It was only a matter of time. I love Doctor Who and the show means too much to me (not to mention how my crazy completist mind works XD) to not go back to the very beginning and watch its original 1963-89 run. The timing was motivated, in part, by continued pandemic life leading to much more time at home…but I was always heading here. At first I was hesitant to get another streaming service but I realized I’d be watching 695 episodes of classic Doctor Who. I’ve not watched 695 things on Netflix if you add up everything I’ve ever seen on it and I’ve had it for years. I’ve not watched 300 things on Netflix! Nor Hulu. Nor Disney+. Nor HBO Max. So 695 episodes of Doctor Who means I’m getting more for my money with BritBox than any service! To commemorate such an undertaking, I felt a series of impressionistic pieces as I met each Doctor was apropos. Naturally, I began at the beginning with William Hartnell, whose run as the Doctor went from 23 November 1963 to 29 October 1966.
I started “An Unearthly Child: An Unearthly Child” (S1E1) on Tuesday, 20 October 2020. I finished “The Tenth Plant: Episode Four” (S4E8) on Sunday, 23 May 2021. I learned quickly classic Doctor Who’s format is very different from the Doctor Who I know and love. I’m used to hourlong episodes with anywhere from ten to thirteen making a full series. But classic Doctor Who was serial storytelling with several half hour episodes (sometimes two or three but mostly four, five, or six (each ending with a cliffhanger)) making up an entire story. The series were much longer, too. BUT, as I learned when I got to “Marco Polo,” episodes are missing!!!
Finding “Marco Polo” not on BritBox led to research, beginning on Wikipedia and then scouring the internet hoping what I read wasn’t true XD. What I learned was mind-blowing for someone used to digital storage and everything being available to stream somewhere. From 1967 to 1978, due to lack of physical storage space and/or rebroadcast rights, as well as a scarcity of materials, the BBC regularly deleted or destroyed old programs. They needed the tape. They needed the physical space. So, of the 253 episodes that comprise classic Doctor Who’s first six series, ninety-seven are lost. Scripts, production stills, off-screen photos, small video clips, and audio recordings (the latter mostly done by fans at home) still exist for each episode. But the full episodes are forever lost.
William Hartnell’s time as the First Doctor ended up looking like this for me:
Series One – 1963-64
9 episodes missing, 13 not on BritBox (only complete serials are on BritBox)
The serial “Marco Polo” is completely gone and “The Regin of Terror” is missing episodes 4, 5, and 6.
Series Two – 1964-65
2 episodes missing, 4 not on BritBox
The serial “The Crusade” is incomplete, missing episodes 2 and 4.
Series Three – 1965-66
28 episodes missing, 33 episodes not on BritBox
The serials “Mission to the Unknown,” “The Myth Makers,” “The Massacre of St. Bartholomew’s Eve,” and “The Savages” are all gone, while “Galaxy 4” is missing episodes 1, 2, and 4; “The Daleks Master Plan” is missing episodes 1, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, and 12; and “The Celestial Toymaker” is missing episodes 1, 2, and 3.
Series Four (Part One) – 1966
5 episodes missing, none are on Brit Box
The serial “The Smugglers” is all gone and “The Tenth Planet” is missing episode 4.
This was hard to shake. But I read detailed plot summaries on Wikipedia and TARDIS Data Core: The Doctor Who Wiki to fill in the blanks before moving to the next existing serial. Learning that William Hartnell’s final episode as well as the very first regeneration in the history of Doctor Who was one of the lost episodes?
UGH. That hit. It hit hard. That one hurt.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. So what were my impressions of the First Doctor?!
The Doctor, as well as the show itself, felt very unfamiliar at first. The pace of the first few episodes felt very slow. The Doctor seemed so eccentric (even for the Doctor!) and felt gruffer and far more stubborn in those first few episodes. When Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill) and Ian Chesterton (William Russell) first encounter him, he seems like this wild old man who’s always snapping at them. He often stands back too, letting Ian fly point into danger, serving as the Doctor’s “action man” as it were. I didn’t know quite what to make of him.
However, as the show continued his fuller personality came into bloom and I soon met the warm, welcoming, mischievous, clever and kind character I expected the First Doctor to be. In context, his gruffness made sense. Barbara and Ian came blundering into the TARDIS uninvited and, in so doing, inadvertently sent the four of them off to the Stone Age. Once they all got to know each other, things changed. But it was a rocky road at first.
