It was on this day, fifty-two years ago, that the very first ever episode of Doctor Who, An Unearthly Child, was broadcast by BBC One, on the evening of Saturday, 23rd November, 1963. The world of television sci-fi would never be the same again.
This story introduces us for the very first time to a strange, mysterious young girl Susan Foreman (played by Carole Ann Ford) and her even stranger grandfather (played by William Hartnell), who both turn out to be aliens, from somewhere else in time and space. This strange old man would later become known to all of us as the very first Doctor, albeit a much more abrasive, alien, and less cuddly Doctor than most of his successors. We also get to meet the two unwilling new human companions, Ian Chesterton (played by William Russell) and Barbara Wright (played by Jacqueline Hill), who are to become not only the eyes and ears of the audience on the adventures with the Doctor and Susan, but also the very close friends of the two alien central characters.
The first episode of this four-parter is an excellent piece of television, and very different in tone to everything that comes afterward. To a viewer back in 1963, it would’ve been a strange story indeed, as they would’ve had absolutely no idea who the old man and his granddaughter were, what they were doing living in a police telephone box in an old junkyard, or what the hell was going on in general. The new viewer would’ve been just as curious and mystified as Ian and Barbara, as they stepped onto the TARDIS for the first time, taking a huge leap sideways into the twilight zone (if you’ll pardon the obvious pun).
We’d all have been just as shocked and confused as both frightened schoolteachers are at the end of the first episode, as they are whisked off (kidnapped is nearer the truth) into time and space on their very first adventure with the Doctor and Susan. To the jaded modern audience, all of this is probably no big deal nowadays, but back then, there was absolutely nothing like it on British television. What must it have been like watching that for the very first time? It must’ve been an incredible experience.
I didn’t get to see An Unearthly Child until almost twenty years after it was first televised, when it was first repeated on BBC Two, in November 1981. I was much too young to have seen it back in 1963, only a little nipper, really – the third episode, “The Forest of Fear”, was aired on my third birthday, 7th December 1963. It would be another two or three years after that before I would be old enough to start noticing Doctor Who on television, and my very earliest vague memories of the series come from about 1965-66. Ever since then, the show has been a life-long obsession of mine, and today I could never conceive how my life would ever have been without Doctor Who in it. But I’m so envious of those old codgers who do remember watching the very first ever episode way back on that cold November evening in 1963.
So I’d like to finish off by wishing my very favourite sci-fi series of all time a VERY Happy 52nd Birthday. And long may it continue.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY DOCTOR WHO!!!!.