARDIS before they get fire, Za mocks Kal, saying his promise of "an old man who can make fire" was lies. The tribe turns against Kal. In his frustration, he pulls his knife on the Doctor. Kal is on the verge of killing him when Susan, Barbara and Ian attack the tribe, knocking Kal off of the Doctor. The companions are soon overpowered. Kal approaches Barbara. Before he kills her, Za gets in the way and says the four must be taken to the Cave of Skulls and sacrificed as a gift to Orb. The Doctor and his companions are led away. Horg tries to take Hur from Za, but Za insists that with the Doctor's sacrifice, the Orb will return and fire will return also. The tribe will retain Za as leader. Horg seems to accept this.

The four travellers are sealed in the tribe's Cave of Skulls with the bones of many prisoners. The Doctor notices that the skulls have all been split open.

The Forest of Fear (3)

Still in the Cave of Skulls, Ian, Barbara, and Susan, try to escape; however the Doctor seems disconsolate and unhelpful. Ian shouts at him, prompting the Doctor to suggest that they use the bones of the dead to cut the ropes that bind their hands and legs. The group begins to unify.

Back at the main cave, the tribe are all are asleep. The female elder wakes up. She steals Za's knife and heads towards the Cave of Skulls. Unbeknownst to the Old Woman, Hur has seen her. When she arrives at the Cave of Skulls, she is met by a large stone that blocks the door. However, she seems to know an alternate route.

Inside the Cave of Skulls, the Doctor and the others are trying to free Ian so he can defend them if needed. Susan screams as the elder bursts though a gap in the undergrowth that blocks the cave.

Hur wakes Za and calls him out of the cave to inform him that the elder took his knife and headed out of the cave. They decide she went to the Cave of Skulls. Hur believes the elder is afraid of fire, so she will kill the four to prevent the tribe from learning the secret.

However, the elder is using the knife to free the four, whilst outside Za and Hur try to move the stone. Just as the stone budges, the four escape out the back of the cave. Za, frustrated, throws the elder to the floor. Hur convinces Za that the only way he will retain the tribe's leadership is by capturing the Doctor and harnessing the fire. Za and Hur plunge into the forest in pursuit of the Doctor.

The foursome are lost in the forest, trying to find their way back to the TARDIS. Yet again, Ian and the Doctor fall out as Ian takes the lead. Whilst they argue, Barbara trips and falls. She lands on a dead boar and screams. This alerts Za and Hur. The movement of the undergrowth impels the Doctor and his companions to hide.

When Za and Hur catch up with them, Za is attacked by a wild beast and injured badly. Against the Doctor's wishes, Barbara and Ian try to help Za. The Doctor tries to stop Susan from going, insinuating that he would leave Ian and Barbara behind. Ian and Barbara help Za, to Hur's bemusement. She does not understand the idea of friendship. Hur is openly hostile to Susan, thinking she is trying to steal Za from her. The Doctor is so desperate to leave that he seems to contemplate killing the caveman, but is stopped by Ian. The Doctor reminds his companions that the tribe elder is still with the cavemen. He worries she may wake them and set off in pursuit of the travellers. This prompts Ian to build a makeshift stretcher to carry Za back to the TARDIS to heal him there.

Back at the settlement, Kal has returned to the cave to find it empty. He questions the prostrate elder, who says she set the Doctor and his companions free. Kal kills her. He returns to the tribe to inform them that it was Za that let the Doctor free so he could keep fire to himself. The tribe are sceptical and Kal says the elder will back him up. When Kal returns to the cave to 'discover' the dead elder, he says it must have been Za that killed her. Kal declares himself leader and takes his new tribe off to find Za.

The Doctor and his companions happily find the TARDIS. However, their escape attempt is foiled when they find the tribesmen lying in wait for them.

The Firemaker (4)

The four travellers are returned to the encampment. At first, the tribe is hostile to Za and his friends, especially when they accuse him of killing the tribal elder, but the Doctor convinces the tribe that Kal killed Old Mother by tricking Kal into showing the tribe his bloody knife. The Doctor and Ian lead the tribe in an attack which drives Kal into the forest. The recovered Za is again declared leader, but instead of expressing his gratitude by freeing the travellers as the Doctor expected, he orders them returned to the Cave of Skulls where he will either learn the secret of fire from them or sacrifice them to Orb.

