As we gear up for the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who it is only fitting to look backward………
WILLIAM HARTNELL REMEMBERED
William Hartnell celebrated his 105th birthday on January 8th. Despite his celebrity from Doctor Who many of the details of his life have ironically been lost in time. Hartnell’s road to fame in time and space was a hard one. He had a reckless youth and as a young actor he gained a reputation for being a bit of a hothead. He was an illegitimate son born in 1908 to an unwed mother. He grew up in the rough slums of London and eventually spent some of his formative summers in Devon with his aunt Bessie and her family. Despite their best efforts he found himself restless and frequently in trouble for committed petty crimes. It appears that growing up fatherless really had an effect on the young Hartnell who spent his entire life searching for his father.
In an effort to escape a life of crime young William took up boxing at a London youth club. Boxing offered Hartnell an opportunity to learn discipline and curb his restless nature. It was here where Hartnell’s life changed when he met an avid art collector, artist and writer named Hugh Blaker. Blaker met Hartnell and they quickly discovered they had a great deal in common. Blaker and Hartnell formed a bond with Blaker filling in as a father figure for Hartnell. In 1924, at the age of sixteen, Blaker become Hartnell’s legal guardian and worked tirelessly to motivate the teenager. Blaker took him under his wing and trained him to be a jockey. This helped spawn a lifelong love of horses that remained with him throughout his life.
Desperate to give the boy a career path, Blaker also nurtured an interest in the theatre in the young Bill Hartnell. Blaker called on some friends and assisted Hartnell with enrolling in the Italia Contia Academy of Theatre Arts. The Academy stressed a well-rounded education and training for their prospective drama students. Hartnell’s interest was peaked and he decided that he wanted to be a working actor.
Blaker arranged for him to receive some lessons at the prestigious Imperial Service College. The school had a reputation for being a hard place to learn the craft of acting. Despite this great opportunity old habits reared their head and Hartnell left the school.
In 1925 things began to change for Hartnell. He got a job as a stagehand before landing a role in the play Miss Elizabeth’s Prisoner where he met an actress named Heather McIntyre. A courtship began and they were married n 1926. Married life suited Hartnell who found himself with both domestic tranquility and a steady stream of professional work.
Prior to Doctor Who William Hartnell had a busy career as a character actor. He debuted in 1932’s Say It With Music and in 1933 the work began to pick up, That year he appeared in several memorable comedies including I’m An Explosive and Follow The Lady. From then on he continued to find regular work on stage and in films. Ten years later he was cast in Noel Coward’s In Which We Serve. His work on that film was brief after he showed up late on set for the first day of filming. This drew the ire of Coward who laid into Hartnell with the cast and crew looking on. Coward’s rage didn’t stop there; Hartnell was forced to apologize personally to each member of the cast and crew. After he did that, Coward fired him.
When England entered World War Two Hartnell served in the Royal Tank Regiment. Serving in this Tank Corps was dangerous and stressful. The rigors of military service took a toll on Hartnell who suffered a nervous breakdown after serving for a year and a half. He eventually was discharged and found himself again working as a professional actor.
In 1944 Hartnell appeared in The Way Ahead, a film that was to lead to a string of supporting roles where he was cast as the heavy, thug, soldier or cop. He would spend the next decade looking for meatier parts that would allow him to return him to his roots as a comedic actor. This was not an easy task as Hartnell found himself typecast from his previous roles. At this point Hartnell wanted to do something different from the parts he had been getting.
Several notable film appearances did follow, culminating with a role in Carry On Sergeant in 1958. He also was a featured player in 1959’s The Mouse That Roared along side Peter Sellers. In 1963 he starred in Heavens Above, working once more with Sellers. That same year he also nabbed a strong supporting spot in This Sporting Life.
He didn’t know it yet but that part in This Sporting Life was about to yield a big payoff for Hartnell. His performance caught the eye of a BBC producer named Verity Lambert who was hard at work developing a science fiction program aimed for children called Doctor Who. Lambert was impressed with Hartnell and offered him the lead in the BBC series.
An indecisive Hartnell was concerned about his ability to act in children’s television; yet the show gave him a fresh opportunity unlike any of the previous ones he had been offered. After talking things over with Lambert and Warris Hussein (the show’s first director) he agreed to play The Doctor. He had no idea it would be the role of a lifetime.
Many fans don’t realize what a trailblazer Hartnell was for the lasting success of the show. Working on Doctor Who in those days was pretty brutal with a production schedule that ran for forty-eight weeks a year and often involving many late nights. Despite this Hartnell relished the role and felt a caretakership towards the program. In the early years the cast was a kind of family with Hartnell looking after his fellow actors.
He was not one to hold back and he often added his own thoughts on scripts, stories and casting. When the cameras were not rolling he sometimes was as prickly as the character he was now playing. The more he carried on in the TARDIS the more power he wanted over production decisions.
