An Unearthly Child

One of the extra features on the DVD/BluRay set for An Adventure in Space and Time is an extra disc containing both the rejected pilot for Doctor Who and the version of “An Unearthly Child” that aired on the BBC on November 23, 1963, as well as the rest of the first storyline.

While the script of both versions is pretty much the same, I’m going to make note of interesting differences between one and the other as I go through the story that introduces us to the Doctor and his original companions.

Tardis scene: rejected version
Tardis scene: Rejected Pilot
Tardis scene: aired version
Tardis scene: Aired Version

We start with a policeman on patrol a foggy night outside the tall, closed wooden gates of a scrapyard belonging to I.M. Foreman. He doesn’t go inside, but after he walks on, the camera “pushes” the gate open to show us something that the policeman would have found strange and remarkable: a contemporary police box sits quietly humming among the bits of scrap metal and a number of creepy-looking manikins or statues.

But the story actually begins at Coal Hill Comprehensive School (something like an American high school, but implementing the newest ideas in UK education in the 1960s). After most of the students have gone for the day, history teacher Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill) confers with science teacher Ian Chesterton (William Russell) about a puzzling matter of interest to them both.


There’s a 15-year-old girl in their classes named Susan Foreman who is brilliant but in some ways very odd. Ian says she knows more about science than he does. Barbara thinks she ought to become an historian.

Barbara wanted to have a talk with Susan’s guardian, her elusive grandfather, about her academic work, even though Susan told her that Grandfather “doesn’t like strangers.” Ian responds, “He’s a Doctor, isn’t he?” and thinks this reclusiveness a poor excuse.

When Barbara went to the address given in Susan’s personal file, 76 Totter’s Lane, there wasn’t anything at that location except for a scrapyard.

We meet Susan (Carole Ann Ford), who has remained after school. She’s rocking out to a Ventures-ish sounding generic tune on her transistor radio in one of the classrooms when the two teachers come in to talk to her. Ian proves he’s hip with the music the kids are listening to these days by knowing something about the band behind the song Susan likes so much but, like an old fogey, asks her to turn it down.

The girl drops another hint or two about her strangeness into their conversation. She tells Barbara that she’ll return the big book about the French Revolution the teacher lends her tomorrow; she’ll be able to read the whole thing by then. She also mentions that she loves walking in the English fog, as if it’s something entirely new and foreign to her. After Ian and Barbara leave her, she does something even more odd.

The aired version of this scene ends with Susan opening the French history book, reading something on one of the pages and saying, “But that’s wrong!” In the rejected pilot, she dabbles some ink on a piece of paper, folds it in half as if she’s making her own Rorschach Test, then draws a hexagon around the inkblot. Apparently alarmed at what she’s drawn, she quickly crumples the paper up.

Ink blot

I suppose that Sydney Newman thought this original scene ending was too cryptic. Does the hexagon represent the 6-sided Tardis console? Or does the inkblot remind Susan of something?

Susan walks home. The two teachers have decided to follow her, but since they’re driving, they get to the scrapyard in Totter’s Lane long before she does and they park across the street to watch and wait.

While they sit in the car, Ian and Barbara discuss Susan further. They agree that she’s extremely intelligent, and yet there are weird gaps in her knowledge. The history class once laughed at her because she didn’t know how many shillings were in a pound; she thought that Britain had gone to a decimal money system. (It would in 1971. Before that, there were 20 shillings in a pound, which is something a time traveler who spends a lot of the past in England ought to know.) She found a three-dimensional math problem that Ian once gave his class impossible to solve, claiming that the coordinates a, b, and c could only be calculated along with d (time) and e (space).

This scene features flashbacks to the classrooms, which I was pleased to see. I watched “An Unearthly Child” once before, years ago, and I distinctly remembered the scene where Susan doesn’t know about shillings. It confused me when that scene didn’t appear while Barbara and Ian were first talking about Susan’s peculiarities and I wondered when it had been cut or restored.

When Susan does come along, she enters the scrapyard. The two teachers wait some time, but when she doesn’t come out again, they venture in after her.


They don’t find Susan, but they do find the police box and observe that it’s vibrating.

“It’s alive!” Ian exclaims, and walks around it, looking for a power cable .

I note that the St. John’s Ambulance logo, which was on the Tardis’s right-hand door in the first pilot, has been painted over for the second version. It will come and go over the next 50-plus years.

While Barbara and Ian are examining this peculiar police box, a man is heard coughing. The viewer might initially take it for one of the set crew or camaramen accidentally picked up by a microphone, but it turns out to be an elderly man (William Hartnell, of course) who now appears in the scrapyard. The two teachers retreat and watch as he unlocks the police-box doors, and they hear Susan’s voice calling out from inside. In the rejected pilot, they also hear that same music she was listening to on her transistor radio.

When he realizes that there are other people nearby, the old man turns and confronts them. When Ian and Barbara demand to see inside the box, believing that Susan’s been locked up in there, the old man becomes defensive and evasive. He refuses to answer their questions and denies knowing anything about the girl they’re looking for. When they threaten to summon a policeman, he calls their bluff: why don’t they?

This argument might’ve gone on for some time, if the teachers didn’t hear Susan calling out to her grandfather from inside the police box again.

