Formerly of Bedfordshire, Barbara Wright is teaching history at Coal Hill School in London in 1963, working with science teacher Ian Chesterton. One of their students, Susan Foreman, shows an unusually advanced knowledge of science and history, but a rudimentary knowledge of other subjects. In an attempt to learn more about this "unearthly child", Barbara and Ian follow Susan home to a junkyard, where they hear her voice coming from what appears to be a police box. During a confrontation with her grandfather, the Doctor, Barbara rushes in to the police box, only to discover that its exterior hides the much larger interior of the TARDIS, revealing the vehicle for the first time and making Barbara the first human to step aboard.
At first a reluctant traveller in time and space, the strong-willed Barbara becomes more adventurous, while providing a maternal figure to Susan and subsequently Vicki. She is frequently the only person willing to stand up to the First Doctor's cantankerous outbursts with firmness and logic. A chemistry between her and Ian is also evident, although the nature of their relationship is never fully clarified in the television series.
Although mutually respectful and increasingly affectionate, the relationship between the Doctor and Barbara is often tested by their opposing viewpoints.