William Hartnell


Darque Edge

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Hope this isn't in the wrong place...

We're currently putting together a podcast about William Hartnell over at GeekPlanet, as the first of an alternate episodes look through each Doctor in turn. We're curious what people's thoughts are about the first Doctor.

So, yeah - what did you like/dislike? What were your first impressions? Got any knowledge about Mr Hartnell that you'd like to be brought more to light?

Cheers, and hope I'm not treading on any toes.

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I quite liked Hartnell. I loved that he started off angry and miserable and slowly warmed up to his companions. He never totally lost that acerbic edge, though.

What I didn't like was the actor's inability to learn his lines. He goofed up at least once a story, and it got to the point that they had to write it into the script after a while.

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I'm right there with Dan. At first he's the standoffish old man that no one really wants to be around (save Susan), but after a while his armor falls away and you see his heart. This is made very clear when he leaves Susan behind, and again when Ian and Barbara decide to go home. Both times he's hurt, but he knows it was the right thing to do.

Also, as I said a while back in another thread, I loved the moment when he stood up to the War Machine. He wasn't often badass and sometimes seemed too frail, but in that moment you believed the man could take on anything.

Negatives: he flubbed way too many lines, he disappeared / "slept" often, and it took a long time to soften to him.

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I think regarding the lines, you have to remember the way they filmed those episodes compared to the colour stories. When you consider that they were basically shooting a brand new 25 minute play every single week (for 48 weeks of the year), virtually live (most of those episodes were shot in about 2, maybe 3 single takes of 7 to 10 minutes each) with Hartnell taking quite a lot of the material, it's pretty astounding that he only fluffed the occasional line, given he wasn't in the best of health (it wasn't long after the show started that he first started getting the effects of his arteriosclerosis which badly affected his memory in later life).

There was an opinion piece in an old Doctor WHo Magazine talking about this subject, and it made the very valid point, that could you imagine the mess of a show you'd have, if they'd had Jon Pertwee or Tom Baker filming their episodes like that? Tom Baker in particular was notorious for going off script, or them having to retake things because he'd just decide on a whim to do something different (there's a story about "THe Horror of Fang Rock" where they took take after take of Tom and Louise Jameson just coming through a door, because instead of walking through it, he insisted on Running through at full speed, too fast for the camera to stay on him and eventually the director got so pissed off she just told the cameraman to just concentrate on Louise Jameson and ignore him). They also made the point about what a good actor Hartnell was in relation to knowing where the camera is, and knowing what shot is being taken (It's a subtle thing, but you can see him change his expression and movements when a shot is moving from long shot (which needs more exaggerated movements) to a close up (where he tones it down)...something Jon Pertwee could have occasionally used (I'm particularly thinking of all that facial gymnastics he was using in Spearhead when the octopus Nestene attacks him).

Personally, I love his portrayal of the Doctor.

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Okay, the episode is up - we were hoping to use more of people's thoughts, but we overran considerably. However, here it is. The Eclectic Podcast takes a look at William Hartnell.

(Incidentally, I'll hopefully be bumping The Silurians back up tonight, as I finished watching it last night, so will be listening to the podcast today. Hurrah!).

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  • 2 weeks later...

Sorry I'm posting too late for the podcast, but I personally find it hard to fault William Hartnell for the mistakes he made. It seems to me like a lot of the complaints about him are really more to do with his era than with him per se. I think if you watched shows of that era that were made in the same way (Dark Shadows springs to mind)you'd notice that flubbed lines were actually really common at a time when re-shoots were almost totally unheard of & blooper reels were non-existent.

I like the slower approach of the Hartnell years. I recently showed "The Edge of Destruction" to a friend & his main complaint was that nothing really seemed to HAPPEN, and while I suppose that's true, this story isn't about happenings, it's about how our heroes coalesce as a team. Storytelling was different then, not every story had to have 5 plot twists and a million dollar budget. Also, characters developed over time. I think it's cool that Hartnell was NEVER intended as the hero of the show, but rather a sort of anti-hero. The whole "man of action" component of Dr Who really doesn't appear until the 70s. The 1st Doctor has character flaws, certainly, but learns from his mistakes and is a better person for having taken the journey. You don't really see this sort of development of the Doctor's character again until Big Finish get hold of Colin Baker....

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  • 6 months later...

To my mind Hartnell's portrayal is the foundation stone from which all other portrayals built from. Brilliant, erratic, fiercely determined, and possessed of a self-righteousness that sometimes can lead him astray, the Doctor's first incarnation was the one in which he was transformed from a hermit living with his daughter in exile to the wandering hero well all know and love. It's here with Hartnell that we see exactly why the Doctor needs his companions, as he oftentimes learns as much from them as they do from him. While it's true Hartnell's age and his deteriorating physical condition at times worked against him, the man could bring the thunder when necessary. Much like Christopher Eccleston and Matt Smith, he's confident enough in himself to be kind, but will absolutely and completely destroy you if you oppose him and his ideals. It's no wonder that in the multi-Doctor stories in which he plays a part the First Doctor (ironically the 'youngest' Doctor in any given scenario) is often treated with a great deal of respect and reverence. Hell, he was the only one who could keep the Second and Third Doctor from each other's throats, and it was he who figured out the ultimate riddle of Rassilon's Great Game in the Death Zone. While he's not my absolute favorite, the First Doctor stands tall amidst his contemporaries. He is the original, you might say. ;)

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