The "unearthly" strains of Ron Grainer's soon-to-be-famous title music announced the arrival of Dr Who
to British TV screens on Saturday 23rd November, 1963. It must have been quite a baffling experience for first-time viewers: the swirling abstract graphics, the weird electronic sound effects courtesy of the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop, the very oddity of the show's title. This really was groundbreaking TV. "I think you'll find there's a very simple explanation for all of this", says schoolteacher Ian Chesterton (William Russell) condescendingly, shortly before being taken on board the TARDIS and transported to an alien planet. For audiences, too, this was something entirely unfamiliar, yet obviously appealing: Dr Who
ran for almost 30 years and even long after cancellation it remains one of the BBC's most popular shows.
His later incarnations were all eccentric in their different ways, but William Hartnell's original Doctor is an irascible and distinctively alien character, not at all happy having to put up with ignorant 20th-century humans. The "Unearthly Child" of the title is his granddaughter Susan (Carole Ann Ford), temporarily attending school on Earth. She is conspicuously different from her classmates and attracts the attention of two of her teachers who resolve to find out why. After an encounter with her mysterious grandfather they are whisked away on an adventure to a different time and place where angry cavemen are trying in vain to learn the secret of fire. Thus the show's trademarks are established from the outset: the Doctor and his more or less reluctant human companions, the mechanical unreliability of the TARDIS, the cliffhanger ending of each episode. It was a formula that rarely changed but that allowed apparently limitless variation, the only constraint being the BBC's budget. In later years the show tried vainly to compete with blockbuster special effects movies; but its original low-key incarnation relied more on inventive scenarios and good writing--qualities that are just as important now as then. --Mark Walker
William Hartnell stars as everyone's favourite time traveller in the first ever 'Doctor Who' adventure. Overcome with curiosity regarding their mysterious pupil Susan Foreman - who seems to have a first-hand knowledge of history and yet is strangely naive regarding everyday matters - teachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright decide to follow her home one night. The duo see Susan enter a junkyard, but when they attempt to follow her discover that she has simply vanished. The only person present is an eccentric, irascible old gentleman who seems very keen for them not to examine the battered old police box in the corner of the yard. When Ian forces entry into the box, he makes a discovery that will change all their lives, and in so doing begins one of the longest science fiction sagas in the history of British television...