Saturday, September 21, 2013

Legacy Character Study: The 1st Doctor

You never forget your first Doctor, but you might not know that much about the first Doctor. Shall we begin?

Character Conception 
The show that we now know as Doctor Who went through many unrelated iterations, but eventually, the concept of a mysterious old man being a guide through time and space came forth. The show idea was created by committee, but people generally consider Syndey Newman and Verity Lambert to be the actual “creators” of Doctor Who, due to their sheer amount of work input compared to the rest of the potential “creators.”

Secret Origin
Ah, the first Doctor. Even still, we actually know very little about him. We know that he was born on Gallifrey, the planet of the Time Lords. At a young age, he taken to the Time Lord initiation ceremony, where he was put in front of the Untempered Schism, a hole in Time and Space. His reaction?  He ran away. From there, he entered the Time Lord Academy, and barely passed. Yes, he seems like a genius to us, but to the rest of his people, he was their version of the guy in Geography class who keeps mixing up Bucharest and Budapest. Even though the correct answer to the question is “Cardiff.”

Eventually, he ran away from Time Lord society with his quote-unquote “grand-daughter” named quote-unquote “Susan”. Yes, Susan, the most alien sounding name evar. He hid from the Time Lords on Earth, and from there, we got the TV series that we know and love to this day. Vague? Yes. The Doctor’s always been somewhat of a mystery. His early days have been explored in written works… but the canonicity on those is debatable.

While a modern Whovian might be used to the Doctor having two hearts, this Doctor only had one, because his onscreen heartbeat was the normal lub-dub instead of the later da-da-da-da… simply because they hadn’t thought that idea up yet. Which makes a kind of sense, in a way.

See, Time Lords, for all intents and purposes, are Gallifreyans who have had their physicality altered to be able to regenerate. (It's implied that the regeneration process is not a natural one, since the Time Lords tries to bribe the Master into doing their bidding by offering a new set of them.) Now, if you screw around with your DNA, you’re not going to see any changes right away because the new cells need to grow; but a new heart slowly growing would really mess up your body, right? So the second heart might not come along until the first regeneration. Intentional on behalf of the original showrunners? 99% probability of “no.” But it’s the explanation I like, because it neatly explains away a discrepancy between the early show and later canon.

What’s a regeneration, I hear no one ask? Well, basically, Time Lords can flood their bodies with time energy when they’re about to die, which more-or-less scrambles their DNA. Most Time Lords can control what they turn into, but the Doctor, being a C-student, has his set to shuffle. After a regeneration, a new man (or woman, or alien, as the case may be) walks away, with all the memories of the past incarnations.

The Doctor’s most iconic bit of technology, even more so than the sonic screwdriver, is the now-iconic TARDIS: Time and Relative Dimension in Space. Bigger on the inside, it can travel literally anywhere. Past, future, and with a little cheating, outside the universe.

Basically, the inside exists outside the universe. The Police Box door is just a gateway to a separate dimension. Why does it look like a Police Box? Because the “Chameleon Circuit” that allows it to shapeshift and blend in got stuck. (The writers originally wanted the TARDIS to blend into its surroundings every episode, but they “broke” the Chameleon Circuit to save money. Then it became iconic.)

Instead of the now-ubiquitous sonic screwdriver, the 1st Doctor had a ring that… did things. Magic ring, essentially; it did whatever the plot needed it to. Unlike the first Green Lantern's magic ring, it has no weakness against wood. The eventual sonic screwdriver? That's a different story.

Companions, let’s admit it, are mostly interchangeable. They’re all unique, don’t get me wrong, but c’mon, they’re just there to ask the Doctor what he’s doing so he can explain it for the audience, and to get in trouble and get rescued. Here’s a list for this incarnation with brief personality descriptions.

Susan Foreman
The Doctor’s granddaughter; originally written as an unrelated girl, but changed to the Doctor’s granddaughter to avoid the inherent creepiness of an old man traveling with a girl. Little information was provided to the actress (Carole Ann Ford) about her background, and thus, the audience. Did little else than be occasionally smart and scream at monsters. Fell in love with a freedom fighter during the Dalek invasion of Earth in the future, and the Doctor let her stay behind to make a life there.

Ian Chesterton
Susan’s science teacher; the originally intended protagonist; fiercely loyal; a man of action.

Barbara Wright
Susan’s history teacher; brave and willing to risk her own life, and could look past appearances to see the goodness in human and non-humans alike.

Spaceship crash survivor; surprisingly happy-go-lucky.

Steven Taylor
Spaceship pilot from the future; took over the role of leading man from Ian.

Young woman from the ancient city of Troy; killed off after the writers decided that it would be too much of a hassle to write in her unfamiliarity to modern concepts on a regular basis; the first companion to die.

Sara Kingdom
Replaced Katarina after her death, but only for one serial; an “unofficial” (although this is hotly debated) companion; had “the strength of ten men.” The second companion to die.

Dodo Chaplet
The identical descendant of a young woman that the Doctor couldn’t save; unbelievably stupid, but generally cheerful.

A witty snarker, she hid her feelings for Ben Jackson behind her comments; turned instantly serious when the situation did.

Ben Jackson
A die-hard skeptic; refused to believe in time travel for a while. However, he was logical and thought through all situations with probably the most sensibility out of the companions so far.

Notable Enemies
Traveling with his first companions, the 1st Doctor ran into two of his greatest enemies for the first time: the Daleks and the Cybermen.

Pepper pot-shaped fascists from the far future, the mutated survivors of a war between the Dals and the Thals. Their armored shells ran on static electricity, as weakness that was soon overcome. The xenophobic Daleks chased the Doctor throughout space and time, and eventually nearly conquered Earth. More on them in later installments.