The Doctor and his granddaughter Susan Foreman (Carol Anne Ford) had been living comfortably on Earth for some time. Together, they had stolen a faulty Type 40 TARDIS and left Gallifrey to explore time and space! During their extended stay in 1960s London, Susan was enrolled at the Cole Hill School. When her teachers, Barbara and Ian, hear their enigmatic-yet-incredibly-brilliant student Susan may be living in a junkyard with her grandfather at 76 Totter’s Lane, they go to investigate. Forcing their way into the seemingly battered old police box they stumble upon the secret of the Doctor and Susan’s life. Furious, and against Susan’s protests, the Doctor activates the TARDIS.
To protect himself and Susan from the prying eyes Ian and Barbara’s discovery would bring, the only option the Doctor saw was dematerializing with all of them onboard together. In barging into Susan and the Doctor’s lives, Barbara and Ian robbed them of it. In the early days, it wasn’t just the TARDIS’ chameleon circuit which was broken (resulting in her staying forever stuck as a blue 1960’s police box). It’s directional control was damaged, too. So while the Doctor could fly the TARDIS and operate all of her systems, he couldn’t control where or when they’d land in any way, shape, or form. To travel with the Doctor was to be adrift in time and space. Feeling his granddaughter’s freedom threatened and seeing no other option to protect her than to leave before they chose to, the Doctor was naturally upset. Who wouldn’t be? They had no way back to a home they were enjoying.
The Doctor’s gruffness and snapping soon faded though and they became a family – and I love, love, love the four of them travelling together! I know I’ve just begun but the Doctor, Susan, Barbara, and Ian will be a hard act to beat for my favorite classic TARDIS team. They have my whole heart :).
I really love Susan – her enthusiasm, her intelligence, her acceptance, her joy at everything they do! She is this shining beacon of light. That being said, she often falls into the “hysterical woman” trope when trouble pops up (Barbara can, too, though not as often). She screams and faints and cowers more than we’d ever expect a female character to do now. I get it’s the conventions of the time and it doesn’t mean she isn’t clever and brave in her own right. Susan has plenty of her own hero moments. But it takes a while to get used to seeing it all the same.
Something else unexpected yet very central to classic Doctor Who, at least as far as the First Doctor’s travels are concerned, is the idea that they can’t meddle with history. They can observe but they can’t participate in any way that changes the past which in turn would change the future. Obviously this premise is dropped in the Doctor Who I know. As the Tenth Doctor explains to Sally Sparrow, “People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect but actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big bowl of wibbly wobbly, timey wimey…stuff.” There are fixed points in time that must always proceed as they are meant to lest all of reality come undone, but everything else exists in a state of constant flux and can be altered. Yet here the Doctor is always warning his companions to be mindful of not disturbing the past.
In moving through the first series, “The Sensorites” (S1E31-36) was the first serial to fully feel like “my Doctor Who.” Or maybe it was the first where I’d become fully used to the “feel” of the original Doctor Who. Either way, I loved it and I love it for this. Flowing from this, by the beginning of Series Two, I was fully comfortable with this version of Doctor Who. It began to connect for me. I’d learned the rhythm of the show. This was no longer the original Doctor. He was just the Doctor. William Hartnell clicked in my mind and it all fell in line with the later shows. This was Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor, David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor, Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor, Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor, and Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor at the beginning of their journey.
The Doctor always seems so delighted by everything! That’s the word that comes most readily to mind when I watch the First Doctor – delighted. He always wants to go over the next ridge, poke around the next corner, wander into the next room simply because it’s there. With a twinkle in his eye and his giggle ringing in the air, he’s delighted by the chance to explore. Unlike his future selves, he’s not yet at a place where he seems to know (almost) everything. The Doctor knows a lot – but there’s still so much he’s yet to see.
