William Hartnell as the first Doctor.
Since this is Doctor Who‘s 50th Anniversary year, I thought it appropriate to keep the blog on the Classic Who tip by serving up some crotchety first Doctor realness. Followers of this blog and my scribbles on the internet already know that I had an essay published in Mad Norwegian’s latest Doctor Who-related anthology, Chicks Unravel Time: Women Journey Through Every Season of Doctor Who, edited by Deborah Stanish and L.M. Myles. In it, I look at the first Doctor from the perspective that he is actually the youngest of all the regenerations we’ve seen, despite being the oldest incarnation played by the oldest actor. Even if you’ve never watched any Classic Who, I think you’ll get something out of this essay. And so, without further ado, my attempt at unraveling the second season of Doctor Who.
Carole Ann Ford as Susan and William Hartnell as the first Doctor. Oh, and some Daleks.
All of Gallifrey’s a Stage: The Doctor in Adolescence
Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.
The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound.
And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part.
Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth.
And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school.
As, first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
All of Gallifrey’s a stage,
And all the Time Lords and Ladies merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one Time Lord in his time plays many parts,
His acts being thirteen regenerations.**
He stole a vehicle and ran away from home. He kidnapped his first companions to spare himself the trouble of being discovered. He taught a pacifist species the art of war so that they could help him defeat an enemy. He blew things up, or caused things to go awry, and when they did he’d find a way to blame his companions. And if he was proven wrong about something? He’d apologize. Reluctantly. The first Doctor was a crotchety old man prone to mood swings.
Or was he?
Despite William Hartnell’s age, we are seeing the Doctor at his youngest. He’s spoiled, obstinate and impulsive. He leads with his emotions; well-intentioned, but dismissive of the people he cares about. He doesn’t take responsibility for his mistakes and gets upset when he doesn’t get his way. The first Doctor is a far cry from the Doctor we know today, and while the BBC had no idea that Doctor Who would be around for decades, it’s interesting to look at this early version of the Doctor in the context of a Time Lord who is now 900-plus years old and has spent his time maturing under the guidance of his companions. In this context, the first Doctor is a bratty child who’s finding himself. In Season Two, the Doctor experiences the tug-of-war between childishness and maturity that is true of adolescents everywhere, no matter what their planet of origin.
Vicki (Maureen O’Brien), Barbara (Jacqueline Hill), Ian (William Russell) and the first Doctor (William Hartnell) in “The Romans.”
Don’t Trust Anyone Over 30
The Doctor’s relationship to his younger companions mirrors the time in which the show was made. The 1960s, in the United States and in the United Kingdom, were all about youth pushing the world forward, and like activist Jack Weinberg said in 1964, they didn’t “trust anyone over 30.” From the beginning, the Doctor has personally benefited from traveling with a young person, and the relationship between the Doctor and Susan – or the Doctor and Vicki – was much less a mentor/mentee or guardian/ward relationship than it was a relationship between compatriots. We see this in how he cares for their emotional needs in a way he doesn’t with his older companions, Ian and Barbara. He cares for their needs, because he understands them. While this is true of Susan, it’s most evident with Vicki, a human teenage girl from the twenty-fifth century, whom we meet in The Rescue. The fact that she is a teenager is important, because she fills the void left by Susan’s departure, and the Doctor would much rather hang out with a teenager than with the Old Fuddy-Duddies. In The Romans, the Doctor and Vicki become impatient with Ian and Barbara being perfectly content to lounge around for weeks. When the Doctor announces that he’s decided to go to Rome to explore, Vicki begs him to take her along, and he enthusiastically agrees. When Barbara suggests that they all go, the Doctor refuses, having said that he was looking forward to taking this trip, because he “can’t wait to get away from [them].” He then proceeds to get into a little rant about how they think he’s not capable, and how they’re acting like his nursemaids. Typical teenage tantrum. Mooooooom! Daaaaad! I wanna do my own thiiiiiing! In The Web Planet, the Doctor and Vicki spend much of the story exploring separately from Ian and Barbara. Barbara and Ian’s parental role is solidified when they talk about “what they’re going to do about” the Doctor privately, the way parents would discuss a child.
Susan and the Doctor almost fall down a giant sink drain in “Planet of the Giants.”
Kids! I Don’t Know What’s Wrong With These Kids Today!
Season Two of Doctor Who is all about growing pains, and before we see the mature Time Lord of which the Doctor is capable of being, we’re treated to plenty of epic brattiness. We are used to the Doctor giving new species a chance or a choice, and never jumping to conclusions based on superficial observations. Yet the moment the first Doctor encounters the large, dying insects in Planet of Giants, he assumes that “the people here are murderers.” He paints a picture of a savage, bloodthirsty people. This may be the show’s commentary on humanity, but the Doctor we know today would never negatively judge a species with limited information. This is the Doctor as a snotty teenager, making quick judgments and assumptions based on limited knowledge of the world.