Now they’re desperate to have a look inside. The old man tries to stop them. A struggle ensues, and everyone stumbles together through the doors–not into the confined wooden space of a normal police box, but into a large room with white walls and a futuristic hexagonal control station at the center.

Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton become the first people to discover that the Tardis is bigger on the inside, although neither of them actually says that.

Ian will spend the next several minutes denying the reality of the situation, and insists that this big control room is an optical illusion. When Susan’s grandfather calls this place “a ship” and describes what it can do, he’s incredulous.

“A thing that looks like a police box, stuck in a junkyard, can move anywhere in time and space? … Ridiculous!”

Ian Chesterton

It’s Susan who speaks of the dimensional discrepancy between the inside and the outside. She tells her teachers that she’s named this vessel the Tardis, an acronym for Time And Relative Dimension In Space. Which is interesting because in much later episodes, Tardis seems to be the standing Gallifreyan name for these machines. Perhaps Susan won a “Name the Timey-Spacey Travel Machines” contest before she and her grandfather stole one and left the planet.

Barbara’s more ready to believe that they’ve stumbled into something they don’t understand, but she still thinks that Susan’s grandfather’s claim that they come from another planet and are travelers in the fourth dimension is a delusion the girl and old man share.

The main visual difference between the two versions of this scene is that Susan is made to look more like a normal kid in the aired version. In the rejected version, she has changed out of her school clothes into a Space Cadet outfit with a silvery metallic top. When the scene was redone, she has instead changed into a striped shirt and jeans such as any 1960s teenaged girl would wear; the informative text that comes with each episode tells me that it was in fact Carole Ann Ford’s own shirt.

The interior Tardis set is a bit better dressed in the later version, and the lighting has improved. It wasn’t until I was watching the rejected pilot that that I realized that, while the familiar circular pattern on the doors and wall around them are a textured relief, the circles on the back wall are painted on canvas. In addition, the first pilot also has a loud, annoying buzzing noise throughout this scene, which may be the BBC recording equipment acting up but I think it’s meant to be the Tardis.

A small detail I noticed: When the rejected pilot scene is recreated in An Adventure in Space and Time, the Doctor drops his scarf on the floor. That doesn’t actually happen here, but it does fall on the floor when he takes his coat off in the aired version.

The Doctor first scene

The emotional tone of the two versions is completely different. Since it’s the key scene of the show, explaining everything that’s to come afterwards, I can see what Sydney Newman objected to.

The original Doctor isn’t just cranky, he’s menacing.

In the rejected pilot, he blames the intrusion of the two teachers on Susan’s desire to stay in one place for so long and go to this school, brusquely calling her a “stupid child!” and “little fool!” Susan is almost hysterical when she pleads with him to let Ian and Barbara go, as if she’s afraid that he’ll really do something horrible to them to keep them from talking about what they’ve seen.

In a speech that’s no longer in the second version, the Doctor explains to Susan about the dangers of letting these people have technological information they’re not ready for, comparing it to the Romans having gunpowder or Napoleon using airplanes. He concludes ominously that they will be “footprints in a time where you were never supposed to have walked,” which could either mean they’d now be out of place in their own time with their new knowledge, or that he’s planning to solve the problem by ditching them in another era where they can’t use their knowledge to endanger him. And, this remember, is supposed to be a fun children’s sci-fi show.

The tone is changed in the redone scenes. Even when we first meet him outside the Tardis, the Doctor is less abrasive; he’s chuckling as he deflects Ian’s and Barbara’s questions, as if he’s enjoying his own private joke. Once they’re all inside the Tardis, his attitude and actions are more mischievous than malevolent. He still means to keep the two intruders from getting out and talking about what they’ve seen, but there is no longer a feeling that he means them harm.

In place of that conversation with Susan above, he explains gently to “my dear child” that if he does let her teachers go, then he’ll have to go. He can’t leave the Tardis sitting here for other people to come and gape at. If Susan insists on staying in London, as she says she does, then he’ll have to leave her behind. But his tone as he says this is patient and still slightly amused; he’s trying to reason with a child, not make a genuine threat to abandon her.

But Susan’s still a bit hysterical this time around.

In both versions, there’s a struggle at the Tardis controls that sends the foursome off on their first adventure. In the first pilot, Ian starts messing with switches and knobs to try and open the doors and the Doctor tries to stop him. In the aired version, the Doctor moves toward the controls to prompt Susan to make her decision, and she tries to stop him. Either way, they leave modern London behind and we get some of the same wavy electronic effects that we see in the credits.


The episode ends with an identical shot. The Tardis sits alone in a sandy wilderness, and the shadow of a humanoid figure appears, coming toward it. A screen caption on the aired version gives us the tantalizing title of the next episode before the final credits roll: The Cave of Skulls.


Author: Kathryn L Ramage

Kathryn L. Ramage has a B.A. and M.A. in English lit and has been writing for as long as she can remember. She lives in Maryland with three calico cats named after the Brontë sisters. In addition to being the author of numerous short stories, reviews, essays, and period mystery novellas, she is also the author of a series of fantasy novels set in a dukedom called the Northlands on an alternate Earth whose history has diverged from ours somewhere during the medieval period.