Doctor Who – The First Doctor

Played by: William Hartnell

When: 1963-1966

Significant contributions to the Whoniverse: William Hartnell was the first man to bring the good Doctor to our screens.   As early as his second serial, he faced off against what became the most popular Doctor Who villain ever, the Daleks.   In addition, in his final season, the Cybermen were also introduced.    Through the First Doctor, we learn of his vessel the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space), which can take him anywhere and any time that he wishes.   This is technology of his kind, the Time Lords.   In the first episode, it is situated in 1960s London, disguised as a police box due to its chameleon circuit.   Unfortunately, after this point, the chameleon circuit is broken, meaning the TARDIS retains this shape in all of its adventures.

Reflections by Film Nerd.

For a long time now, I have been intending to review Doctor Who.   The problem with this goal is exactly how to go about this.   It is currently in its thirty-second season of television, with individual seasons being separated into mult-episode serials, and eleven different people having played the title role.   I am currently in season 14 of the classic series, so going back and reviewing every individual serial or episode to me would prove too mammoth a task.   As such, I have decided to instead give a detailed review of each Doctor and what they brought to the series in their episodes.

What is a better place to start than the beginning??   William Hartnell was the first man to introduce us to this funny man that would never given any name except “The Doctor”.   His initial portrayal was that of a prickly old man, very self-concerned and uninterested in any companion in his travels aside from his grand-daughter Susan (Carole Ann Ford).   As time progresses though, he is more accepting of having company on his travels, regretting when anyone leaves the TARDIS to resume their former lives.   He comes across as somewhat absent-minded, always insisting he knows exactly what he is doing despite being prone to a number of mistakes.   He proves himself to be a humourous and caring character, and his laugh was certainly infectious.

The production values of these early episodes are often very poor, with alien costumes far from convincing, and sets looking like they could fall over with a breath of wind.   Marathoning the episodes however, the quality does improve almost imperceptibly with time.   The stories are often quite strong, however, though quaint in presentation.   The writer Terry Nation created the Daleks, a villain so thrilling he came back multiple times to bring this race back.   The biggest disappointment of Hartnell’s run, however, is the sheer number of episodes that simply do not exist.   For a long period, the BBC junked former archival material, including many Doctor Who episodes.   Fans have gone to great length to try to reconstruct these episodes from surviving audio clips and still images, meaning I have technically not missed an episode, but clearly this is not the same as watching original airing quality episodes.

The Companions

Susan Foreman (Carole Ann Ford)

Susan is grand-daughter of the Doctor, and fiercely loyal to him.   She is young, of school age, and prone to making rash and often unwise decisions that often lead her into trouble.   I will admit it, initially I found her quite annoying, her main function appearing to be to scream throughout the scenes she was in.   Eventually the character does grow on one, and when she chooses to leave the TARDIS for a man she has fallen in love with, it is the end to the first “chapter” as it were of the franchise.   After all, she was the first ever companion to leave!!

Ian Chesterton (William Russell)

Chesterton is Susan’s science teacher whom, along with Barbara Wright (below), is intrigued by this young girl who seems to know so much but gets seemingly so many things wrong (she is of course right all along).   He will not stand for the Doctor’s antics early on, but a fondness develops between them over many adventures.   Chesterton takes on the somewhat alpha male action lead, which perhaps may have seemed a less convincing characteristic for Hartnell himself to portray.   Though a valued ally, Chesterton and Wright miss home, and eventually hijack a Dalek time machine to get home, with the Doctor’s (eventual) blessing.

Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill)

Barbara and Ian were an almost inseparable pair, though romance itself was never specifically stated in the series.   She was a necessary role in the series at this stage, forming a bridge and a mediator between all the other TARDIS crew members.   Most significantly, she took on a mothering role for Susan.   Her background as a history teacher gave her an added level of fascination at times when the TARDIS took them to moments in Earth’s history, notably when in ancient Rome, and also when meeting the Aztecs.

 

Vicki (Maureen O’Brien)

Vicki was introduced shortly after Susan’s departure, somewhat to fill the void left by her it would seem.   She was not an identical character however, seeming more adapted to travel in time and space.   As such, for me at least, she was a much more generally likeable presence.   The Doctor, Ian and Susan freed her from a captive like situation when she is terrorised by a beast on a planet where her 25th century Earth space shuttle has crashed.   Like Susan however, she eventually leaves for the sake of love, this time with a warrior from ancient Troy.