Although Hartnell played the First Doctor as a cantankerous, demanding, grumpy and abrupt wanderer he also gave the character a sense of charm. This caused many of his opponents to overlook his cunning and intelligence. However Hartnell knew early on that for the role to really work the mystery surrounding The Doctor had to be established from the beginning. This is most apparent in An Unearthly Child when two curious schoolteachers (Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright) wandered into the TARDIS to the chagrin of its owner.
As his ‘guests’ would discover The Doctor was not a forthcoming fellow. He often kept information to himself or shared only little bits and pieces with his companions. When in a foul mood this mysterious ‘mad man in a box’ sometimes evaded questions posed to him directly.
Some events from his tenure would leave an impact. He met The Daleks and The Cybermen, He was the first Doctor to deal with the death of a traveling companion. He also developed this idea that The Doctor sometimes leaves his companions behind. A skillfully created Doctor by Hartnell allowed for the establishment of many themes and canon still used as plot points to this day.
In general the Doctor’s first traces of mystery emerge in the adventures of enigmatic First Doctor. This Doctor was a classic hero in the true sense of the word. He was intelligent, brave and bold in the presence of evil both in time and in space. From Season One to Three, Hartnell’s Doctor held his own against the Daleks, outwitted The Celestial Toymaker and prevented history from being altered by The Meddling Monk while also finding himself involved in dangerous escapades in Revolutionary France, The Wild West, Ancient Rome and The Trojan War.
In his three seasons Hartnell’s Doctor progressively grows more interesting as a character. The acerbic and mean-spirited chap we meet in a London junkyard is gradually chipped away as more likable facets of his personality are brought to the surface. Emerging from a cocoon of consternation the First Doctor becomes less hostile and more responsive. But just when you think he is all in, Hartnell pulls a fast one and reminds us all that Doctor Number One is a strong-willed codger whom never really becomes warm and fuzzy. It is this duality that makes him so puzzling.
Even though he outwitted Monoids, Sensorites, Drahvins and The Zarbi the audience and those he traveled with remained in the dark as to who he really was, where he came from and why he roamed the universe with his ‘granddaughter’ and later on with other companions. Hartnell worked hard to maintain an aura of secrecy in the character and it was one of the subtle things he did in the role that quickly planted itself in the lore of the program for the next five decades.
In this age of reality news, social media it is impossible for us to ever really know as much about William Hartnell as we do about many of his successors. All we have are the memories of his family, production notes and tales from is co-stars and crew that have cast him in different lights. All of which reveal a complex actor who created an equally complex iconic character.
In addition to loving horses Hartnell was careful about how he spent his money. He loved children and making personal appearances as The Doctor. He was rumored to have a bad temper and is said to have been a heavy drinker and smoker (the latter two traits probably contributed somewhat to his failing health in later years). His time on Doctor Who is littered with colorful tales about fights with writers, producers and directors. Hartnell was also known to flub his lines and then very quickly recover from his mistakes. He was also said to be all business during filming.
Over the years it has also been said that Bill Hartnell was not always easy to get along with. This is where he becomes as enigmatic as the Time Lord he played. Opinions of him from his costars vary. William Russell, Peter Purves and Carole Ann Ford speak him of fondly. Ford and Maureen O’ Brien (Vicki) have both stated that he was a sort of surrogate paternal figure for them who looked after their best interests. However Nicholas Courtney, Michael Craze and Anneke Wills have made comments that, for them, it was not all peaches and cream and they sometimes had difficulty working with him.
Since we will never know the whole story it is best to judge him through the lens of the wonderful artistic legacy he has left us. Undoubtedly he would be pleased to know that the program he fought so hard to make is still going strong thanks in large part to the foundation he helped lay.
William Hartnell played The Doctor from 1963 to 1966 when he regenerated into Patrick Troughton (whom some claim he personally suggested for the job) at the end of The Tenth Planet. There still is some discrepancy on why Hartnell left the program he adored. We are led to believe that Hartnell departed Doctor Who because his poor health was becoming more apparent on the set and it prevented him from continuing on. His strength was weakening and he was becoming more forgetful. However other rumors have persisted that claim he was forced out by a new production team that wanted to take the show in a new direction. Again we will never really know for certain. We do know that either way, leaving the show was heartbreaking for him.
It is utterly fascinating that nearly forty years after his passing Doctor Who fans are still unable to ascertain whom the real Bill Hartnell was. There’s a lot of conflicting information out there, some if it supplied by Hartnell himself. The only biography written about the actor came from his granddaughter, Jessica Carney. What we do know is that he left an amazing body of work that consists of over sixty films along with substantial television and stage work.
Even though a large chunk of his Doctor Who era is now missing we still have a collection of wonderful stuff that proves he was a versatile performer who in essence created The Doctor. Tragically a real illness prohibited him from playing a bigger part in The Three Doctors. For the Tenth Anniversary special the frail Hartnell filmed his final scenes sitting down in a chair in the studio. It was his last hurrah on the program. He passed away on April 23rd, 1975. He was just 67.
