THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Remembrance of the Daleks
An Unearthly Child [100,000 BC]
BBC
An Unearthly Child
The Original Pilot

Episodes 1 It begins... almost.
Story No# 0
First Aired Aug. 26, 1991

With William Hartnell, William Russell,
Jacqueline Hill, Carole Ann Ford.
Written by Anthony Coburn. Script-edited by David Whitaker.
Directed by Waris Hussein. Associate Producer: Mervyn Pinfield.
Produced by Verity Lambert.

Synopsis: This is the original pilot episode that was later rewritten by C.E. Webber.


Reviews

A Review by Robert Smith? 29/1/98

Gosh am I glad they refilmed this! It's amazing in many ways, just how unformed the characters and the staging is in both versions of this pilot (although the two don't differ that much from each other, they do differ quite a lot from the transmitted episode). The special effects are, in many ways, forgivable. As Doctor Who fans, we can look past the technicians grappling with the console doors, the strange sounds that echo throughout the stage etc. We can even overlook the enormous number of flubbed lines. This was filmed in the sixties, after all!

But the production benefits enormously from having been refilmed. However, it's interesting to note that even in this version, William Russell hardly flubs a line (there's only one, in the car with Barbara, that I can think of). The Doctor's "sinister" nature actually comes across a bit more interestingly in light of the events of Remembrance of the Daleks, but again, I'm really glad they toned it down. Painting the sinister nature of the character in subtle strokes worked far better, IMO and also made him likable, a mistake Colin Baker never recovered from.

Many fans claim, often rightly, that Doctor Who succeeds in spite of its budget. We don't need special effects or perfectly still walls to understand the amazing stories and outrageous ideas that Doctor Who presents us with. However, I think that if you look at the number of changes the pilot went through, in order to get the show done right (without exception, every change was necessary for the survival of the show), it becomes clear that a larger budget might just have meant that there was time and money enough for a few retakes, where necessary. And those subtle alterations of an episode, be it a flubbed line, or a direction that a character took that looked fine on paper but didn't quite work out on screen, can make all the difference. If only a number of television shows would realise that you don't have to pump money into special effects, but pumping some money into getting the characters and the story right can significantly improve your product.

The pilot isn't necessarily an awful piece of television. Indeed, it's even broadcast standard, since the BBC thought it worth showing on at least one occasion! But the greatest thing about the pilot is that those in charge looked at it and said "No. We can do better." I think that's the greatest legacy the pilot can leave us and for that it should be cherished.


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 25/9/98

This is a mixed bag, with the good and the bad thrown in with equal doses. This actually seems a lot "darker" than the transmitted episode. And this is probably why it was rewritten (given that it was aimed initially at children). Beginning with the theme music (complete with "howl effects"), it actually gives the feeling that a journey through time and space is about to begin, the start of something special.

What lets the production down are two things: a crash in the background (actually a cameraman hitting something, resulting in the TARDIS doors being slow to close); secondly, the script itself, which generally just needed tidying up to be coherent and watchable to a wider audience. On the plus side, characterisation is especially sharp. The Doctor seems colder, and his subsequent argument with Ian is actually all the more effective for it, as they exchange harsher words. Susan also seems more alien here, more distant, and the fact that she was softened in the pilot is unfortunate although perhaps inevitible (given the audience it was aimed for). Only Barbara remains unchanged, which is no bad thing either.

The need for a rewritten pilot, however, was necessary if only for the sake of the audience, although it is interesting to compare the differences between the two. Not unmissable, as the basic storyline remains the same, but intriguing nonetheless.


Practice makes perfect by Alex Keaton 26/3/01

This rough working of the pilot episode (in both its forms) adds a unique addition to the BBC video collection. It can only be, at best, described as a rehearsal and it's a good thing that the production team recognised this fact as it definitely lacks the impact that it's successor produced.

The acting here is noticeably variated with the transmitted version with the deliverance of the lines by all the regulars much more rushed and less enthusiastic. However, it is noticeable how (script wise) the character's of Barbara and Ian do not vary greatly in either this pilot (by this I'm grouping the two pilot rehearsals as one) or the transmitted one.

