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Dr Who - Surprising Facts about the First Three Doctors

By Edited Jan 24, 2016 0 0

Part One of a 5-part Dr Who Series

For Dr Who fans, the waiting has been unbearable but on Easter Saturday 2013 the new series began. Matt Smith is at his brilliant best and he has an incredibly hot new companion, Clara played by Jenna Louise Coleman. The internet has gone mad with theories about her and clues Steven Moffat may or may not have dropped in here and there.

So, in honour of one of the best-loved shows ever produced by the BBC, here are some surprising facts about the actors who have had the privilege to play the Time Lord from Gallifrey.

In Part One (of four), we look at the first three Doctors, William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee.

The First Doctor:

William Hartnell, played Dr Who from 23 November 1963 – 29 October 1966

William Hartnell - the First Dr Who

William Henry Hartnell (1908 – 1975) was an only child. His mother, Lucy, was unmarried and so he spent some of his childhood with a foster mother. His Father was not named on Hartnell’s birth certificate and he never found out who his Father was, despite trying to find him.

He left school without any qualifications and was a petty criminal for a while.

Like many poor boys of his generation, Hartnell joined a boxing club for boys. There, he met Hugh Blaker who took on the role of guardian and subsequently became a lifelong friend. Blaker arranged for Hartnell to train as a jockey. He also got him into the famous Italia Conti theatre school.

During the Second World War, Hartnell was in the Tank Corps but had a nervous breakdown after 18 months of service. He was invalided out and went back to acting.

Hartnell acted in many Shakespearian plays but it was his role in ‘This Sporting Life’ which caught the eye of TV Producer Verity Lambert. She was starting work on a new TV series for the BBC – Dr Who – and wanted Hartnell to be the first Dr. He wasn’t sure at first as it was a children’s programme but he wanted to break away from the many military parts he had been playing.

In 1965, he was working on ‘The Myth Makers’ (a missing part of the 3rd Season of Dr Who. Although some sound recordings survived, no episodes did) when his Aunt Bessie died. She had cared for him when he was a child but he was unable to go to her funeral due to the heavy workload.

Hartnell began to suffer with arteriosclerosis which affected his work. Verity Lambert had left and Hartnell didn’t get on well with the new team so he left Dr Who. The new producer, Innes Lloyd, had the idea of The Dr regenerating.

Using cue cards, Hartnell returned to his role as Dr Who in ‘The Three Doctors’ in 1972. This was his last role. Three years later he died of heart failure aged 67.

To celebrate 50 Years of Dr Who, the BBC are making a dramatisation of how the series was created. It is to be called ‘An Adventure in Space and Time’ and David Bradley (famous for his role as Filch in the Harry Potter films) is to play Hartnell.

The Second Doctor:

Patrick Troughton, played Dr Who from 29 October 1966 – 21 June 1969

The Second Dr Who - Patrick Troughton

Patrick George Troughton (1920 – 1987) was taught to act at the Embassy School of Acting in Swiss Cottage, London. He then travelled to New York to take up a scholarship to the Leighton Rallius Studios.

The Second World War began and Troughton travelled back to England on a ship which hit a mine. Luckily, they were not far from the coast and he was able to reach safety in a lifeboat.

He joined the Royal Navy in 1940. Despite wearing a tea cosy as a hat in the bitterly cold north sea, his bravery in the face of the enemy was Mentioned in Dispatches.

When the war ended, Troughton went back to the theatre but his first love was television, which was in its’ infancy. He was the first actor to play ‘Robin Hood’ in a 1953 production.

When William Hartnell left Dr Who in 1966, he told the producer "There's only one man in England who can take over, and that's Patrick Troughton".

Troughton suggested playing The Doctor as a hard-bitten sea captain or a pirate. Sydney Newman, who was one of the creators of the programme, suggested playing him as a ‘cosmic hobo’ inspired by Charlie Chaplin.

Patrick Troughton was the first Dr Who whose face was shown in the opening titles.

Sadly, the BBC wiped many of Troughton’s early episodes of Dr Who.

Troughton played Dr Who three more times after leaving – more than any other actor.

  • In 1973 he appeared in The Three Doctors, a serial to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the programme.
  • He also appeared in The Five Doctors, to celebrate 20 years
  • and in 1985, appeared in The Two Doctors with the then Dr of that time - Colin Baker.

In the 50th Anniversary docudrama, An Adventure in Space and Time, Troughton will be played by Reece Shearsmith. Shearsmith is most famous for The League of Gentlemen – which also starred Mark Gatiss who has written for Dr Who and acted in it as well.

In his later years, Troughton developed severe heart disease and suffered a massive heart attack which killed him instantly on 27 March 1987, two days after his 67th birthday.

The Third Doctor:

Jon Pertwee, played Dr Whofrom 3 January 1970 – 8 June 1974

The Third Dr Who - Jon Pertwee

John Devon Roland Pertwee (1919 – 1996) was born in Chelsea, London. His family descended from Huguenots (members of the Protestant Reformed Church of France in the 1500s and 1600s). The family name was originally ‘de Perthuis de Laillevault’ but had become anglicised over the centuries to Pertwee.

As a child, Pertwee was expelled from several schools. He then went to RADA (the world famous Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) but was expelled from there as well. His ‘crime’ was refusing to act as a ‘greed wind’ and for writing on the walls of the toilets.

During the Second World War, Pertwee worked with Ian Fleming (author of James Bond) in Naval Intelligence and had to pass information directly to Winston Churchill.

Pertwee was in the crew of HMS Hood but was lucky to be put aboard another ship, shortly before Hood was sunk by the Bismark. Of 1,418 men on Hood, only 3 survived.

Following a heavy night out with his Navy mates, Pertwee awoke to discover a cobra tattooed on his arm.

After the war, he appeared on stage, on radio (most notably The Navy Lark) and in films. He appeared in four ‘Carry On’ Films.

In 1955, he married Jean Marsh (who, with Dame Eileen Atkins created the well-loved serial ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’). Pertwee and Marsh divorced in 1960.

In 1969, Pertwee asked his agent to put him forward for Dr Who, only to find that he had already been shortlisted for it. The first choice was Ron Moody who, luckily for Pertwee, wasn’t available at the time.

Pertwee appeared again as Dr Who in The Five Doctors (20th Anniversary episode), two radio episodes and toured the UK in 1989 in a theatre play called Dr Who – The Ultimate Adventure.

Apart from Dr Who, Pertwee was much loved as ITV’s Worzel Gummidge, a loveable scarecrow, a part which he played for many years. In his will, he asked for a toy Worzel to be placed on his coffin and after his death in 1996 from a heart attack, his wishes were carried out.

Pertwee wrote two autobiographies. The second one Doctor Who: I Am the Doctor – Jon Pertwee’s Final Memoir was published after he died. It's still available but rather a collectors' item!

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