In the Cave of Skulls, Ian makes fire for Za, using friction for a spark, hoping this gift will convince the tribe to set them free. Za comes to speak with them and is entranced by the fire. Ian says that in his "tribe" all members know how to make fire. Za asks Ian if he is the leader of his tribe. He responds (with a nod to Susan) that the Doctor is the leader.

Meanwhile, Kal sneaks back into the camp. He kills the guard outside the cave and attacks Za. Za fights and kills Kal, confirming his leadership. With fire at his disposal, he is now undisputed. However, he still leaves the Doctor and his companions to languish in the cave.

After going out hunting, Za decrees that the travellers will merge with his tribe rather than leave and orders them confined to the Cave indefinitely. The four try to think of a means of escape; absentmindedly, Susan places a skull in a flame. This leads Ian to devise a plan to scare and distract the tribe enough to let them flee. Four skulls are placed on top of burning torches. This ghoulish vision distracts the cave dwellers, allowing the travellers to escape into the forest. This time, the four travellers make it back inside the TARDIS; the Doctor only just makes it in before the tribesmen catch up with them. The TARDIS dematerialises as the tribesmen throw spears at the craft, leaving them staring in amazement.

The Doctor explains that he has no idea where or when they will end up next because the TARDIS is not displaying any data to help him direct the ship. In time, the scanner shows their new destination, a mysterious jungle with strange-looking trees. Before they go out to explore the planet, the Doctor asks Susan to check the radiation levels. They read normal. As the four leave the console room to clean themselves, the radiation detector's needle passes into the "Danger" zone...




Astronomical objects

  • The cavemen worship the Sun God, which they call Orb.
  • Both space and time are said by Susan to be related (with regard to dimensions).


  • Za attempts to create fire. He references his father, who made fire, but was killed for it. Later, the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan are forced to give the cavemen fire in a struggle for the leadership of the tribe.

Cultural references

  • Susan refers to decimalisation and then realises it has not happened yet in England. In 1963, the United Kingdom had a system of two hundred forty pence to a pound. Decimalisation actually took place on 15 February 1971. The implication is that they have visited the UK after 1971.
  • Reference is made to the Doctor and Susan having visited the French Revolution (1789 - 1799) when Susan says something she reads in the book Miss Wright lends her on the subject, titled The French Revolution, is wrong.
  • Susan is listening to John Smith and the Common Men when Ian and Barbara walk in.


  • Ian uses a torch while in the junkyard. When he drops it, Barbara suggests he uses a match.
  • Za uses and wields an axe.
  • Ian, Susan and Barbara make a stretcher.
  • The tribesmen uses spears and flint knives.

The Doctor

  • The Doctor smokes a pipe. Interestingly, he is never seen to smoke on-screen again after losing both the pipe and his matches when he is attacked by Kal.
  • The Doctor carries a notebook with him.
  • The Doctor states that he and Susan are "wanderers in the fourth dimension", and "exiles".


  • The Doctor refers to television to help describe how the TARDIS is bigger on the inside.
  • The TARDIS took on the disguise of a London police box during the Doctor and Susan's stay at 76 Totter's Lane. However, it didn't change appearance when it reappeared in the past, due to a problem with the chameleon circuit.