It was exciting to see so many firsts, too! I saw the Doctor meet the Daleks for the very first time (“The Daleks,” S1E5-11). Skaro wasn’t yet a wasteland. The Thals, a humanlike race, were living alongside the Daleks. And the Doctor greeted the Daleks as would-be friends! He didn’t react with rage or terror at their sight! The Daleks were far scarier than I expected them to be, too. They are brilliant, something not always on display in the modern episodes where their capacity for hate and destruction are underscored more heavily than their intellect. Seeing how smart they are makes them all the scarier. We see only the pitiful struggle the ragtag human resistance can offer after the Dalek’s successful invasion and conquest of Earth when the Doctor, Susan, Ian, and Barbara land in the aftermath (“The Dalek Invasion,” S2E4-9). And while the Doctor can’t control the TARDIS’ destination, it’s clear the Daleks can navigate successfully as they relentlessly hunt the Doctor, Barbara, Ian, and Vicki (Maureen O’Brien) through all of time and space (“The Chase,” S2E30-35).
What’s particularly interesting is when the Daleks first refer to their “greatest enemy” they are talking about the Doctor and Susan, Ian, Barbara, and (later) Vicki. In the beginning, the Daleks view them all as an equal, unified threat.
I didn’t even know how to process when, exploring a more-than-it-seems monastery in Northumbria in 1066, Vicki crawls under the Monk’s stone sarcophagus in one room to find doors. She enters the doors and exclaims, “It’s a TARDIS! The monk’s got a TARDIS!” What?!? But really, it makes sense. Gallifrey is still around. Other Time Lords roam creation. And here they were, discovering another TARDIS and another Time Lord! Even if the names “Gallifrey” and “Time Lord” weren’t yet a part of the narrative, we see the Doctor first meeting with another Time Lord.
Doctor Who’s first goodbyes showed me the classic version of the show can make me cry just like its modern incarnation. When the Doctor left Susan behind on a newly liberated Earth so she could begin her life with David (Peter Fraser), the man she’d fallen in love with, my heart hurt. There was no certainty they’d ever see or speak to each other again! It was even harder to say goodbye to Ian and Barbara. Obviously I’d been with their characters for over sixty episodes but seeing the Doctor’s reaction to their choosing to leave made it more difficult. At first he is hurt and angry at their request to go home and later, talking with Vicki, the sadness is evident in his voice. Travelling in all of space and time means nothing if you don’t have someone to share it with. The goodbyes left me with an empty, melancholic feeling in the pit of my stomach.
These first adventures of the Doctor make the lonely echo of the TARDIS in modern Doctor Who feel more pronounced. Often I’ve seen the Doctor travelling alone or with one companion. Here though, from the very first episode, the Doctor has several people filling the TARDIS. From the Doctor, Susan, Barbara, and Ian to the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Vicki to the Doctor, Vicki, and Steven (Peter Purves) to the Doctor, Steven, and Dodo (Jackie Lane) to the Doctor, Polly (Anneke Wills), and Ben (Michael Craze), it’s always a family travelling together.
My experience of the Doctor’s companions was affected by the missing episodes. I liked Steven, Dodo, Polly, and Ben, but I never got to know them as I did Susan, Barbara, Ian, and Vicki. While there are episodes missing from Vicki’s time in the TARDIS (including the serial where she decides to stop travelling with the Doctor!), the majority of her tenure is there. But over half of Series Three is missing! So I feel, as far as my experience of the First Doctor’s companions go; Susan, Ian, Barbara, and Vicki are stamped upon my heart. I love them in the way I love the First Doctor and they are intimately tied to my experience of classic Doctor Who. But I never got a chance to really bond with Dodo and Steven, even if they were enjoyable characters. As to Polly and Ben, we’ll see. They go on to travel with the Second Doctor but I don’t know yet how long they last nor how many of those episodes are still around.
Classic Doctor Who does something else interesting and unexpected (at least for me!) with the Doctor’s companions. In the Doctor Who I’m familiar with, the Doctor’s companions – from Rose to Martha to Donna to Amy to Rory to Clara to Bill to Yaz, Ryan, and Graham – are all from the contemporary year the show is airing. In that way, they serve to anchor the Doctor, at least in part, to our modern world and they work as the lens through which the viewer (especially new viewers) sees and understands the Doctor. But that’s not always the case with the First Doctor!
