The First Doctor is the initial incarnation of the protagonist of the long-running BBC television science-fiction series Doctor Who. He was portrayed by the actor William Hartnell from 1963 to 1966. Hartnell reprised the role in the tenth anniversary story The Three Doctors in 1973 - albeit in a reduced capacity due to his ailing health. Actor Richard Hurndall played the part of the First Doctor in the 20th anniversary story The Five Doctors after William Hartnell's death in 1975. A cinematic version of the character, Dr Who, was played by Peter Cushing.

Within the series' narrative, the Doctor is a centuries-old Time Lord alien from the planet Gallifrey who travels in time and space in his TARDIS, frequently with companions. When the Doctor is critically injured, he can regenerate his body; in doing so, his physical appearance and personality change.


At the inception of the series the Doctor was a mysterious character and little was known about him except that he had a granddaughter, Susan Foreman, and that they were from another time and another world. He had a time machine, the TARDIS, which was disguised as a police box and was bigger on the inside than on the outside. He and Susan were in exile as well, for unspecified reasons. It would not be until the last adventure of the Doctor's second incarnation that the name of the Doctor's people (the Time Lords) would be revealed, and the third before the name of his home planet (Gallifrey) was first spoken.

The series began with schoolteachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright investigating the mystery of Susan, a student who appeared to possess scientific and historical knowledge far beyond her years. Discovering the TARDIS in a scrapyard, they were involuntarily taken by the Doctor on a journey back to the year 100,000 BC, and spent two years adventuring through time and space with the Doctor.

It was during this incarnation that the Doctor first met the Daleks and the Cybermen, races that would become his most implacable foes. The TARDIS crew also observed many historical events such as the Reign of Terror in revolutionary France, meeting Marco Polo in China and The Aztecs in Mexico. When Susan fell in love with the human resistance fighter David Campbell, the Doctor left her behind to allow her to build a life for herself on 22nd century Earth (The Dalek Invasion of Earth), although he promised to return someday. The TARDIS crew were soon joined by Vicki, whom they rescued from the planet Dido.

At the conclusion of a chase through time, Ian and Barbara used a Dalek time machine to go home (The Chase), and their place in the TARDIS was taken by a space pilot named Steven Taylor. Together, they met another member of the Doctor's race for the first time in the form of the Meddling Monk and had an adventure in Galaxy 4. During the siege of Troy, Vicki decided to leave the TARDIS to stay with Troilus. The Doctor and Steven were next briefly joined by Katarina and Sara Kingdom, but both were killed during the events of The Daleks' Master Plan.

After narrowly missing the Massacre of St Bartholomew's Eve, the Doctor and Steven took on board a young girl named Dodo Chaplet. Dodo brought a cold virus to the far future, which nearly annihilated the humans and Monoids travelling on The Ark. One of the First Doctor's most deadly foes was the Celestial Toymaker, who forced him and his companions to play deadly games. Eventually, the Doctor managed to win the Trilogic Game allowing them all to escape the Toymaker's domain.

Eventually, Steven and Dodo left the Doctor as well, Steven remaining on an alien planet as a mediator (The Savages), and Dodo deciding to remain on Earth in 1966. The Doctor was then joined by Polly and Ben Jackson who would be the first companions to witness a most remarkable event.

The toll of years put strain on the Doctor's elderly frame. After defeating the Cybermen at the Antarctic Snowcap Station (The Tenth Planet), the Doctor collapsed inside the TARDIS, and before the astonished eyes of his then-companions Ben and Polly, his cells renewed themselves for the first time, giving him a completely new physical appearance and character — the Second Doctor.


From the beginning, the First Doctor was a mysterious figure. He appeared to be a frail old man, despite the eventual revelation that he was actually the youngest of the Doctor's incarnations, and yet was possessed of unexpected reserves of strength and will. (An early writers' guide by script editor David Whitaker describes "Doctor Who"Template:Sic as "frail-looking but wiry and tough as an old turkey and yet was unable to pilot his TARDIS time ship reliably; his granddaughter Susan explained this by saying that her grandfather was "a bit forgetful". He was abrasive, patronising, and cantankerous towards his human travelling companions, yet shared a deep emotional bond with his granddaughter Susan. He also harboured a streak of ruthlessness, being willing to lie — and in one case attempt to kill — to achieve his goals. Initially, he distrusted his first two human companions, Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright, who were forced on him. Over time, however, as they shared adventures together, he grew closer to them, and the TARDIS crew came to share almost a family bond.