The Web Planet is chock full of moments like this. As the Doctor and Ian emerge from the TARDIS to look around, happening upon an
ancient pyramid, the Doctor says “It’s old, so old! Look at the state it’s in!” It’s the kind of throwaway comment that a teenager would make when coming up against a history he doesn’t understand or doesn’t fit within his experience. When Vicki names the Zarbi they capture “Zombo” and asks the Doctor if he agrees that Zombo is cute, he says, “Since you mention it, no. I don’t think so” in a tone that both makes fun of Vicki for thinking so and implies that the Zarbi are ugly. Later, when asking for the mental communication device through which the Animus communicates with him, he demands that the Animus “drop this hair dryer, or whatever it is.” These flip, insensitive and disrespectful comments about an alien culture are ones that future Doctors would be reluctant to make. At least, not without the cultures demonstrating that they were really horrible first.
The Doctor’s insensitivity and self-centeredness isn’t just limited to his views on alien races. In The Romans, the Doctor goes along with being mistaken for a murdered famed musician, Maximus Petullian, in order to get to meet Nero. He is more concerned with meeting the Emperor than he is with Vicki’s safety or his own. He also namedrops Hans Christian Anderson in the same story. Later, when Ian and Barbara have been brought to Rome by slave traders, the Doctor narrowly misses Barbara’s sale to the highest bidder by leading Vicki away from the slave auction as something that “wouldn’t interest” her. The Doctor we’ve come to know would never find something as unjust as a slave auction “uninteresting.” But this first Doctor ignores “boring” things like injustice in favor of solving the mystery he’s hopped up on, telling Vicki, “I’ve decided for my own sake I must get to the bottom of it.” Later, we see that Barbara has been purchased as a handmaid to Nero’s wife. Nero has taken to her and chases her around the palace trying to make a move on her. The Doctor sees this, not realizing it’s Barbara and says, “What an extraordinary fellow!” Like a horndog teenage boy, he watches in awe as a powerful guy makes moves on the ladies, apparently not too concerned with consent, or its apparent lack.
In The Crusade, he does want to save Barbara by going to King Richard for help, but he also just seems really jazzed about meeting the king. It’s as if, while he might have experience with time travel, all this “meeting famous historical figures” business is still very new to him and the starstruck Doctor hasn’t yet become jaded about it. And then there’s the mischief for mischief’s sake! Much like in The Romans, the Doctor being in Earth’s past seems to make him more mischievous than usual. In The Crusade, he comes up with this overly-elaborate plan to steal clothes from a merchant. Rather than simply taking advantage of the moment the merchant is distracted by a conversation with someone else to slide clothing to Vicki, he ties ropes to the clothing stand, knocks it down, and uses that as the distraction in a painfully obvious way. One gets the feeling that he was really attached to his original plan – and was determined to go through with it no matter what – because it allowed him to knock things over. In The Romans, the Doctor reacts to every situation like a boy in a man’s body. He thoroughly enjoys getting into a fight and says to Vicki, “I am so constantly outwitting the opposition, I tend to forget the delights and satisfaction of the gentle art of fisticuffs.”
Susan and Barbara, who is even more badass a companion than Donna Noble. Yeah, I said it.
You Take the Good, You Take the Bad, You Take Them Both and There You Have…The First Doctor.
It wasn’t all bad behavior, though. As I said, this season was about growing and even as the Doctor was being a huge brat, he was also developing good qualities. A major mark of maturity is taking responsibility for one’s actions and in Planet of Giants, the Doctor acknowledges his bratty behavior for the first time, and genuinely apologizes for it. After snapping at Barbara and Ian while trying to figure out where they are, he follows up with an apology saying, “I always forget the niceties under pressure.” He feels the need to explain his behavior to people who are becoming his friends, rather than clinging to an image of superiority. By spending more time with his companions, he’s started learning humility. The world doesn’t revolve around him and his cleverness, and this is an idea he’s never faced.
Throughout Planet of Giants, the Doctor displays a joyous, youthful exuberance that we are used to seeing in more current Doctors. What sets it apart in the first Doctor is that it doesn’t jibe with his elderly body, giving his determination to do certain things a teenage willfulness. When he insists on climbing a wall so that Barbara “doesn’t hurt her- self,” it’s like a boy who insists he can drive the family car by himself with only a learner’s permit. There’s also his gleeful pyromania as he exclaims “There’s nothing like a good fire, is there!” after helping to cause a conflagration to get the attention of the normal-sized humans. There is troublemaking, yes, but there’s also the sense of wonder and adventure that will stick with him and evolve along with his better, more mature qualities.
It’s established pretty early on that he’s got it in him to be better. By the end of The Dalek Invasion of Earth the Doctor has noticed that Susan is in love and is sacrificing her feelings out of loyalty for him when she agrees to return to the TARDIS. Despite Susan’s insistence, the Doctor leaves her behind, moving on with Barbara and Ian. This seems callous at first, taking away the agency of a character who already had very little. However, as the Doctor clearly has no problem with stealing TARDISes and kidnapping companions, it is unclear how willing a passenger Susan really was to begin with. This was the Doctor making amends, allowing her not to feel forced to stay out of obligation to him. He shuts her out of the TARDIS because he knows that, though she would never decide to stay behind, she would be much happier on Earth with David, starting an adult life of her own rather than remaining “the child” on the TARDIS.
