26
May
10

William Hartnell: Reflections and Rankings

William Hartnell lasted for 29 stories, just over 3 seasons. At this point, I have no one to compare him to, so I guess I’ll go ahead and say he’s my favorite Doctor. For now.

I almost liked Hartnell’s Doctor more at the beginning of the show than at the end. His grumpiness and mysterious nature was interesting and had potential for some good character exploration. But, as often happens with television shows, they start to determine the direction of the show and characters change. This was even more evident with Susan, originally strange and precocious and eventually just whiny and annoying. The Doctor fared better, though, as is evident by the fact that the show continued.

Hartnell showed some pretty decent range, handling his grumpiness, his sensitive side, his adventurous nature and his intelligence with ease. He easily moved between story structures, fitting into all of them. His comic timing was almost always spot on.

The Hartnell era did suffer, though, from some incidents of poor story telling. Even worse was the slow pace of a lot of the stories. This is likely just a side effect of television in the 1960s, but Hartnell’s age made it a bit worse. While in my reviews I try to give the show credit where credit is due, the truth is many of the stories are incredibly dated. While the sci-fi conventions may have been new and/or unique at the time, a lot of them have become rather tired (such as computers taking over the world). I ignored that fact for the sake of my reviews, but many other reviews I have read complain about the cliched nature of many of the Hartnell stories. While I don’t believe that is fair (many weren’t cliched at the time), it does affect our opinions of them. And that characteristic of being dated is not helped by William Hartnell being so old. It can sometimes make a lot of the stories seem older than they are.

Additionally, there is a decided lack of action in many of the stories. While that doesn’t bother me too much, it made some of the longer stories, especially in Seasons 1 and 2, drag. The missing and reconstructed episodes didn’t help much.

Overall, I enjoyed William Hartnell’s Doctor. Obviously, or I wouldn’t still be watching. I enjoyed his clever wit and thought he gave the character a nice depth. Depth, of course, is something lacking in many of the companions. Here are my rankings of the companions from the Hartnell Era:

Female
1. Vicki – Cute, endearing, adventurous, and a good relationship with Hartnell’s Doctor.
2. Barbara – A bit uneven, but strong when she needed to be and not afraid to keep the boys in line.
3. Susan – Intriguing, but her character was unable to deliver. Not sure if it was Carol Anne Ford’s or the writers’ fault.
4. Polly – Hot, strong, and smart. Would be higher than Susan if she played more of a role.
5. Dodo – Could have been higher on the list, but was really a background player.
6. Katarina – Dumb as rocks and only around for a couple episodes. Great death, though.

Male
1. Ben – I like his attitude. Very no-nonsense-let-me-at-em. I like the cut of his jib, you might say.
2. Ian – While I didn’t buy Sir Ian the warrior, he kept the Doctor in line and approached problems thoughtfully.
3. Steven – Started so strong, but faded fast. Had no real role of his own. Again, not sure if it was the actor or the writers.

Overall Top 5
1. Vicki
2. Ben
3. Ian
4. Barbara
5. Susan

Now, for some story rankings. I’ll do 5 favorite and 5 least favorite. That should not be confused with “Best” and “Worst” which might not be the same.

Favorite
1. The Time Meddler – Great comic interaction between the Doctor and the Monk, a glimpse into the Doctor’s world, a strong performance from both Vicki and Steven.
2. The Daleks’ Master Plan – This would be number 1 if it weren’t for the Chase and Egypt episodes. Chen was a great villain, the Time Destructor conclusion was intense.
3. The Myth Makers – Very clever and funny, generally a treat. It also features a good (if unexpected) departure for Vicki.
4. The Daleks – Take away the cave jumping, and this story is a great introduction to a great race of villains. I wonder whatever happened to the lame Thals…
5. The Sensorites – This story gets a bad rap, but I liked it.

Least Favorite
1. The Chase – The Daleks were bumbling disasters, the comedy was unfunny, the plot was unimaginative.
2. The Edge of Destruction – Why was this story even made? Nothing happened and this was the point at which Susan’s character began to devolve. And the explanation of the melting clock and the stabbing made no sense.
3. The Crusade – Boring!
4. The Reign of Terror – Boring!
5. The Smugglers – Boring!

I’ve already watched most of The Power of the Daleks, Troughton’s first story. I can’t decide whether I’m enjoying it or not, which probably isn’t a good sign. At any rate, I’m looking forward to the next era of Doctor Who!

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4 Responses to “William Hartnell: Reflections and Rankings”


  1. 1 Matthew Kilburn
    10.June.10 at 7:57 am

    I’m enjoying these reviews very much, but am surprised by your suggestion that the regeneration (or whatever it was…) from Hartnell to Troughton is absent from the reconstruction. The changeover from The Tenth Planet survives and always has done, thanks to it being included on an edition of Blue Peter in 1973.

  2. 2 jacob1480
    10.June.10 at 11:00 am

    Matthew,

    Thanks for reading and for the comment! Perhaps I just didn’t know what I was looking at, but in the reconstruction I viewed the regeneration itself did not appear. There is a brief clip of Hartnell at the TARDIS controls, followed by a return to the still images of Hartnell on the floor, then a still image of his face, cross-faded with Troughton’s face. Maybe that is the way it originally aired and I mistook the still images for a return to the reconstruction. Although those images were of much higher quality than the clip at the controls.

    Wikipedia (which is usually reliable for things like this) says that “a low-quality, truncated copy” of the scene exists. I’m guessing this is the short clip at the controls. About the Blue Peter footage, it goes on to say:

    “Popular myth has it that the only surviving telerecording copy of the fourth episode was lost when loaned out to the children’s programme Blue Peter in 1973 when they wished to use a clip from it in a feature on the tenth anniversary of Doctor Who. Although a print of The Daleks’ Master Plan Episode 4 (“The Traitors”) was loaned to Blue Peter and not returned to the BBC Film Library, there was never a copy of The Tenth Planet Episode 4 there to have been loaned. Another department – BBC Enterprises – was still offering all four episodes for sale to foreign broadcasters until the end of the following year and would not, in any case, have loaned out master negatives.”

    The BBC confirms: “It is unknown how this episode came to be lost; the episode that was lost after being lent out to Blue Peter was actually The Daleks’ Master Plan: The Traitors.” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/classic/episodeguide/tenthplanet/detail.shtml)

    So, that is why I have described the regeneration/renewal as missing from the reconstruction. There is a the short clip at the controls, but I believe everything after that has been reconstructed, although I will say that the cross-fading images could very well be how it was originally broadcast and I did not recognize it as such.

    If anyone can provide definite clarification, that would be great!

    Thanks again for reading and for the comment!

    Jacob

    • 3 Andrew Hickey
      10.June.10 at 12:22 pm

      The fading images thing *is* how it was originally recorded – the regenerations from Pertwee to Tom Baker, Tom to Davison and Davison to Colin Baker all look more or less like this…

  3. 4 jacob1480
    10.June.10 at 7:31 pm

    Andrew,

    Thanks for the clarification. I was mistaken.

    Jacob


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About These Adventures

This blog exists to document my trip through over 30 seasons of the British science fiction television show Dr. Who. Prior to beginning, I had never seen a single episode of Dr. Who and will be learning the show's mythology and experiencing it all for the first time. I began sometime in July of 2009. Hopefully it doesn't take me over 30 years to reach the end.

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