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 first incarnation of Doctor Who 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 the Doctor was a Time Lord from Gallifrey, he possessed 2 hearts, he could regenerate 12 times into a new body.
The initial incarnation of the Doctor, was a mysterious alien time traveller who travelled with his granddaughter Susan around time and space, through many historical periods in earth’s history.
Occasionally, they would stop somewhere long enough for Susan to continue her education, (she was particularly fond of 20th Century Earth history). There was the odd sojourn to alien worlds and first meetings with classic villain’s – the Dalek’s and Cybermen.
The Doctor’s character was uniquely multifaceted – even in the very first season, in that he could be crotchety and cantankerous but could also be guiding and warm – even giddy and silly. Some of this came from Hartnell himself adjusting the character over the first few episodes.
The very first episode – An Unearthly Child -1963, showed Susan’s teachers Ian and Barbara – from Coalhill School, following Susan home to a junkyard after school – as they were curious about her. There, they witnessed Susan go into an old police telephone box and met her crotchety old Grandad – ‘Doctor Foreman’. Who then promptly kidnapped them both – to go along on their adventures, for the next 2 years.
The first time the Tardis dematerialized, it was like the Doctor had spiked everyone’s tea with acid, as the Tardis buckled and groaned and the lava lamp effects kicked in and everyone passed out. Thankfully, later journeys would be much more efficient and quicker, featuring the trademark noise.
Little was revealed about the background of the Doctor and Susan, only that they were exiled and that they were born in another time on another world. It is also remarked in the first episode that Susan coins the name TARDIS herself, 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 was brought out in the Troughton era.
“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
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. The first Doctor had the biggest number of different companions to date. Beginning with Granddaughter Susan, her teachers : Ian and Barbara. Later, the Doctor was joined by Vicki, Katarina, Stephen, Dido, Ben and Polly.
The early show kept an air of mystery around the Doctor and the main part of its draw, was Ian and Barbara finding out a little bit more – every week; about their alien kidnappers.
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 .
Hartnell 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 Tank corps.
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 be humorous in his own way and yet authoritative and intelligent. He could also be scatter brained and unintelligible, 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’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 and Wyatt Earp – to name a few.
And then the more futuristic science concept episodes, 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.
“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 his sonic screwdriver yet, 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.
The Time Meddler – 1965 introduced the first idea of a recurring “Master” style antithesis to the Doctor, in this episode – the battle of Hastings is disrupted by a meddling time traveller who is trying to tip the balance of history, using future technology.
Hartnell was 55 when he took the role and his health was always a problem for him. He would frequently forget his lines and he didn’t always get on with his fellow actors or production staff, he was also rumoured to be very intolerant of other races – and could be very difficult to control, during filming.
In later serials, he sometimes went whole episodes without speaking (or even appearing at all) – and alot of the Doctor’s intended dialogue (and action) was later handled by the companions themselves.
It was decided, 3 years into his reign that his time had come to leave but rather than end the show – as it was still highly popular, a brilliantly conceived idea had the Doctor “regenerate” into a completely different (younger) individual.
This would become a central part of the show, (with the Doctor regenerating every 3-4 years into a different actor) upon which the show could be taken in a different and new direction.
So the Doctor, having vanquished the Cybermen but being mortally wounded in the battle, fell to the floor in episode 4 of The Tenth Planet – 1966 and changed into the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) in front of everybody’s eyes.
Sadly, some of Hartnell’s episodes were lost in the BBC Archive – including the pivotal regeneration into Troughton scene – “The Tenth Planet”. Episodes continue to surface to this day, so one day there may be a full collection amassed.
Hartnell briefly reprised his role (as a cameo – due to illness) in the Third Doctor’s episode The Three Doctor’s -1975 before he died. Richard Hurndell took over the role of the first Doctor in the 25th Anniversary serial – The Five Doctor’s -1983 .
Hartnell’s legacy was to begin the mythology, which would be taken much further by future incarnations and fleshed out into the familiar lore that we all know today.
Hartnell’s 10 of the best
Season One – 1963-64
An Unearthly Child – (Pilot) 🔵🔵🔵⚪⚪
The Edge of Destruction⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Marco Polo (missing)🔵🔵🔵🔵⚪
The Keys of Marinus🔵🔵🔵🔵⚪
The Reign of Terror (Parts 4 & 5 missing)🔵🔵🔵⚪⚪
Season Two – 1964-65 :
Planet of Giants🔵🔵🔵🔵⚪
The Dalek Invasion of Earth⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
The Web Planet🔵🔵🔵🔘⚪
The Crusade (parts 2 & 4 missing)🔵🔵🔵🔵🔘
The Space Museum🔵🔵🔵⚪⚪
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 Celestial Toymaker (parts 1, 2 & 3 missing)🔵🔵⚪⚪⚪
The Savages (missing)🔵🔵🔵⚪⚪
The War Machines🔵🔵🔵🔵⚪