The Hartnell Era: 101

“I am so constantly outwitting the opposition, I tend to forget the delights and satisfaction of the gentle art of fisticuffs.”  That quote, from “The Romans,” pretty much sums up the attitude and behavior of the First Doctor.  William Hartnell’s Doctor had no doubts as to his superiority to everyone and was generally going to outwit his opponents and leave the fighting and heavy lifting for his male companion to handle (although he liked a good fight now and then).  Now that I’ve seen all of the episodes of the First Doctor, I feel that I can reflect a bit on the era as a whole.

The Doctor


I have to admit that I didn’t really take to Hartnell’s Doctor right away. The Doctor that we first meet in “An Unearthly Child” bears little resemblance to the Doctor we see today.  At the start of the series, despite being the title character, the Doctor is most definitely not the hero of the show.  That role clearly falls to Ian, while the Doctor is basically an obstacle blocking Ian’s path back home. Hartnell’s Doctor begins as a cantankerous, rather anti-social old man who cares little for anyone except himself (and a bit for his granddaughter).  In the second story, he is even willing to leave Barbara behind when the Daleks capture her.  However, more than any other Doctor, Hartnell’s Doctor grew and developed as the series progressed. In “The Aztecs” we see him care about someone he meets on his travels for the first time.  He also develops a fondness for his companions, and is upset when Barbara and Ian leave.  When Vicki joins the travelers, his grandfatherly side really emerges.

By the end of the first season, the Doctor is starting to become more heroic.  By the time Ian and Barbara leave, the Doctor is finally ready to become the hero of the show.  He always needs a male companion to handle any of the physical demands placed on him (hence the need for Steven, and, later, Ben), but he starts to outwit his opponents with greater regularity (just look at “Reign of Terror” or “The Rescue”). He always remains a bit short-tempered and seems to criticize people more than is necessary, but he takes a more active interest in the concerns of others.  By the time we reach “The Savages,” we see the Doctor become much more like the one we know today; he is concerned with the way a society is functioning and deliberately gets involved to correct the situation.

His Companions

Susan, Barbara, and Ian

Barbara, Susan, and Ian before their travels together

In my opinion, Hartnell had the best companions of any Doctor in Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton.  Although, I do have to admit that I didn’t love them immediately.  In the early episodes, I found Ian to be a bit of a know-it-all and Barbara just seemed to panic and do whatever Ian said.  However, it didn’t take long for the relationship between the characters to develop into a more equal partnership.  Ian and Barbara do some pretty amazing things while with the Doctor.  They are companions who don’t need to rely on the Doctor to get them out of tough situations.  They have a great deal of knowledge from their teaching backgrounds, Ian of science and Barbara of history.  Ian also is a remarkable fighter, although I’m not sure where he developed that skill, unless teaching was a very dangerous career in the 1960’s!  They also have one of the best exits of any companion, as we get to see them joyfully celebrating their return home as they romp around London.

While Ian gradually becomes less of a know-it-all, it is Barbara who really transforms.  After a few episodes, she begins to step out of Ian’s shadow and starts thinking for herself.  The woman who started out constantly looking to Ian for guidance argues for the opposing side in “Reign of Terror.”  And just look at how easily she takes to being a god in “The Aztecs.”  She tries to change the beliefs of an entire civilization.  There’s also a moment in “The Web Planet” where Barbara is basically in the role of a general, planning a military strategy for the rebels.  Who’d have thought the somewhat mousey schoolteacher from the first adventure would develop into a brave woman who could handle any challenge thrown at her?

My second favorite companion was Vicki.  She had a great relationship with the Doctor, and was able to bring out his more caring side.  He was far more grandfatherly with her than he was with Susan, his actual granddaughter. The Doctor was always trying to protect her from any danger, although she was never helpless, like some of the other companions. Vicki was always enthusiastic and loved to be in the middle of the action.  She was another companion who knew how to handle herself and didn’t wait around for someone to come and save her from trouble.  While not quite as independent as Barbara and Ian, she was brave and took initiative when faced with a challenge.