Steven Taylor (Peter Purves)

Steven made his first Whoniverse appearance during the last episode to feature Ian and Barbara.   Hence, it was clear he was to take on the more action role for the TARDIS crew from that point.   He was a man who was nigh on insane after being terrorised by a race called the mechanoids, whom he was kept the prisoner of after crash landing on their planet.   He stows away on the TARDIS, and remains for many following adventures.   Though originally short-sighted, he becomes a very strong character during his time with the Doctor, as well as being immensely likeable and watchable.   His character comes so far, that it is in staying behind to lead a combined civilisation of previously warring groups that he finally leaves the TARDIS.   It is a huge responsibility, but as a viewer I was left with no doubt he was up to the task.

Katarina (Adrienne Hill)

Katarina sadly did not last long enough with the Doctor to really make a true impression.   She joined the TARDIS crew in Troy, where she was a hand-maiden, in the same moments that Vicki took her leave.   She left the series with the very next serial.   Her contribution was small, her ancient origins making this realm of time-travel almost incomprehensible.   This was the first instance however where the circumstances surrounding the departure of a companion were quite tragic, making her small role none-the-less memorable.

 

Sara Kingdom (Jean Marsh)

Sara Kingdom only appeared in one Doctor Who serial, but it can certainly be called a memorable one.   The story was that of “The Dalek’s Master Plan”, and Kingdom was on the track of The Doctor and Steven in her role as law enforcement officer who had been wrongfully informed that they were criminals.   Unfortunately, her end was not so pleasant, just as Katarina’s had not been earlier in the same serial.   She was a ruthless, independent woman who was also capable of compassion.   She was not in the TARDIS for a long period, but her mark on it will always be lasting.

 

Dorothea “Dodo” Chaplet (Jackie Lane)

Dodo by name, dodo by nature.   When her character was introduced stumbling accidentally into the TARDIS, I must admit I took an almost instant dislike to her.   She was a young, hip, swinging 60s type that was clearly designed to target a younger, hipper market.   I believe that after a few serials, her lack of success as a character was indeed her demise.   Her departure was almost as abrupt as her entrance, with no big fond farewells, just a vague indication she wasn’t going to be joining the Doctor again.

 

 

 

 

Polly (Anneke Wills)

Polly entered the role of female companion in the same serial that Dodo left.   Her character was also young and hip, but not so much in the face about it.   She was a much warmer character, though she could often rub fellow companion Ben (below) up the wrong way.   She adapts well to life on board the TARDIS, and is the first person to accept that the new man who appeared where the Doctor she knew vanished was indeed still the Doctor.   Hence, she continues her travels….

 

Ben Jackson (Michael Craze)

Ben entered the TARDIS with Polly, and as a Navy man, he was perhaps less accepting of all the absurd things going on around him at first.   This often led to him conflicting with both The Doctor and Polly.   Despite this, he was a really good character, the type of guy you would rely on in a pinch.   Just as with Ian and Barbara, there is a relationship brewing between the companions here, and working as a unit is when to like them best.   Ben was not ready to believe that two faces could belong to the same man, but eventually he does, continuing his TARDIS adventures with the Second Doctor.

 

 

 

The First Regeneration [SPOILERS]

Do not read ahead if you wish to watch the episodes and discover the regenerations for yourself.   Following a conflict with the Cybermen, the Doctor collapses exhausted in the TARDIS.   The episode in which this occurs is one of the lost ones, but some surviving footage doers exist of a fade out/fade in under bright lights showing Hartnell in a way “morphing” into Patrick Troughton.   It is a simple but effective method, even if it does lack the flair of modern regenerations.   Interestingly, the term regeneration was not yet used, the producers of the show perhaps at this stage unaware of how often they would change the lead actor.   Rather, we are informed by Patrick Troughton that he has been “renewed.”

 

Concluding remarks

Doctor Who when it first started way back in 1963 had shaky production values, some over-exaggerated acting, and some under-scripted characters.   What it did have from early on though was a great concept which was used to tell some original, thrilling stories.   Not every story was a winner, but that can also be said of any television series made from any period.   Taking also into consideration that in the three and a bit seasons covered here, they were making over 40 episodes a year, the fact there were more hits than misses is also really quite incredible.   Clearly, the show had a strong foundation, which is evidenced enough by the simple fact it is still being made close to 50 years later.