Doctor Who: The Pilot Episode (26/8/1991)
‘Absolutely brilliant at some things, excruciatingly bad at others and, well, just inexplicable at the rest.’ Broadcast as part of The Lime Grove Story commemorating the closure of those studios, this is the original version of An Unearthly Child – the one that prompted Sydney Newman to order a remount. It’s understandable why – although later first Doctor episodes included worse fluffs (here, Jacqueline Hill stumbles over ’15 year old girl’ and Hartnell sounds like he’s making up his speech about ancient Romans and gunpowder) they aren’t the kind of things you want in your showcase first night.
While it’s broadly the same as the remount, the differences are interesting because they illustrate a chance to rethink the characters – largely the characters of the Doctor and Susan (although I also think Barbara is a bit more forceful in the final version). Susan is genuinely unearthly, saying odd things like ‘the English fog’ (Ian’s reply, ‘We won’t deprive you of that romantic pleasure’, is lost from the final version) and doing a strange drawing instead of finding fault with the history of the French Revolution. She also declares, ‘I was born in the 49th Century’ which seems vaguely at odds with the Doctor’s dialogue, which suggests they’re both aliens. I’m glad this was left mysterious in the programme as broadcast.
The Doctor is the biggest change. He’s wearing a tie instead of a cravat and is literally and figuratively a lot more buttoned up. Much of his dialogue is polished between this and the final version, and almost always for the better. When Ian queries his use of the term ‘Ship’ his reply, ‘I use your own outdated terminology for any craft which does not roll along on wheels’ is much less quotable than the final version, ‘Yes, Ship. This doesn’t roll along on wheels, you know.’ His own description of his origins is more detailed:
We are not of this race. We are not of this Earth. We are wanderers in the fourth dimensions of space and time, cut off from our own planet and our own people by aeons and universes that are far beyond the reach of your most advanced sciences… Before your ancestors turned the first wheel, the people of my world had reduced movement through the farthest reaches of space to a game for children.
There is one gorgeous line I wish had been retained, ‘You and your companion would be footprints in a time where you were not supposed to have walked’, but generally there’s nothing in this version that isn’t improved by the remount (including the removal of the horrid beeping noise while the TARDIS is in flight). This is a fascinating behind the scenes glimpse, but accept no substitute for the remake.
Next episode: Dimensions in Time