At first I found Steven rather nondescript as a companion. He was clearly there to fill the action hero role left open with Ian’s departure, but I had a hard time getting a handle on his personality. Since he was a space pilot, he was supposed to be someone who could challenge the Doctor with his knowledge, but he just came across as a bit stubborn and as someone who should listen more to the Doctor instead of arguing with him. However, I grew to like Steven more after listening to the audio for “The Massacre.” I started to see Steven as a character who had a very black and white moral code.  He didn’t always see the big picture, but he cared very deeply for the people who he met in his travels and had a hard time accepting that they couldn’t all be saved.  It’s no wonder Steven challenged the Doctor so much when you look at how many people died in “The Dalek’s Master Plan” and “The Massacre.”  He also gets a great exit in “The Savages.”  How many other companions were given a planet to rule?

Susan had the potential to be an interesting character, but she was never really developed by the writers.  Unfortunately, her character spent most of her time being either hysterical or whiny. She was more of a hindrance to her companions than a help.  She was used in a more interesting way in “The Sensorites,” discovering that she was the only one who could communicate in the telepathic manner of the Sensorites, but, sadly, that was the only time a writer seemed to have any clue what to do with her other than have her scream and/or cry.

I never felt like I got a good handle on Ben and Polly during their time with the first Doctor.  They are only in three Hartnell stories, but they seem to be rather generic characters so far.  They are definitely very much young people of the late 60’s, and in that respect are a bit different from the other young companions, who always seemed to be loners with nowhere to belong.  Polly apparently knows all the London hotspots and is attractive and fashionably dressed.  Unfortunately, Polly seemed to be simply the damsel in distress, constantly needing rescue.  Ben is in the Royal Navy, but his personality is not developed very much.  Ben cares about people and is always quick to get in a fight to defend others, but basically he is the new male companion there to do anything physical that needs to be done.

This brings me to my least favorite companion: Dodo Chaplet.  Aside from the fact that she has a terrible, yet appropriate, name (who really wants to be called Dodo?), she was a horribly inconsistent character. When she first joins the Doctor, she has a strong cockney accent that disappears after the first episode of “The Ark.”  She doesn’t contribute much during adventures except spreading her cold virus and nearly wiping out all remaining humans (“The Ark”), being duped by ridiculous tricks (“The Celestial Toymaker”), or falling under the control of WOTON and then disappearing, never to be seen again (“The War Machines”). I know she was supposed to allow the Doctor to have a grandfatherly relationship again, but I don’t ever feel a connection between her and the Doctor. She’s just dead weight that the Doctor has to carry around with him.

The stories:

The Aztecs

Barbara and the Doctor in “The Aztecs”

During Hartnell’s time, there was a particular type of story that often got repeated. The travelers would arrive in a place where one group was oppressing another. They would, of course, always be on the side of the rebels, helping them stage a rebellion that would allow the travelers to return to the TARDIS and be on their way (see: “The Daleks,” “The Dalek Invasion of Earth,” “The Space Museum,” “The Ark,”…).  However, this doesn’t mean that there weren’t a lot of great stories during the Hartnell era.  In terms of the writers of the era, I really don’t think you can go wrong with anything written by John Lucarotti or Dennis Spooner.

Many of my favorite stories are the historicals, with “The Aztecs” being my favorite story of the era, and one of my favorite Doctor Who stories of all time.  “Reign of Terror” was another interesting historical.  Although “The Crusade” and “The Massacre” are partially and completely lost respectively, they are both compelling stories as well.  One thing that is often done well in the historicals is that since the Doctor and his companions cannot affect the way events will play out, they are surrounded by very interesting characters and often end up in very interesting ethical dilemmas.

When it comes to the more traditional science fiction stories, “The Time Meddler” really stands out. (but I’ll talk more about it in the next section).  “Planet of Giants” is quite enjoyable as well. I know the “Keys of Marinus” seems to be a bit of a love it or hate it story among fans, but I quite enjoyed it.  The idea that each episode takes place in a different location keeps the story moving along. I know many people wouldn’t agree with me, but I think it’s the best of Terry Nation’s stories during the Hartnell era.  I’ve always found Terry Nation’s Dalek stories for Hartnell to have too much filler in them.  They all feel overlong and drag at points, although “The Daleks” is pretty good.  Aside from the fact that Dodo is in it, “The Ark” is underrated and is one of the rare stories that really makes use of the concept of time travel in its plot. One of the most interesting stories in this category is the completely lost “The Savages” which looks at a dystopian world and should be regarded as one of the possible lost classics.

