An Unearthly Child (A, 1963)

Sydney Newman (Co-Creator)

We shot a dummy run and it didn’t work out right because Bill Hartnell’s characterisation was a bit too nasty and I thought he’d put off the viewers. Also, I wanted one character with whom my children’s audience could identity, and who was a stranger to Dr. Who, but somehow it turned out that Dr. Who was her grandfather. And I never wanted that – ever! I’ve never forgiven Verity for that!

The theme music was composed by Ron Grainer.

Brian Hodgson (Radiophonic Workshop)

Verity really wanted a Ron Grainer signature tune played by Les Structures Sonores [French musique concrète exponents], but Ron had turned her down because he didn’t want to compose any more TV sigs. However, Desmond knew Ron would like to collaborate with the Workshop so he offered to ring him.

The Radiophonic Workshop was also enlisted to come up with the distinctive sound effects, many of which are still in use today – including the sound of the TARDIS dematerialising.

Brian Hodgson (Radiophonic Workshop)

I remember a phrase about the ‘rending of the fabric of time and space’. So I wanted a sort of tearing sound. What we definitely didn’t want was a sound like an ordinary space rocket. When I first sketched it out there wasn’t a rising note, but Desmond insisted we needed one or else it wasn’t saying “spaceship” enough. So we put that in.

A broken-down piano frame was used to make the noise.

Brian Hodgson (Radiophonic Workshop)

It was standing up in the corner of the workshop with its strings exposed and I scraped a front-door key down the bass string. We recorded that and added loads of feedback.

William Russell (Ian)

We actually filmed the first episode twice, because Sydney Newman looked at our first efforts and simply said ‘Do it again’. Sydney was the boss and the series was his baby. We all knew that, and we all knew we were on the line. Verity and her team were working themselves into the ground and we, the actors, liked to think we weren’t letting the side down.

An Unearthly Child was a very weird set-up – they took us right the way back to the Bronze Age, or somewhere around then, and the script was all about these cave people. They had to talk virtually in grunts, which made the whole thing almost impossible to rehearse. Once in the studio – that was one thing – but out in rehearsal, with all the actors and actresses in their ordinary clothes, it just fell apart because it sounded too funny for words. We collapsed all through the week, which is perhaps the reason why we played it extra serious in the recording.

Verity Lambert (Producer)

I didn’t much care for the caveman story as a whole, but the ending of episode one is an absolutely magical sequences. There was no dialogue during those last few minutes, it was all done visually and, I think, with great invention, taking the four central characters on a ride through time to that desert and then ending with the shadow falling over the landscape. It summed up just how new ‘Doctor Who’ was as a concept.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the TARDIS secured a great  deal of the success we had with that first story. It was a very English invention, out of the ordinary. The ship had an atmosphere of power and mystery which has since diminished, especially, I feel, since the introduction of colour television.

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One Response to “An Unearthly Child (A, 1963)”

  1. dailypop Says:

    fantastic article!

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