Story notes

  • This is the first Doctor Who story broadcast on television.
  • The very first words in Doctor Who were spoken by Barbara Wright: "Wait in here please, Susan. I won't be long."
  • This story is also known as 100,000 BC, The Tribe of Gum, The Firemakers and The Cavemen. See disputed story titles for more information.
  • The episodes of this story went by different titles during the production stage. Episode 2 was originally known as "The Fire-Maker", Episode 3 was originally known as "The Cave of Skulls" and Episode 4 was originally known as "The Dawn of Knowledge".
  • All episodes exist as 16mm telerecordings and are held in the BBC's Film and Videotape Library.
  • The original storyline was entitled Nothing at the End of the Lane. A short story by the same name written by Daniel O'Mahony can be found in Short Trips and Side Steps. It suggests the entire first season of the show may just be a psychotic fantasy in the mind of Barbara Wright.
  • The names for the Doctor's companions were originally to be Bridget ("Biddy") instead of Susan, Lola McGovern (instead of Barbara Wright), and Cliff instead of Ian.
  • The makers of the show originally considered the idea of having a functioning chameleon circuit but ruled it out on cost grounds, feeling it would have been too expensive to build a new, disguised spaceship for every story.
  • The bones in the Cave of Skulls were real bones taken from an abattoir and were very unpleasant to smell under hot studio lights.
  • Other proposals considered for the first story included The Giants by C. E. Webber. It was partially reworked for the Season 2 episodes Planet of Giants and The Living World, written by Alan Wakeman.
  • A pilot version of episode 1 was made and exists in various versions. For more info, see the Pilot Episode.
  • Episode 1 has come to be seen as a classic of science fiction, in contrast to the less-positive reaction of critics when it was first broadcast.
  • Bernard Lodge was the uncredited designer of the original title sequence. (INFO: "An Unearthly Child")
  • The Doctor smokes a pipe in episode 2, but is never seen to do so again after he loses both this and his matches on Stone Age Earth.
  • It is never explicitly stated on-screen that the Stone Age episodes of the story are set on Earth. It could be the Stone Age of some other, Earth-like planet.
  • According to the DVD info text, the striped top Susan wears in this and later stories belonged to Carole Ann Ford and was part of an alternate costume she suggested for the character after it was decided to abandon the more adult, futuristic look of the unaired pilot. According to the commentary, Ford's suggested outfit also included black leggings and boots, which were rejected as too sexy, so jeans were worn instead. Ford would wear the same striped top in her later movie The Great St. Trinian's Train Robbery.
  • Ford's hairstyle as Susan was created by famed stylist Vidal Sassoon.
  • This story was one of those selected to be shown as part of BSB's Doctor Who Weekend in September 1990.
  • A lizard was accidentally brought on set along with the tropical plants for the forest. Carole Ann Ford took it home and kept it as a pet.
  • The piece of music that is purported to be John Smith and the Common Men is called "3 Guitars Mood 2," by The Arthur Nelson Group. It is featured on a CD called Doctor Who: Space Adventures. This piece of music was also used in the documentary Verity Lambert: Drama Queen, a tribute to the late Verity Lambert which was first broadcast on 5 April 2008 on BBC4.
  • Susan claims that she made up the term TARDIS from the initials of Time and Relative Dimension in Space. It is later revealed that Gallifreyan society is several million years old. One explanation for this apparent inconsistency is proposed in PROSE: Lungbarrow. Other speculative explanations also exist.
  • When the TARDIS dematerialises for the first time, both Ian and Barbara faint. This effect is unique to this story as Ian and Barbara show no further ill effects in subsequent dematerialisations (at least not of this nature and not caused directly by the TARDIS activating), nor do any future new TARDIS passengers. It's possible the rather chaotic way the TARDIS entered flight somehow messed with the humans' equilibrium, as opposed to later, more-orderly dematerialisations.
  • The first broadcast of Episode 1 had only 4.4 million viewers. This was likely due to a power outage in some parts of Britain that prevented more viewers from tuning in.
  • For this reason, on Wednesday 27 November, the Programme Review board decided to repeat the first episode immediately before the second episode. This repeat gained a significant number of viewers – 6.0 million. Although such replays are common today (particularly on American networks), such a rerun was almost unheard of in 1963.
  • An Unearthly Child was the first Doctor Who story to be broadcast internationally, appearing on New Zealand's Christchurch regional channel CHTV-3 on 18 September 1964.
  • Ninth Doctor director Joe Ahearne was born on the day that episode 1 was first broadcast.
  • Working titles included "Nothing At The End Of The Lane" for the first episode; episode 3 was called "The Cave of Skulls", episode 2 was entitled "The Firemaker" and episode 4 was originally called "The Dawn of Knowledge".


  • "An Unearthly Child" - 4.4 million viewers
  • "The Cave of Skulls" - 5.9 million viewers
  • "The Forest of Fear" - 6.9 million viewers
  • "The Firemaker" - 6.4 million viewers


