|The First Doctor|
|Doctor Who character|
William Hartnell as the Doctor
|First appearance||An Unearthly Child|
|Last appearance||The Tenth Planet (regular)
The Five Doctors (guest)
|Portrayed by||William Hartnell (1963–1966, 1972/73)
Richard Hurndall (1983)
|Tenure||23 November 1963–29 October 1966|
|No. of series||4|
|Appearances||29 stories (134 episodes)|
|Succeeded by||Patrick Troughton (Second Doctor)|
|Series||Season 1 (1963–64)
Season 2 (1964–65)
Season 3 (1965–66)
Season 4 (1966)
The First Doctor is the initial incarnation of the Doctor, the protagonist of the BBC science fiction television series Doctor Who. He was portrayed by the actor William Hartnell from 1963 to 1966. Hartnell reprised the role once, in the tenth anniversary story The Three Doctors (1973), although due to his failing health the story was written so he would not have to appear very extensively.
Within the series’ narrative, the Doctor is a centuries-old alien Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey who travels in time and space in his TARDIS, frequently with companions. When the Doctor is critically injured, he can regenerate his body; in doing so, his physical appearance and personality change. Hartnell’s Doctor is the Doctor’s “original” form. The regeneration plot device was introduced when Hartnell needed to leave the series, and consequently has extended the life of the show for many years.
His original companions were his granddaughter Susan (Carole Ann Ford) and her schoolteachers Ian Chesterton (William Russell) and Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill). Hartnell’s version of the Doctor was also the basis for the character played by the actor Peter Cushing in the 1965 and 1966 Dr. Who films, which do not share a continuity with the television series.
The Doctor is a mysterious character and little is known about him except that he has a granddaughter, Susan Foreman, and that they come from another time and place. He has a ship that travels through time and space, the TARDIS, which is currently disguised as a police box (Susan notes that it used to be able to change to blend in with its surroundings), and is bigger on the inside. The Doctor describes himself and Susan as “exiles” without specifying why or even whether their exile is self-imposed. It would not be until the last adventure of the Doctor’s second incarnation that the name of the Doctor’s people (the Time Lords) would be revealed, and the third incarnation before the name of his home planet (Gallifrey) was first spoken.
The series’ first episode opens with a pair of schoolteachers in contemporary (1963) London, Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright, investigating the mystery of Susan, a student who seems confused and even frustrated at how what she is learning in history and especially mathematics seems to be wrong. Following Susan to her supposed home, they discover the TARDIS in a junkyard, surprising both Susan and her grandfather the Doctor, who launches the ship in response to the discovery. Ian and Barbara are involuntarily taken on a journey back to the year 100,000 BC and spend two years adventuring through time and space with the Doctor, who at this point in the series has no control over the navigation systems of the TARDIS.
It was as this incarnation that the Doctor first met the Daleks and the Cybermen, races that would become his most implacable foes. The TARDIS crew also observed many historical events such as the Reign of Terror in revolutionary France, meeting Marco Polo in China and The Aztecs in Mexico. When Susan fell in love with the human resistance fighter David Campbell, the Doctor left her behind to allow her to build a life for herself on 22nd century Earth (The Dalek Invasion of Earth), although he promised to return some day. The Doctor, Ian and Barbara were then joined by Vicki, whom they saved in The Rescue from the planet Dido.
At the conclusion of a chase through time by Daleks, Ian and Barbara used the Dalek time machine to go home (The Chase), and their place in the TARDIS was taken by a future space pilot named Steven Taylor, who had been captured by the robot Mechanoids but escaped due to the Dalek attack. The Doctor met another member of his own race for the first time in the form of the Meddling Monk and had an adventure in Galaxy 4. During the siege of Troy, Vicki decided to leave the TARDIS to stay with Troilus, adopting the name Cressida. The Doctor and Steven were next briefly joined by Trojan slave Katarina and a security agent from 4000 AD Sara Kingdom, but both were killed during the events of The Daleks’ Master Plan, where the Daleks plotted to invade Earth’s Solar System in 4000 AD, before being destroyed when the Doctor activated their weapon the Time Destructor. Due to this he was aged significantly; the effects on Sara were enough to reduce her to dust.
After narrowly missing the Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve, the Doctor and Steven took on board a young girl named Dodo Chaplet. Dodo brought a cold virus to the far future, which nearly annihilated the humans and Monoids travelling on The Ark. It was cured and when the TARDIS arrived on the Ark 700 years later the TARDIS crew helped the humans reach their destination, the Monoids having taken over the Ark. One of the First Doctor’s most deadly foes was the Celestial Toymaker, who forced him and his companions to play deadly games and briefly made the Doctor invisible and mute. Eventually, the Doctor managed to win the Trilogic Game allowing them all to escape the Toymaker’s domain.
