An Unearthly Child

Doctor Who Big Finish Unearthly Child

UPDATED 2016

An Unearthly Child Radio TimesLike many fans I`m sure, the first time I saw AUC was during The Five Faces of Dr Who repeat season in 1981, some 15 years after it’s first transmission. Why DWM choose to be pedantic and refer to the story as 100,000BC instead of the title we all know it by is beyond me. But then when it comes to story titles, I reckon they’re both wrong as far as this first “story” is concerned…

After the excitement of finally seeing how it all started, I was struck by the fact that those first four episodes are not really a four-part story at all. They`re a self-contained single episode story called An Unearthly Child followed by a rather dull [by comparison] three-part story called The Firemaker. Or is that just me? 

That second “Firemaker”  story features our very first example of what`s called a Story Loop – they escape, only to get captured again and end up right back where they started: captured, escape, captured, escape. Now that may be convenient when you haven`t really got enough story to fill your timeslot and a limited number of sets but for modern viewers it quickly becomes tedious. Not that I spotted it straight away during that first viewing back in 1981 but now I spot them all the time, which is where Fan Editing comes in handy!

An Unearthly Child by Adrian Salmon - DWM 279

This Fan Edit, my first stab at a Hartnell story, is essentially in two parts – the junkyard/Tardis stuff and the cavemen stuff.

I like to think of it as a sort of SJA Invasion of the Bane-style pilot, with The Daleks coming along later to kick off the first season proper. So the first half is a mix of both the transmitted and pilot version of the first episode. See if you can spot where we cut from one to the other. When we get to the cavemen, there`s no loop – they get captured, they make fire, they escape. Simples!

UNEARTHLY CHILD CD 4

One way of looking at An Unearthly Child is to see it as the Child Of The Inklings, a televisual mashup where Tolkien meets CS Lewis – a sort of The Doctor, The Teachers and The Wardrobe. The Doctor may be Gandalf, but this particular wardrobe doesn’t lead to Narnia, but to all of Time and Space!

And viewers of the time would immediately have got the dual references to both Steptoe and Son and Dixon of Dock Green, the second  series of the former having transmitted some ten months earlier, whilst the latter was onto its tenth series by 1963.

Put yourself in their place for a moment. You’ve just sat through a title sequence unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, with music unlike anything you’ve ever heard before, and the first things you see are visuals that immediately put you in mind of two distinct hit shows of the time, one a comedy, the other a drama. The opening of AUC is such a clear example of intertextuality at work that it makes you wonder whether it was deliberate or unconscious…

UNEARTHLY CHILD CDThe Fan Edit opens with a slightly amended version of the Hartnell title sequence, cut to the second version of the music. This simply involved a repeat of a couple of sections. I quite like the way the logo now recedes away at the end as the action fades up. I`ve still used the proper Hartnell font – Grotesque Condensed – but put a slight outline around it to make it stand out a bit more.

One notable omission is the policeman sequence from the original opening, we skip that and now go straight to Ian and Barbara. This first scene features the first of several additional music cues used to fill out what I felt was a rather “empty” episode aurally. It was quite a challenge to find pieces that sounded as though they fitted with the original Norman Kay cues that I couldn`t remove for one reason or another. In the end I found what I wanted on an album of Star Trek soundtrack music by Alexander Courage and I think they work really well in helping with the atmosphere. It certainly gives the story a different feel, and that difference is, after all, one of the reasons for watching a Fan edit in the first place.

Once they`re in the Tardis, there`s a couple of cuts, the most notable of which is the sequence where the Doctor electrocutes Ian. It puts me in mind of those distasteful scenes in The Twin Dilemma, and I don`t like all that “nasty Doctor” stuff. Although in this case, at least they have the defence that they were doing everything for the first time, and it’s rare to get all the elements of a successful show correct, right from the off. JNT and Saward have no such excuse for their betrayal of the character but here, Lambert and Whitaker and Hartnell are still finding their feet, finding out what works and what doesn’t.