Interestingly, the Doctor had actually heard of these guys before he had encountered them. Why had he heard of the monsters that really only bother humans instead of the galaxy conquering Daleks?
Who knows?

More on the Cybermen during the 1st Doctor’s history.
Notable Traits
The First Doctor was the most mysterious, and the most grandfatherly. He wore vaguely Victorian clothes, and was very hesitant to give away any details about himself. Not surprising, considering that Ian was supposed to be the main character to carry the show. He mixed up words a lot, often calling Ian “Chesserson,” or suchlike. In reality, Hartnell would often flub his lines.  he trait was written in so they didn’t have to do reshoots.

Notable Character History
After the Doctor escaped to Earth from Gallifrey (which was yet to be revealed as the planet he was from), he came to Earth with Susan, who he enrolled in a school in an attempt to blend in. Susan’s teachers, Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton, noted that she was way too smart, so they followed her back to where she and her grandfather were hiding out: Totter’s Lane. They saw a sign for a “Doctor Foreman” nearby, and assumed that Susan’s grandfather was Doctor Foreman, calling him “Doctor,” a sobriquet that he would adopt from then on. After that, it was pretty much monster-of-the-week storytelling, nothing really special, to be honest. Don’t get me wrong, the stories were good for their time, but… generic by today's standards.

“10,000 BC”: The caveman story

“The Daleks”: The evil alien planet story

“Marco Polo”: The historical figure story

“The Chase”: The "run from the bad guys" story

"The Celestial Toymaker": The omnipotent trickster story

Yes, that is Alfred from Tim Burton's Batman.
And the show was filled with a lot of classic sci-fi silliness, which is to be expected when you're making low-budget science-fiction.

There are a few important things to note, though. When the Doctor, Susan, Ian, and Barbara were trapped in the past, captured by cavemen, something interesting (to modern Whovians) happened. The Doctor picked up a rock and was completely prepared to use it to make a hole in a caveman’s skull, which would give him a chance to ditch his victim and run to safety.

Ian (who was meant to be the main character at that point) stopped him.

This might seem rather un-Doctor-like of him... but an idea that's cropped up in recent years is that this is the birth of the Doctor as we know him.

Remember, the Doctor stole a TARDIS. The man's a fugitive. He was probably more than willing to do what he had to do to survive. And it was Ian who basically told him to find another way, because some lines should not be crossed.

No wonder the Doctor likes humans so much; it was a human who kept him from turning down a dark path. One that the Doctor's own friend ended up going down... but I'll get to that in a later post.

The 10th Doctor would later put this sentiment best:
Wilfred Mott: “We must look like ants to you.”
10th Doctor: “I think you look like giants.”

In this time period, the Doctor would do many other things that would seem out of character, like the time that he fell in love with an Aztec woman.

He's rubbish at weddings. Especially his own.
But nothing major, other than the recurring threat of the Daleks, setting the stage for their later plots.
Then the show got the thing that made it truly unique. And it all came about from William Hartnell’s ill health. It became apparent that the daily grind was becoming too much for him, due to illness, so they recast the role. Not with someone similar, but with someone completely different. But we’ll get to that.

In the far future of the 1990’s, the Doctor and company went to an arctic base, where the Cybermen were attacking. The Cybermen were from Earth’s twin planet, Mondas. They shared a life-force, and one planet had to die for the other to live. Mondas was actively dying, so the people converted themselves into cyborgs to survive before heading off to destroy Earth. At the episode’s climax, the Doctor (who had been steadily growing weaker as a result of his body “wearing thin”) keeled over, and was enveloped in energy, turning him into a new man. The writer's original idea was that the planet’s life force regenerated him, but that was later retconned into a natural Time Lord biological function.

And that was the end of the 1st Doctor. It is said that the light that burns twice as bright burns half as long…. But that’s not true when it comes to Doctor Who. 1 was an oft-overshadowed Doctor who didn’t last as long as many of his successors. The 1st Doctor was old, grumpy, and mysterious. Only the last of those traits would remain throughout the years. Honestly, the 1st Doctor era seems like a completely different show, with a completely different character. And it is. With the 2nd Doctor, played by Patrick Troughton, the show as it’s known today will slowly take form.

Alternate Versions
Well… technically, I should list every Doctor after Hartnell, but instead, I think I’ll mention an underrated Doctor: Doctor Who. Yes, even though the character’s name/title/alias is just “the Doctor” with “Doctor Who” being the name of the show, there is actually a version called “Doctor Who.”

Pictured: Dr. Who (That sounds so wrong.)
Peter Cushing played Dr. Who in a film and its sequel, which were only made to capitalize on the popularity of the Daleks. Irrelevant to this analysis, but interesting. If you want to know more, here's Wikipedia.

For the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, the BBC is doing a special on a fictionalized version of the story behind the show, with David Bradley (aka Filch from the Harry Potter films) as William Hartnell.

Finally, I should mention that the 1st Doctor was the only one to be officially “played” by another actor. (6’s regeneration was performed by 7’s actor, and unnamed, mostly unseen performers have recently played flashbacks of earlier Doctors.) William Hartnell was replaced for the Anniversary Team-Up “The Five Doctors” by Richard Hurndall.

…he does a good job, I guess; I’m not here to review his performance.  He plays the character the same way that William Hartnell did. See you next time, when we look at everyone’s favorite cosmic hobo.

I just like this picture.


  1. The first Doctor was one of my favorites. Mainly because despite being the youngest technically, he is the more older and wiser of the bunch.

    1. Have you heard the theory that the Doctor's experiencing Time Lord senility?
      That would explain why all the later Doctors use 1 for guidance and advice.

  2. "Magic ring, essentially; it did whatever the plot needed it to."

    So, just like the Sonic Screwdriver?