Eventually, Steven and Dodo left the Doctor as well, Steven remaining on an alien planet as a mediator (The Savages) between two races, and Dodo deciding to remain on Earth in 1966 to recover from being hypnotised by the supercomputer WOTAN. The Doctor was then joined by upper-class secretary Polly and sailor Ben Jackson who would witness his first regeneration.
The toll of years put strain on the Doctor’s elderly frame. After defeating the Cybermen at the Antarctic Snowcap Station (The Tenth Planet), the Doctor collapsed inside the TARDIS, and before the astonished eyes of his companions Ben and Polly, regenerated for the first time, getting him a new physical appearance and character – the Second Doctor.
From the beginning, the Doctor was a mysterious figure. He appeared to be a frail old man and yet was possessed of unexpected reserves of strength and will. An early writers’ guide by script editor David Whitaker describes “Doctor Who” as “frail-looking but wiry and tough as an old turkey”. He obviously held tremendous knowledge of scientific matters, and yet was unable to pilot his TARDIS time ship reliably; his granddaughter Susan explained this by saying that her grandfather was “a bit forgetful”; but the TARDIS required expert piloting and guidance by the Doctor. Its systems would often break down, especially the navigational systems. This, combined with the fact the TARDIS was actually designed for six pilots, would explain the difficulty the Doctor encountered in piloting it correctly. He was abrasive, patronising, and cantankerous towards his human travelling companions, yet shared a deep emotional bond with his granddaughter Susan. He also harboured a streak of ruthlessness, being willing to lie—and in one case attempt to kill—to achieve his goals. Initially, he distrusted his first two human companions, Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright, who were forced on him. Over time, however, as they shared adventures together, he grew closer to them, and the TARDIS crew came to share almost a family bond.
Eventually, the Doctor began to enjoy his travels through time and space, taking people along for the ride and was always reluctant and sad to see them go, even when he knew it was for their own good. The Doctor’s personality mellowed around the time of the serial Marco Polo, and he evolved into the more familiar grandfatherly figure that children loved.
William Hartnell described the Doctor as “a wizard“, and “a cross between the Wizard of Oz and Father Christmas“. Paul McGann, who played a later incarnation of the Doctor, said Hartnell’s “seemed like a Victorian, someone kind of stern and paterfamilias about him. Something kind but scary”. One quirk of the First Doctor was his tendency to become occasionally tongue-tied and stumble over words. Sometimes this was a deliberate acting choice: William Russell recalls that it was Hartnell’s idea for the Doctor to get Ian Chesterton’s surname wrong, calling him “Chesserman”, “Chatterton” and even “Charterhouse”. This character choice also gave the series’ producers the ability to use takes in which Hartnell flubbed his lines. Due to the series’ tight production schedule, it was rarely possible to reshoot such scenes and dubbing the dialogue was usually not an option. Hartnell suffered from undiagnosed arteriosclerosis, which affected his ability to remember lines, increasingly so as his time on the series progressed.
Hartnell’s costume was hired from Nathans, a theatrical costuming company. The overall look is late Victorian-Edwardian: a black frock coat and a fawn waistcoat over a wing-collared shirt; usually a black necktie (occasionally light check) and firmly tapered and creased check trousers. Hartnell also wore a ring with a large blue stone and a white wig. Additional accessories seen from time to time are a monocle, a carved wooden cane, an opera cape and scarf, and a hat in Astrakhan fur. In “An Unearthly Child“, he was seen smoking a large bent tobacco pipe, making him the only incarnation of the Doctor to be seen smoking; it is assumed that he gave up after that serial.
In the original version of the first episode, Hartnell wore a contemporary suit. Among the many changes made to the episode in reshooting was the Doctor’s (and Susan’s) clothes.
The debut of the Daleks in the second serial turned the programme from a children’s series to a national phenomenon. It soon became a show that the whole family gathered to watch, with monsters that children viewed from between their fingers or from behind the sofa. Scripts filled with far-out concepts compensated for the relatively low budget and unsophisticated special effects, laying the foundation for decades of stories to come.
Despite the regeneration television audiences would see the First Doctor on screen twice more (not counting flashbacks or charity specials like Dimensions in Time). For the 10th anniversary of the programme in 1973, Hartnell appeared in The Three Doctors, which also saw Patrick Troughton reprise his role as the Second Doctor. Due to failing health, however, Hartnell could not participate in any of the regular filming, so his scenes were shot separately at Ealing Studios (not his garden or garage at home, as long suggested by fan legend).