Of course, you can see the arrival of Ian and Barbara as the very thing that changes the Doctor into the man we know and love today but I still prefer to tone down the anti-hero aspects of the character. So the electrocution gets cut, it’s gratuitous and exactly the sort of Un-Doctor-ish thing Saward would have had Colin do. So don`t look for Billy contemplating crushing Za`s skull with a rock either. I suppose my removing stuff that I find objectionable can be viewed as a retcon but then that’s what a fan edit is, in effect. I prefer to think of it as the Head of Dept putting his foot down and saying to the Producer “you can’t put that out at tea-time on a Saturday!” Just imagine an office on the Sixth Floor that says “Doctor Who Fan Edits”!

an unearthly child covers

One of the things I really wanted to do in the edits of the first few stories, where the Doctor’s character isn’t fully formed yet and he is more anti-hero than the hero we all know now, the man he will become, was to soften the more abrasive edges of his character, to try and make him more grumpy then nasty. After all, the Doctor as we know him now doesn’t actually show up for quite a while, arguably not until Vicki comes along…

unearthly child dwm

doctor who complete history 04There are more questions than answers in the first ever episode and it’s worth remembering when you watch An Unearthly Child today that everything that we now associate with the show wasn’t there at the start. There were no Time Lords and no regeneration, just a mysterious old man on the run from something or other with his mildly annoying Grand-daughter.

The Doctor here really is “Doctor… Who?” and more so than he will be at any other point in the show’s history up until the revelations of The War Games six years later. Here at the start of it all he’s very much a background character. It won’t be until the Pertwee Years that the character will really move centre stage and into the spotlight. In the first three stories in particular, and for quite a while thereafter, to a lesser extent, he’s a bit like Dr Zachary Smith in Lost In Space. And I can just imagine Jonathan Harris as an “Unboud” Hartnell…

After all the excitement of the events in Totters Lane, The Firemaker is all a bit humdrum. I can’t help but think that if they were alien cavemen instead of humans the story would have been a lot more engaging without having to change a single word of the scripts. You could have avoided all the usual cavemen cliches that way and upped the dramatic ante. You wonder why nobody thought of it at the time.  

The main problem is that there’s never any real doubt that the Doctor and his friends will manage to outwit the cavemen. Okay, so it’s neat that, out of all of them, it’s Susan who comes up with the way out of their predicament instead of the more expected Ian but you never really doubt that the Tribe are a match for the travellers. If the cavemen had been alien however, that might have made the outcome less predictable and thereby more engaging. That’s my theory anyway.

Just imagine, if they had run into Planet of the Apes instead of Captain Caveman, how much better might that have been? A lot I reckon.

An Unearthly Child by DanielMead at DeviantArt

So, with your Fan Brain constantly reminding you that you could be watching the pesky pepperpots that are up next instead, the Fan Edit gets through Dr Who and The Cavemen as quickly as it can before Billy and his chums leg it and end up on Skaro.

To finish off the edit there’s a newly created end title sequence. I was always a bit disappointed that the Hartnell & Troughton credits ran against black, without a version of the opening tiles behind them so I`ve rectified that and used a loop from one of the tests that didn`t make it into the finished sequence. I really like it and for that reason I do something I don`t do on any other Fan Edit – a full set of closing credits.

I`m very proud of my work on this story, but the one sequence that gives me the most satisfaction is my amended version of the Tardis` first journey from the junkyard to the cavemen. It`s not just different, it`s better as we finally get to see something the original missed out on – the Ship dematerialising away from that junkyard in Totters Lane and setting off on a journey that has lasted, so far, for nearly fifty years and, we all hope, for so many more.

And with the Doctor`s Fiftieth Birthday fast approaching, what better way to spend each November 23rd from now on than watching this Fan Edit version of how it all started…

2016 UPDATE:

Having looked back at the story for my Fan Edit Viewing Marathon, I was struck by how much I enjoyed it. I had expected to watch it and totally disagree with the editing choices I’d made back them but for the most part I genuinely didn’t. There wasn’t very much I would do differently, and certainly not enough to warrant tackling the edit all over again, but I did feel that the music was just a little bit too loud in places. In my defence it was getting on for seven years ago and was one of the earliest stories I edited. I’m also not entirely unhappy about the occasional audio glitch as there were plenty of those in the finished episodes these edits are compiled from!

And so I went back and took the music further down in the mix, which involved ripping the relevant sections from the DVD and then laying the ripped audio over the edited audio so they matched without any echo due to them being ever so slightly out of sync. There were only two or three short sections I needed to patch this way, the rest of it simply needed me to take the volume down. I also took the opportunity to slightly tweak the cue I used for the moment when Babs enters the Tardis for the first time.

Other than those audio tweaks, this mk2 version of the Unearthly Child Fan Edit remains unchanged from the 2009 original.

Doctor Who Radio Times launch cover - mind robber

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24 thoughts on “An Unearthly Child

  1. I thought that this was quite a good edit. An Unearthly Child has such a good atmospheric pilot, followed by three terribly boring episodes but you made it work really well. I’ve downloaded a number of other edits of yours and look forward to watching them when I get a chance.

    Quite interested to see what you’ve done with The 5 Doctors. Good luck on your future edits and I hope you get more exposure in the future.