Eventually, the Doctor began to enjoy his travels through time and space, taking people along for the ride and was always reluctant and sad to see them go, even when he knew it was for their own good. The Doctor's personality mellowed around the time of the serial Marco Polo, and he evolved into the more familiar grandfatherly figure that children loved.

It was also during this time that the Doctor first met what would become his most persistent adversaries — the Daleks and the Cybermen. It would be the latter encounter that would see the Doctor first regenerate; stating "This old body of mine's wearing a bit thin," he collapsed at the end of the serial, regenerating inside the TARDIS into the Second Doctor. Template:Cite serial

William Hartnell described the Doctor as "a wizard", and "a cross between the Wizard of Oz and Father Christmas".Howe, pp. 16–17. One quirk of the First Doctor was his tendency to become occasionally tongue-tied and stumble over words. Sometimes this was a deliberate acting choice: William Russell recalls that it was Hartnell's idea for the Doctor to get Ian Chesterton's surname wrong, calling him "Chesserman" or "Chatterton".Howe, p. 19.This character choice also gave the series' producers the ability to use takes in which Hartnell flubbed his lines. Due to the series' tight production schedule, it was rarely possible to reshoot such scenes and dubbing the dialogue was usually not an option. Hartnell suffered from undiagnosed arteriosclerosis, which affected his ability to remember lines, increasingly so as his time on the series progressed.Howe, p. 17.

In the original pilot, the Doctor wore contemporary clothes (Including a suit and tie). When the pilot was reshot, however, his costume changed to a more Edwardian ensemble. The first incarnation of the Doctor carried a wooden walking cane, with a twisted handle. In one occasion, he was seen smoking a large bent tobacco pipe; to date, he is the only incarnation of the character to be seen smoking.

Story styleEdit

The original First Doctor episodes had individual titles (see Season 1). This led to a problem as to the naming of the serials into which the episodes were grouped. See Doctor Who story title debate for more information.

The programme was designed to be educational, so the stories were divided into two genres: historical (to teach about history) and futuristic (to teach about science), and in fact these two genres alternated with each other. However, by the end of the second season it became apparent that the futuristic stories were much more popular and the production team began to phase out the "historicals".

The debut of the Daleks in the second serial turned the programme from a children's series to a national phenomenon. It soon became a show that the whole family gathered to watch, with monsters that children viewed from between their fingers or from behind the sofa. Intelligent and witty scripts filled with far-out concepts compensated for the relatively low budget and unsophisticated special effects, laying the foundation for decades of stories to come.

Later appearancesEdit

Despite the regeneration, television audiences would see the First Doctor on screen twice more (not counting flashbacks or charity specials like Dimensions in Time). In 1973, for the 10th anniversary of the programme, Hartnell appeared in The Three Doctors which also saw Patrick Troughton reprise his role as the Second Doctor. Due to failing health, however, Hartnell could not participate in any of the regular filming, and his scenes were shot separately at Ealing Studios (not his garden or garage at home, as long suggested by fan legend).

Shortly after this filming, in 1975, William Hartnell died. In the 20th anniversary special The Five Doctors, the role of the First Doctor was played by Richard Hurndall, although the episode began with a clip of Hartnell as the Doctor from The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Where the two specials fit in the First Doctor's chronology is unclear.

Other mentionsEdit

Visions of the First Doctor appear in The Power of the Daleks, Day of the Daleks, The Brain of Morbius, Earthshock, Mawdryn Undead, Resurrection of the Daleks, "The Next Doctor", "The Eleventh Hour", "The Vampires of Venice", "Vincent and the Doctor" and "The Lodger".

In Dimensions in Time the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) refers to the First as "the grumpy one". The First Doctor is seen as a sketch in John Smith's book alongside other past Doctors in the episode "Human Nature". In "Time Crash", the Tenth Doctor says to the Fifth, "Back when I first started, at the very beginning, I was always trying to be old and grumpy and important, like you do when you're young." A brief clip of the First Doctor from The Time Meddler appears in both "The Next Doctor" and in "The Eleventh Hour". In a clip from "The Vampires of Venice", the Eleventh Doctor shows his library card, which contains a photograph of the First Doctor and the address of 76 Totters Lane. In "Vincent and the Doctor", both the First and Second Doctors appear on a printout when the Eleventh Doctor has the TARDIS identify him. In "The Big Bang ", the Eleventh Doctor briefly mentions the First while bidding his farewell to a sleeping Amy Pond, referring to him as "the daft old man who stole a magic box".

The character has also appeared in many licensed novels, comic strips, and audio dramas.

Other appearancesEdit

List of non-televised First Doctor stories