First Doctor - William Hartnell (c) BBC
First Doctor – William Hartnell (c) BBC

Editors Note: Happy Birthday To Who? celebrates the lives and times of all those involved in the show.

“One day, I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine…”

Doctor, William Hartnell with Michael Craze (merchant seaman Ben Jackson) and Anneke Wills (as trendy secretary Polly)
Doctor, William Hartnell with Michael Craze (merchant seaman Ben Jackson) and Anneke Wills (as trendy secretary Polly)

When Doctor Who first hit television screens in 1963, it was a very different show with very different expectations. There was no global fanbase, no half-century of mythos and legacy, and no telling if it was even going to work in the first place. Back then, the question “Doctor Who?” yielded only one answer: William Hartnell, better known to us now as the First Doctor… the original, you might say!

Prior to becoming a wanderer in the fourth dimension, Hartnell was an acclaimed actor with an established pedigree for playing army sergeants, however, he longed to take on a different role to escape the clutches of typecasting. Fortunately, at the same time, Verity Lambert and Sydney Newman were looking for a man to step into a long coat and take control of the TARDIS – and the rest, as they say, is history. Or the present. Or the future. It’s all very confusing with this show.

David Bradley as William Hartnell - An An Adventure in Time and Space
David Bradley as William Hartnell – An An Adventure in Time and Space

Setting not only the standard for all subsequent Doctors to follow but also ensuring the show became a huge success, William Hartnell engaged children and adults alike as the cantankerous yet lovable grandfather figure. The First Doctor era sits firm as one of the finest in all of Doctor Who, with Hartnell taking the helm from An Unearthly Child to The Tenth Planet, facing iconic monsters like the Cybermen in some of the show’s most memorable adventures – the first ever encounter with the Daleks on Skaro and their subsequent invasion of Earth being particular highlights. Though illness forced Hartnell to leave the role in 1966, his regeneration did not stop him from returning for the tenth-anniversary celebrations in The Three Doctors, and his influence lives on even today thanks to the An Adventure in Space and Time biopic from the fiftieth anniversary.

So, let us take a moment to remember the great man today, on what would have been his 108th birthday. Without William Hartnell, Doctor Who would certainly not have been the same show we have come to know and love, nor might it have ever celebrated a run of over 52 years (and counting!).

Happy Birthday Mr Hartnell, our hats go off to you – thank you for getting the party started!

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