Where to begin:

The Doctor, Vicki, and Steven find a Viking helmet (or is it a helmet for a cow?) in "The Time Meddler."

The Doctor, Vicki, and Steven find a Viking helmet (or is it a helmet for a cow?) in “The Time Meddler.”

If you’re unfamiliar with the Hartnell era and looking for an episode to start with, there are several options.   Obviously, you can’t go wrong with starting at the beginning.  The first episode of “An Unearthly Child” is a perfect start to the show, you just need to be prepared to see a different kind of Doctor than you’re used to seeing. Some people, however, are put off by the remaining three episodes which send the Doctor and his companions back to the days of the cavemen. If you like the historicals, “The Aztecs” is, in my opinion one of the best Doctor Who episodes of all time, but if you’re looking for a more traditional sci-fi story you might be disappointed. “The Daleks” is also a good place to start, if you want to see the first appearance of the Doctor’s most iconic enemy, although the story itself is a bit too long, in my opinion.

My choice for the best introductory episode, however, would be “The Time Meddler.”  It’s a great story, and the first to use the now familiar formula of the Doctor meeting an alien trying to interfere in Earth’s past.  The Doctor has had plenty of time to mellow, since this episode is in the third season, so he’s more recognizable as the Doctor as we now know him.  The companions are Vicki and Steven, who have a great chemistry and the Meddling Monk is an interesting opponent for the Doctor.

The Doctor with Ben and Polly in "The Tenth Planet"

The Doctor with Ben and Polly in “The Tenth Planet”

When I started watching the Hartnell era, I wasn’t sure I could ever grow to really like his Doctor; he seemed so mean and selfish.  However, Hartnell’s Doctor is the Doctor who grows and changes the most.  Through the influence of his companions, he becomes a much more compassionate individual, although he remains rather cantankerous until the end. By the time I had reached “The Tenth Planet,” I was genuinely sad to see him go.  Despite the differences, his Doctor put into place many of the characteristics that have come to define the Doctor: his curiosity, his intelligence, his loneliness, even his sense of humor.  Now I guess it’s time for me to move into Hartnell’s replacements, “a dandy and a clown,” as the First Doctor himself so memorably said.


Wilder’s Ace in the Hole

Ace in the Hole is the most cynical film of Billy Wilder’s career, which is saying a lot since Wilder was never a filmmaker to want to play it safe.  Even his most conventional films are at least slightly subversive, pushing the boundaries of what could be depicted on-screen at the time.  Ace in the Hole was a box office bomb when it was released in 1951, but it is one of Wilder’s best.  After the resounding success of Sunset Boulevard, Wilder split from Charles Brackett, his long-time writing partner, and struck out on his own. Despite cowriting the story with Lesser Samuels and  Walter Newman, this is Wilder’s show all the way, as he wrote, directed, and produced the picture.  He takes the cynicism evident in Sunset Boulevard and multiplies it exponentially to tell the story of Chuck Tatum, a down on his luck newspaper reporter who has a knack for turning misfortune into personal gain.

Tatum and Boot

Chuck is introduced doing just that; the viewer first meets him as his car is being towed into Albuquerque.  Chuck sits, unperturbed, in his car as the tow truck brings him into town.  Although the image is a comical one, it speaks volumes about Chuck’s personality.  He orders the truck to stop in front of the newspaper office, turning the tow truck driver into his own personal chauffeur.  Once inside, he manages to talk his way into a job, despite his contempt for the town and the editor’s motto to “tell the truth.”  Chuck is biding his time until he finds a story that he can latch onto for a ride all the way back east.

His chance comes when he stumbles across a man who has been trapped by a cave-in in the small town of Escadero.  He quickly takes charge of the scene and turns the misfortune of one man into a story that captivates the nation.  Through his careful manipulation of the other players in this scene, he looks poised to make his triumphant return to New York.

