Doctor Who: The Strange Legacy of The First Doctor and William Hartnell

Categories: Doctor Who

Doctor Who turns 50 years old on November 23 of this year, and a massive television special is both in preparation and being kept extremely under wraps. The rumor right now is the Steven Moffat has finished a script that will include all 11 incarnations of the Time Lord. The three Doctors who have passed on, William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, and Jon Pertwee, will apparently return through some sort of cinematic trickery. Hey, if some guy on YouTube can insert One, Two, Four, and Ten into Phantom Menace I'm sure the BBC can pull it off.

Aside from all the hoopla around the special itself, there is another amazing bit of television that we can look forward to. The origin of the show will be explored in a docudrama call An Adventure in Space and Time. Writer Mark Gattis has been trying to get such a project off the ground since before the series celebrated its 40th anniversary, and now it's coming to fruition with David Bradley in the role of William Hartnell and the First Doctor.

It's an interesting story, and certainly not one that anyone could have expected to led where it has half a century later. In 1963 the BBC had its first female producer, Verity Lambert. It was she who convinced an aging William Hartnell, then known for playing gruff military officers and thugs, to take on the role that he would make one of the most iconic in television history. As he said himself in "The Sensorites," "It all started out as a mild curiosity in the junkyard, and now it's turned out to be quite a great spirit of adventure."

Even though he was the First, in many ways Hartnell's Doctor is the incarnation we know the least about. A definitive history of The Doctor from his birth on Gallifrey to the moment we meet him, aged around 200 years old in 1963, remains shrouded in mystery. Hints have been dropped over the years, especially in the new series, and spin-off novels, audio plays, and comics have touched on the time, but who The Doctor was before we met him and why he fled into exile is more or less unknown.

Hartnell was the oldest actor to play The Doctor, which is odd considering he is the youngest incarnation. Juxtapose that with the fact that Matt Smith, who is over 900 years older than The Doctor that debuted in "An Unearthly Child" was 29 years younger than Hartnell when he was cast and you end up with wibbley-wobbley timey-wimey indeed. It's weird to remember that when Eleven has his conversation with The Heart of the TARDIS about stealing her and running away in "The Doctor's Wife," she's not talking about Eleven. She's talking about that strange, mad old man at 76 Totter's Lane.

Another extremely quirky fact is that The First Doctor has been played by two separate actors. Three if you consider Peter Cushing's Dr. Who Dalek movies from the '60s as The First Doctor. Four if you count Bradley playing Hartnell playing The Doctor. See, what I mean? Whenever you start talking about The First Doctor it all seems straight-forward, but then everything gets curiouser and curiouser.

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