William Hartnell died on 23 April 1975, so for the 20th anniversary special The Five Doctors in 1983, the role of the First Doctor was played by Richard Hurndall. At the beginning of the programme a film insert of Hartnell’s Doctor taken from The Dalek Invasion of Earth was used.
In “The Name of the Doctor“, which combined stock footage of Hartnell with Carole Ann Ford in CGI and newly shot footage, the First Doctor is depicted stealing the TARDIS in its original form.
In “The Day of the Doctor“, Hartnell is shown along with the other twelve doctors as they move Gallifrey to a single moment in time. He was voiced by John Guilor, over archival footage of Hartnell.
In the Big Finish audio drama The Light at the End the First Doctor is portrayed by William Russell, who also played Ian Chesterton in both the show and the audio dramas. Russell and fellow co-star Peter Purves (who played Steven Taylor) have performed numerous other audio plays set during this era, usually narrating the stories and doing an impression (rather than an impersonation) of the Doctor’s voice while reciting his lines.
Images of the First Doctor appear in The Power of the Daleks, Day of the Daleks, The Brain of Morbius, Earthshock, Mawdryn Undead, Resurrection of the Daleks, “The Next Doctor“, “The Eleventh Hour“, “The Vampires of Venice“, “Vincent and the Doctor“, “The Lodger“, “Nightmare in Silver” and The Sarah Jane Adventures story Death of the Doctor. In the episode “The Name of the Doctor“, he is seen stealing a TARDIS along with Susan Foreman, before Clara Oswald tells him to steal a different one (colourised footage taken from The Aztecs). He is also seen for a brief second wandering around the Doctor’s mind in the end of “The Name of the Doctor,” although this time a double was used. He also makes a brief appearance (again using a double) during Missy‘s exposition of the Twelfth Doctor‘s battle with android assassins (“The Witch’s Familiar“).
The First Doctor is seen as a sketch in John Smith‘s book alongside other past Doctors in the episode “Human Nature“. In “Time Crash“, the Tenth Doctor says to the Fifth, “Back when I first started, at the very beginning, I was always trying to be old and grumpy and important, like you do when you’re young.” A brief clip of the First Doctor from The Time Meddler appears in both “The Next Doctor” and in “The Eleventh Hour“.
In a clip from “The Vampires of Venice” the Eleventh Doctor shows his library card, which contains a photograph of the First Doctor and the address of 76 Totters Lane. In “Vincent and the Doctor“, both the First and Second Doctors appear on a printout when the Eleventh Doctor has the TARDIS identify him. In “The Big Bang“, the Eleventh Doctor briefly mentions the First while bidding his farewell to a sleeping Amy Pond, referring to him as “the daft old man who stole a magic box and ran away”. In “The Rings of Akhaten“, the Eleventh Doctor mentions that he had visited Akhaten with his granddaughter, presumably as the First Doctor.
A portrait of the First Doctor is hanging in a UNIT safe house in “The Zygon Invasion“.
- Howe, David J.; Mark Stammers; Stephen James Walker (1992). Doctor Who: The Sixties (paperback ed.). London: Virgin Publishing. p. 8. ISBN 0-86369-707-0.
- Howe, pp. 16–17.
- Debnath, Neela (30 June 2012). “Interview with ‘Doctor Who’ star Paul McGann”. independent.co.uk. Retrieved 4 May 2013.
- “Doctor Who: the rediscovered William Hartnell interview”, The Guardian, 22 August 2013. Accessed 8 October 2013
- Howe, p. 19.
- Howe, p. 17.
- Mulkern, Patrick. (1987). “Dressing the Doctor.” Doctor Who Magazine. Autumn Special (Marvel Comics/BBC) p. 20.
- Mulkern 1987, p. 20.
- “Still, the Daleks are the boss space horrors, something to get the children hiding behind the sofa.” Reynolds, Stanley (9 April 1973). “The metamorphoses of Who”. The Times. p. 15.
- Kistler, Alan (26 November 2013). “What Just Happened in Doctor Who? The Anniversary Special Explained”. Wired. Retrieved 28 November 2013.
- Mulkern, Patrick (13 September 2014). “Doctor Who Listen review: “A classy, creepy study of fear and loneliness““. Radio Times. Retrieved 14 September 2014.
- “David Bradley to play William Hartnell in Celebration of Doctor Who”. BBC. 30 January 2013. Retrieved 30 January 2013.
- The First Doctor on the BBC’s Doctor Who website
- First Doctor Gallery
- First Doctor’s theme music MP3 file
- First Doctor title sequence
- William Hartnell Guide at TV.com
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