The First Doctor

The Hartnell Years

On November 23, 1963 the Science Fiction Phenomenon that is Doctor Who debuted on BBC in the UK, the show went on to become one of the most successful television franchises in history creating millions of fans around the world. For me however, my fascination with the nearly 50-year-old series started in April 2011, when I saw my first episode of the revived series featuring Matt Smith as the Doctor. In my curiosity I got my hands on earlier episodes and after finishing the episodes from 2005 on, I decided I wanted to experience the series in its entirety. Which began my exposure to the First Doctor, his Companions and all the very strange adventures that paved the way for the show's successful future.

The First Doctor makes his first appearance in the serial (A collection of 2 or more episodes, incase you didn't know) "An Unearthly Child," the title referring to the Doctor's granddaughter Susan who as a new who fan who had only seen the young 11th Doctor was a somewhat surprising revelation as imagining the 28-year-old Matt Smith as a Grandfather seemed strange. But as I learned to accept the First Doctor as his own character, and rightly so seeing as Hartnell had the 47 years before Smith, the Grandfather imaging became very fitting. Hartnell's Doctor is portrayed as a crotchety old man with little patience, especially with his kidnapped (that's right, he KIDNAPPED them) companions Ian and Barbara who he constantly berated and belittled, it was clear this Doctor saw himself as a superior Time Lord, far from later Doctor's love of Humans. The first episode in the first serial dealt with Ian and Barbara's discovery of the TARDIS and their subsequent kidnapping at the hands of the Doctor, but after that they materialize in the Stone Age and proceed to wander off and becoming involved in a power struggle with a tribe of Cave Men, the serial on the whole was forgettable as was much of the First Doctor's stories. Even the Introduction of the Daleks, the most famous of the long list of famous Doctor Who monsters, did little to really gain my interest in this Doctor.

Part of my problem with the First Doctor's run, as well as many up until the Fourth Doctor, was the long-winded approach to the serials, "the Daleks" which introduced said monsters, was a drawn out back and forth between the Doctor, Daleks and the Thals, the other inhabitants of the Dalek Home world Skaro who are at war with each other. Later on there is an episode with giant ants that I couldn't bear to finish it was so bad. But none of this is Hartnell's fault really, and I'm sure at the time it was enjoyable to the viewers then, seeing the new series first and being brought up on series where the stories usually began and concluded in one episode so my opinion on the series may be biased, actually I know it is. So I know the special effects of the time were terrible, so I tried to ignore that and focus on the stories and acting.

And that brings me to my analysis of William Hartnell's Doctor, at times the Doctor was portrayed as a grumpy old man but one with a childish side, often putting his companions in danger to entertain his own curiosity. That said, he did seem to care about them especially Susan, his granddaughter he often went out of his way to keep her safe, and showed his love for her when he made her leave so he wouldn't keep her from her life. His treatment of Ian and Barbara wasn't quite so kind, but he did eventually free them and picked up so new inappropriately young girls along the way, none of which were all that memorable, partly because they didn't seem to stick around for long, many of them were the stereotypical damsel in distress companion, and the sexism was far from vague with the women constantly screaming at the first sight of something moderately frightening. Sadly many of the episodes of Hartnell's serials are lost like many of the first two Doctors' stories keeping me from truly experiencing this Doctor to the fullest, which is too bad, but that said I was more than ready for him to go and regenerate into the Second Doctor, who I found much more entertaining, but more on that in the future.

Overall Hartnell played his role well and was at times truly fun to watch, especially against classic villains like the Daleks and the Cybermen, in "The Tenth Planet," an episode set in the unfathomable future year 1986. Criticisms aside, some moments really made me smile as I saw the pieces of what would become Doctor Who, the show I love slowly fall into shape and despite some of the shortcomings of Hartnell's character and acting ability, it is thanks to him that the series lives on today.

But, these are just my opinions, if you feel differently feel free to tear me a new one in the comments section!

A Video Compilation of First Doctor Moments