The one where it all began...
We commence with the World's Trippiest Title Sequence and the first time an audience would hear the "Oooh-ee-oooh" of the theme tune. (Don't believe us? watch this (with about two minutes worth of unused footage).)
Two teachers, Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton, think their super-bright pupil, Susan Foreman (a brown-eyed girl, complete with transistor radio), is a bit on the strange side. She's bored with regular physics and maths and wants to move on to multidimensional physics and maths, and she thinks that the UK has decimalised its currency (which hasn't yet happened in 1963: Britain would decimalize the pound in February 1971, after a few years of preparation. Amusingly, at the time this serial aired, pretty much all of the rest of the Commonwealth had either already decimalized, like South Africa, or was in the process of doing so, like Australia and NZ).note So, they decide to follow her home one night. This being 1963, it's benign concern for the welfare of a child, and not at all creepy.
They arrive at Susan's home address of 76 Totter's Lane. It's a junkyard. They hear Susan's voice coming from inside a police box. Thinking that her grandfather, "I. M. Foreman", has locked her in there, they proceed to open the door and enter a room bigger on the inside than out. This is Time And Relative Dimension In Space, or TARDIS, a time machine and spaceship with the ability to disguise itself to match its surroundings. And her grandfather, a crotchety old man, is the Doctor, who reveals the two of them are renegades who stole the TARDIS and left their planet in order to explore the universes temporal and physical.
Deciding that he can't have them tell the world about the Cool Ship and that the "Foremans" will need to leave the 1960's again, he starts up the TARDIS, acquiring the first two companions via abduction. Ian and Barbara are knocked unconscious by the time travel.
When they've landed again, the foursome step out of the TARDIS and Susan quickly exposits that it was supposed to have changed shape: the first clue that while it's more advanced than any Earth technology, it's still the equivalent of a used car. Before long, the Doctor is kidnapped by a tribe of cavemen when they see him smoking his pipe which he never smokes again. This tribe has lost the ability to make fire, and the Doctor agrees to placate them by giving them fire, but unfortunately he has lost his matches. His three companions try to rescue him, but only succeed in getting themselves captured too. In the middle of all that, the Doctor decides to simply kill a friendly but wounded cavemen who's slowing them down a bit. This earns him his first ever What the Hell, Hero? from Ian, who prevents the murder. The tribe of primitive humans with monolithic names keep their captives in a cave full of skulls, skulls that have been obviously split open. Charming.
A friendly (well, less hostile) tribesperson unties them, and they make tracks. Eventually, the Doctor tricks the hostile aspiring caveman leader into admitting he's a murderer, Ian gives the less hostile aspiring caveman leader the gift of fire, and they all escape back to the TARDIS. But since they had to take off in a hurry on account to avoid being speared, the Doctor was unable to make the calculations necessary to chart a course back to 1963. Hopefully their next landing spot will be a bit less eventful...
NB: This story is commonly also called "100,000 BC", and less commonly called "The Tribe of Gum". "An Unearthly Child" is the title of the first episode (episodes were individually named until season 3), but the DVD also gives the name to the entire story, as did the Target Books novelisation, so "Unearthly Child" is now considered the official BBC-sanctioned title for the story.
- Accidental Misnaming: Ian is known to the tribe as "Friend".
- Action Girl: Susan attacks one of the cavemen with a rather disturbing enthusiasm.
- The Alleged Car: After they arrive in pre-history, Susan expresses shock that the TARDIS still looks like a British police box. Its Chameleon Circuit is broken.
- Adult Fear: The first episode, which until the reveal could easily be a story about child abuse and the Subtext is very intentional. Imagine that you are a schoolteacher and in your class there is a strange teenage girl who seems ignorant about some things and very knowledgeable on others, waits in school until after dark before she goes home, works hard in school but never does her homework, and becomes very distressed easily. She claims to live with her grandfather who never comes into the school, and won't talk to her teachers because he 'doesn't like strangers'. You discover her address on the school's records is fake, because it leads to a junkyard. When you go and investigate an old man emerges, who treats you with disdain, refuses to talk to you about your pupil and dares you to call the police, but then you hear the girl's voice coming from a locked, junked piece of street furniture and realise he's got her locked up in there...
- Arranged Marriage: Horg says his daughter will marry the Chief of the tribe. With Za it seems a Perfectly Arranged Marriage.
- Big Bad: Kal, the first in a long line of Doctor Who villains and the person responsible for its first two deaths before becoming the third.
- Butterfly of Doom: The Doctor is so paranoid about the possible ramifications of this trope that he is convinced that the mere idea that a device such as the TARDIS exists could irreparably change the course of human history.
- Carpet of Virility: Kal.
- Characterization Marches On: In one episode, the Doctor — y'know, the poster boy for Technical Pacifism — is apparently prepared to bash a helpless man's head in with a rock... because Barbara's insistence on caring for his wounds is slowing them down as they try to escape. In general, the Doctor is kind of a dick for the first twelve-and-a-half episodes of the show, before he softens up at the end of "The Edge of Destruction", which is pretty off-putting to viewers who have the benefit of over fifty years' worth of lore about the character.
