William Hartnell – Doctor No. 1

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Doctor Origin : Gallifrey
(Actor) Born : 8 January 1908 – Died : 23 April 1975
Doctor Reign – 1963 – 66

“One day, I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs, and prove to me I am not mistaken in mine.” First Doctor Who.

The “Grandad” Doctor

The first incarnation of the Doctor was played by the character actor William Hartnell; and Doctor Who was a very different show in 1963 – to the one we know and love today.

Firstly, none of the established backstory was present, we didn’t know he was a Time Lord from Gallifrey, that he could regenerate – or that he only had 12 regenerations.

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The Doctor was played by William Hartnell – a 40-year veteran of stage and screen at the time he took the role of the Doctor. His acting credits included the very first Carry On film Carry on Sergeant – 1958 and the TV series The Army game – 1957-61 .

The beginning? Imagined many years later....

The beginning? Imagined many years later.

This initial incarnation of the Doctor, was a mysterious alien time-traveller who carted his grand-daughter Susan around, through many historical periods in Earth history.

Susan was a gifted individual with knowledge and abilities beyond her formative years. Occasionally, they would stop somewhere long enough for Susan to continue here education, (she was particularly fond of 20th Century Earth).

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The Doctor’s character was uniquely multi-faceted, in that he could be crotchety and cantankerous but could also be guiding and warm. Some of this came from Hartnell himself, adjusting the character over the first few episodes. As he wanted the character to be aloof but still remotely likable.

We first met the Doctor and Susan in An Unearthly Child – 1963, which also introduced Susan’s teachers – Ian and Barbara. After following Susan home to a junkyard after school they were kidnapped by the Doctor and taken on an adventure for the next 2 years.

doctor and susan

Little was revealed about the background of the Doctor and Susan, only that they were exiled and that they were born in another time and on another world.

The original scripts had the Doctor written as a “Time renegade” from the year 5733, whose home planet had been invaded, although this wasn’t included in the final show.

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It was also remarked in An Unearthly Child – (Pilot)that Susan coined the name ‘TARDIS’ based on the term “Time And Relative Dimensions In Space”. Later, the Doctor makes reference to having built the Tardis himself in The Chase – 1965.

Both of these revelations were later shelved, as the more accepted lore of the Timelord’s being all-powerful and manufacturing whole fleets of Tardis’ was brought out – in the Troughton era.

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“Have you ever thought what it’s like to be wanderers in the Fourth Dimension? Have you? To be exiles?” First Doctor – An Unearthly Child

This incarnation of the Doctor travelled with the biggest number of different companions. Beginning with Granddaughter Susan and her teachers; Ian and Barbara. Later, the Doctor was joined by Vicki, Stephen, Dodo, Katarina and Ben & Polly.

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Hartnell himself, was used to playing tough characters throughout his career. He seldom got to play the “good guy”, usually cast as heavies or Army types. He had some grounding in the latter, having seen action in WWII – serving in the British Tank corps.

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So the role of the Doctor was a major departure for him. He could be crotchety, arrogant and aloof, but he also showed a more gentle, playful nature, especially with his Granddaughter Susan.

He could also be humorous in his own way and yet authoritative and intelligent. He would also exhibit scatter brained-ness and forgetful, as if he had lost the plot.

Indeed, his Doctor had the many emotional facets later Doctor’s tried to capture and each episode seemed to bring out a different emotion in him; depending on the situation the Doctor faced.

hartnell sensoritesHartnell’s Who can be split into two distinct types of adventure. The period historical romp which meant that the Doctor visited many famous people in Earth’s history : Marco Polo, Emperor Nero, Richard Lionheart, The Aztecs and Wyatt Earp – amongst others.

And then there were the science-concept episode, where the Doctor journeyed to many far flung planets to meet many different species. Notable creations were the Dalek’s but the Doctor also came across the Cybermen, psychic Sensorite’s and the Reptilian Monoid’s – amongst others

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“It all started out as a mild curiosity in the junkyard, and now it’s turned out to be quite a great spirit of adventure!” First Doctor – The Sensorites

The Doctor didn’t have a sonic screwdriver to aid him in his jams, but he did have a ring which he could use in a similar way to control his Tardis console, open doors and break hypnotic trances. 

