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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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!