While this act shows that the Doctor has the emotional maturity to recognize that sometimes the needs of other people are more important than his own, it also marks the Doctor’s hubris as something that he will continually need to keep in check. Before leaving Susan, it was an accepted part of his character that, for all his brilliance, he was conceited and selfish. Once he’s demonstrated the love and compassion of which he is capable, it becomes something viewers can hold up as a standard. Just as, once a child becomes a teenager and is old enough to “know better,” we become less tolerant of their childish flaws.
In Series Five of New Who, River Song explains to Amy Pond that she knew leaving the Doctor a message in a museum would get to him, because museums are how the Doctor “keeps score.” Season Two sees the first Doctor visit his first museum in space (“I always thought I’d find one one day!”), and it is here that he not only begins keeping score, but starts to become the kind of Time Lord he’s going to be.
A scene from “The Space Museum.”
In The Space Museum, two recurring phrases pop up numerous times in the Doctor’s dialogue: “I don’t mind admitting…” and “I must confess…” Up until now, the Doctor has had trouble acknowledging shortcomings and flaws – but in this story, he’s overly-enthusiastic about doing so. When they come across the empty Dalek shell in the museum, he says, “I don’t mind admitting, my boy, that that thing gave me a start, coming face to face with it again.” When attempting to figure out the time-track, the Doctor says, “I don’t mind admitting I’ve found it difficult to understand the Fourth Dimension.” Later, he “must confess” that he is lost, and can’t find the way out by going the way they came. Apparently, there’s no zealot like a convert and once the Doctor has learned that humility is prized over superiority, he overcompensates.
However, the thing that really defines the Doctor in this story is his being captured by the Moroks. He is subjected to a deep freeze so he can be put on display as a museum exhibit, but he’s still alive and able to hear everything that’s going on. It is a vulnerable and frightening position for the Doctor. When Ian forces the Moroks to reanimate him, the Doctor emerges from his immobility by lashing out like a cornered animal. He is changed. Whereas he started this story as someone who could be amused by hiding from the Moroks in a Dalek shell, being made truly helpless has hardened him, forcing him to grow up faster than he might have liked. The Doctor is a defiant survivor as he says to Ian, “Thanks to you, dear boy, I’m now de-iced, and I think I’m quite capable of facing up to the climate once more.” The scene is heartbreaking as we see the air of an assault or rape victim in Hartnell’s performance. He’s trying to convince himself as well as Ian and the Moroks that he’s okay. He allows his bitterness to take over just once when he suggests that the Moroks could test the machine’s effects on its victims by getting into it themselves. But then the Doctor says, “You think yourselves lucky. My conscience won’t allow me to do that. It’s a pity, isn’t it? It’s a pity!” And there is the Doctor we’ve come to know; a Doctor who’s had horrific experiences, but who still has the strength to let his conscience be his guide and do what’s right despite what he might want to do. The Doctor has grown up.
There comes a time in every Time Lord’s life when he can’t live with his parents anymore. In The Chase, after a quest through several worlds with the Daleks in pursuit, Ian and Barbara have the opportunity to go back to their own time by using a Dalek time machine, and they want to take it. The Doctor is furious, saying he can’t abide a “suicide mission” that uses equipment with which they’re unfamiliar. But it’s actually about all the feelings it’s more difficult to talk about: the fact that he loves his friends and will miss them, the fact that he doesn’t want to be alone. Eventually, with Vicki’s encouragement, he helps Ian and Barbara use the machine, then lets them go. After he sees that Barbara and Ian have made it back home safely, he says to Vicki, “I shall miss them. Yes, I shall miss them. Silly old fusspots.”
Once they leave the TARDIS, Barbara and Ian live happily ever after. Their Doctor has grown up.
The Seven Ages of Time Lord
It’s interesting that Doctor Who managed to have the oldest actor ever to play the Doctor play him at his youngest, and now the youngest actor ever to play the Doctor playing him at his oldest. Yet for such a timey-wimey existence, it’s appropriate. The Seven Ages of Time Lord wouldn’t happen when they’re supposed to. So what if the “whining school-boy” is living in the body of “second childishness and mere oblivion?” That doesn’t mean we can’t relate to each stage. The eleventh incarnation of the Doctor said, “My friends have always been the best of me.” The Doctor has a long history of being shaped and guided by his companions. However, they were never more important than at the beginning, during the Doctor’s formative years, helping him navigate the choppy waters of Time Lord adolescence and steering him toward becoming the adult he was meant to be. It takes a village to raise a child. Or in the case of Time Lords, a TARDIS full of people. Once the Doctor and Team TARDIS are safe at the end of The Space Museum, having changed their future, the Doctor cheerfully says, “The future doesn’t look too bad after all, does it?” All these years later, the Doctor’s future is as bright as ever!
**With all due respect to William Shakespeare and his wonderful play, As You Like It.