I love Dr Who, I have many memories as a child of hiding under cushions just peeking out when I was sure those pesky Daleks had been beaten! It was genuinely scary, even with the bad shaky sets and terrible costumes, it was a must watch scare fest. The show has of course morphed into what it is today – slick Saturday night family viewing, but in 1963 when the doctor first graced our screens, TV, special effects and entertainment was a very different thing.
Whilst I still watch Dr Who, and actually think for such a young chap, Matt Smith does a great job, I am not sure if something has been lost as the budgets have gone up, and special effects have become rather more special. The Dr Who of my childhood felt a little more edgy, it was scary and strangely glamorous. The Doctors of my childhood (before the far too long enforced break 1989 to 2005 – if you ignore the 1996 TV film, and we all do!) are still my favourites, how could they not be! Peter Davison is the first Doctor I really remember, and I went through Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy's tenures as a childhood avid fan.
But it was back in 1963 that the TV series began, 23 November 1963 to be precise, the series starting with a very different premise to what it has become, initially Dr Who was to be educational – the time travel ahead in time teaching the scientific, and the time travel back about history – it was very clear initially that the series should contain no 'bug eyed monsters' and the Daleks were initially vetoed, only making to the screen when no other ideas where forthcoming.
The first Doctor was William Hartnell, he played the role for just three years from 1963 to 1966, Londoner Hartnell was born in 1908, and died at the too early age of 67, in 1975 of heart failure. Hartnell fought in World War II, in the Tank Corps, but he suffered a nervous breakdown after 18 months service and was invalided out, going back to to the career on the stage that he had prior to the break out of war.
Before Dr Who he appeared in mainly British films including in 1958 in the first Carry On film – Carry on Sergeant.
The Doctor was one of Hartnell's last roles, yet most definitely the one he is most remembered for, the first Doctor was a very different character to that which are now presented with. To put it in contrast; Hartnell was 58 when he finished played the Doctor, whilst Matt Smith is now 30, and David Tennant before him was 39 when he finished his role.
The TV series was initially pitched to Hartnell as a children’s show, and he was somewhat reluctant to play the Doctor, but after being cast for so much of his working life in the role of a tough military man, he took the role hoping it would offer him the chance to play a softer side, he had at the time two grandchildren and enjoyed the pleasure they took from his portrayal of the Doctor.
Each actor to be the Doctor has added their stamp and personality, but when Hartnell took the role, it was a clean slate, he had nothing to build upon, and his portrayal of the Doctor to my mind was part school teacher, part supercilious know it all, and part grandfather – and he spent rather a lot of time with a slightly smug half smile looking around him – all that said if you go back and watch some of those first Dr Who's despite the wobbly sets, and not very special effects, they are eminently watch-able and entertaining, and although it is perhaps true that Hartnell's portrayal of the Doctor was hollow in comparison to the richness of what was to come, he set the standard for the others, he planted the seeds and sent out the roots from which all subsequent Doctors have come from and used in their performances. Although not the best Doctor, his place as the first Doctor, the original Doctor is guaranteed and well deserved.
Keep a watch out over the next few months, for each of the Doctors!