William Hartnell as The First Doctor: A Retrospective
Fifty years ago this month the first episodes of Doctor Who were aired. It’s a rare thing for a series to last the years so well and appeal just as much to us today as it did back then. So this month some of the writers at Geek Pride will be writing retrospect’s on all of the faces of the Doctor! I look forward to what the other writers have to show us but I am going to start the ball rolling with the very first incarnation of the Doctor!
8 January 1908 – 23 April 1975
Prior to playing the Doctor, William mainly played comedy roles in film and it has been reported recently that William Hartnell’s initial views on playing the Doctor where not that of a positive nature and that William was reluctant to play the very first Time Lord but this seemed to be a general consensus with many of the people involved. Waris Hussain who directed ten episodes of the series failed to see the potential of Doctor Who and a big part of the BBC did not want to venture into science fiction. So the TV show was doomed to fail from the very beginning? 50 years later I’m guessing not!
Memoirs of a wee bairn
So, at this point I’m sure you are looking at me, a 23 year old woman, wondering how I even know of the existence of this incarnation of the Doctor because (I am both generalising and stereotyping here) most young female fans of Doctor Who are in it for the eye candy of David Tennant and Matt Smith (which I am definitely not denying is one of the many bonuses of those particular Doctors). You will have to bear with me for a few moments as this may get ramble-y but I feel it is something that I need to say about my experience of the first Doctor.
I have fond memories from my childhood of watching Doctor Who with my father (‘Aww’ photo of the both of us to the right) who would reminisce about how, as a child, the appearance of the Daleks terrified him! While I sat there as young as he was then, wondering just why he was scared of these silly fake monsters. But I guess that’s what you get from living in a time where TV isn’t new and the special effects are at least 30 years ahead.
I remember to this day sitting with him and watching ‘The Daleks’ a seven part story, with William Hartnell’s incarnation of the Doctor, that first aired from December 1963 to February 1964. It was one of the defining moments in my time as a Doctor Who fan. This story was set on the planet Skaro and I was entranced with the alien environment and the beauty of the indigenous people; The Thal. In my young mind it just all seemed to glitter and glow, it was perfect and beautiful and even the Daleks weren’t as scary as my dad had made out. It intrigued me that it had had such a profound effect on him when he was a similar age to me, that he had become so involved in these story lines that he had been scared of the Daleks.
I also shared the relationship my dad had with the Doctor in these episodes. He was old, frail and wiry and wasn’t much to look at yet he was a protector, bit of a vigilante and somehow an authority figure and me and my dad loved him for it. I wasn’t aware at the time that he was the first to play the Doctor but he seemed important and also stood out from the rest… Why? I don’t know. I guess for me he reminded me of a grandfather figure, he was somehow reassuring and strong.
To this day I would not even wish to re-watch these episodes, though a million things have tainted my memory since my youth and I cannot remember exact story lines and episodes. I do not want to let go of the memories I have because I know that my adult mind would not translate these early episodes as well as I did as a child.
This is why I felt that I wanted to delve into some of the facts of the first Doctor and write this article, to show that you didn’t need the facts to have loved the series in such a profound way that only Doctor Who seems to produce in its fans.
William Hartnells enactment of the Doctor
So other than me gushing over how awesome I thought the first Doctor was; at first we didn’t even know who or what the Doctor was, we could assume that he was some kind of being not of earth or possibly from the future as it is clear he is not from this time or place but no back story or anything more is given we are left awash in a sea of mystery and guess work (These are the best kind of seas)
During the series he forms into this entity that seems to have multiple layers, it’s hard to grasp just where his emotions lie and what his morals are. It is obvious he cares for his Granddaughter Susan but everyone else seems to be a bit of a hindrance, he has his odd moments where he shows how much he needs the company but all in all it’s different from the companions of today’s Doctors; everything just seems so much more simple and straight forward, he is bossy and very much in charge.
His enactment of the Doctor is perfect for me, his acting skills are brilliant and he seems to take to the role like a duck to water.
The First Episode
William Hartnell went on to play the Doctor for three years between 1963 to 1966, his very first story line as the doctor was titled ‘An Unearthly child’ also known as ‘100,000 BC’ which introduced him as a frail looking elderly man, with a strict yet mysterious personality and a very vast knowledge of everything scientific. We are led to him by his granddaughter Susan’s teachers, Barbara and Ian, when they decide to follow her ‘home’ after she gets frustrated with what she is learning in school. Susan’s home happens to be the TARDIS.
In his fury at the intrusion of the two teachers the Doctor kidnaps them and they end up travelling to a prehistoric scene, where they come across a tribe of cavemen who have kidnapped the Doctor to be sacrificed to return the fire to their village. After lots of prehistoric village politics and lots of running back and forth and being captured and escaping the Doctor manages to trick the villagers and escapes to the TARDIS and onto the next adventure!
Well… Me and my partner watched this story line a while back and we weren’t overly impressed by it. It seemed to lack a certain lustre and the story line was a bit repetitive and not all that exciting. But you can certainly see some of the routes of the Doctor in this storyline. There certainly is a lot of running and chasing, which seems to be a signature occurrence in Doctor Who and there is a few inventive tricks carried out by the Doctor!
Storylines and introduction of monsters
(For those interested a link to all the episodes of Doctor Who) http://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/classic/episodeguide/index_first.shtml
So from the first story line it seemed to get better, I don’t know about Doctor Who fans in general, but I much prefer an episode of Doctor Who to have a good alien story line in it! I not much for one seeing the Doctor run around with humans on the hunt for fire…
The two longest standing and notorious enemies of the Doctor were created with William Hartnells incarnation. The second instalment of the first Doctor saw the introduction of the Daleks, this is one of the episodes I mentioned above, that I would not re-watch because of its overwhelming sentimental value to me. Soon to follow but at the end of Williams reign were the cyber men who would be impressively scary if for the fact that they looked like blokes in gimp suits!
The writers also created a TARDIS episode. I love a good TARDIS episode because the wonders of the TARDIS are endless, which was made apparent in this first TARDIS storyline, where it causes the Doctor’s companions to act oddly to warn them that it is heading to its own destruction!
The teachers, Barbara and Ian were the first of the ten companions, including Susan (his Granddaughter), he had during his three year reign and were also his longest lasting, Barbara and Ian staring in 16 episodes each. The fourth companion Vicki, seems to have a very similar story line to Susan, the Doctor takes her on board, perhaps because he misses Susan and soon Vicki meets and falls in love with someone and again the Doctor loses a companion!
We are also introduced to the death of the people who come into contact with the Doctor, two of his companions dying in quite horrific ways, Katarina ejecting herself into space and Sara Kingdom ageing to death.
Regeneration “This old body of mine is wearing thin”
William Hartnell’s Doctor finally regenerated when the toll of many years of life put too much strain on the Doctor’s older body and after the battle with the Cybermen in ‘The Tenth Planet’ he collapsed in the TARDIS and in front of his companions at the time Ben and Polly, he regenerated into the second Doctor played by Patrick Troughton!