PIlots are how a TV show is sold, but not every pilot becomes episode 1. Changes are asked for by the studio or the station (now also the streamer), cast changes happen for various reasons, and other events require the first pilot to be reshot or scrapped altogether. For example the original pilot of Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers bears little resemblance to the actual first episode. The same for the pilot episode of Star Trek, which we would know nothing about if it wasn’t for the two-part episode “The Menagerie” that used it for stock footage. The Power Rangers pilot aired as a special occasion on Fox Kids. Not every first pilot is available to us.
It’s kind of funny that with all of the actual episodes of Doctor Who missing thanks to poor archiving on the BBC’s part that somehow the original version of “An Unearthly Child” still exists, and was released on DVD as part of a box set with the aired version and following episodes. Having seen it via my DVD copy there are a lot of differences. If you thought the Doctor was different from his early years to the tortured action hero he/she became in New Who, here’s a video about the unaired pilot and the changes between versions. The script is the same and that’s pretty much it.
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One thing that just struck me rewatching the clips through this video is that the Doctor mentions coming from another world. As mentioned in a previously posted video by Dalek 63-88, there were some differences of opinion if the Doctor came from an advanced civilization (in the aired pilot he only refers to where he came from as “my civilization” and how he “tolerates this century” while Susan was “born in another time, on another world”) or another planet. Apparently this pilot went with the alien he would eventually be revealed to be. So in this the Doctor is an alien and Susan is from the future, or the Doctor sees the future as so different it is another world to him as much as someone from the 1600s would see the 2020s?
As for Susan, the reshoot did her all kinds of justice. Even her outfit, which made her neck look a lot longer, went to make her too alien. She’s supposed to be the character the kids relate to despite being one of the two characters who has some idea what’s going on when on alien worlds. Future or Gallifrey, Carole Ann Ford’s performance is too weird, too off-putting. There’s that scene where she’s standing next to the Doctor and they look outright scary. Remember, for all his faults in his early years, like willing to kill a caveman to save themselves while he’s unconscious, he’s supposed to be one of the heroes of this show and she’s his devoted granddaughter. Making it look like she’s Harley Quinn to her grandfather’s Joker–in the broad sense mind you–does not achieve that goal. You’d get the impression that the show is about Ian and Barbara trying to rescue Susan and escape the Doctor. That’s not what they were going for. By softening the Doctor and not making Susan look like a giraffe and only be weird because of what she knows and doesn’t know was the better way to go.
I actually don’t mind a flubbed line if they can properly cover themselves. It’s not like people talk without having to correct themselves. It’s the one that clearly should have been re-recorded because it’s so messed up it comes off as an acting mistake instead of a character misspeaking that I consider lazy.
Oh, that part where the Doctor and Susan turn as the camera pans to the monitor just makes me laugh for some reason. It’s like the actors really want to make sure you see their expressions, with only Ford being successful for a couple of seconds. Feel free to correct the foreigner born a decade later, but if memory serves the BBC’s drama department wasn’t really prepared for a sci-fi show meant to both educate and scare kids. If you look at TV shows from the 1950s to the early 1960s, especially sci-fi kids shows where even back then nobody really cared, cinematography often looked like they were recording a stage performance rather how you’d usually shoot a TV show. It was the early years and nobody in any country knew how to do it. If only they had a guide for proper blocking and camera angles before television came along. Something with a screen that people maybe went out to for viewing at a different kind of theater. Pity there was nothing like that.
I actually kind of liked the thunder sound in the intro. I’m kind of sorry they removed it.
So yeah, I’m glad they reshot this one. The story itself was fine but the performances, the minor details, the cinematography, Susan’s neck-extending outfit, all made for a show that probably wouldn’t have held attentions the way the official pilot did. Doing the reshoots got them to think more about what they were doing and while still a product of its time and budget the version we got, and the episodes that made up those early seasons, were better served when better thought out.