Why I Love The First Doctor
Guest contributor Liam Rees celebrates the first Doctor on Hartnell’s date of birth.
Today we celebrate the birthday of somebody very special, but who sadly is no longer with us. He is the man who laid the foundations of a legacy that has lasted for over five decades and is still going strong to this day. Ultimately this makes him the man who led the world to accepting overly long scarfs, converse shoes and bow-ties as popular clothing accessories. Although you might find yourself looking like a bit of a clown wearing all three at once: seriously, I don’t advise it. Yes, of course, there is only one man it could be: William Hartnell – the First Doctor! For me, my love for the character stems from my respect for the actor. As such I have decided to focus much of the article on the man himself.
So what is it about the First Doctor that makes me consider him as one of my favourite Doctors? And why do I consider William Hartnell to be such an admirable actor? Well, quite simply because there are only a handful of actors capable of portraying a grumpy old granddad with a young heart and caring personality like William Hartnell managed to as the First Doctor. He brought a unique spark to the role blending youth and age. I believe this was because it was a role that he could identify with, it was a role that reached out to children and adults alike, warmly embracing all. Something I feel that only Hartnell could have brought to the character; I truly believe that the show wouldn’t have succeeded the way it has had the part of the First Doctor gone to somebody else.
It was William Hartnell’s personal touch which injected that extra lease of life into the character that made it such an immersive experience for fans. It was evident from his portrayal that the role of the Doctor was something Hartnell cared for with great passion. This was not only because he knew what it meant to his audience, but because it was the breath of fresh air that he needed as an actor; a new direction in contrast to the tough-guy roles he was limited to previously. The care and love he devoted to the character clearly showed through his performance in bringing the character to life and creating a special dynamic with his fellow co-stars that felt believable and grounded.
His commitment in inventing the character of the Doctor in his own unique way created a pedestal that his successors have looked to, both for inspiration and in admiration. He has created the fictional hero that we all know and love; an illusory figure that is known across the globe, in the hearts and souls of Whovians everywhere. In many ways the first Doctor was the original, so if not for Hartnell’s understanding of who his Doctor was – described as a combination of the Wizard of Oz and Father Christmas – then one can only imagine what kind of Doctor we’d be faced with today.
William Hartnell was also able to capture the essence of his successors before the idea of anybody taking over from him was even considered. The first Doctor emulates some of the best qualities of the Doctors to follow him. He had the depth of Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor, the lovable ignorance of Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor and the eccentric presence of every other actor to pocket the keys to the TARDIS.
In short, I love and admire Hartnell’s portrayal because he was a man with a lot weighing down on his shoulders; he wasn’t entirely sure himself whether or not he was right for the part and he knew the same question was on many others’ lips too. Despite this kind of pressure, he managed to present to the world a man that you could love, hate and laugh at all at once and he did it seamlessly. It was that unique blend that defined the First Doctor and ultimately every Doctor to follow.
Hartnell’s Doctor is often under-looked by many, and can be misunderstood at times too. This which really is a shame as I find his to be one of the richest performances throughout all of Doctor Who’s history, brought to us by a man who handled it with great care and affection.
Mr. Hartnell, thank you. Gone but never forgotten.