Though more than 800 episodes of Doctor Who and its spin-offs will be available on BBC iPlayer, the first four episodes, known as either An Unearthly Child or 100,000BC, will not be on the service due to a rights issue.
You’d think that the BBC owned all its own episodes of Doctor Who, but when it comes to 20th Century Who, things were a little messier, with rights largely split between the BBC and writers. The corporation confirmed:
“This massive iPlayer back catalogue will be home to over 800 hours of Doctor Who content, making it the biggest ever collection of Doctor Who programming in one place but will not include the first four episodes as we do not have all the rights to those.”
So the rights have been retained by Stef Coburn on behalf of his late father and An Unearthly Child writer, Anthony Coburn. Stef is clearly not a fan of the BBC and has expressed his thoughts extensively on the matter, and on Doctor Who, on Twitter (or X, if you like).
That this comes up at the show’s 60th anniversary is no coincidence: there was another rights issue raised by Stef Coburn during the 50th anniversary, when the BBC played remastered versions of the first four episodes on BBC4.
It is, of course, a big shame that viewers new and old will have to start their iPlayer journey with The Daleks, skipping the First Doctor (William Hartnell) meeting and effectively kidnapping his first companions, Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright (William Russell and Jacqueline Hill, respectively), after they investigate the home life of their student, Susan (Carole Ann Ford).
So how can you see it? The DVD is still available, though is likely to be harder to get right now. An Unearthly Child is also available on online platforms like YouTube and Dailymotion; heck, it’s probably on Twitter too. We won’t link to them at the moment, seeing as the rights are hazardous and they might disappear off these streaming sites at any point.
We wouldn’t be totally surprised if An Unearthly Child does make its way onto iPlayer either — for now, it’s likely the BBC has pulled it from the schedule until everything is cleared up and their lawyers dot the i’s and cross the t’s.
Stef Coburn has also put into question who created the word “TARDIS”, though director, Waris Hussein, has apparently confirmed it was producer, Verity Lambert. (Plus official documentation will probably set the ship on more solid ground.)
Either way, from 1st November, we should still be able to enjoy hundreds of episodes of Doctor Who, plus The Sarah Jane Adventures, Class, Torchwood, and Doctor Who Confidential on BBC iPlayer, with or without An Unearthly Child.