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Remembering William Hartnell

Today marks the 38th anniversary of First Doctor, William Hartnell’s passing. Today seems fitting to remember the man who started it all and in turn created a character who, despite changing his appearance many times, is at the heart of the longest running science fiction TV show in the world.

Doctor Who will later this year celebrate 50 years since the grumpy senior set off amongst the stars with his Granddaughter Susan, Ian and Barbara in the ‘rickety old Police box’, encountering monsters and foes from both past and future. Whether it be the Daleks, Marco Polo, giant ants, the list goes on and although many of the first episodes are now lost, every fan of classic era Who has their favourite Hartnell adventure.

In a special docu-drama later this year, Mark Gatiss will provide the story of how it all came to be before ‘An Unearthly Child’ was first aired. The role of Hartnell will be played by David Bradley, recently of Dinosaurs on a Spaceship and known for his role in Harry Potter.

Hartnell once said that after believing himself to be typecast in military style roles, the role of the Time Lord was a perfect way to further expand his career. He went on to play the leading role until 1966 with his often sharp and impatient approach to others, although the defining scene for many showed his more compassionate side when leaving Susan locked out the TARDIS believing that she was ready to make her way through life away from her grandfather.

After Verity Lambert, who had picked Hartnell for the role, left the show and a new production team was drafted in, Hartnell found it increasingly hard to work alongside them. As well as this, the onset of arteriosclerosis meant he found it disruptive whilst remembering his lines and ultimately resulted in him leaving Doctor Who in 1966. Hartnell himself suggested on his departure that Patrick Troughton would be a worthy replacement. This led to the famous regeneration ability being introduced by the production team and in turn, meant that Doctor Who will reach it’s 50th birthday this year, with a further 10 actors carrying the mantel since Hartnell’s character met his journey’s end.

Hartnell did go on to play limited cameo appearances in several more Doctor Who adventures, but his health was deteriorating rapidly and he passed away after a series of strokes on the 23rd of April 1975.

So when that shiny modern title sequence kicks off the celebrations later this year, take a moment to raise a glass to the man who first took us across time and space and who’s legacy has lived on for longer than even he could possibly have dreamed of.

Thanks for fifty years of memories William.

Written by Graeme Bentzen for The Gallifrey Times.