  • Episode 1 was broadcast ten minutes late due to an extended news report on the assassination of President Kennedy the previous day. (It was transmitted only one minute, twenty seconds later than the scheduled 5.15 p.m., due to the previous show, Grandstand, over running)[7]
  • C. E. Webber co-wrote the story with Anthony Coburn. (Webber had actually been working on a proposed episode known as The Giants, which was originally intended to be the first story but was rejected.)[8]
  • This story was broadcast live. (No episode was ever broadcast live. This rumour likely originated due to the fact episodes of the day were often videotaped in one continuous take with only occasional recording breaks.)[8]
  • Jackie Lane was offered the role of Susan. (Although Lane auditioned for the part, she withdrew herself from consideration when she discovered a one-year contract was involved; she was never actually offered the job.)[8]
  • Waris Hussein spotted Carole Ann Ford in BBC play called The Man on a Bicycle when he was looking for someone for the role of Susan.[8] (This play was actually broadcast months before Hussein became involved with Doctor Who. However, according to a documentary included in the DVD box set "The Beginning", Hussein spotted her in an episode of Z-Cars.)
  • Jacqueline Hill worked as a model in Paris. (She didn't.)[8]
  • The original police box was a prop left over from Dixon of Dock Green. (It was specially made for Doctor Who.)[8]
  • Pop singer Billie Davis appears as one of the females. (This has been mentioned on a number of websites, including the Internet Movie Database, but according to the DVD production notes, the Billie Davis in this story is a male actor; the singer Davis at the time the episode was produced was still recovering from a serious automobile crash and was unlikely to have been in any shape to take on an acting role.)

Filming locations

Production errors

If you'd like to talk about narrative problems with this story — like plot holes and things that seem to contradict other stories — please go to this episode's discontinuity discussion.
  • Jacqueline Hill noticeably flubs a line, in the Cave of Skulls near the end of the final episode.
  • When Ian and Barbara enter the TARDIS and talk with the Doctor and Susan, a boom microphone can be seen for a few seconds.
  • Before Ian gets zapped by the console, somebody in the studio calls out a cue.
  • The studio can be seen several times during the TARDIS console room scene in episode 1.
  • At one point, a stagehand can be seen through a gap of around 10 to 20 centimetres in one of the corners of the TARDIS.
  • The great stone is evidently made of sculpted polystyrene. The stone wobbles after being touched and at one point squeaks as Za attempts to move it.
  • William Hartnell and William Russell interrupt each other whilst examining the TARDIS.
  • When the Doctor explains that he and Susan are "wanderers in the fourth dimension", it is obvious that wall behind them is fake, as it is creased and has piled up at the bottom. This can be seen multiple times.
  • When Ian is making fire, as the fire is being lit, Ian is moving the sticks, but they are far apart from each other.


Home video and audio releases

DVD releases

This story was released as Doctor Who: An Unearthly Child as part of the DVD box set The Beginning, together with The Daleks and The Edge of Destruction.


PAL - Roadshow ????
NTSC - Warner Video E2489

Special features:

Box sets

This story was released along with The Daleks and The Edge of Destruction in a box set called The Beginning.

Video releases

Original release

This story was released on video as Doctor Who: An Unearthly Child. The "Next Episode" caption has been removed from Episode 4.


PAL - BBC Video BBCV4311
NTSC - CBS/FOX Video 3401
  • US ????
NTSC - Warner Video E1906

Second release

This was an unedited, remastered edition that the BBC originally intended to release in a box set with The Daleks and The Edge of Destruction. They changed their plans and decided to release each story individually. A version of the Pilot was released on The Hartnell Years video with a complete take being released on The Edge of Destruction video.


PAL - BBC Video BBCV6959

Script book

In January 1988, Titan Books published the original teleplays for the serial in one volume as part of Doctor Who: The Scripts, using the serial's working title The Tribe of Gum.

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 INFO: "An Unearthly Child"
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 INFO: "The Cave of Skulls"
  3. Newbery has uncredited involvement as designer of "An Unearthly Child". Brachacki, designer of "The Pilot Episode", had fallen ill and was unavailable, and under Newbery, the sets were remade to Brachacki's original designs, which had been broken up between filming of "The Pilot Episode" and the remount of "An Unearthly Child". (INFO: "An Unearthly Child")
  4. For the fight between Za and Kal, Douglas Camfield directed. (INFO: "The Firemaker")
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 INFO: "The Forest of Fear"
  6. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 6.11 6.12 6.13 INFO: "The Firemaker"
  7. Howe, David J., Stammers, Mark, Walker, Stephen James, 1992, Doctor Who: The Sixties, Doctor Who Books, an imprint of Virgin Publishing Ltd, London, pg.12
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 Howe, David J., Walker, Stephan James, The Television Companion, BBC Worldwide Ltd, 1998. pg.9

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