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The Time Meddler – 1965 introduced the first incarnation of a recurring “Master” style antithesis to the Doctor. Who is trying to tip the balance of history for personal gain – using futuristic technology.

Hartnell was 55 when he took over the role and his health was always a problem for him. He would sometimes forget/mixup his lines and he didn’t always get on with his fellow actors or production staff and could be difficult to control (especially after the first – and favoured producer Verity Lambert left).

In later serials, he sometimes went missing for whole parts and much of the dialogue and action were handled by the companions themselves – who seemed to stand in for the Doctor.

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It was decided by producers, 3 years into his reign that he should step down but rather than end the show – as it was still highly popular, a brilliantly conceived idea had the Doctor “regenerate” – into a completely different individual.

This would become the central core of the show, (with the Doctor regenerating every 3-4 years into a different actor) upon which; the show could be taken in a new direction.

image So the Doctor, having vanquished the Cybermen but frail and weak, he fell to the floor in part 4 of The Tenth Planet – 1966 and changed into Patrick Troughton in front of companion Ben & Polly’s eyes.

Sadly, some of Hartnell’s episodes were lost in the BBC Archive – including part 4 of The Tenth Planet – 1966 which featured the pivotal regeneration into Troughton (thankfully a clip still exists of the actual regeneration!).

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Hartnell briefly reprised his role as a cameo (due to illness) – in the Third Doctor’s episode The Three Doctors – 1973 before he died. Richard Hurndell then took over the role of the first Doctor in the 25th Anniversary serial – The Five Doctors – 1983.

Hartnell’s legacy was to begin the mythology which would be taken much further by the future incarnations and fleshed out into the lore that we know today.

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Richard Hurndell takes over the role of first Doctor for The Five Doctors - 1983

Old Doctor Who

Appearances :

Hartnell’s Hardiness – Seasonal Introduction

Season One – 1963-64

An Unearthly Child – (Pilot) 🔵🔵🔵⚪⚪
The Daleks⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Edge of Destruction⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Marco Polo (missing)🔵🔵🔵🔵⚪
The Keys of Marinus🔵🔵🔵🔵⚪
The Aztecs🔵🔵🔵🔵🔘
The Sensorites🔵🔵🔵⚪⚪
The Reign of Terror (Parts 4 & 5 missing)🔵🔵🔵⚪⚪

Season Two – 1964-65 :

Planet of Giants🔵🔵🔵🔵⚪
The Dalek Invasion of Earth⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Rescue🔵🔵🔵🔵⚪
The Romans🔴⚪⚪⚪⚪
The Web Planet🔵🔵🔵🔘⚪
The Crusade (parts 2 & 4 missing)🔵🔵🔵🔵🔘
The Space Museum🔵🔵🔵⚪⚪
The Chase🔵🔵🔵🔵🔘
The Time Meddler 🔵🔵🔵🔵⚪
Galaxy 4 (parts 1, 2 & 4 missing)🔵🔵🔵🔘⚪
Mission to the Unknown (missing)🔵🔵🔵🔵⚪

Season Three – 1965-66 :

The Myth Makers (missing)🔵🔵🔵🔘⚪
The Daleks’ Master Plan (parts 1, 3, 4, 6 -9, 11 & 12 missing)⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Massacre Of St Bartholmew’s Eve (missing)🔵🔵⚪⚪⚪
The Ark⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Celestial Toymaker (parts 1, 2 & 3 missing)🔵🔵⚪⚪⚪
The Gunfighters🔵🔵🔵🔘⚪
The Savages (missing)🔵🔵🔵⚪⚪
The War Machines🔵🔵🔵🔵⚪

Season Four – 1966 – 67 :

The Smugglers (missing) 🔵🔵⚪⚪⚪
The Tenth Planet (part 4 missing)⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Season Ten – 1973

The Three Doctors⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Season Twenty – 1983

The Five Doctors – (played by Richard Hurndell)⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


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