OVERALL EPISODE NUMBER: 003
STORY NUMBER: 001
TRANSMITTED: Saturday 07 December 1963
WRITER: Anthony Coburn
DIRECTOR: Waris Hussein
SCRIPT EDITOR: David Whitaker
PRODUCER: Verity Lambert
RATINGS: 6.9 million viewers
FORMAT: DVD: DVD - The Beginning Boxset
"Fear makes companions of us all!"
As the tribe sleeps the time travellers struggle with their bonds in the Cave of Skulls, sealed with a heavy stone. The Old Mother steals Za's flint knife and sneaks into the Cave of Skulls via a hidden back route through the forest. She commands them not to make fire but is unaware her theft has been observed by Hur who wakes Za. They overhear the woman talking to the travellers in the cave but are unable to move the stone until after the travellers have fled into the forest. Za strikes the old woman down then he and Hur pursue the travellers. Barbara stumbles over a recently deceased animal and screams, giving their position away to their pursuers but Za is attacked by an animal and severely injured. Barbara and Susan attempt to aid Za, forcing Ian and the Doctor to help. The Doctor argues that the tribesmen are all but animals but the others still insist on helping treat Za. Kal finds the Old Mother and reasoning she aided the escape kills her. The travellers fashion a stretcher for Za and promise to show Hur how to make fire in exchange for her showing them the way back to "their cave", The Tardis. The The Doctor picks up a stone to strike Za, but is restrained by Ian making a poor excuse to explain his actions. Kal rouses the tribe and they discover body of the old woman. Kal blames the death on Za, and blames Za for taking away fire before taking the leadership as his own. The travellers near the Tardis but as it comes into sight Tribesmen emerge from hiding taking them prisoner once again.
25 minutes of running around in a forest: it's the first time, it won't be the last! For the time travellers this episode effectively ends where it begins: as prisoners of the tribesmen. But it so nearly was so very different, you could almost see how the story ends a minute from the end: They get back to the Tardis leaving Hur and the injured Za as outcasts and Kal in charge of the tribe. That's partially why the ending *IS* so good with the Tribesmen rising up out of the wilderness surrounding the Tardis to capture them, it's a shock and it completely changes where you thought this episode was going.
Bar far the most shocking thing in this episode is the Doctor's willingness to kill Za to aid their escape. You get the feeling he would have genuinely done so if it wasn't for Ian's intervention.
Although the first Doctor is generally a grumpy so and so this is very different behaviour from the Doctor we know from later stories. It takes a few stories, and a little time with human companions for the Doctor we know to start to emerge.
Ian's intervention does save Za and prevents him from becoming Doctor Who's first onscreen death. That honour now goes to the Old Mother, slain by Kal his greedy power bid.
Doctor Who's first producer Verity Lambert is both the only female and youngest producer at the BBC. For 1963 this is a huge change from the norm at the BBC and, as the recent An Adventure in Space and Time showed, she faced some hostility and rumours about how she got the job from the male dominated establishment. Likewise Waris Hussein is the youngest and only Asian director on the staff at the BBC. Hussein would only direct one more story, though he was invited back to direct the 1983 anniversary special, and Lambert would be gone in two years to an illustrious television career including Euston films, Minder and Jonathan Creek.
The writer, Anthony Coburn, makes his only broadcast contribution to the series with this story. He would submit other stories, including the abandoned The Masters of Luxor, which has been recorded for audio by Big Finish. The two talents that worked on An Unearthly Child that would be associated with Doctor Who for the longest period of time are the Script Editor, David Whitaker, who would write for the program many times after leaving his post, and the production assistant, Douglas Camfield. Camfield serves as Hussein's production assistant here and on Marco Polo before being elevated to director for the final part of Planet of Giants and many stories from The Crusade onwards. For his last story Camfield's PA was Graeme Harper who in turn directs for both the old and new series of Doctor Who providing a behind the scenes link from the first story through to the present day.
Camfield would, like many BBC directors at the time (see also: Michael E Briant) has a habit of reusing actors he feels happy working with. With Camfield it becomes such a habit that he almost evolves his own little company with the likes of Walter Randall, Ian Fairbairn, Kevin Stoney and Sheila Dunn (later to marry Camfield) cropping up many times on his cast lists. But his reuse of actors starts right here in the very first Doctor Who story. Derek Newark who plays Za, the cavemen's leader, returns to Doctor Who as Greg Sutton in 1970's Inferno while Alethea Charlton, who plays Hur, appears much sooner as Edith in 1965's The Time Meddler. Other Doctor Who returnees include Eileen Way, Old Mother, who is Karela in 1979's Creature from the Pit and is also in the 1966 film Daleks – Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. as the Old Woman. New series writer/executive producer Russell T Davies used her in his acclaimed Children's drama Century Falls. Kal is played by Jeremy Young who returns as Gordon Lowery in 1965's Mission to the Unknown. He has a later contribution to BBC Science Fiction as Count de Ricordeau in The Tripods. At the time An Unearthly Child was made he was married to Kate O'Mara, later to be the Rani in Doctor Who. 17 years later Kate O'Mara's second husband Richard Willis would appear in Full Circle. The final named tribesman, Horg, is played by Howard Lang who later finds fame as Captain Baines in The Onedin Line.