The Pilot Episode is a name used to market the first recording of the individual episode, An Unearthly Child. The term is not strictly accurate, however, as pilots did not exist in the British television industry of 1963. It is sometimes imprecisely called "the first episode of Doctor Who", but this suggests a level of difference to "An Unearthly Child" which can't fairly be said to exist. It is merely a different version of the first episode of Doctor Who. which was not allowed to be broadcast because Sydney Newman thought it possessed of too many technical flaws and misjudged characterizations.

Five different edits of this initial take on "Unearthly" have been made available to the public through the years, creating some ambiguity over what is meant by the phrase "the pilot".

The actual plots of the two recordings of "Unearthly" are insignificantly different. Nevertheless, all of "the pilot"'s subsequent edits had obvious differences with "An Unearthly Child" as broadcast, especially with respect to performance and technical recording flaws. Only a handful of lines of dialogue are actually different between the pilot and "Child", but they suggest things about the character and back story of the Doctor which would be hard to reconcile against the general characterization which later obtained. Consequently, it's not generally believed to be canonical by most fans.

No edit of "the pilot" was broadcast until 1991, and fans could not easily compare the various edits of "the pilot" until multiple versions were released on a single DVD in 2006.


School teachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright are curious about their student Susan Foreman, who is brilliant in many areas of science and history but is ignorant of such mundane matters as how many shillings make a Pound Sterling. They follow her home one evening to discover that she seems to live in a police box in a junkyard. Soon after meeting the girl's irascible grandfather the First Doctor, they find that the police box is in fact a fantastic vessel, the TARDIS, capable of travelling through space and time. Fearful that the schoolteachers will tell others of what they have seen, the mysterious old man, First Doctor, activates the machine's controls and whisks them away from the world they know...


The Pilot is made up of two sections.

  • Section 1 is the near-identical scenes of An Unearthly Child set in the School, Ian's car and the Junkyard. They are very similar to the broadcast version but with a few minor differences. For example, rather than read the book Barbara has loaned her, Susan plays with dropping ink on a sheet of paper, then doodling with the resulting inkblot, creating a hexagonal image (the same shape as the TARDIS control console, and a shape which is later used frequently in reference to Time Lords). It was also said by some to look like a strange alien creature. The resulting image frightens Susan. A few dialogue and technical problems occur during this section.
  • Section 2 is made up of 3 parts:

Part 1 - The scenes set inside the TARDIS Console room. This version has several technical problems and problems with the dialogue.

Barbara forces her way into the quite visible TARDIS interior. Added by Freethinker1of1Part 2 - Begins with the teachers and Doctor entering the TARDIS, there is some kind of problem and the take is abandoned. A noticeable difference between this and the final version is that the interior of the TARDIS is visible as Barbara forces her way through the doors. This effect was not used in the final transmitted version or in any stories of the original series though it has become standard in the new series. Part 3 - The scene from the teachers first entering the TARDIS until the end of the episode, complete with end credits of "An Unearthly Child." There is no "Next Episode" caption.

Alternate versionsEdit

Several versions of the pilot have been circulated.

The version initially broadcast in 1991 incorporates several of the dialogue and technical errors that occurred during filming (Carole Ann Ford muffing her line about John Smith and the Common Men, Jacqueline Hill getting caught in the door, William Russell knocking over a prop, the TARDIS doors banging, etc.

Two alternate edits were released to home video on The Hartnell Years and as a bonus with the UK VHS release of DW: The Edge of Destruction.

When the episode was included in the DVD release The Beginning, two versions were prepared: a raw unedited version containing all takes, errors and footage shot during production, and a newly edited version that minimizes and in some cases eliminates some of the dialogue and technical errors that occurred during production, resulting in a somewhat more polished-looking production than the edit broadcast in 1991. Both DVD versions were put through the VidFIRE process, which restored the film recordings back to their original videotape appearance.

The 45-minute version on the DVD included not just all available recorded material, but also a commentary by Verity Lambert and other key personnel, which detailed the reasons why certain elements of "the pilot" were changed for "An Unearthly Child.

