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How many of me are there? The Life and Times of the First Doctor

(Also taken from LJ, though I actually quite liked this little series I had going.)

General note for this entire series: this will, obviously, be a terribly subjective analysis. Firstly, because I'm me, and my ideas of good and bad will certainly vary differently from those of others. Secondly, because I will be basing my musings on an incomplete assemblage of sources. This includes all of the classic serials on DVD, but no others--I know, I know, but I'm fairly new to Who fandom, and I am not buying VHS tapes that won't even fit anywhere in a year or so. It also includes selected Big Finish audios, which are delightful on the whole. A parting note before I dive in to Doctor number 1: I love the new series, I love the old series, I love all the Doctors, and I love pretty much every companion, so, any criticism or picking which follows, comes from a place of love.

An old man, wearing a rather bizarre hat, wanders into a junk yard and finds two nosy school teachers. This is our first introduction to the character of the Doctor, though, at the time, of course, the viewer didn't know that he was the Doctor, let alone that he would be the first in a long lone of actors. The First Doctor presents a rather striking figure immediately. Enigmatic, irascible, and decidedly chilly to the interlopers, the First Doctor was not immediately likable. Indeed, for the first several serials, Ian Chesterton, a dashing science teacher, is the hero of the show, with the Doctor being a trouble-making genius with an unpredictable personality. With time, however, the Doctor emerges to be the central figure of the show, though the first Doctor's era is especially notable, in my opinion, for giving the companions and guest stars quite a bit to do, with the notable exception of Susan, whom the writers seemed to have no idea how to treat. In all, the First Doctor had 8 companions, and was only paired with one companion for the very brief period between Steve's departure and Ben and Polly's arrival. This created a lot of interesting studies in group dynamics and allowed for a flourishing of subplots, which were necessary to fill the 6, 8, and even 12 part stories which filled his time. However, back to the First Doctor.

William Hartnell deserves a great amount of kudos for creating such an iconic role with style and panache. If he had been tentative or uncertain, the show would have failed. However, he gave us a brilliantly realized character who actually evolved. Starting as a completely xenophobic misanthrope, he grows into the warm, grandfatherly character that we remember. He fluttered his fingers, he paused at odd moments, inserting lots of "hmms," and asked himself "I wonder" with regularity. Indeed, if Tom Baker had never played the role, I think Hartnell's would be remembered as being the most unpredictable and eccentric characterization of the Doctor. Watch him in "The Aztecs" or "The Time Meddler" and see how many facets he shows to his character. He rages, he lectures, he comforts, he jokes, he teases, he even flirts. It's a brilliant performance and laid the groundwork for everything that was to come.

There a couple of odd peculiarities about the First Doctor that I would be remiss in not addressing. First of all, the fluffing of the lines. Now, this is understandable given the sheer number of lines and the pace of production. He *usually* manages to get himself back on track; however, it does lead to some rather amusing moments. My personal favorite is "I can scent" it for "I can sense it" in "The War Machines." (The even use it on a loop in the DVD menu!) Second, there's the rather sad appearance in "The The Three Doctors." Hartnell was very ill at the time, and it shows--he does get off one great line, though, forever naming the Second and Third Doctors "a dandy and a clown." Brilliant, and it comes perfectly from this incarnation. Lastly, there's the odd business of Richard Hurndal in "The Five Doctors." Now, don't get me wrong, he gives a pretty good performance, but he is not William Hartnell, and, while it gives a flavor of Hartnell's Doctor, it simply can't capture the magic of the original.

So, all told, I encourage all two of you who read this to go back and watch, or rewatch, the First Doctor's stories. In a way, every subsequent Doctor has been playing a version of William Hartnell, adding shadings or emphasis, highlighting some aspects, limiting others, but always rooted in something that Billy did first. The Doctor has changed 9 times, and he's about to change for a tenth, but, in the end, we always come back to the solitary mysterious figure with his wonderful machine.


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