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Everything you need to know about the First Doctor ahead of the Doctor Who 2017 Christmas special

Your complete guide to William Hartnell and David Bradley's returning Time Lord, his companions and his scary 1960s sensibilities

David Bradley
Published: Monday, 25th December 2017 at 5:50 pm

The First Doctor: the original, you might say.


He’s the time-travelling Doctor Who alien that materialised on to screens in November 1963. The man in a box that set in motion the world’s longest sci-fi saga. The foundation of all his many reincarnations.

And he’s coming back this Christmas.

As we've seen in the series 10 finale and Twice Upon a Time trailers, the First Doctor is set to pair up with the Twelfth for an adventure in (frozen) space and time.

However, since the First Doctor hasn’t enjoyed his own TV story since 1969, he's a character not exactly fresh in Whovians' minds. So, it's probably time to regenerate that knowledge: here’s everything you need to know about the original Doctor…

Who played the First Doctor?

When Doctor Who debuted, the First Doctor (known then as Dr Who), was played by William Hartnell. He made the role his own for almost three years, but when Hartnell’s health deteriorated, he had to be written out of the show in 1966 – and the idea of Time Lords 'regenerating' was born.

The First Doctor re-materialised on screen for 10th anniversary special The Three Doctors, alongside the Second and Third reincarnations of Gallifrey’s finest.

In 1975, two years after the special, Hartnell died aged 67.

However, despite Hartnell’s passing, the First Doctor ventured back into the Whoniverse in 30th anniversary show The Five Doctors, where he was played by Richard Hurndall.

And, of course, the role has now passed to David Bradley, who’ll be taking control of the First Doctor’s Tardis in Christmas Day special Twice Upon a Time.

What was the First Doctor like?

He was certainly a lot grumpier than many of his successors (yes, even Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor). At first, the Doctor was patronising and dismissive of his human travelling companions. He was also willing to risk their lives chasing his own curiosity, such as when visiting Dalek world Skaro for the first time.

However, the Time Lord eventually mellowed and developed a playful streak, evolving from a Victorian schoolmaster into a friendly grandfather figure.

Although he was largely seen as an acceptable figure in the 1960s, today the Doctor would receive a lot of Ofcom complaints. He was often very condescending to women and also delivered lines such as “This is a madhouse! It's all full of Arabs!” (The Dalek's Master Plan) and "What you need is a jolly good smacked bottom!" (to Susan in The Dalek Invasion of Earth).

However, Steven Moffat was fully aware of the Doctor’s ‘60s attitudes when writing the Christmas special. “[The First Doctor] brings all his 60s sensibilities, what’s lovingly called casual chauvinism,” said David Bradley when speaking about the episode at the London Film and Comic Con.

“He’s just talking [as if] the [companions] are there just to help out, do the dusting and all the domestic chores – his attitudes to a lot of things come right from the 60s, so there’s a lot of conflict between Hartnell’s Doctor and Peter’s Doctor about how things have changed in the last 50 years. We had quite a bit of fun with that.”

What was the First Doctor's costume like?

He was most often seen wearing a Victorian/Edwardian outfit: a wing-collared shirt, waistcoat and check trousers.

The First Doctor was also seen with a few added accessories from time to time, including a monocle, a carved wooden cane, an opera cape and a scarf. In the first ever Doctor Who story, An Unearthly Child, he was also seen puffing on a long tobacco pipe – the only Doctor to be seen smoking in the show.

William Hartnell, Peter Cushing, Richard Hurndall and David Bradley as versions of the first Doctor
William Hartnell, Richard Hurndall and David Bradley as versions of the first Doctor (Radio Times archive) 

Did he have any cool retro Time Lord gadgets? 

Sorry to disappoint: rather than carrying a vintage sonic screwdriver, sonic glasses or sonic monocle, the First Doctor armed himself with only his sharp mind and Tardis key. It was only in 1968, during Patrick Troughton-era story Fury from the Deep, that the Doctor put a sonic screwdriver to use.

However, this doesn't mean the First Doctor was harmless: in his first ever story, An Unearthly Child, he's seen raising a rock to murder a caveman slowing down his travels. Fortunately, the Doctor changes his mind at the last second and lets the man live.

What about the First Doctor's Tardis? 

Rather than the massive command deck and central column that dominates the Twelfth Doctor’s Tardis, the First Doctor’s set-up was much simpler, with a circular-patterned white background.

David Bradley in Twice Upon a Time 

Like today’s Tardis, the First Doctor's time machine was stuck in the form of a blue police box and was much bigger on the inside. However, on the outside, the First Doctor’s Tardis was much smaller and a tad grubbier than the Twelfth’s.

Who were the First Doctor's companions?

During his travels documented in the initial three years of Doctor Who, the First Doctor travelled with a total of ten companions. That's a lot by modern standards: over his four-year tenure, the Twelfth Doctor was only joined by four assistants.

The first of the First Doctor's companions were his granddaughter (Time Lord Susan Foreman) and teachers Ian and Barbara. After many travels with the Doctor, the trio departed the Tardis: first Susan left to live with a 22nd-century freedom fighter called David, then Ian and Barbara hiked back to Earth in a Dalek time machine (it's a long story – specifically 1965's The Chase).

Other assistants include astronaut Steven Taylor, 40th-century security officer Sara Kingdom and the unfortunately-named Dodo, a teen who nearly killed off an entire alien race with a sneeze (1966's The Ark).

But there are two companions you really need to know about for Twice Upon a Time: Ben and Polly.

Okay, who are Ben and Polly?

The Doctor’s assistants during The Tenth Planet, the classic Who story set to feature in the Christmas Special. Like David Bradley with The First Doctor, these characters have been recast. The role of Polly (originally played by Anneke Wills) has gone to Lily Travers…

…and Hollyoaks star Jared Garfield is taking over the part of Ben from original actor Michael Craze.

We’ll have to wait until Christmas Day to see how much the two are involved in the special, but we already know Polly will be the subject of the Doctor’s 1960s views.

While discussing The First Doctor’s “casual chauvinism” at the London Film and Comic Con (see above), David Bradley revealed his character “goes into the Twelfth Doctor’s Tardis and says, ‘It’s a bit dusty around here, it’s in an awful state isn’t it? Where’s Polly? Shouldn’t she give it a spring clean?’ And then Peter’s [Capaldi] saying, ‘You can’t say that’.”

So, what did the pair get up to during their time with the Doctor? Trilingual secretary Polly and headstrong sailor Ben joined the Tardis only two stories before Tenth Planet in The War Machines, a strange tale of a London nightclub and killer robot called WOTAN.

Warning: the following monster has not aged well.

Over their adventures, Ben and Polly develop a ‘will they, won’t they?’ kind of relationship. Ben started to playfully nickname his travelling partner “The Duchess” due to her middle-class roots, while Polly seemed always seem overly-concerned for his safety.

The pair left the Doctor together when the Tardis returns to 1966 London six stories later in The Faceless Ones.

Although they didn't start a relationship on screen, the two characters became an item after leaving the TV series, and are depicted getting married in the Doctor Who comics. Plus, the titular former companion in The Sarah Jane Adventures mentions that the couple now work at an orphanage in India.

But here's why Polly and Ben are really important: they were the first companions to see a Doctor regenerate (although the process wasn’t known as regeneration when they were in the show). At the end of The Tenth Planet, they witnessed William Hartnell’s First Doctor transform into Patrick Troughton’s Second.

That leaves us one big question: will we see this scene reconstructed in the Christmas special?


Doctor Who: Twice Upon a Time airs on BBC1 on Christmas Day (Monday 25th December) at 5:30pm


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