Saving the First Until Last

In the two and a half years that I’ve been a Doctor Who fan, I’ve managed to see a number of stories from each Doctor and even completed a few eras along the way. However, I always found myself steering clear of the First Doctor. That is, until very recently…

To give some context, I first delved into to Doctor Who in January 2016 with the Tom Baker story ‘Robot’. I’d been well aware of the show for years and had even been a huge fan of the Sarah Jane Adventures. This, and the fact I’d seen part of ‘The Face of Evil’ a few days earlier, heavily influenced which eras I focused on. I made my way through the Tom Baker and stopped at ‘The Invisible Enemy’. At that point, I began to pick stories at random from the Third, Fifth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors. Shortly afterwards, I added the Sixth and Seventh Doctors into the mix. But what of the 1960s Doctors?

I can’t remember which story it was, but I was somewhat put off 1960s Doctor Who after watching part of a Troughton story. I adore his Doctor, as well as his companions, and there are Second Doctor stories I love – ‘The War Games’ being a favourite of mine. However, I’ve never been a massive fan of that era’s stories as a whole. Therefore, I assumed the Hartnell era was going to be the same, and I simply didn’t look into it.

Fast forward to July 2017 – the First Doctor is back. It was clear from the ending of ‘The Doctor Falls’ that he would be joining the action from ‘The Tenth Planet’. Therefore, I decided it would be wise to watch the story in preparation for the Christmas Special. I’m sorry to say that I only made it partway through episode 2.

My favourite Doctor Who stories tend to be those set in the past, or in present-day Earth. From what I had seen, 60s Doctor Who was very much full of heavy science fiction and space-based adventures which I’m not usually too fond of.

Another issue was the character of the First Doctor himself. Friends and internet lists had told me he was always grumpy, rather generic and one of the least likeable incarnations. However, I had been told the same about Colin Baker, who is now one of my favourite Doctors. So perhaps there was some hope…

Richard Hurndall as the First Doctor - 'The Five Doctors' (1983)
Richard Hurndall as the First Doctor – ‘The Five Doctors’ (1983)

I should mention that I was already very familiar with the portrayals of both Richard Hurndall and David Bradley. ‘The Five Doctors’ is one of the Doctor Who stories I have seen the most. I absolutely love it, and part of that does come down to Richard Hurndall. He puts in a great performance (rather than an imitation) and gives Peter Davison a run for his money. In retrospect, however, he is perhaps a bit too abrasive. He doesn’t really have the loveable charm that Hartnell had. Bradley meanwhile, is a bit too mellow for me. There isn’t enough authority behind his line delivery and there is not a ‘Hmmm’ to be found. This is, however, nothing when compared to his abhorrent sexism. One really has to wonder what Steven Moffat was thinking. It was a great disservice to not just the character of the First Doctor, but the Classic Series in general. I noticed several people saying afterwards how it had put them off going back to watch the original run, which is a real shame.

Then, in May of this year, something rather wonderful happened. That something was of course ‘Doctor Who on Twitch’. This time, there was no excuse; I just had to sit down and watch the First Doctor live.

I absolutely loved the first part of ‘An Unearthly Child’, but found the three subsequent parts and the two following stories to be rather dull. While I was disappointed, the original TARDIS team were what made the episodes watchable. Thankfully, things picked up on the second night for me with ‘The Keys of Marinus’. It was at this point that I began to question all I’d been told about Hartnell’s Doctor. He wasn’t overly abrasive at all, but rather humorous and, thanks to his doddery mannerisms, extremely endearing. In a time when the show was very much an ensemble piece, the Doctor actually provided a great many comical moments.  I was also glad to see many historical stories; ‘The Aztecs’ in particular stood out to me and has definitely become a favourite. ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’ is my overall favourite, however. It was great to see the Doctor deciding to stop the Daleks, showing how he had evolved into a true hero after meeting his companions. Many say Hartnell doesn’t feel like the Doctor we know today, but after only a few stories I didn’t doubt him at all.

It wasn’t just the Doctor I warmed to. I found all of his companions to be very likeable and every line-up worked very well. However, Ian and Barbara, in particular, stood out to me, and in those early stories, they really carry the show. By the time the marathon reached ‘The Chase’, I’d become so used to the First Doctor, Ian and Barbara that their exit hit me very hard indeed. The Doctor watching them in London 1965 through the Time-Space Visualiser gets my vote for the saddest Who moment of all time.

However, their departure does give the Doctor the chance to more fully emerge as the star of the show given he was the only original character left. When the time came for the First Doctor era to end on the stream, he had become one of my favourite Doctors and as such, I was very sad to see him go. I almost feel like ‘Doctor Who On Twitch’ was damage control for ‘Twice Upon a Time’. I was one of many, many people who were falling in love with this Doctor for the first time and he was certainly the incarnation which left the most impact on the chat.

William Hartnell returns to Doctor Who - 'The Three Doctors' (1973)
William Hartnell returns to Doctor Who – ‘The Three Doctors’ (1973)

Of course, that would not be the last time we’d see him during the marathon as he does, of course, make a very limited appearance in ‘The Three Doctors’. This is a story that I’ve seen countless times but it became all the more special after having finally seen many First Doctor stories. His final line is very poignant, and given he passed away only two years later, it’s all the more heartbreaking.

“Though considering the way things have been going, well, I shudder to think what you will do without me.”

The moral of this story is ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’. I’ve found this to be true of many things when it comes to Doctor Who; I am, for example, a great fan of ‘Time-Flight’. It’s always better to find out for yourself rather than simply making assumptions, or following fan consensus without all of the facts. The First, and indeed the Sixth Doctor would really benefit from this. Thankfully, ‘Doctor Who On Twitch’ has given the First Doctor a lot more attention and in a way, I’m glad to have discovered the character through that event. It’s a testament to William Hartnell that 55 years on, his Doctor is still attracting new fans.


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