    1. Thanks for that – I get so little feedback that it`s nice when someone makes the effort to let me know they liked it. AUC has the most downloads to date of all the Edits I`ve done uploaded so far, and it`s continued popularity has taken me somewhat by surprise.

      Five Doctors is one I`m really pleased with as I managed to get Tom Baker into the story. As of today I`ve done 52 edits in total, the latest being a fifty minute version of the Day of the Daleks Special Edition. I`ve still got more than half of these edits “in the bank” as it were so there`s plenty more to come!

  2. UAC was an immense improvement to the original. The episode felt a little on the slow side. However, compared to the original your edit is a fast paced thrill ride. The prehistoric act felt pretty abrupt but that’s a good thing as the original 3 episodes almost succeeded in putting me off classic doctor who indefinitely. I love the way you seamlessly removed all of the circuitous recursive plot and cut it right down to the quick.

    Was the fight scene music from the original Star Trek Series? It absolutely reminded me of those campy fight scenes with Kirk’s two fisted punches. Your use music seems to help the series overall.

    1. The Alexander Courage music was taken from two CDs that I downloaded – the first one has cues from The Cage and Where No Man Has Gone Before, the second has cues from The Doomsday Machine and Amok TIme – but don’t ask me which one I used where cos I`ve no idea!

  3. Congratulations! In this household, AUC is known as “the boring caveman story” – well, at least the part that follows the thrilling opening episode is. Your neatly-trimmed version is the perfect hors d’oeuvre to the main course of Daleks, when Doctor Who *really* began to take off. Excellent!

    1. Cheers Ritchie – I`ve always thought of An Unearthly Child as a self contained episode followed by a three part story called The Firemaker!

  4. Dont know if anyone else is having this problem, but for the past few weeks keep trying to download this one and it keeps failing!?!

    1. Hi Jamie – sorry to hear you’ve been having difficulty downloading the edit, am downloading it myself just now to check on the problem

    1. I’ve just downloaded it with no problems Jamie but have uploaded it to MEGA as well.
      Have put an additional link on the page in case you’re having problems I’m not.
      When you finally get to see it be sure and let me know what you think!

      1. Loved it the star trek music works really well, its amazing how well it flows with most of the cavemen stuff out of the way. It is the version to watch for me from now on, like your five doctors! p.s. Have you thought of tackling Time of Angels/Flesh & stone, i’d love to see a version of that around the 60min mark, if its a challenge you are interested in!

      2. Hi Jamie, thanks for the kind words. Glad you like the edit, choosing the music is always the most fun part of the process and the tracks used here I think really help with the atmosphere of the story, as well as doing something different, which is the whole point of the process.
        Removing the Loop [escape,capture,escape] makes the whole thing work a lot better, the idea being to tell the story as fast as possible, without the restrictions of a timeslot, but at its own pace depending on how consequential the storytelling is. If there are no consequences, it’s padding, we don’t need it and it can go with no loss to our understanding of what the story is about, which, in this case, is, in televisual terms, setting the template for the kind of show this is going to be – a science fantasy adventure – and, in storytelling terms, giving us an insight into who the central characters are by putting them in perilous situations such as getting kidnapped and captured by savage cave men!

        Ultimately, the plan is to fan edit every single story, working through them in no particular order other than whichever one grabs my fancy at any given time. So yes, there will be a Fan Edit of Flesh & Stone [my preferred title] but I can’t say for sure when that will be. However, I always try to take into account the ones people say they’d like to see so don’t be shy in telling me if there are any stories you’d really like to see edited sooner rather than later.

  5. I watched this the other day and I agree with the posters above. You’ve nailed it. The Cavemen episodes are extremely long repetitive and boring and you have managed to make them actually watchable and given the story the credit it deserves. I put this alongside the fantastic Tenth Planet edit. Well done!

  6. This is great – well done!
    I really felt that nothing was missing from the ‘Firemaker’ arc and you made a nice New Who style episode to suit modern viewers.

  7. My only criticism is that you should have left the opening shot of the policeman outside of the police box in. I enjoyed this and look forward to the next story!

  8. Great job! I’ve seen multiple edits of “An Unearthly Child” (and even tinkered with it a bit myself) but yours is my favorite. The pacing is spot-on, and nothing important is lost, story-wise. A great deal of time is spent in the TARDIS, as it should be for the first story, and then we get through the cavemen stuff as quickly as possible while still telling a coherent story.

    This is now my go-to version, so much so that when I showed the story to my wife, who had never even seen it before, this was the version I chose to show her! (And, yes, she enjoyed it, too!) 🙂

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