First Doctor William Hartnell: the Daleks were a distraction

In his only surviving TV interview, William Hartnell revealed his irritation at the metal menaces - and said he would be famous for much more than Doctor Who

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The first Doctor found Daleks irritating and expected to leave the role of The Doctor behind, a rare interview has revealed. In 1967, William Hartnell called the classic baddies “mechanical mobile objects”, and hoped to go on to more famous roles.

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In his only surviving on-screen interview, included in the upcoming DVD release of 1966 story The Tenth Planet and seen by RadioTimes.com, William Hartnell expressed his annoyance with constantly being asked about the Daleks.

“I’m not brassed off, it’s just it’s the association of the Dalek question, this mechanical mobile object, I’m beginning to find it distracting,” Hartnell said. “And they were difficult to play to, because you’re not looking into human eyes. You’re looking at a metal object, moving about, with a voiceover.”

Despite claiming not to be “brassed off” by his metal nemeses, Hartnell gave terse responses to the interviewer. Asked whether he would ever “shake off” questions about Doctor Who, he replied: “Oh yes, of course, by making a success in something else! That’s an actor’s job.”

The clip was discovered by researcher Richard Bignell in 2009, working for BBC DVD. The full interview, of which only a fragment survives, was filmed in Hartnell’s dressing room in the Gaumont Theatre, Taunton, during his run as Buskin in the pantomime Puss in Boots. It was initially broadcast on the BBC regional news programme Points West on 17 January 1967.

Though digitised in 2011, the interview will appear for the first time on the DVD release of The Tenth Planet this October. The final story of Hartnell’s Doctor Who tenure, it was also the first to feature the Cybermen.

The DVD release will feature extras including commentary with Anneke Wills who played the Doctor’s companion Polly, a reconstruction of the story’s missing fourth episode, and the original Radio Times listings.

Hartnell, who died in 1975, first appeared as The Doctor in 1963’s An Unearthly Child, and held the role until 1966. Next month he will be played on BBC2 by David Bradley in An Adventure in Space and Time, a drama telling the story of the show’s conception that forms part of the Doctor Who 50th anniversary celebrations.

Asked why he seemed to appeal to children despite being, in the interviewer’s words, “a rather grumpy sort of person”, Hartnell responded: “As I’ve said before, they find me a cross between the Wizard of Oz and Father Christmas.”

It wasn’t just Doctor Who that annoyed Hartnell. Challenged on whether he thought panto was “legitimate”, he replied: “No, no. It’s a different technique which lends itself only to what I call a variety actor. But I’m not, I’m legitimate, I’m a legitimate character actor of the theatre and film.”

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The Tenth Planet will be released on DVD on 14 October