The Tenth Planet: Episode 4

First Broadcast October 29th, 1966 @ 5.50pm (7.5m viewers)

It cannot be over emphasised how critical this moment, 50 years ago today, was for the longevity and continued success of Doctor Who. For nearly three years and 135 episodes, a record bested only by Tom Baker, William Hartnell was The Doctor. The only Doctor on TV at least. However, the punishing filming schedule took a toll on the senior actor. The production team would occasionally need to cover for Hartnell as he took time off from filming, including during this story. A bout of bronchitis meant that body double Gordon Craig covered for the First Doctor during episode 3 whilst Hartnell recuperated. This emphasised the need for a change.

The reality was that Doctor Who could have been legitimately concluded by the BBC at this point. Very few shows can survive when the lead actor decides it is time to move on. However, the fact that the lead character had not been submitted to an extensive backstory analysis proved ideal. The man of mystery from another world could reasonably be revealed to possess the ability to change his appearance. Crucially this could then be accepted by the audience. Whilst the idea would pass with viewers aware of the Jekyll and Hyde story, which also famously featured transformations, the key would, of course, be a convincing onscreen transition.

First Doctor William Hartnell Regeneration (c) BBC
First Doctor William Hartnell Regeneration (c) BBC
Memorable Moment (Spoiler Warning)

It is difficult to comprehend how viewers reacted to this initial changeover of actors. Mercifully, thanks to Blue Peter, we still have the original regeneration sequence in the archives. However, the DVD release of ‘The Tenth Planet’ favoured an animated version instead of inserting the raw material. Anyway, the technical skill required to deliver the transition between two actors convincingly must have been seen as the cutting edge of special effects in 1966. 50 years on viewers have been treated to over a dozen onscreen changeovers, featuring more than just The Doctor. The concept and the technology used to deliver it has developed further. Yet the necessity, inventiveness and technical skill of this original exchange is sublime and must surely have been a shocking moment for viewers. The success of this moment is without question. Had it failed Doctor Who would not have continued.

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

It has been well documented that in private Hartnell was devastated to leave the programme but his legacy continues to this day. The programme has since grown into a global colossus, recognisable, watched and adored across the world. This success can be traced right back to Hartnell’s character. His older, grumpier and short-tempered First incarnation has regularly been a comparison for Peter Capaldi’s most recent portrayal. Of equal contribution is the invention and convincing delivery of this original regeneration. The term ‘regeneration’ would however not be used to describe the process until a few more years later. In his departure, William Hartnell established a continuing future for Doctor Who. There is, therefore, no finer tribute to him than the programme’s continued success 50 years on from his departure.


Doctor Who – William Hartnell
Polly – Anneke Wills
Ben Jackson – Michael Craze
General Cutler – Robert Beatty
Terry Cutler – Callen Angelo
Barclay – David Dodimead
Shav – Gregg Palmer
Wigner Steve Plytas
Krang – Harry Brooks
Jarl Reg – Whitehead
Cyberman Voice – Peter Hawkins
Cyberman Voice – Roy Skelton
The Doctor – Patrick Troughton


Director – Derek Martinus
Producer – Innes Lloyd
Writer – Kit Pedler
Writer – Gerry Davis

Also First Aired On This Day…

  • Image of the Fendahl: Part One
  • Torchwood: Ghost Machine
  • The Sarah Jane Adventures: Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane?: Part One
  • The Sarah Jane Adventures: The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith: Episode One


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