- The Doctor Who Expanded Universe also has many, many theories on how this is precisely the moment that started his love for humans, realizing how they kept him from slipping into villainy.
- Cliffhanger: The very first Doctor Who example, and it's a good one. The TARDIS has appeared on a mysterious, desolate plain... and an ominous shadow creeps into view downstage of it.
- Damsel in Distress: Barbara in the last two episodes.
- Dancing with Myself: Susan dances to John Smith and the Common Men, albeit...somewhat oddly.
- Deadpan Snarker: Horg.Za: Tomorrow, I kill many bears. You will all have warm skins.Horg: I say tomorrow, you will rub your hands together and hold them to the dry sticks, and ask Orb to send you fire. And the bears will stay warm in their own skins.
- The Discovery Of Fire: The Tribe of Gum hold the Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara prisoner and try to force them to make fire for them.
- Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe: The Doctor smokes one just before he's captured. Unfortunately, he drops his matches, meaning he can't make fire for the tribe. This was the first and last time he was ever seen smoking. Perhaps the experience put him off it.
- Early Installment Weirdness:
- In the unaired first version of the episode (dubbed the "pilot" version, but not a Pilot in the modern sense), the Doctor appears even more belligerent and sinister, including actively berating Susan for leading Ian and Barbara back to the TARDIS. Susan also acts and dresses older and more "unearthly". Then there's Susan's reference to coming from the 42nd century, a background element which was abandoned. The TARDIS also doesn't make its distinctive "wheezing and groaning" yet when they travel back in time. Interestingly though, some other details in the pilot sound more like the Gallifrey eventually established a few years later - the broadcast version is much more vague about their origins.
- Episode 2 shows the Doctor smoking a pipe. This is the only on-screen occasion in which he is ever shown smoking; hereafter he is a non-smoker. (The smoking is plot-justified in this case as it propels the firemaker plotline.) Also, the Doctor's justification for taking Barbara and Ian captive was the apparent danger in allowing knowledge of things like aliens and the TARDIS to fall into contemporary human hands. He'd then spend the next fifty years taking humans as companions and telling them (both those taken as companions and those not) about things like aliens and the TARDIS.
- When the TARDIS dematerialises for the first time, both Ian and Barbara faint. This effect is unique to this story as Ian and Barbara show no further ill effects in subsequent dematerialisations (at least not of this nature and not caused directly by the TARDIS activating), nor do any future new TARDIS passengers.
- Susan claims that she made up the term TARDIS from the initials of Time and Relative Dimension in Space. It is later revealed that Gallifreyan society is several million years old and everyone uses the shortened name for the ship.
- Entertainingly Wrong: The novelization has Za concluding that the four strangers were emissaries of the sun god. Given his understanding of the world, that was the only logical conclusion.
- Establishing Character Moment: The First Doctor acting like a senile old man to his future companions. Barbara is introduced being neurotic about a girl in her class. Ian is introduced supporting her and suggesting a plan of action. Susan is introduced alienating everyone around her and dancing to pop music coming from a strange futuristic radio.
- Establishing Series Moment: The first fifteen-odd minutes could have been a fairly straight-forward drama about a couple of teachers trying to help a troubled, slightly unusual student who apparently lives under the thumb of her sinister, hostile grandfather. Then those teachers, trying to find that student in a darkened junkyard over the objections of her grandfather, suddenly stumble into a police box — only to discover that it's bigger on the inside than the outside and can travel through time...
- Family-Unfriendly Violence: The oft-quoted truism that Doctor Who was originally supposed to be an educational programme for children seems somewhat dubious in light of this story. There are a lot of dark, violent themes and moments, such as the sight of Za's slashed up, bloody chest after an animal attack, the Doctor trying to smash open the head of an injured man and the heroes being trapped in a cave full of broken skulls, foreshadowing their possible fate. The most shocking part is a lot more subtle, as Ian and Barbara's attempt to get a policeman, and in particular their fear of what the Doctor might be doing to Susan in the mysterious blue box imply that they (wrongly) fear he may be molesting her.
- Flaming Skulls: The Doctor's group escapes by scaring the cavemen by placing skulls inside a fire he has started.
- There is a dummy with a crushed head in the junkyard, perhaps foreshadowing the caved-in skulls that the time travellers later see in the Palaeolithic era.
- Susan is reading a book about The French Revolution. In the final serial of the season, the travellers actually go to Revolutionary France.
- Future Imperfect: What draws the teachers' attention to Susan. Susan mixes up a question about British currency, due to forgetting she's in a time period before it switched to a decimal system. (This did indeed happen.)
- Hard-to-Light Fire: The plot is driven by the fact that the Tribe of Gum no longer knows how to make fire.
