Old Doctor Who

The First Doctor was a complex character. One moment, a kindly and forgetful grandad. Next, a cantankerous and arrogant army major or an intuitive scientist – amongst others.

One of his more recognisable character bents was his mis-pronuncation of names, words and terms. He would frequently call Ian Chesterton; “Chesterson” or ‘Chessering”. Or mispronounce the names of everyday objects.

Whilst this quality became a part of the Doctor character and it also had a term coined for it; “Hartnellisms”. It actually stemmed from the way the show was filmed, rather than being an intended flaw.

Who, in the 60s was shot mostly live – in long scenes without cuts. Due to time and expense, retakes were very rarely used. The finished product can generally be thought of as a [nearly] live performance.

Hartnell himself also suffered from a number of health ailments – some of which occaisonally affected his memory (these eventually contributed to his exit from the show after 3 years). This, combined with the responsibility of providing the techno-babble explanations meant Hartnell was sometimes forgetful with his scripts and would ad-lib.


"Some radiation gloves would be most useful, right about now!"

In The Daleks, the TARDIS crew was looking at some anti-radiation “drugs”. The Doctor told the group that they were infact; anti-radiation “gloves”, then quickly corrected himself by saying “drugs”.

Of course this can be explained away somewhat – in story terms by the fact that the group were suffering radiation poisoning, which was affecting the Doctor far more than it affected the others.

The Edge of Destruction had the Doctor tell Susan to “check the fault-locator”. Instead, he told her to “check the fornicator”. Sadly this gem (somewhat predictably) didnt make the final cut.


"Susan! Be so kind as to check the Fornicator will you?"

In The Keys of Marinus the Doctor scolded Ian for not wearing his shoes, because he could have lent Susan “hers” (not “yours”).

In The Sensorites The Doctor intends to tell Maitland to stabilise his ship, but instead says “Stabilise us, Matron!”.

Perhaps the most famous of Hartnell’s fluffs, happened in The Chase when the Doctor warned Ian and Barbara that they could wind up as two “cinders floating around in ‘Spain'”, rather than “space”.

In Galaxy 4, when asked to help the Drahvins. The Doctor replied that he did not have “much ‘chance'”, rather than the scripted “choice”.

After called a god by Katarina in The Myth Makers, the Doctor corrected her by telling her to call him “Doctor”, and told her he wasn’t a “god”. However, Hartnell fluffed the line, saying “I am not a ‘Doc-‘” before quickly correcting himself with “I am not a god!”.

In The Daleks’ Master Plan Hartnell said that he had to hand the real taranium core to “Magic” (Mavic) Chen, but he quickly corrected himself, saying Mavic.

Thwre were many other Hartnellisms throughout the series as Hartnell stumbled upon certain words as he struggled to remember his lines, often saying something strange and funny instead.

It has now became a staple part of the First Doctor’s character and to a small degree, an element of his future regenerations. What was your favourite Hartnellism?

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