Carole Ann Ford seems much more unsure about her character, and the script adds to this fusion with it's own uncertanties about her character. The Doctor undergoes one of the most significant script changes, I mean there he is chatting freely about his life in the 43rd century - thank goodness this got cut! After all who knows how differently the series' would have evolved.

The production is another significant change undergone in the transmitted version, the camera angles are less ordered and the lighting is much darker which only leads to further problems backstage - An unintentional crash sound is heard and the TARDIS doors awkwardly fail to close.

Like any rehearsal I suppose you can't criticise it for not being perfect after all that's what practice is for.

TARDIS Databank: (Interesting points to look out for)
Numerous set pieces present in the junkyard (by the way correct me if I'm wrong) that actually looked quite good are replaced for the final version. Most noticeable is a sinister-looking doll.


A piece of television history by Tim Roll-Pickering 14/8/01

It's extremely difficult to decide how to judge The Pilot without knowing whether or not it was ever intended for it to be transmitted - at the time of writing I am uncertain whether it was always intended to be purely a selling piece internally within the BBC or if it was indeed originally intended to transmit this episode but then it was decided that it needed to be remounted. Either way any reviewer of the episode must accept that the contemporary production team at the end of the day did not intend for the episode to be seen by the general public. Consequently I feel it would be wrong to give it a definite ranking.

The Pilot is primarily of interest as an example of how television programs were made back in the early 1960s, containing more fluffs and mistakes than most transmitted Doctor Who episodes. The most recent video release is probably the best way to view it, since it contains both takes of the TARDIS scene, the aborted few seconds between the first and second take and even the initial program card at the start, complete with all the technical info about the episode (though frustratingly there's no hint there as to whether the first story is called 100,000 BC, The Tribe of Gum, The Stone Age, The Palaeolithic Age, The Cavemen or An Unearthly Child!). All four of the regular actors seem to going through their paces in this episode and it feels like they are merely warming up for the series itself. William Hartnell's portrayal of the Doctor is even harsher than what was was seen onscreen in the first few stories whilst there's far less mystery about where the Doctor and Susan come from. Some of the dialogue was trimmed when the episode was rerecorded and the biggest loss are the Doctor's lines about the dangers of allowing anyone in the twentieth century to know that such a machine as the TARDIS could exist - an interesting idea but one that would be very difficult to operate in practice as the series developed.

The sets are good with the TARDIS standing out above everything else, as it would do so again in the transmitted version. The special effects as the TARDIS dematerialises are interesting and help to make the show clearly stand out.

All in all The Pilot shows strong promise and it's easy to see why Doctor Who was fully commissioned to start from it. This is definitely worth looking at for it's historical value, but the transmitted version is by far preferable.


A Review by Alan Thomas 2/7/02

The Pilot episode of Doctor Who is curious. Whilst certain elements work incredibly well, others do not, and it is actually a blessing that it was re-made.

The episode begins with a long look into the junkyard. I actually like this aspect better than in the transmitted episode, as we get to see a lot more of it and it comes across as scarier. The scene in the classroom is curious. William Russell fluffs a few lines along the way, and the performances of Russell and Jacqueline Hill are quite pedestrian, showing no real effort - why should they in a rehearsal episode?

Susan seems much stranger and far more alien here, and it's hard to believe that she could have lasted a week in the school without some psychiatric tests! She is supremely alien, making no efforts to blend in with anybody. I was also quite curious about Susan's "blot" in this story. It is a lot longer than her look at the "French Revolution" book.

The production is slightly sloppy and rough, as exemplified by the scene with Ian and Barbara in the car.

We move into a scene in the junkyard, which introduces The Doctor. He's far more cold and manipulative than The Doctor that we got to know. He seems to enjoy seeing Ian and Barbara suffer, and actually threatens violence on occasion. But he seems to be much more mysterious, at the same time. The fact that he wears an ordinary tie and shirt helps to back this up.