When Vicki Pallister joins the Doctor’s travelling family, she does so after losing her father when their spaceship crashed on the planet Dido. The year they left to move to a new planet? 2493! Steven Taylor will stowaway aboard the TARDIS after being stranded on the planet Mechanus when his ship crashed there two years ago. Getting to know his fellow travelers, he tells Vicki he has fond memories of the 2784 Olympics! To see Vicki marvel at 1960’s New York City as “Ancient New York” or to watch Steven say he’s always dreamed of being a cowboy casts a whole new context around the Doctor’s travels. I really like it! It’s a fun twist I wasn’t at all prepared for.
On the cowboy note, “The Gunfighters” (S3E34-37) was something I had no way of knowing just how much my life needed until I saw it. The TARDIS takes the Doctor, Steven, and Dodo to the O.K. Corral in Tombstone in 1881. They meet Wyatt, Virgil, and Warren Earp along with Doc Holiday, Bat Masterson, the Clanton Brothers, and Johnny Ringo. It’s a Western. And it’s a 1960s Western. And it’s a 1960s Western produced by English creators and English actors doing American cowboy accents all the while. In a similar vein, “The Chase: Journey Into Terror” (S2E33) was so incredible!!! With the Daleks hunting them, the Doctor, Ian, Barbara, and Vicki exit the TARDIS into the most perfect Hammer Horror Film-inspired haunted house. There’re cobwebs! Candles! Creaking staircases! Spinning walls and hidden passages! As they explore they find everything from Frankenstein’s creature to a shrieking woman to Dracula himself. But it only gets better because once the Daleks arrive THE DALEKS BEGIN FIGHTING THE HORROR MONSTERS!!!!
YOU SEE THE DALEKS SHOUTING “EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE!” AS THEY FIRE AT FRANKENSTEIN’S CREATURE AND DRACULA TO NO EFFECT AND YOU SEE THE CREATURE LIFT THE DALEKS AND SMASH THEM ON THE GROUND ALL WHILE THE DOCTOR AND THE OTHERS HIDE AROUND THE GHOSTLY CASTLE AND I LOVE IT.
The sheer imagination involved in this show is staggering – the stories themselves, of course, but also the imagination involved in their execution. It’s never been more apparent to me than it has been watching these classic Doctor Who episodes that I’ve grown up in a post-George Lucas, post-Star Wars, post-Industrial Lights and Magic, post-Jim Henson, post-Jim Henson’s Creature Shop world. What I mean by that is there’s so much in the world of special effects that I just take for granted. Making “things like this” for movies is just how it’s always been. Then the advent of CGI hit, the first place I really remember it were certain scenes in Jurassic Park. But of course that was followed by Lucas again breaking ground with Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and that laid the groundwork for what we’d see in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings Trilogy.
But here, in these classic episodes of Doctor Who from the early 60’s everything – literally every little thing – every plant, landscape, alien creature, or futuristic or historical wardrobe choice had to be sewn, built, or painted. If it wasn’t there on set or on location, it couldn’t be in the show. I know that sounds like the most obvious observation ever! But, growing up as a child of the 80’s and adolescent of the 90’s, I never spent much time thinking about the effects in movies before me, outside of some of the classic films I watched as a kid. Even then, most of the “old movies” I’d watch when I was little were animated and Disney’s animation all felt pretty timeless in the same way. In spending such an extended amount of time with these ’63-’66 episodes of Doctor Who, I just keep thinking how amazing they are, especially given the budget they had and the tools they had before them with which to create.
To see the worlds, the landscapes, the ships, and the beings who inhabit all of that, all created physically, is so exciting. It’s easy to see why Doctor Who was such a staple in the UK and why it left such a lasting effect on so many people. When Neil Gaiman appeared on David Tennant does a Podcast with…, they discussed the mystical, supernatural, and theological themes in his writing. David Tennant asked, “[I]s that where these ideas arose in your childhood, a fascination with that?” Neil Gaiman replied, “I think so. But I never remember not being interested in that stuff.” Watching these episodes and the sheer scope and size of the imagination that brought them to life, I get why Gaiman cites, “Key weird moments for me would be watching William Hartnell as Doctor Who.”
Even with the increasing number of missing episodes as I moved through these first four series, it was all so wonderful with this wild imagination shaping it all. Yet I still had to deal with the lost ending…BUT WAIT…or did I?!?