Chuck Tatum is a true anti-hero.  He is obviously self-destructive, self-loathing, manipulative, and craves attention.  He doesn’t really have a redeeming quality, except that he’s entertaining to watch since he gets a lot of great Billy Wilder zingers. For instance when a fellow reporter asks him to share access to Leo by saying they’re all in the same boat, Tatum replies “I’m in the boat.  You’re in the water.  Now lets see if you can swim.”  I’ve heard Billy saw Tatum as a bit of an alter ego, which is interesting because he essential becomes the screenwriter, director, and producer of the story he’s selling.  He casts people into their “roles” and even gives them the words to say.  The whole event really becomes a drama that Chuck created, and he stays in control of it, until things get out of hand in the end.

I know it could be argued that Chuck repents at the end, thus redeeming himself a bit, a point that is emphasized by the focus on Chuck’s face while the priest grants absolution to Leo.  However, I was not convinced that he truly felt sorry for what he had done.  He did not mean for a man to die, which upsets him, but at least partially upset because he isn’t going to get the ending he wanted to his story.  Did he get the priest for Leo or as a way to absolve himself of his guilt without actually having to confess?  Is it out of remorse that he gets himself fired or is it the self-destructiveness that has clearly marked his life?  Until the moment he drops dead, he still seems to be looking for what would make the best story.  He never lets his imminent death humble him, remaining cocky until the end.  He tries to sell his confession to the editor in New York as a scoop on a huge story.  It seems to me that since he realized that he wasn’t going to make it back reporting on a news story, he decided to become the big story and get recognition that way.

Jan Sterling in Ace in the Hole

All of the performances are strong, such as Porter Hall (perhaps best remember for playing Dr. Sawyer in Miracle on 34th Street) as Jacob Boot, Tatum’s editor, but the most memorable character is definitely Lorainne, Leo’s wife, played by Jan Sterling. She’s a woman who’s desperate to escape life in sleepy Escadero.  She sees Leo’s misfortune as her chance to escape, until Chuck convinces her she’ll benefit more by staying and playing the role that he has assigned her.  She’s a bit of a femme fatale, in the sense that she’s a woman trying to break out of traditional gender roles; she’s a woman struggling to escape the dull, domestic life in which she has found herself.  Although she lets Chuck tell her what to do, she never completely yields to him. When he tells he she has to go to the special rosary being held for her husband at the church, she replies, “I don’t go to church. Kneeling bags my nylons.”  Of course she ultimately lets her “director” tell her what to do, but she never stops expressing her displeasure at it.

The relationship between them is very much a love/hate relationship.  She’s attracted to him, even though he is often cruel to her, but she has a great deal of disdain for him at the same time.  I think she’s more attracted to the fact that Chuck is full of ambition and a drive to get back east, something that he has in common with her and that sets him apart for her husband.  Chuck, on the other hand, seems to have nothing but contempt for her, yet he paints her up at a saint in his articles for the sake of the story.  He rejects her advances early in the story, but eventually sleeps with her out of what seems to be his own self loathing.  Ultimately, she is Chuck’s undoing; while he chokes her with Leo’s anniversary gift, she grabs a pair of scissors and stabs him, which, of course, leads to his eventual death.

What is perhaps most interesting in all of this is that she does not get punished for what she has done.  We last see her missing the bus out of Escadero, but their will be other buses, and there appear to be no repercussions for her actions.  Unlike Chuck, who winds up dying for his role in the tragedy, Lorainne profits from it.  The business made a lot of money off of Leo’s misfortune and as his widow, she’s probably pretty well off. Ultimately she seems to get what she wants in the end, unlike the true femme fatales from traditional noirs who always end up punished for their transgressions.

