RATING THE DOCTORS: On William Hartnell THE FIRST DOCTOR & the First Season! 1963-1964!

This heat is kicking the proverbial posterior.

But hey I’m not complaining, I’ll take heat over cold, any day.

But you guys didn’t come here to hear weather talk, onto this installment’s insanity.

I’ve seen all 30+ seasons of Doctor Who, including the recreations (largely still shots and the audio recording of the shows) that exists through the hard work of dedicated fans, who preserved these shows for the love, when the suits couldn’t see any monetary value or re-watchability to these shows and could not delete the tapes fast enough.

It’s why I’ll side with the so-called file-sharer or collector or peer to peer proponent who does it for the love, over suits any day. Because I KNOW how much of our history (television shows, radio shows, silent and sound films, books, manuscripts) still exists not because of the money grubbing corporation who would (and have) let everything burn if they couldn’t make a penny off of it; but exists because of the dedicated fan and collector.

I’ve said that before, but it bears, particularly in our current environment, constant repeating. That the people who profit off a thing, are not the people that should be trusted with the preservation of that thing. And history bears out, that it’s necessary to have the dedicated collector out there doing for the love, what corporations will fail to do in the absence of monetary incentive.

Our cultural history owes much to the dedicated collector, that are being criminalized by the ‘Johnny-come-lately’ corporations, who have finally wised up to the fact that… people are interested in this old stuff.

Case in point, I still await official SPENSER FOR HIRE DvDs, or the full seasons of the live-action ADVENTURES OF SUPERBOY that have been unavailable for over 20 years, and these things should not be sequestered away until some suit can find a way to profit off of them. In the absence of someone making them available, the collector is there to make them available. So thanks to great collectors… there’s a rumor that I may actually own both series :).

And if that rumor is true, I’ll hold onto those collector DVDs, at least until such time as the studios get off their ass, and release official high quality versions/DVDs, which I will be more than happy to support/purchase. But in the interim… to all the suits/companies out there, support and work with fans/collectors… they are the heart of your business. And more than that, they are the heart of the preservation of culture and art and history… in the absence of business. Give them their due.

Okay, off my soap box.


The reason I got on that soap box is because, I have been rewatching Doctor Who, and much of that series has been lost through corporate stupidity and short-sightedness, but almost all of it has been preserved and recreated, even the pretty much devastated Patrick Troughton years (which I’m currently re-watching), and you can not watch those shows without being extremely mindful and extremely thankful, for the fans and collectors, who preserved those shows to the best of their ability.

I mean, now, today the BBC gives a damn about Doctor Who, because the show is making them a boatload of money, but you have to care about preserving culture and art… even in the absence of money, and that is what collectors do.

So yes, I’m thankful that we have shows such as:

William Hartnell’s four seasons as the doctor.

He’s remembered, unfairly I think, for flubbing his lines. However, what he should be remembered for is being the man who set the template, the tone, and the consummate “play this for real” passion that allowed the show to be a success.

Think about it, if Hartnell or those first companions did not make the premise work, the show would have been canceled in that first season and NO ONE would today be talking about Doctor Who.

Patrick Troughton gets a lot of praise for ‘saving’ Dr. Who, when it became necessary to replace Hartnell due to his deteriorating condition.

For continuing Doctor Who, I would agree, but for saving it? … no. The show would have gone on with or without Troughton. It was that popular. Hartnell had help make it that popular.

Don’t get me wrong, Troughton was a great actor and he made a fantastic 2nd Doctor, and the very, unavoidable medical issues with Hartnell pushed the writers and producers into coming up with one of the most brilliant and iconic ways to keep the series going… ie the idea of ‘Regeneration’.

I mean that idea, that was born under pressure and calamity and potential cancellation, remains one of the greatest ‘hail marys’ of television history, as can be seen by a whole new generation, wowing to the adventures of yet another whole new Doctor.

But had Hartnell and crew, not made DOCTOR WHO a success out the gate, no one would have been pressed to try and keep the show alive. They would have done the normal thing, canceled the show and put something else on, and DOCTOR WHO becomes, like many shows of the time, a forgotten footnote.

But Hartnell was a GREAT Doctor Who, an iconic Doctor Who, who loved and championed the show. And he did four seasons of the series, back when the workload was a YEAR ROUND weekly series, basically performing the shows in a live-run, like a play, performed beginning to end, no time for retakes, you hit the mark at the beginning of two hours, and at the end of two hours, they filmed the entire show… JUST LIKE YOU SEE IT AIRED!

With filmed segments cut in on queue, and effects and sound done live in camera….the amount of pressure and work, is beyond ANYTHING that television actors, or indeed directors, editors, crew are doing today. It was the work of master actors and crew, to basically have to learn and crank out a play a week, under budget restrictions and time restrictions that can only be called… crushing.