After a little investigation on the line I found out I could buy a DVD of “The Tenth Planet” and see the first three episodes as they were filmed and an animated restoration of the final episode by the Doctor Who Restoration Team (who, according to Wikipedia, are “a loose collection of Doctor Who fans, many within the television and film industry, who restore Doctor Who episodes for release on DVD”). Huzzah!
So I did that. First I rewatched Doctor Who’s 2017 Christmas special “Twice Upon A Time,” where the Twelfth Doctor meets the First Doctor as each is about to regenerate and each is fighting the process, refusing to do so, preferring instead just to die. While it’s a jump ahead fifty years and features David Bradley acting in William Hartnell’s stead, Steven Moffat included the super short bit of surviving, grainy footage of the original regeneration scene so I rewatched what exists of the unanimated, original version. Then I watched “The Tenth Planet” as the Doctor Who Restoration Team provided it.
The Cybermen have never looked creepier than they did in their very first appearance! They are the stuff of dark, twisted nightmares for sure. GAH. But I am so happy I bought the DVD and got to see William Hartnell’s final serial. It did make me sad, though, knowing he left a role he loved due not to a choice but his health, to see his role entirely written out in the third episode and cut back in the fourth, to accommodate his ailing health. Regardless of ailing health and shorter screen time, the heart of his Doctor shone on just as brightly to the end :). The Doctor Who Restoration Team did a great job with their animated restoration of the final episode, too! I will keep this little DVD project in mind when I come across future missing serials.
And just like that, I came to the end of William Hartnell’s time as the Doctor. I can’t imagine loving any classic Doctor more than the First Doctor. Ahhhhhhhh, but that’s the thing with Doctor Who! I started watching with David Tennant (I know, I know, I should have started with Christopher Eccleston but I had no idea what I was doing and had heard a lot about David Tennant (but I went back to fix my mistake before I was through his first series)) and he was my absolute favorite. Then I met Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor and she became my favorite…and it felt like I was cheating on David Tennant! A deep dive rewatch into Peter Capaldi last summer led me to think he, in fact, was my favorite. But how can Christopher Eccleston – who brought this all to life again – and Matt Smith – who’s opposite Karen Gillan’s Amy Pond and gives us “Vincent and the Doctor” – not be my favorite??
I’ve come to realize that’s part of the beauty of Doctor Who. I think, when you really fall into this show and it really becomes a part of your life and lives in your heart, every Doctor is your favorite at one point or another :). I’ve loved the First Doctor! I love the First Doctor! And I’ve loved seeing where Doctor Who began. The Doctor’s advice to Zentos, a human traveler on the ship carrying the last group of humans off Earth to settle amongst the stars, is as appropriate for all of us today as it was for him, then. As such, it seems the perfect place to end – “Remember, your journey is very important, young man, therefore you must travel with understanding as well as hope.”
We must travel with understanding as well as hope. And that, my friends, are the Doctor’s orders.
If you enjoyed this, maybe you’d like to try one of the other pieces in this series!
 Hettie MacDonald, dir. “Blink,” Doctor Who, season 3, episode 10, BBC, 2007.
 Douglas Camfield, dir. “The Time Meddler: A Battle of Wits,” Doctor Who, season 2, episode 38, BBC, 1965.
 Richard Martin, dir. “The Dalek Invasion of Earth: Flashpoint,” Doctor Who, season 2, episode 9, 1964.
 Richard Martin, dir. “The Chase: Planet of Decision,” Doctor Who, season 2, episode 35, BBC, 1965.
 Douglas Camfield, dir. “The Time Meddler: The Watcher,” Doctor Who, season 2, episode 36, BBC, 1965.
 Michael Leeston-Smith, dir. “The Myth Makers: Horse of Destruction,” Doctor Who, season 3, episode 9, BBC, 1965.
 Christopher Barry, dir. “The Rescue: Desperate Measures,” Doctor Who, season 2, episode 11, BBC, 1965.
 Camfield, “The Time Meddler: The Watcher.”
 Richard Martin, dir. “The Chase: Flight Through Eternity,” Doctor Who, season 2, episode, 32, BBC, 1965.
 Rex Tucker, dir. “The Gunfighters: A Holiday for the Doctor,” Doctor Who, season 3, episode 34, BBC, 1966.
 Michael Imison, dir. “The Ark: The Plague,” Doctor Who, season 3, episode 27, BBC, 1966.