Saturday, 14 July 2012

The Origins of Doctor Who 5 - The Pilot

In a parallel universe somewhere, people will be celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who on 16th November next year. It's the universe where the first recording of An Unearthly Child, in Lime Grove Studio D on 27th September 1963, went without a hitch.
In our universe, however, this recording has gone down in history as "The Pilot".
In the 1960's, the BBC did not make pilots - they were very much an American concept. The production of Doctor Who's first episode on 27th September was supposed to be the real thing - but Sydney Newman did not like it for a couple of reasons.
One was the characterisation of both the Doctor and Susan, and the other was down to technical / performance problems.

The Doctor comes across as quite charmless - spiky and aggressive, calling Susan "stupid" - whilst Susan is too cold and aloof. Newman felt that the audience would struggle to relate to these people, or indeed to like them.
Ian and Barbara on the other hand, are very much as they will be seen in the transmitted episode.
Technical problems included some serious issues with the TARDIS doors - which either failed to shut, banged shut, or bounced back and forth. The camera work in the junkyard scenes jolts and jerks (with one good knock against a prop).
Fluffs include Carole Ann Ford getting the chart placing of "John Smith and the Common Men" the wrong way round - they drop down the chart instead of going up.William Russell has trouble with the props in the junkyard (knocking over a dummy), and he and Jacqueline Hill have problems getting through a classroom door.

You may wonder why you haven't seen all of these when you have sat down to watch the "Pilot".
That's because there are 5 different versions - depending on which take of the first half you watch, coupled with which take of the second half. (The split comes with the schoolteachers' entry into the TARDIS control room).

Differences to look out for, between the "Pilot" and the transmitted episode, include:

  • Costumes - The Doctor wears a contemporary collar and tie, whilst Susan wears a futuristic shiny tunic when out of school.
  • The Doctor states quite specifically that they come from the 49th Century.
  • It's a different policeman.
  • There is a "pistol-crack" added to the beginning of the theme music.
  • The TARDIS dematerialisation scene is longer, and is accompanied by a cacophony of radiophonic sounds, over and above the now famous one.
  • Susan creates a Rorschach-type ink pattern on a piece of paper, draws a hexagon around it, then suddenly tears it up before it is seen. This is replaced with the French Revolution book scene in the transmitted version.

Newman took producer Verity Lambert and director Waris Hussein for a Chinese meal near Shepherds Bush once he had viewed the episode, and they are both on record as believing they were going to be sacked. 
Newman went through everything he didn't like and ordered them to do it again.
That there was always the probability of remounting the episode is confirmed by the fact that Verity Lambert had already asked for the props and sets to be retained. (Unfortunately the Design Department boys ignored her and junked everything apart from the TARDIS control room set).

The première of Doctor Who would now be put back a week - to Saturday 23rd November 1963.
As for the Pilot, it would not see light of day until August 1991, when it was screened on BBC2 as part of a tribute to Lime Grove Studios. 
The version on "The Beginning" DVD set is the most tidied-up one available. You can also see the various other takes on this disc.

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