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Dr Who: The William Hartnell Years

Updated on January 12, 2018
William Hartnell
William Hartnell | Source
Doctor Who: An Adventure in Space and Time (DVD+Blu-ray Combo)
Doctor Who: An Adventure in Space and Time (DVD+Blu-ray Combo)
An excellent docu-drama recounting the origins of Doctor Who and the first three years featuring William Hartnell.

The First Doctor Who: William Hartnell

William Hartnell, an actor known for his stage, television and film appearances, was chosen to play the first Doctor Who, a role he would occupy for a little over three years. His first appearance as the time travelling voyager came in November 1963, the day after the assassination of US president, John F. Kennedy.

In his first story, An Unearthly Child, television viewers are introduced to a frail old man, grandfather to Susan. A brusque and mysterious character, the Doctor is protective of his background and unwilling to share any information about himself to his unwilling co-travellers, Barbara and Ian, two teachers who unwittingly stumble upon the TARDIS (his time travelling machine) while trying to find out more about Susan.

The TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space) becomes the centrepiece for the Doctor's adventures. Often unaware where his time travelling machine - disguised as a police phone box and bigger internally than the exterior - will take him next, added to the excitement and curiosity of the television viewer.

Exciting historical and futuristic stories followed. It was early in the series that the Doctor's most enduring and popular enemies were introduced: the malevolent and emotionless Daleks along with the humanoid Cybermen. Both remain the Doctor's nemeses to this day, having been featured regularly over the years, and are now embedded in the realms of British popular culture.

Due to ill health, Hartnell left the role in 1966. It was the height of the series' popularity, and rather than ending the show, the producers came up with an ingenious way of letting it continue. The Doctor would regenerate. The role would remain, but the Doctor's appearance and character would change. Thus, Hartnell handed the reins of the Doctor to Patrick Troughton, his second incarnation.

Hartnell would continue to make occasional appearances over the years, including 1973's Doctor Who: The Three Doctors, before his untimely death in 1975.

Original logo
Original logo | Source
The TARDIS | Source

Doctor Who: A Television Legend is Born

William Hartnell Begins the Saga

Doctor Who was created essentially as a children's programme for the BBC's Autumn 1963 television season. Originally contracted for only thirteen episodes, it was never really expected to continue after these. However, thanks to some terrific casting, great writing and strong production values, it soon became a television staple in the UK, developing as one of Britain's most beloved television legends.

Historical stories were the writers' mandate during the early episodes; trips to ancient Rome and Greece, the Aztec Empire, Marco Polo's China, revolutionary France and America's Old West were amongst the travellers' many stops. These were offset by trips to distant alien planets, spaceships, as well as voyages to present and future Earth. The latter adventures introduced television viewers to the Doctor's most enduring enemies: the emotionless Daleks and Cybermen.

These early stories established the origins of the character of Doctor Who. He was a perplexing puzzle, a mysterious traveller from an unknown time trying to escape from his own people, the Time Lords.

Dr Who With His TARDIS

Underground Toys Doctor Who The First Doctor And Electronic Tardis
Underground Toys Doctor Who The First Doctor And Electronic Tardis
A wonderful addition to any Doctor Who collection is this William Hartnell figure, along with his TARDIS. The blue box stands approx 9.5" tall and is equipped with a blinking light, opening doors and the sounds of it taking off and landing. Great quality and would be fun to see it sitting on a shelf or desk.

Tribute to William Hartnell's Dr Who

The First Doctor's Companions

William Russell (Ian) and Jacqueline Hill (Barbara) would join William Hartnell's Doctor and his granddaughter, Susan (Carole Ann Ford) as the weary companions who are thrust into adventures in time and space, travelling in a London police box (the Tardis). All three would eventually leave by the end of the second season.

They would be replaced over time by cast members Maureen O'Brien (Vicki), Peter Purves (Steven Taylor), Adrienne Hill (Katarina), Jean Marsh (Sara Kingdom), Jackie Lane (Dodo), Anneke Wills (Polly) and Michael Craze (Ben Jackson).

The First Doctor: Episode Guide: Series 1

An Unearthly Child
23/11/63 - 14/12/63
The Daleks
21/12/63 - 01/02/64
The Edge of Destruction
08/02/64 - 15/2/64
Marco Polo
22/2/64 - 04/04/64
The Keys of Marinus
11/04/64 - 16/5/64
The Aztecs
23/5/64 - 13/6/64
The Sensorites
20/6/64 - 01/08/64
The Reign of Terror
08/08/64 - 12/09/64
Series One Episodes

Scenes From Series One

Episode Guide: Series 2

Planet of Giants
31/10/64 - 14/11/64
The Dalek Invasion of Earth
21/11/64 - 26/12/64
The Rescue
02/01/65 - 09/01/65
The Romans
16/01/65 - 06/02/65
The Web Planet
13/02/65 - 20/03/65
The Crusade
27/03/65 - 17/04/65
The Space Museum
24/04/65 - 15/05/65
The Chase
22/05/65 - 26/06/65
The Time Meddler
03/07/65 - 24/07/65
Series Two Episodes
The Daleks
The Daleks | Source

Episode Guide: Series 3

Galaxy 4
11/09/65 - 02/10/65
Mission to the Unknown
The Myth Makers
16/10/65 - 06/11/65
The Daleks' Masterplan
13/11/65 - 29/01/66
The Massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve
05/02/66 - 26/02/66
The Ark
05/03/66 - 26/03/66
The Celestial Toymaker
02/04/66 - 23/04/66
The Gunfighters
30/04/66 - 21/05/66
The Savages
28/05/66 - 18/06/66
The War Machines
25/06/66 - 16/07/66
Series Three Episodes

The Cybermen Are Introduced in The Tenth Planet

Episode Guide: Series 4

The Smugglers
10/09/66 - 01/10/66
The Tenth Planet
08/10/66 - 29/10/66
Series Four Episodes (With William Hartnell)

Your Opinion About the First Dr. Who

Was William Hartnell the best Doctor?

