|Doctor Who character|
William Russell as Ian Chesterton
|First appearance||An Unearthly Child|
|Last appearance||The Chase|
|Portrayed by||William Russell
Roy Castle (Dr. Who and the Daleks)
Ian Chesterton is a fictional character in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who and a companion of the First Doctor. He was played in the series by William Russell, and was one of the members of the programme’s very first regular cast, appearing in the bulk of the first two seasons from 1963 to 1965. In a film adaptation of one of the serials, Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965), he was played by Roy Castle, but with a very different personality and backstory. Ian appeared in 16 stories (77 episodes).
Ian Chesterton is a science teacher at the Coal Hill School and works with Barbara Wright, a history teacher. One of their students, Susan Foreman, the granddaughter of the Doctor, shows unusually advanced knowledge of science and history. Attempting to solve the mystery of this “unearthly child,” Ian and Barbara follow Susan back home to a junkyard, where they hear her voice coming from what appears to be a police box. When they investigate further, they discover that the police box exterior hides the much larger interior of a time machine known as the TARDIS, and are whisked away on an adventure in time and space with the Doctor and Susan.
Ian provides the series with an action-orientated figure, able to perform the physical tasks that the elderly Doctor cannot. His concern, above all, is for the safety of the TARDIS crew, and in the early stories he often takes issue with the Doctor’s habit of placing the group in harm’s way just to satisfy his own curiosity. The chemistry between Barbara and himself is also evident, although the nature of their relationship is never made explicit in the television series, and their eventual marriage is only revealed forty-five years later.
Ian shows a breadth of skills throughout his tenure with the Doctor. He manages to create fire (An Unearthly Child), rides a horse, knows how to fight with swords (The Romans) and is knowledgeable about pressure points that can paralyse an opponent (The Aztecs). He is also fiercely protective of Barbara, going on a lone mission to rescue her from Saracens in The Crusade. In that story, he is also knighted by King Richard I of England as “Sir Ian of Jaffa“. After many travels, Ian and Barbara eventually use a Dalek time machine to go home, two years after their disappearance.
The character of Ian was intended by the production team to return for a guest appearance in the 1983 Doctor Who story Mawdryn Undead, but this plan fell through when Russell proved to be unavailable. The script was modified to instead feature Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart as the story’s schoolteacher character. However, in 1999 Russell did return to the part for the BBC Worldwide video release of The Crusade, two of the four episodes of which are missing from the archives. Russell provided linking narration between the existing episodes in character as an aged Ian Chesterton reminiscing about the events of the story.
Following his departure in The Chase Ian Chesterton has been name-checked on a number of occasions in the series: He was mentioned by Vicki in episode one of The Time Meddler; by the first Doctor in episode four of The Massacre and again by his third incarnation on Spiridon in episode one of “Planet of the Daleks“. Ian was also mentioned in episode one of the 1993 Children In Need charity special Dimensions In Time and again in Death of the Doctor, a two part story in the fourth series of The Sarah Jane Adventures. After meeting Jo Grant and the Eleventh Doctor, Sarah Jane Smith reveals that she has researched the lives of some of the Doctor’s earth-bound companions and discovered that Ian and Barbara have married each other, become professors, live in Cambridge and are rumoured to have not aged since the 1960s. In the 50th Anniversary Special “The Day of the Doctor“, the sign for Coal Hill Secondary School identifies the Chairman of the Governors as I. Chesterton. However, the Doctor’s companion Clara Oswald, who was a teacher at Coal Hill School in the same episode, does not notice his photograph and name on the bulletin board in UNIT’s Black Archive when pausing over an adjacent photograph of Susan. In the spin-off series Class it was revealed in the episode Brave-ish Heart that the Board of Governors had been removed when the school was refurbished as an Academy.
Appearances in other media
The novelisation of The Daleks by David Whitaker is written in first person from Ian Chesterton’s perspective, and changes his initial meeting with the Doctor, Susan, and Barbara to a car accident involving the two ladies. The TARDIS then arrives on Skaro rather than prehistoric earth, with the story continuing much as the TV serial from then on. In this version, Ian is a chemist returning from an unsuccessful job interview, but his character is otherwise unchanged.
