Doctor Who’s first director: BBC had no faith in show & William Hartnell didn’t want to do it

Waris Hussein exclusively lifts the lid on the genesis of the Corporation’s 50-year-old global sci-fi sensation

The BBC had no faith in Doctor Who – and the show’s first star, William Hartnell, did not want to be in the programme when initially approached, according to the sci-fi show’s first director Waris Hussein.


Despite today being one of the Corporation’s biggest ratings hits generating huge revenues in the UK and across the globe, Doctor Who could very easily have disappeared into time and space 50 years ago, reveals Hussein in the first part of an exclusive and wide-ranging interview with’s Patrick Mulkern.

Hussein recalls being “fine” with the first script he saw, but “didn’t know how to cope with was the three following episodes about the quest for fire” because he was “a graduate from Cambridge with honours and you’re directing this piece about cavemen in skins.

“I thought, ‘Where have I landed up in my life?’”

He expressed concern to producer Verity Lambert who told him “We’re just going to have to make them work.”

“Little did she or I know what we were about to launch. The BBC had no faith in it, and that’s in Mark [Gatiss]’s drama too [An Adventure…] although I think he had to tone it down a bit, otherwise it would be terribly anti-BBC establishment. But the fact was they didn’t want to make it.”

Meanwhile, the production was also struggling to secure a star, with William Hartnell being Lambert’s choice for the role of the Doctor – but not being keen on the project.

“When we approached him, he didn’t want to do it because he was doing well in films,” says Hussein.

“Why would he want to commit to a series? Even when he accepted, I don’t think he had any idea how long it would last – especially with the BBC not being encouraging.”

Find out how William Hartnell was convinced to take part in the show – plus read more about Hussein’s fascinating career in television and film in the full interview (part 1) here