Farewell to William Hartnell - The First Doctor Regenerates

About This Doctor Who Fan

My first memories of watching Doctor Who were from behind the couch as a kid in the 1960s. I have been hooked ever since, even now.

With each article, Richard invites you to step into his world of music, television and entertainment. He will introduce you to British Glam Rock, share The 20 Scariest Film Scores Ever? and even give you an up close look at some classic actors such as Christopher Lee as Dracula.

For a complete list of Richard's articles, please visit Richard's profile.

Thank you for visiting this page about the first Doctor Who, William Hartnell. I hope you enjoyed your stay and look forward to reading your comments in the guest book below.

© 2008 Richard

Are You A William Hartnell Fan? Why Not Share Your Memories of The First Doctor?

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    • annieangel1 profile image


      5 years ago from Yorkshire, England

      I much prefer the older Dr Who programmes

    • pkmcruk profile image


      5 years ago from Cheshire UK

      Who would have thought that over 50 years ago we would see the start of something quite amazing. The Adventure in Space and Time is well worth watching!

    • Diane Cass profile image

      Diane Cass 

      5 years ago from New York

      My son is a HUGE Dr. Who fan. I have to admit, that he has gotten me hooked too.

    • Loretta L profile image

      Loretta Livingstone 

      6 years ago from Chilterns, UK.

      Hi, i tried to say which was my favourite Doctor, but was unable to post it. My favourite Doctors were Tom Baker, and David Tennant. I watched the older ones from behind the sofa, but i'm pleased to say that these days I watch from on the sofa. :)

    • CharlieAlford profile image


      7 years ago

      I was about 4 years old when the original series ended so I'm more immersed in the new Who. Although, thanks to the BBC reruns I've had the pleasure of seeing the likes of Tom Baker in action. The more I see the more I want to learn. So thanks for introducing me to the first Doctor : )

    • JeanJohnson LM profile image

      JeanJohnson LM 

      7 years ago

      I always remember the Tom Baker years, but I am interested in the beginnings of Doctor Who. I have watched a couple Hartnell episodes, and I will have to check out more of the first three seasons.

    • Lemming13 profile image


      8 years ago

      Lovely tribute to a dear man and a great Doctor.

    • jptanabe profile image

      Jennifer P Tanabe 

      8 years ago from Red Hook, NY

      You brought back great memories of the original Dr Who!

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 

      8 years ago from Southampton, UK

      William Hartnell for me is the real Doctor. I remember watching the very first episode, was I really 9 years old? I remember seeing it again when it was re-aired, and enjoyed that first series set in the Stone Age. Then the Daleks! Oh boy I hid behind the chair, it was scary back then. Great memories...

      My ex-in-laws recently sold their house in London which had a Blue Plaque, which was unveiled in the 1970s by Tom Baker.

    • clouda9 lm profile image

      clouda9 lm 

      8 years ago

      I had no clue that Dr. Who has been on the air since the 60'! My son is recording the newer series, not my cup of tea but he is enjoying the quirkiness of the show.

    • marigoldina profile image

      Heather B 

      8 years ago

      I've never seen the early Dr. Who episodes, actually! I should give them a try. The recent ones I really enjoy.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I never did get into Dr. Who all that much, but have enjoyed the character.

      Dr. Who is entertaining and so it this page.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I really love William Hartnell as Dr Who. Out of the original doctors, William and Tom Baker are my faves. Out of the newer Doctors I loved Paul McGann, Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant. Vive La Doctor!

    • axiomsedge profile image


      9 years ago

      Just wanted to let you know that your page has been included in our list of Squidoo Sci Fi/Fantasy Lenses over at A Lens on Sci Fi ( Go there to vote for your lens and to submit others that genre fans will like.

    • TreasuresBrenda profile image

      Treasures By Brenda 

      9 years ago from Canada

      No, I'm not too familiar with Doctor Who...other than the fact that there were oodles of books printed along with the television shows. I'm emailing this lens to my son who is reading the seven boxes of Doctor Who books that I purchased this summer. He'll enjoy it.

    • joanhall profile image

      Joan Hall 

      9 years ago from Los Angeles

      I've never gotten acquainted with Dr. Who before, but now I'm itching to check out some episodes with my kids! GreekGeek suggested this lens for a blessing, and she was right. This lens is blessed and will be featured at SquidAngel At Your Service.

    • mythphile profile image

      Ellen Brundige 

      9 years ago from California

      Oh my goodness. I have to come back to this lens later when I can savor all of it. NEW FOOTAGE?!!! And one of my favorite doctors, Sylvester McCoy, delivering the retrospective? Yummy!

      (My all-time favorite is Pertwee, though. When I was a kid, I considered myself a nerdy Jo Grant, especially in terms of the myopia. ;) )

    • hlkljgk profile image


      9 years ago from Western Mass

      i need to learn more about the who

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I am a Tom Baker fan my self but my mother is a William Hartnell fan . In her seventies now and still abig fan of the show..

    • WildFacesGallery profile image


      10 years ago from Iowa

      I've watched Dr Who through many incarnations but don't remember the first too well. I thought it interesting that the series was created for children though. :)


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