All of the sequences in the TARDIS interior are breathtaking, but the faulty direction and camerawork show the deficiencies. Also, the TARDIS has a much louder humming noise that can be distracting, and the "bleeps and tones" sound of the TARDIS dematerialising is quite hypnotic, although the smoother version seen in the transmitted episode is actually a lot better.

Looking at the dialogue, there are some fascinating differences. Susan states that she and The Doctor are from the "49th Century." This is something that was changed, mercifully, to the more mysterious "another time, another world." Actually, it's a blessing that the entire thing was re-made into something far more fluid, solidly acted, and thought-out. But, as it stands, The Pilot is an intriguing and entertaining slice of what might have been. 8/10


A Review by Finn Clark 7/8/06

I can't believe how lucky we are that this still exists. Considering how many "real" episodes were lost, it's extraordinary that this survived. In two versions, no less! It's fascinating to compare it with what was broadcast. The pilot is a rougher piece of work, but I prefer it to the canonical version.

The direction is far better second time around. Waris Hussein tightens everything up, frames his shots better and improves the camerawork. Some of the pilot's shots are downright shonky. It's wobbly handheld stuff. The visual narrative is clearer and the whole thing is pacier, though much of that is down to little script trims. The pilot runs at 25:06, but the broadcast version is just 23:20. And that's with a few extra bits.

Most of the big changes are improvements. In the pilot Susan never looks inside her book on the French Revolution but instead just decides to draw a splattery hexagon for no obvious reason, which is undeniably bizarre but less memorable than spotting a mistake in a history textbook. In fact the pilot is fairly trippy and weird, although its surreal dematerialisation is almost unchanged in the broadcast version. Similarly the rewritten backstory and motivations are better. "Exiles... one day we shall get back" is so much more evocative than "the 49th century". I also prefer the Doctor's rewritten reasons for not letting Ian and Barbara go, which make more sense and create extra conflict with Susan.

However having said that, the pilot's explanations are interesting in themselves. It's another "we mustn't change history" argument, but more extreme than even The Aztecs. The Doctor can't let Ian and Barbara stay in the 20th century just because they've seen inside the TARDIS? Despite this, two years later he let them go home in The Chase after seeing all kinds of planets and monsters. Had this version been broadcast, then the Doctor's position of "you can't change history, not one line" might have been more obviously just one stage on a journey of discovery for him.

As an aside, Susan was never so effective as here. For her sake, it's a shame the Hartnell era didn't have more contemporary stories! She seems truly alien, listening to her radio like an archeologist checking out new fossil evidence. She's got Egyptian Sarcophagus face.

However despite all that, I prefer the pilot. Obviously the original's entire second half is more electric, but even before then I'm not wild about the broadcast version's little snips. The opening discussion between Ian and Barbara in Ian's laboratory feels neater, but I prefer the acting in the first version. William Russell makes some different decisions in that scene for the reshoot, which make sense but slightly tone things down. (Jacqueline Hill keeps everything pretty much the same.) I also regret that "I rather like walking in the English fog" was changed to "I like walking through the dark", although we didn't need Barbara's "You say that as if..."

Then there's the Doctor. In the revised version, he's not particularly interested in the teachers. He ignores and patronises them. However in the pilot he's aggressive and downright sinister, especially with his evil laugh when they can't open the doors. The pilot's junkyard and TARDIS scenes are more confrontational, with Ian and Barbara accusing the Doctor and Susan of lying instead of just suggesting that all this might be an illusion. The broadcast version is good, but this is riveting. I can see why the BBC top brass wanted it toned down, but I don't like the decision. Is a scary Hartnell a bad thing? He's not the audience identification figure. In the next few weeks he'd try to murder Za and then sabotage the TARDIS on Skaro simply to satisfy his curiosity. In the broadcast version, Hartnell's fun. In the pilot, you can't take your eyes off him. He's certainly not unDoctorish. I never thought for a second that Hartnell's characterisation felt wrong, in any way.

I'm glad we have all these versions. I wasn't expecting much, but in the end the pilot enthralled me. The broadcast version improves on many specific points, while if nothing else comparing the versions is fascinating for anyone interested in television and storytelling. To my surprise, 'twas a must-watch.