William Hartnell predicted Doctor Who "could go on forever"
As the sci-fi gears up for its 60th anniversary, Carole Ann Ford looks back on its beginnings.
When Doctor Who first hit screens in 1963, there was no telling how successful it would go on to be and certainly no one who could have predicted it would still be airing 60 years later. Well, no one other than the First Doctor himself, William Hartnell, that is.
Looking back on the beginnings of the beloved sci-fi, Carole Ann Ford, who played Susan, the Doctor's granddaughter and the first ever companion, recalled Hartnell's poignant comments about its future.
"Bill used to say in the very beginning that it could go on forever," she exclusively tells RadioTimes.com. "Because there's no reason for it not to, because the Doctors can regenerate again and again and again, and they can go anywhere and do anything so it wouldn't get stale.
"They could meet different people, go to different planets, different circumstances, there's no reason at all why it shouldn't stay fresh... there's no reason at all for it to end, it can just go on forever and ever."
She adds of the late Doctor Who actor: "If only he were here now to enjoy it all. He would have absolutely loved the success of it, how people are so faithful to it, how they love it. It's extraordinary. In the past couple of days I've received information from the BBC about where it's been sold and it's incredible... one of the new places is Polynesia!"
For Ford, the bond Susan had with the Doctor very much continued off-screen with her and Hartnell.
"It was very easy to slip into Susan's shoes because he did take on that [grandfatherly] role very seriously. I loved him very much. For me, he was a very sweet man and a very easy man to work with. He had a wicked sense of humour which was great if you appreciated that humour and a bit disarming, I suppose, if you didn't!"
The actress, who previously told RadioTimes.com about how she'd love to see Susan return, is no stranger to modern Who either, and can't wait to see Ncuti Gatwa take over the keys to the TARDIS - and to see Millie Gibson follow in her own footsteps as companion Ruby Sunday.
Thinking of her best advice for Gibson, she laughs: "Do lots of running exercise! I don't even know if that still applies now but you certainly have to be ready for anything. You never know from one script to the next what you're going to be asked to do."
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Ford has been open in the past about how she wishes she had more to do as Susan, previously telling RadioTimes.com that she believes some of the more modern companions, such as Billie Piper's Rose Tyler, to be more "interesting".
She told us at the time: "The initial conversation I had with Verity [Lambert, founding producer], they asked me what my skills were and at the time, I was a trained dancer, acrobat, swimmer, horse-rider, so just think of what they could have flung at me – which they didn't.
"As it happened, what [Susan] did was... I wouldn't say boring because it was an interesting thing to do and it was great to be in something with such marvellous people, but if only they had allowed me to do some more courageous things, or more interesting and exciting things.
"I mean, imagine getting on horseback and running away from the Daleks – that would be much more fun than just trying to find a little corridor somewhere I could hide in."
"They didn't use any of these things, which is a shame," Ford continued. "She could have been a much broader personality, a much more interesting personality. They wanted her to identify as the girl next door so all the interesting – I think the interesting things anyway – that I was trying to put into it were all eliminated after the first episode, which was a shame."
Comparing Susan to more modern companions, like Billie Piper's Rose, Ford went on: "[I have] moments of envy...
"I could have done all sorts of stunts, I was very fit. When I saw Billie Piper doing that incredible thing she did swinging across on ropes above a fiery pit [in the 2005 episode Rose], I thought, 'That's not fair! I could have done that!'
"There were so many things I kept thinking, 'That's not fair! Why did they get the chance to do that and not me?' I could have broken the mould."
Celebrate 60 years since the First Doctor with the William Hartnell DVD box set
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Ford adds now: "I had so much I could have offered them they could have worked into the script that would have made it a much more interesting character for me to play and would have made Susan a much more rounded character and would have given the script writers much more fun to work on."
But decades later, her love for Doctor Who remains and her biggest hope for the show is just the same as Hartnell's all those years ago.
"I hope it will continue and that it will continue to spread worldwide. More of the same for many more years!"
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