Story notesEdit

  • A copy of this episode exists on 16mm telerecordings. It was discovered in 1978 in a mislabeled film can and is currently held in the BBC's Film and Videotape Library.
  • Version 1 of the Pilot was broadcast on BBC Two on 26th August 1991 as part of The Lime Grove Story, a series of programs marking the closure of Lime Grove Studios where the episode had first been recorded. It consisted of Section 1 and Section 2 part 1.
  • After viewing the original pilot Sydney Newman decided that the episode needed to be remade. He even described this version as "...the worst piece of work I've seen in a long time." (In Their Own Words Volume One)As well as numerous technical and dialogue problems, changes were also made to the story. These primarily consisted of changing the characters of the Doctor and Susan. The Doctor was made more likeable and less confrontational, while the character of Susan is made less alien (notably her costume was made to look more childlike and less adult in the second version). Sydney Newman acknowledged Captain Nemo as a major influence in his original concept for the Doctor's character and personality.

Although the BBC Production Paperwork states that Reg Cranfield plays the Policeman, some websites say Fred Rawlings was the actor. As three different versions were made before the final transmitted version of "An Unearthly Child," it is possible that the two actors may have both played the role, only in different versions.

  • In this version, the TARDIS interior is briefly visible as Barbara forces her way through the doors. Curiously, this effect was not used in the final transmitted version or in any story of the original series, with actors being seen entering a dark interior of the police box prop. Viewing the console room from outside, however, has become a standard effect of the BBC Wales series.
  • A slight difference exists in the Doctor Who theme in the pilot, with the incorporation of a thunderclap sound effect which was removed for the televised version.


  • The Pilot differs in a few key points from the broadcast episode, "An Unearthly Child". As it contains numerous discrepancies from the broadcast version, it is generally not considered canonical.
  • The Doctor shows genuine anger towards Susan rather than the affection he showed in the broadcast version. At one point he refers to her as a stupid child.
  • Susan says she and the Doctor come from the 49th century and makes no reference to being from another world; this was removed from the broadcast version and replaced with "I was born in another time, another world," establishing her and the Doctor's alien origins.
  • The Doctor is seen wearing a suit and tie, rather than his Edwardian costume.
  • Susan is depicted as being more sensual and adult in both her appearance and her behavior. According to the DVD text commentary for for broadcast version of the episode, the original script emphasized her sexuality even more, before things were scaled back in order to make Susan more identifiable to children in the audience.

Rather than become engrossed in, and then correcting, the book on the French Revolution, Susan instead draws an mysterious, and unexplained, ink blot pattern that disturbs her. Other than the above points, other continuity-related details are similar to the broadcast version.

Production errorsEdit

Though Sydney Newman's displeasure with the characterizations of Susan and the Doctor are well known, the plethora of technical errors was the primary justification for re-recording the episode. Among the many things that went wrong behind-the-scenes were:

  • For reasons not clear on screen, Jacqueline Hill and William Russell are seen having difficulty getting through the doorway leading into the classroom where Susan is listening to the radio, forcing Carole Ann Ford to extend her "dance" for a few additional moments. This is the earliest known recorded "blooper" of the Doctor Who franchise. This error is edited out of some versions of the pilot, including the "The Beginning" DVD version.
  • Depending on the edit viewed, Susan says John Smith and the Common Men went from 2 to 19 in the hit parade before correcting herself and saying 19 to 2. The version in the Beginning set digitally removes the error.
  • There is a lighting problem while Ian and Barbara discuss Susan in the car, with William Russell's face being completely obscured by shadow for much of the scene, which is retained in all versions of the pilot.
  • During the exploration of the scrapyard, Ian trips and falls down, dropping his flashlight. Although this was scripted, the subsequent loud crash as a junk prop also falls over was not. This error is retained in all versions of the complete pilot.
  • During the scrapyard sequence, a camera runs into a piece of scenery.
  • During one of the takes of the initial TARDIS control room scene, the doors leading into the room fall open and bang against the scenery several times. Unlike the errors above, this disrupted the scene sufficiently that the take had to be abandoned and started over, a rare occurrence in those days.
  • During the console room scene the studio ceiling can be seen 1 or 2 times.
  • As Barbara and Ian enter the classroom to offer Susan a lift home, Barbara's shoe gets stuck in the door, and she struggles for quite a while to free it.
  • While Ian and Barbara are driving in the car, a stagehand can be seen moving behind them.
  • After Ian and Barbara enter the TARDIS, you can see a shadow moving along the TARDIS doors.
  • The TARDIS doors don't shut.
  • During a tracking shot of the TARDIS, the cameraman stumbles and a clatter is heard.
  • You can hear the PA calling the shots on some sections if you listen carefully (one example is when the Doctor is operating the TARDIS console, shortly before Ian is electrocuted).


External linksEdit

  • BBC Episode Guide Page
  • Encyclopedia of Fantastic Film and Television

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