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The Pilot Episode

Review by David French

Believe it or not, in my opinion the original, un-aired Pilot Episode is one of the most overrated and underrated episodes of Doctor Who. Overrated in the sense that everyone always goes on about this classic episode with all its problems; underrated in the sense that very few people have ever seen it (although one version was included on The Hartnell Years video).

The Pilot Episode has been re-released on video. This time round, we are given both ‘takes’ of the TARDIS interior scenes. The Pilot was supposed to be released as part of the cancelled The Beginning video box set, but instead has been released alongside The Edge of Destruction. Although I'm not reviewing Edge, I have to admit they have one common factor — they're both rather dull, and the only good thing about them both is the quality of the prints (a big thank you to the Restoration Team).

So, how different is the Pilot to An Unearthly Child? Well, there aren't too many differences but they are fairly subtle. First, the script: same storyline as broadcast version.

Second, the theme tune: a raw, sounding version that's as bad as the Delaware version. It sounds like it's being played through a hollow tube. The noise, which people have claimed is a thunderclap, sounds more like a spaceship blasting off.

Third, the TARDIS: same shape, same console room. The humming noise, however, is loud and rather intruding at times. The dematerialisation noise is also slightly different with some other loud noise being played over the top. Very annoying it is, too.

Fourth and most importantly, the characters are different. There isn't the friendly banter that you usually see between Ian and Barbara; both come across as fairly wooden characters. Susan is slightly more mysterious than we usually see her, and she doesn't scream or moan as much as she did when the series proper started. The biggest difference within the regulars is Hartnell's performance. In this version, Hartnell is not the firm but mellow character that we are used to. There are no ‘hmmm’s or giggles or anything that we usually see in his performance. Instead, we get a more straight performance from Hartnell, which makes one wonder if he's treating the episode as a one-off drama. It's also in this episode, and not the broadcast version, that Hartnell comes across as an anti-hero.

Overall, The Pilot Episode is an interesting piece of television that shouldn't be dismissed automatically. All fans should view the Pilot with an open mind and make up their own minds as to whether this version or the broadcast version is better. I'm inclined to give the episode three TARDISes out of five, mainly due to the performance of the regulars.

Finally, does anyone else agree with me that perhaps the opening bars to the Beatles' Strawberry Fields Forever are a slowed down version of the Hartnell theme?

Some things you may have missed...

When Ian and Barbara enter the classroom, Jacqueline Hill gets her foot stuck in the door and spends some time trying to free it.

Carole Ann Ford says John Smith and the Common Men have gone from ‘2 to 19’ then corrects herself by saying ‘19 to 2’.

Jacqueline Hill almost forgets Susan's age when Barbara and Ian are talking in the car.

Bad editing sees William Russell's line ‘The answer just didn't seem to interest her’ being drowned out over the first science class scene.

Jacqueline Hill knocks over a dummy after Ian trips over in the junkyard.

The cameraman walks into the set with a loud clatter.

In the first ‘take’, the TARDIS doors refuse to stay closed (good thing they weren't in space or else they would have shrunk down in size).

When the Doctor explains who Susan and he really are in the first ‘take’, William Hartnell trips over his lines.

In the first ‘take’, Hartnell has problems trying to explain about the Romans and Napoleon.

In the second ‘take’, Hartnell has problems with his lines when he scolds Susan for inviting Ian and Barbara.

In both takes, Kal's shadow extends too far over the landscape (this problem isn't solved by An Unearthly Child).

This item appeared in TSV 61 (December 2000).

Index nodes: 100,000 BC/An Unearthly Child