- Humans Through Alien Eyes: "Before your ancestors invented the wheel my people had made time-and-space travel into child's play!"
- Idiot Ball: The Doctor carries it in episode 2. Despite being from an advanced civilisation that has mastered time travel, and himself being a scientist, the Doctor appears to only know how to make fire using matches and not any number of other methods boy scouts have been using for generations to create flame. (A possible rationalization is he's playing dumb out of concern he might introduce fire too early to earth civilization, even though he's within earshot of cavepeople speaking openly about fire, meaning it isn't an unknown concept.
- Insult to Rocks:Ian: "You're treating us like children!"
The Doctor: "Am I? The children of my civilization would be insulted."
- Let Me Get This Straight...: "A thing that looks like a police box, standing in a junkyard, it can move anywhere in time and space? "
- Line-of-Sight Name: It is implied that Susan got her last name from the junkyard where she and her grandfather were hiding out.
- More than Three Dimensions: Discussed briefly, demonstrating how strange Susan Foreman is. Worth noting that she's supposedly a 15-year-old girl at this point.Susan: [About a math problem] It's impossible unless you use D and E.Ian: D and E? Whatever for? Do the problem that's set, Susan.Susan: I can't, Mister Chesterton. You can't simply work on three of the dimensions.Ian: Three of them? Oh, time being the fourth dimension, I suppose? Then what do you need E for? What do you make the fifth dimension?Susan: Space.
- Mundanger: The menace in the first Doctor Who story? Politics.
- Names to Run Away From: Kal.
- Never Mess with Granny: The oldest cavewoman is also the most vicious, and the most politically adept schemer.
- No Name Given: At no point is the name "Tribe of Gum" uttered on screen. They wouldn't be named officially until a comic story much, much later.
- Not That Kind of Doctor: When the Doctor is refusing to help Ian and Barbara administer first aid to the wounded Za, Barbara points out that he's a doctor, and he says that he isn't a medical doctor.
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Susan tries this when in Coal Hill Academy but her tendency to blurt things out limits the success of this and Ian even says he suspects she's smarter than she lets on.
- 1 Million B.C.: An alternate title for this story is "100,000 BC".
- Random Smoking Scene: The Doctor is shown lighting up a pipe upon landing on prehistoric Earth - the story is about him being captured by a group of cavemen who want him to create fire for them, but he loses his matches. This was 1963, and public opinion about showing heroic characters in children's shows smoking changed soon afterward, meaning that neither he nor any of his future incarnations are ever seen smoking again
- Screaming Woman: Justified in the case of Susan; she's incredibly sheltered and repeatedly shown to be nervous and easily intimidated, and has been raised by the Doctor to view the outside world as an inherent threat. And, of course, she's also a child; younger by Gallifreyan standards than human ones, and even a shy human teenager could be forgiven for screaming while being kidnapped by cavemen.
- It could be argued that applying this trope to Susan is unfair; she screams quite often, but is also shown to be remarkably intelligent, perceptive, and generally a very useful person to have around. She just gets excited from time to time.
- Shaky P.O.V. Cam: Used to represent the jungle cat that attacks Za.
- Society Marches On: The Doctor telling Susan "remember the Red Indian!" - not only is this racist nowadays, it doesn't make any sense for the Doctor to hold these views. While the show had not yet decided for certain that he was an alien, he was at the very least from the distant future.
- Styrofoam Rocks: Naturally, as the whole thing was filmed in a studio (and really looks it).
- The "The" Title: Individual titles for each episode mean that we get "The Cave of Skulls", "The Forest of Fear" and "The Firemaker". Also, "The Tribe of Gum" was a working title (although the naming convention used in those early days would have properly named it "Doctor Who and the Tribe of Gum")
- Title Drop:
- Unbuilt Trope: A commonly remarked-upon part of the show's premise is that it's about an old, sinister, extremely powerful man who goes travelling extra-legally with naive, sexy young women and holds total power over whether they come with him, get abandoned or die and that this is played for Wish Fulfillment rather than as a really creepy variant of the Dirty Old Man. However, in the very first episode, it's clear that the reason Ian and Barbara are scared for Susan's safety is because they think her mysterious grandfather, the Doctor, is keeping her locked up in a police box in a junkyard, and refusing to let her see the outside world. Even after they are taken into the TARDIS, they believe that her grandfather has brainwashed her into believing they are aliens in order to keep her distressed and dependent on him, and Barbara attempts to explain to her that it is a game that he is playing with her.
- Wham Shot: The first time we see what's inside that tiny police box.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Susan freaks out when the Doctor decides to keep Barbara and Ian prisoner. Two episodes later, the Doctor moves as if to bash an injured man's head in (because he wanted to escape to the TARDIS and thought they were wasting time), and Ian intercepts him asking what the hell he thought he was doing.
- Writers Cannot Do Math: What is clearly supposed to be the formula to solve a quadratic equation is seen on a chalkboard in the background. However, the denominator is written as 2ab instead of the actual 2a.