Doctor Who: One

The First Doctor: William Hartnell

First serial: 100,000 BC

Last serial: The Tenth Planet

Costume details: A gentleman's day wear from roughly the Victorian era, with an appropriate shoulder-length hairstyle. Frock coat with astrakhan collar and karakul hat, dark cloak, long scarf. Wears an ornate ring on one finger.

Companions: Susan, Ian Chesterton, Barbara Wright, Vicki, Steven Taylor, Katarina, Dodo Chaplet, Polly, Ben Jackson
At first glance, the First Doctor is egotistical and imperious. At second glance, he's egotistical, imperious, and also flubs his lines a lot. This is because the Doctor was not initially supposed to be the focus character of the show. Originally, the show that we know as Doctor Who was conceived of as less a science-fiction serial, and more of an edutainment program -- you will notice, if you watch the very early stories, that they're rather heavy on history, and comparatively light on stuntmen in giant rubber suits. The audience surrogate was supposed to be Susan, a teenage girl whose strange behavior prompted her science (Ian Chesterton) and history (Barbara Wright) teachers to follow her home one night to have a word with her parents. I'm not sure what they thought they were going to find, but what they actually stumbled upon was a strange police box, sitting smack in the middle of a junkyard, giving off an ominous humming. Susan tries to put them off -- aided by a man who calls himself only "the Doctor" and claims to be her grandfather -- but Ian and Barbara push their way into the mystery box, and are promptly whisked away to the year 100,000 BC by the Doctor, who for some reason has decided that it's rude of them to disbelieve that he has a time machine.

Most of the show was specifically written to be recorded on the cheap. Susan actually does give the expansion of TARDIS -- Time And Relative Dimension In Space -- in the pilot, "An Unearthly Child", but the Doctor is not yet established as being a Time Lord, or being from the planet Gallifrey, in the constellation Kasterborous. The TARDIS chameleon circuit is broken because building one wooden police box -- which actually was more or less the standard-issue model at the time -- was much less expensive than constructing a different disguise for it every few weeks. The small regular cast of the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Susan meant that all the other roles in the serials could be filled by inexpensive bit-part actors trying to get their Equity cards. Recording was virtually studio-bound for most of the First Doctor's tenure, because trucking plastic plants into Lime Grove Studios was easier than dragging the 405-line black-and-white video cameras anywhere else, assuming you could get them where you wanted them to begin with.

[Kasterborous, incidentally, is not a real constellation, or at least not one known to Earth at the present time. The form of the name suggests that if it were ever known to humans, it would have been the Greeks, but to my knowledge, no such name pops up in mythology. To whom it might be known remains a mystery; a constellation is a specific configuration of stars as seen from a specific reference point, and the Doctor has unhelpfully proven able to point in its general direction from an awful lot of planets, Earth among them. The Time Lords are notoriously self-centered, so logically they'd use themselves as the reference point, but then it wouldn't make any sense to say the place is in the constellation of Kasterborous, because being in the middle of the damn thing means they wouldn't be able to see it.]

The First Doctor's outfits are cobbled together from random pieces pulled from the BBC costumes department. No one had the slightest idea that the show would become a hit, so no one thought that the Doctor needed anything special in the way of wardrobe. (William Hartnell, for one, took the part because he wanted to do something his grandchildren could watch him in, his career otherwise consisting mainly of serious stage work and dramas.) The style of dress he sports is a good eighty years out of date even by 1963, when the first episode aired, but beyond that the details changed at the whim of continuity.

Doctor Who is notable for, among other things, a relative lack of limp, useless women. I expect this had something to do with the fact that for the first few years, the show was produced by Verity Lambert, the BBC's first -- and at the time only -- female producer. Recommended personally by the already well-known Sydney Newman, Lambert was quick to establish a reputation as not only very savvy about both her production crew and her audience, but as a determined little spitfire, and Not To Be Trifled With. She stayed with DW for only a few years, but went on to have a long and distinguished career at the BBC, Thames Television, and later as an independent producer (with her own company, Cinema Verity) of both film and TV. She passed away in 2007, having been appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2002, and having been responsible for a great many things I love, among them the Jonathan Creek mysteries.

Nor was Lambert the only woman to make her mark on early DW history. The characteristic theme song, which has been mixed and remixed dozens of times over the years, was the work of Delia Derbyshire, of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Working from a basic score provided by Ron Grainger, Derbyshire used techniques then being developed for the art of musique concrète -- a lot of what would now be known as circuit-bending -- to produce the first TV theme tune arranged and performed entirely electronically. That was no joke in 1963. You want something that goes weeee~~eeeem now, you just go to the toddler section of the nearest toy store and pick up a drool-proof keyboard, but back then, that involved fussing with enormous reels of magnetic tape and a rack full of waveform generators. Mixdown and editing were primitive at best; putting together that short song involved hours painstakingly routing and rerouting signals, and fussing with actual physical lengths of mylar tape.

The First Doctor's tenure saw the introduction of the infamous Daleks, as well as the Cyberemen, who actually managed to take him out the first time. The idea of regeneration emerged from a desire to keep the show going after Hartnell's health took a nose dive, and it was obvious that he was not going to last much longer as a working actor, much less one on a show that involved as much running around as DW. Someone pointed out that the Doctor was some kind of alien; who knew what happened when you dealt him enough damage? The regeneration sequence from the First Doctor to the Second is unfortunately among the many film clips that have been lost over the years, although various reports indicate they hadn't quite got the details hammered out yet. Most Doctors regenerate and then immediately scuttle off to change clothes; the Second Doctor leapt up already in his sack coat, leaving behind only the ring that was suddenly too big for his finger.

Video clips:

The Doctor takes off for the first time.


Ian attempts to keep disbelieving in the time machine.


The Doctor's farewell to Susan.

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