In the film adaptation Dr. Who and the Daleks, Ian Chesterton is the boyfriend of Barbara, granddaughter of Dr. Who. Rather than the man of action from the TV series, this Ian is a clumsy idiot who manages to survive more through luck than any degree of competence. In Daleks – Invasion Earth 2150 AD, the character of Ian is replaced by Tom Campbell, who performs much the same role as Ian in The Dalek Invasion of Earth.
Since 1994, the character has also appeared in various novels from Virgin Publishing and BBC Books, set between televised adventures during his particular era of the programme. One BBC Books novel, The Face of the Enemy by David A. McIntee (1998), picks up the story of Ian and Barbara, now married to each other, in the early 1970s, the two of them collaborating with the Doctor’s colleagues at UNIT and his enemy the Master when Ian is hired as the Third Doctor‘s temporary replacement while the Doctor is taking a trip away from Earth. In this book, they have a young son named John. Many of the novels mention a 1980s pop star named Johnny Chester or Johnny Chess, intended to be the same character. Chess is idolised by the Seventh Doctor‘s companion Ace and has apparently been romantically involved with the Fifth Doctor‘s companion Tegan.
In issue #456 of The Doctor Who Magazine, the eleventh Doctor investigates strange psychic metal and finds Ian and Barbara inside, who believe they are teaching several classes for a wide range of students. In the following issues the two help the Doctor investigate a conspiracy that stretches through the years they knew ‘their’ Doctor and beyond. At the end, Ian and Barbara are married.
List of appearances
- Season 1
- An Unearthly Child
- The Daleks
- The Edge of Destruction
- Marco Polo
- The Keys of Marinus
- The Aztecs
- The Sensorites
- The Reign of Terror
- Season 2
- Planet of Giants
- The Dalek Invasion of Earth
- The Rescue
- The Romans
- The Web Planet
- The Crusade
- The Space Museum
- The Chase
- The Crusade VHS release (specially filmed segments)
- Here There Be Monsters (adventure related by Susan)
- Transit of Venus
- Farewell Great Macedon & Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance
- The Rocket Men
- The Five Companions (with the Fifth Doctor)
- The Revenants
- The Masters of Luxor
- The Wanderer
- The Time Museum
Short Trips audios
- Rise and Fall
- A Star is Born
- Venusian Lullaby by Paul Leonard
- The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Christopher Bulis
- The Plotters by Gareth Roberts
- The Face of the Enemy by David A. McIntee (Ian and Barbara appear here after parting company with the First Doctor, working with the Brigadier and the Master to deal with a crisis in the Third Doctor‘s absence)
- The Witch Hunters by Steve Lyons
- City at World’s End by Christopher Bulis
- Byzantium! by Keith Topping
- The Eleventh Tiger by David A. McIntee
- The Time Travellers by Simon Guerrier
- Matrix by Mike Tucker & Robert Perry (Alternate timeline visited by the Seventh Doctor and Ace)
- “Brief Encounter” by David Bishop (Doctor Who Magazine #169)
- “The Book of Shadows” by Jim Mortimore (Decalog)
- “The Nine-Day Queen” by Matt Jones (Decalog 2: Lost Property)
- “The Last Days” by Evan Pritchard (Rebecca Levene) (Short Trips)
- “Romans Cutaway” by David A. McIntee (More Short Trips)
- “Nothing at the End of the Lane (3 Parts)” by Daniel O’Mahony (Short Trips and Sidesteps)
- “The True and Indisputable Facts in the Case of the Ram’s Skull” by Mark Michalowski (Short Trips: Zodiac)
- “The Splintered Gate” by Justin Richards (Short Trips: Companions)
- “Distance” by Tara Samms (Short Trips: Companions)
- “Mire and Clay” by (Short Trips: A Universe of Terrors)
- “The Thief of Sherwood” by Jonathan Morris (Short Trips: Past Tense)
- “White Man’s Burden” by (Short Trips: Past Tense)
- “Every Day” by Stephen Fewell (Short Trips: A Christmas Treasury)
- “The Duke’s Folly” by Gareth Wigmore (Short Trips: Seven Deadly Sins)
- “Set in Stone” by and (Short Trips: The History of Christmas)
- “The Ruins of Time” by Philip Purser-Hallard (Short Trips: Time Signature)
- “Tell Me You Love Me” by (Short Trips: The Ghosts of Christmas)
- “A Religious Experience” by Warwick Gray and (Doctor Who Yearbook 1994)
- “Hunters of the Burning Stone” by Scott Gray (Doctor Who Magazine 456-461)
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