Note: This post is the third part to my list of favorite portrayals of Doctor Who, and the rationale behind those choices. To read the first of the series click here and to read the second part click here.
8. The First Doctor (William Hartnell): The Grumpy Doctor
|William Hartnell: The First Doctor|
The Doctor who started it all is also the one that tends to rank low in these kind of lists. As much as I love William Hartnell's ornery first incarnation, I must also confess I understand that, as he doesn't have the same charm as other high ranking Doctors. Yet this formal, intelligent, cranky old fellow has some dimension to him, even a dark side that I find fascinating and raises some complex question about the Doctor's personality and his past.
During one of the early episodes of the show, the Doctor and his companions are being slowed down by an unconscious caveman they are carrying around, while they are yet on the run and in great danger. The Doctor, seeing the possibly dire consequences of their compassion, takes a rock and contemplates killing the caveman before one of his companions stops him. It's an interesting moment in this early stage of the series, reminding us that we really don't know who this man is, what his past includes, nor how far his moral core does (or does not) extend.
The first Doctor is a far cry from the compassionate, pacifistic version of the Doctor we get in later incarnations, and often reveals a man with a selfish streak, a natural arrogance, and a hidden agenda, despite his good qualities. And we get glimpses of that in later incarnations of the Doctor, such as with the Sixth Doctor's drastic change, the Ninth Doctor's testiness, the Tenth Doctor's actions in "The Runaway Bride" and "The Waters of Mars," as well as the Eleventh Doctor's encounter with a darker version of himself in "Amy's Choice." This legacy of a repressed, dark mystery in the Doctor's life and personality lives on, notably with the introduction of the mystery Doctor played play John Hurt, which we'll learn more about in the upcoming 50th anniversary special.
I also have to mention that these early episodes of Doctor Who have a psychological quality which is missing in the sometimes camp-filled middle years of Doctor Who. The black and white enhances that quality as they come off more akin to The Twilight Zone than the early Star Trek series. There's an edge there that has been resurrected in many of the episodes in the later series. The whimsy and magic of Doctor Who is counteracted with a dark, conflicted complexity that makes for a compelling element to the series. And the seeds were planted way back in the First Doctor's beginning of the series 50 years ago and has yet to be fully answered.