And William Hartnell did this. For going on four Years, largely without vacation, with seasons FAR LONGER than the laughably short seasons the BBC has today… William Hartnell did this. While suffering with what today we would call early signs of Dementia or Alzheimers.


For nearly four years he bled and sweated and carried Doctor Who, when his younger companions were folding left and right under the pressures and issues of a financially challenged, somewhat ghettoized show. Hartnell’s tenure as the Doctor saw him with the most companions (A whopping TEN companions. And every departure cut Hartnell like a knife, who saw the show as a familial thing), and having to ride the most tumultuous time in the history of the show, when it was figuring out, on a weekly basis, what it was, and who the characters were.

That he was able to play the series as long as he did, when suffering from a condition known to cripple, says everything about the nature of Hartnell’s professionalism, his “the show must go on” ethic. I just think a lot of people focus on the occasional flubs, when he was given tons of gobblydeggok to say, and he made it work. I don’t know of any actors today, in their full health and prime, who could have done week in and week out what Hartnell did, producing basically live televison in a fantastic setting.

Which is far more difficult than just soaps, because you have the additional hassle of effects and costumes and elaborate monsters and cut in scenes, and hitting marks, it’s really a big budget type cinematic production, done on a shoe-string budget and with no retakes and no time, and everything music, etc… done in camera.

Actors today would piss themselves.

I just have a tremendous amount of respect for Hartnell as a performer, and he could really perform and act and emote, and bring it when he needed to… which more often than not… was always. Add to all of that he also had some of the best episodes under his tenure, namely:

SEASON I 1963-1964

AN UNEARTHLY CHILD- PILOT- It does everything a first episode needs to do. Incredibly ambitious, for the time. A time ship, bigger on the inside than the outside, and looks like a simple police phonebox. It is just a genius conceit, even 50 years later. GRADE: B+.

100,000 BC- 3 episodes- It’s not a great episode by today’s standards but it is a necessary one, as they are still defining the Doctor, and his crew of travelers. And it is pretty brutal for a kid’s program. GRADE: B-/C+.

THE DALEKS by Terry Nation, directed by Christopher Barry and Richard Martin- 7 episodes- Terry Nation’s script and idea, fleshed out and realized, made concrete by the producers, and designers and voice actors, resulted in an immediate worldwide sensation… The Daleks. And the story, is quite good, quite ambitious, though of course hampered by the budgets and limitations of the time.

It is a great intro to one of the great iconic creations of television history. The serial falls apart in the last episode, the whole “live” thing, the director just couldn’t pull it all together, so it’s a bit of a mess. But the serial is strongly recommended in-spite of that; and it highlights, the rare times when it goes wrong, just how masterful the cast and crew was, to enable it to go right… most of the time. GRADE: B.

INSIDE THE SPACESHIP aka The Edge of Destruction- 2 episodes- This is another example of them not really having the time to make the story come across, it’s a bit of a confused mess. But it’s an intriguing watch, and is available with a nice commentary with the actors. The commentary worth the price of admission.

Marco Polo- seven episodes- A recreated episode, stills and audio, watched this recently it’s quite good. From the few shots of sets in color, it was quite an elaborate period piece.

The Keys of Marinus- 6 Episodes- Terry Nation returns, this is a great, exciting serial. Even with a bit of implied rape. Terry Nation always wrote excellent scripts that explored not only man against the alien, and man against nature, but far more interestingly man against man. His scripts and the crews performance transcends dodgy sets and questionable effects. GRADE: B+.

The Aztecs- 4 episodes – One of the best Doctor Who stories! This historical episode, sports great acting, great sets, and a great story. And wonderful direction. This is available with commentary, and I highly recommend it. One of my favorites. GRADE: A+.

THE SENSORITES- 6 episodes- This is one of the most successful of the scifi themed serials (the first season nearly equally divided between the historical episodes and the scifi/fantasy episodes) for season I. As it allowed some growth for the character of Susan, and real thrills for the rest of the characters. Lots of fun. Grade: B/B+.

THE REIGN OF TERROR- 5 episodes- This Dennis Spooner penned tale is quite enjoyable. The last two episodes are recreations (stills, audio) but is perfectly understandable and builds to a fun end. GRADE: B.

Those are my grades for season #1. Counting the pilot, Thirty eight weekly episodes!!! Wow! Episodes I didn’t grade are worth a look, for historical reasons, but may not be the show at its best.

Stay tuned for upcoming season reviews!

Doctor Who: The Beginning (An Unearthy Child / The Daleks / The Edge of Destruction)

Doctor Who – The Aztecs (Story 6)