NATIONAL TELEVISION AWARDS HONORS DOCTOR WHO
The nominations are in for this year’s National Television Awards with Doctor Who being in three categories.
Doctor Who is squaring off against Sherlock, Merlin and Downton Abbey in the Best Drama category. Matt Smith has been nominated in the Best Drama Performance: Male category where hew goes toe to toe with Sherlock Holmes himself Benedict Cumberbatch, Merlin star Cassie Morgan and Daniel Mays of Mrs Biggs.
The Best Drama Performance: Female sees Karen Gillan up against Sheridan Smith of Mrs Biggs, and Idris herself, Suranne Jones along with Miranda Hart of Call The Midwife.
Voting has begun online and winners will be announced at London’s Oz arena on January 23rd on ITV 1.
Voting can be done here: http://www.nationaltvawards.com/
MOFFAT TALKS ELEVEN DOCTORS
Steven Moffat was interviewed by Doctor Who TV about the prospect of celebrating the 50th Anniversary with all Eleven Doctors.
It’s slightly difficult to do them all now. I’m not against it but I think as a gimmick it outlives its usefulness quite fast. Doing Time Crash with 8 minutes of Peter and David was about right. If you have a really good story that motors on the fact that this is one man experiencing the same adventure at several different points of his life, that would be worth doing. But you can’t do a special or an episode as a reunion party. That’s not a story, that’s a party. Nothing wrong with parties but they’re not great fun to watch. But with a really good story, then yes.
THE LIGHT AT THE END
If Steven Moffat doesn’t deliver a multi Doctor story then fans can count on Big Finish to do so. Big Finish has announced that they are producing The Light At The End, an audio adventure with Doctors Four to Eight. This is pretty cool. Especially since they got Tom Baker to appear with other Doctors.
Several companions are slated to return including Louise Jameson as Leela, Sarah Sutton as Nyssa, Nicola Bryant as Peri and Sophie Aldred as Ace. The Eighth Doctor will be joined by India Fisher as Charley Pollard. Geoffrey Beevers will be reprising his role as The Master.
The audio is being presented in several formats including a five-disc special edition with bonus features as well as a special Companion Chronicles production entitled The Revenants, starring William Russell as Ian Chesterton. There also will be a standard edition of the audio comprised of two discs.
More special guests will be announced at a later date.
November 23rd 1963 proves to be a significant day in the lives of all eight Doctors…
It’s the day that Bob Dovie’s life is ripped apart…
It’s also a day that sets in motion a catastrophic chain of events which forces the first eight incarnations of the Doctor to fight for their very existence. As a mysterious, insidious chaos unfolds within the TARDIS, the barriers of time break apart…
From suburban England through war-torn alien landscapes and into a deadly, artificial dimension, all these Doctors and their companions must struggle against the power of an unfathomable, alien technology.
From the very beginning, it is clear that the Master is somehow involved. By the end, for the Doctors, there may only be darkness.
Link to Big Finish Goodness: http://www.bigfinish.com/news/v/doctor-who-50th-anniversary-release-announced
TIMEGATE PROGRAMMING ANNOUNCED
There indeed will be a Doctor in the house when Colin Baker comes to Atlanta for Timegate 2013, from May 24-26,
Earlier this week convention organizers released a programming schedule for the convention.
Their official website is here: http://www.timegatecon.org/
Information on programming can be found here: http://www.timegatecon.org/events.htm
Episode commentaries, interviews, autographs and concerts are planned along with some heavy doses of fan oriented programming,
BARROWMAN IS OK AFTER ACCIDENT
John Barrowman was a little shaken up after falling from a horse during a January 4th performance of his panto, Jack & the Beanstalk. Ever the consummate showman he returned to the production the next day uninjured.
Barrowman’s injury caused a forty minute break in the production while he was taken to a hospital for evaluation. His cousin Greg Barrowman carried on in his place and the show went on. Link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-20915946
PIPER RULES OUT RETURN
As we get closer to the anniversary a lot of stuff will be flying around about who is in or not in the upcoming special plans for the birthday of Doctor Who. Billie Piper’s possible return has been speculation for months now and the actress finally addressed the issue on The Graham Norton Show.
Norton asked Piper if she was going to be involved in any 50th Anniversary special, Piper replied, No. I’ve not been asked…I think Matt Smith said something in passing or in jest like, ‘That would be nice’, and it became something, but no.
So it appears Piper is not in any plans. Unless this all a clever smokescreen which it could be since a lot of actors are all saying they are not involved in very similar language. Only time will tell, but for now it looks like a return for Rose is not in the cards.
Next Time…The new issue of DW Monthly, Burn Gorman’s new gig, news and much more!