Like most people my age, I started watching Doctor Who when a certain Mr Tom Baker was resident in the TARDIS. The show became a “must watch” for myself and all my friends and I remember that each episode would be discussed in forensic detail by us all, and of course back then we didn’t have repeats or video recorders, so if you happened to miss an episode, you felt extremely left out when the group was talking about it afterwards. As a result, Tom Baker was my Doctor and to this day he is still my favourite.
I happen to like ALL the Doctors. Each actor to step through the doors of that famous blue Police Box has brought their own unique take to the role and as such, stamped a part of their personality on the famous Time Lord. Over the last few years since completing my Classic Who dvd collection, I have come to particularly love the first Doctor, William Hartnell.
From following various Who pages on Facebook, I noticed the new Who pages regularly ran Doctor elimination contests. I never see the point of these and you know right at the start that the winner is going to be either Tennant or Smith. First to be voted off was always Hartnell and Colin Baker. This was a trend that I noticed among a lot of fans of the new series, that Hartnell was always dismissed as being a grumpy old man and his era was black and white, which seems to put off a lot of fans from watching as they have preconceived notions about television from the 60’s and 70’s as being rubbish. I often got the impression that William was sadly underrated and worse, underappreciated and as the first man to play the part, I think it is quite sad in a way that he is not thought more highly of.
From watching and re-watching his stories on dvd, I have come to love the original Doctor now as much as I love Tom Baker. The more I saw the Hartnell adventures, the more I picked up on aspects of his personality that all add up to make the perfect Time Lord. Yes, I think it is fair to say that he WAS grumpy, especially at the start, but that was just one facet of his personality and to be fair, he did mellow considerably as his era moved on. A lot of this is down to the effect that human companions Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright had on him. At the beginning, they were all somewhat reluctant travelling companions but as time went on, the Doctor learned as much from them as they did from him. He is shown to be a very caring man. Through his relationship with Granddaughter Susan, he is the Parental figure in the absence of her Mother and Father, and he does his best to look after her. My favourite scene from Doctor Who is the farewell scene at the end of The Dalek Invasion of Earth. The Doctor knows that Susan will never leave his side and he doesn’t want to be responsible for her not living her life to the full. He knows that David will take care of her and that by leaving her with him, she will finally be able to settle down and live happily without feeling she has to stay in the TARDIS. It is a scene that is highly emotional as his speech is very powerful and we can feel his sadness that he is losing his Granddaughter, yet at the same time knowing she will be better off in the long run. Another poignant moment is his goodbye to Ian and Barbara at the end of The Chase. He is all bluster and annoyance as he is adamant he will not help them program the Dalek time machine in order for them to get home. However, after relenting, we see him admit to Vicki that he is going to miss them very much. This is given extra impetus by the fact that Hartnell was genuinely sad to see William Russell and Jacqueline Hill, leaving the show. Another example of his caring nature is seen through his relationship with Vicki. You see that he really cares for her and in The Crusade and The Romans especially, there is a real sense that Vicki and the Doctor are particularly fond of each other. The Aztecs is famous for being the story where the Doctor got engaged, but although it was maybe a bit unintentional, his feelings for Cameca are real and we see how much he likes her and get a real sense of anguish that he feels when he knows he will be leaving. The scenes between the two are so touching and well played.
Another aspect of Hartnell that doesn’t get mentioned enough is his humour. He could be really funny on occasion either intentionally or unintentionally. One of his stand out performances, for me, is The Romans. He is simply wonderful in this story as he romps through the four episodes with a big smile and that cheeky laugh. Dispatching the would be assassin while he giggles away to himself using the fighting techniques that he taught the Mountain Mawler of Montana, is an absolutely priceless moment. When he is having fun, there is an almost childlike quality to his character that you cannot help but love. Another story where his humour is often displayed is in the underrated The Gunfighters. Here, yet again, there are so many hilarious scenes and again shows the often overlooked side to his character. We also get a wonderful moment in The Space Museum when the Doctor, having got the better of his captor, proceeds to hide inside a Dalek exhibit, emerging with a big grin and laughing away to himself quite the thing. He is like a small child getting up to some good natured mischief.
Probably the most important aspect to a Time Lord personality is intelligence and Hartnell always had that in abundance. Quietly thoughtful and always able to think of a way out of a tricky situation, he was able to outsmart any enemy he came up against. The first Doctor was often portrayed as a Scientist with an eager and inquisitive mind, always thirsty to learn more and discover new cultures and civilisations. A reason for his travels, was to see the Universe, explore and find out as much as he could about what was out there among the stars.
As you can no doubt surmise, I could likely go on all day about why I like Mr Hartnell so much. He was the original Doctor and it was in no small part thanks to him that the show was successful enough to carry on past the first few stories. He was very proud of being the Doctor and genuinely loved being a part of the show, and he was absolutely wonderful in it too. There are so many amazing stories to enjoy from his era. Marco Polo, The Aztecs, The Reign of Terror, The Time Meddler etc…..so do yourself a wee favour and dig out a William Hartnell adventure next time you fancy watching Doctor Who. You won’t be sorry.