The First Doctor: Where the Journey Began

It feels so weird to go back to the earliest days of Doctor Who. Days before the lore had been truly established, when enemies we’ve known for decades now were brand new. Regeneration isn’t even a thing yet!

Being the first iteration of the character, William Hartnell’s Doctor didn’t have any of the pressures that his predecessors did. There was no need to follow up a tough act set by a previous actor. No need to put a new spin on a beloved character.

Instead, he had the much more difficult task of creating said beloved character and being the tough act to follow! His successors would have to win over the crowd. But it was up to Hartnell to make sure that crowd was there to begin with.

And no one could have done a better job!

The first Doctor establishes all of the traits that would be integral to every other version of the character to come. Compassion, intellect, a gruff harshness offset by occasional bursts of childlike innocence, it all began with him. It’s such a strong foundation that it still stands even to this day!

Interestingly, however, this version of the Doctor doesn’t initially share the same adoration for the human race the later versions showed. In fact, the first Doctor couldn’t care less. When Ian and Barbara follow Susan into the Tardis for the first time, he only brings them along out of fear that they would expose him. Even then, he makes it clear that he can’t stand them.

This is the crux of the first Doctor’s arc. At first, he leans closer to the gruff old man side than the childishly innocent side. He wasn’t even much of a hero at first; his solution for a good number of conflicts early on in the series was to get back to the Tardis and leave.

Man, can you imagine how much trouble he’d avoid with the Daleks if he’d just done that back in ‘The Dead Planet’?

But thanks to the influence of his companions, the first Doctor grew to became the more heroic figure that we have today. They instill in him the admiration for humans that would go on to be central to his character and inspired him to confront evil rather than simply observe it or flee from it.

All of this is brought to life by the late William Hartnell. Before Doctor Who, he had made a name for himself by playing rough and tough military authority characters. You can somewhat see this translate into the show whenever the Doctor’s gruffer side came to the forefront.

However, this role allowed him to expand his range by becoming a more whimsical and loving character. He felt like the magician in a story who opened a magical door to a world of terror and adventure. Future iterations of the character would share this trait, but none managed to capture the fairy tale feeling quite like Hartnell.

Alas, he was forced to leave the role due to health complications. He’d return later for one last appearance in the show’s tenth anniversary special, ‘The Three Doctors.’ Unfortunately, he passed away not long after that.

The first Doctor himself, however, is still a part of the show even now, played by David Bradley. Unlike many of the other actors who attempted to play the first, Bradley managed to strike a nice balance between his own unique performance and capturing the essence of Hartnell’s. He’s got all of Hartnell’s mannerisms down, even right down to his unique cadence of speech. However, it’s clear that he’s not just doing an impression; he brings his own energy to the part, giving us a unique but familiar take on the first Doctor.

Even if Moffat decided to make him overtly sexist for some reason. Why did he do that? The first was gruff, but never offensive!

That issue aside, Bradley’s performance as the first is definitely a strong one. It’s a nice way to bring the first Doctor into the modern era for new fans to enjoy. Better that to keep the legacy alive than to let it be forgotten.

Alas, no such treatment has occurred for the second or third Doctors yet. Understandably so, those two are tough acts to replicate.

The first Doctor is still a treat, even today. The legacy he left still stands strong, even sixty years later. He single-handedly created the foundation upon which the show still stands even now and it’s amazing!

Now, we come to the second. And boy howdy, did he have a tough act to follow!

I’m going to end every single article with that line, aren’t I?

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