OVERALL EPISODE NUMBER: 002
STORY NUMBER: 001
TRANSMITTED: Saturday 30 November 1963
WRITER: Anthony Coburn
DIRECTOR: Waris Hussein
SCRIPT EDITOR: David Whitaker
PRODUCER: Verity Lambert
RATINGS: 5.9 million viewers
FORMAT: DVD: DVD - The Beginning Boxset
"If you could touch the alien sand and hear the cries of strange birds, and watch them wheel in another sky, would that satisfy you?"
The Tardis' arrival has been observed by a caveman, Kal. Huddled in the nearby caves a tribe of cavemen watches as their new leader, Za, attempts to make fire. When Ian comes round he is disbelieving of the Doctor's claims that the Tardis has travelled in time & space until the Doctor opens the doors and they step out into the barren landscape. The Doctor goes off to take some readings, while Susan notices that the ship's shape hasn't changed and it's still stuck as a 1963 London Police Box. As the Doctor tries to light his pipe he is attacked and knocked out by Kal who takes him back to the tribe intending to use the Doctor's fire making abilities to make him leader. Ian, Barbara and Susan follow and attempt to rescue the Doctor but all four are imprisoned in a cave full of cleaved skulls.
Oh the shadow we saw last episode is a cavemen..... watching in 1981 I think I was disappointed to find that the shadow wasn't some alien creature! But back in 1963 Doctor Who had a semi educational brief to show historical situations. So we travel back in time to when Cavemen are learning to make fire, which is the foundation of almost all technology today. In 1981 it bored me to tears, lots of talking about fire and getting menaced by cavemen, and I thought that it's not even on the same planet quality wise as the previous episode.
We do get the famous "Doctor Foreman", "Doctor Who?" exchange between the Doctor and Ian, while Ian & Barbara discuss the mystery of who the old man is. Following a throw away line in an Unearthly Child about having found a spare part we now discover that the Tardis instruments are faulty and what's more it's stuck as a Police Box where it's meant to change. We also get a line that will become important in a few episodes time: before they leave the ship Susan checks the radiation levels. As we'll see the changing of the ship's shape isn't the only thing that's gone wrong with the Tardis.
Ian's doubt continues until he very moment when the doors of the Tardis open revealing the barren landscape outside.
Once on the surface he becomes very quiet and subdued realising that he was completely wrong and way beyond his understanding. And then, prompted by Barbara's use of the name Doctor Foreman for the old name he asks what's become and important question:
"That's not his name. Who is he? Doctor Who? Perhaps if we knew his name we might have a clue to all this?"Out on the surface we very nearly get to see the Doctor do something that would be unthinkable for him now: he's lighting a pipe, obviously to smoke it. It says something about changing attitudes that this would have been considered acceptable then in what was essentially a children's program.
And yet it's integral to the story: Kal needs to see the Doctor make fire so he captures him. I'm wondering if this small scene contributed to the delay in confirming that this story would be repeated for the 50th anniversary. I suppose now we'd have probably needed the Doctor to have lit a branch to see by in the fading light.
The firemaking ability is key to the entire power struggle that drives the remaining three episodes of the first Doctor Who story, occasionally termed the Tribe of Gum. Why Gum? I've no idea. Za's Father, the previous leader of the tribe, has died suddenly without passing the firemaking skill to his son who wishes to take up his Father's position. In competition with him is Kal, a recent arrival who says his tribe were killed by the cold. Kal's already being called a liar here and I'm wondering just how much of his statement about the fate of his tribe is true. Behind them we have the two power brokers in the Tribe: Horg, who also seems to have come from another tribe wiped out by the cold, whose daughter is the prize for the victor in the leadership contest, and the scheming Old Mother. The Old Mother makes an alarming prediction that "Fire will be the death of us all" during this episode... accurate in he case because she'll be dead by the time this first story is over but at the time this story was broadcast perhaps prophetic in terms of the nuclear tensions the world was involved in with the Cuban Missile Crisis having occurred the year before.
A big hurrah for an early showing for an old Doctor Who staple at the end of this episode: if in doubt throw the Doctor and his friends in a cell, or in this case a Cave. The Skulls make it quite clear what their intended fate is .....
My word that is a lingering shot on the skulls at the end of the episode, another thing that I suspect they wouldn't have gotten away with now!
Behind the scenes there's a small personnel shuffle for this episode as designer Barry Newbery joins the production replacing Peter Brachacki, the designer for An Unearthly Child both in it's broadcast and pilot incarnations. That was the only work Brachacki did for the show but Newbery would become one of Doctor Who's most regular and longest lasting contributors returning many times over the years for Marco Polo (which was directed by this story's director Waris Hussein) and then the following historical series The Aztecs. Hussein's production assistant on this story Douglas Camfield used Newbery for his first three full directing jobs on the serial next: The Crusade, The Meddler and The Dalek Masterplan. He'd then work on The Ark, The Gunfighters, The Dominators (his only Troughton story), The Silurians (his only Pertwee) followed by The Brain of Morbius, the Masque of Mandragora and the Invisible Enemy (all featuring Tom Baker as the Doctor) before finishing with 1984's The Awakening for Peter Davison's Doctor.
You might think it odd now, but the first Doctor Who book wasn't the first Doctor Who story - that honour belongs, perhaps unsurprisingly, to Doctor Who and the Daleks. It would be many years before An Unearthly Child was novelised, in 1981, as a tie in to the Five Faces season. Similarly it's not the first story on video (Revenge of the Cybermen) or DVD (The Five Doctors). Non fans (and some actual fans) struggle with Doctor Who not being released in order......
A few of the uncredited Tribespeople in this episode have later Who form: Leslie Bates becomes the first actor to undertake two roles in the series - he was the Shadow at the end of An Unearthly Child (look there for his other roles). Lyn Turner is later a Saxon in The Time Meddler Episode 2: The Meddling Monk (director D Camfield) and is uncredited in the Silurians: Episode 6 which also features Roy Denton while Doreen Ubels returns in The Myth Makers Episode 2: Small Prophet, Quick Return as a Trojan Woman and The War Machines: Episode 4 as a Fleeing Woman (both uncredited). I'll look at the main guest actors for the serial next episode when we'll see a bit more of Douglas Camfield's habit of reusing actors.....
This episode was transmitted 15 minutes later than the planned time of 5:15 and preceded by a repeat of the first episode of Doctor Who An Unearthly Child.