For that matter, everyone gets away with exploiting Leo.  There really are no innocents in this film.  The sheriff exploits the tragedy to get reelected (even agreeing to keep Leo trapped in the cave, which ultimately leads to his death) and seems to get away with it.  Sure there’s a throwaway line by Chuck (when he knows he’s dying) who sarcastically says something about writing a piece to “get the sheriff reelected,” but it doesn’t really feel like the sheriff’s job is in jeopardy.  The carnival, the trains, the person who wrote the song about Leo, everyone profits as much as they can and then move on when there are no more profits to be had.  The tourists are not without ulterior motives as well.  They mainly exploit Leo’s misfortune for their own entertainment (they are attending the S & M carnival, after all), but there is more.  When being interviewed on the radio, the father of one of the first families to show up starts to promote his insurance business, hoping his fame as one of the first tourists on the site will boost his business. Even the Minosa’s, Leo’s parents, who seem to be the only people who actually care about Leo, consent to profiting off of their son’s misfortune.


Leo, however, is not a completely innocent victim in all of this.  In his first meeting with Tatum, he is blinded by the idea of being famous.  He smiles for the photo of him with his “treasure,” so thrilled with his newfound fame that he doesn’t even notice that Tatum hits him with the discharged flash bulb. He is also very concerned about his portrayal in Chuck’s story; he doesn’t want to appear too superstitious or weak.  He has no problems being exploited by Chuck if it brings him some fame.   Also, don’t forget that he ended up in the cave because he was exploiting the Native Americans.  He becomes trapped while he was taking pottery from a burial site, essentially grave robbing.  He also sells a lot of Native American memorabilia in his store (including feathered headdresses which were worn by plains indians, not indians who lived in the Southwest), so he is exploiting Native American culture for profit.

Therefore, although I’m not sure that Wilder meant to demonstrate this, Leo is not the only one being exploited.  Chuck has evident disdain for the Native Americans.  The first time he walks into the newspaper office in Albuquerque, he meets a Native American and greets him with a condescending “How” while the Native American greets him with “good afternoon, sir.” After a year has passed he still is condescending to the Native American.  He has no problems, however, exploiting their culture for the sake of his story.  He creates the phony “curse of the seven vultures” because it will help sell the story.  As the crowds grow, the viewer sees more and more children wearing the headdresses and playing with other artifacts purchased from the Minosa’s, further showing how they were exploited.


Ultimately Wilder’s greatest trick is making the audience just as guilty as the characters in the film.  Does the audience ever grieve for the death of Leo? I would argue that they don’t.  His death occurs offscreen because the audience is not really invested in his fate.  He is basically a plot device, as he was to Tatum.  No one is safe from Billy Wilder’s critique of American values.  Ace in the Hole is a film that remains relevant; it could have been made today, even though one of the events that inspired it was the story of Floyd Collins, a cave explorer who was trapped in Sand Cave in Kentucky for about 2 and a half weeks before eventually succumbing to exposure, thirst, and starvation.  I guess people haven’t really changed that much, since it seems to capture the sensationalism that still occurs in the media and the people who capitalize off the misfortune of others.  It was made before the term “media circus” was coined, yet Wilder creates a literal media circus by placing an actual circus amongst the crowd that has gathered outside the cave.  Ultimately Ace in the Hole paints a pitch black portrait of American culture in which everyone is an opportunist, willing to exploit the misfortunes of others, whether it is for financial gain, fame, or just for entertainment.

How “The Name of the Doctor” Changes Things

“The Name of the Doctor” definitely left fans with plenty to think about until the fiftieth anniversary special in November.  There’s plenty to speculate about in terms of what might be coming in the fiftieth, but also plenty of new information that connects back to past stories.  After watching “The Name of the Doctor,” I was left thinking about how the revelations of that episode affect the way that I now view some of the previous episodes.

Matt Smith

Most importantly, this revelations from “The Name of the Doctor” link back to the appearance of the Silence in series 7.  I liked the way that further elaborated on the story arc from last season, showing why the Silence wanted to stop the Doctor from going to Trenzalore; they knew what would happen if the Doctor’s past was destroyed.  As the episode shows, a universe without the Doctor would be a greatly diminished universe.  Without the Doctor to save them, many individuals, planets, and galaxies would no longer exist, so the Silence’s drastic measures make more sense.  They were villains who believed they were doing good.  They believed it was better to kill the Doctor before he could reach Trenzalore rather than have all of his previous actions undone.  When series 7 ended, I was left feeling that a lot of things had been left unresolved, such as why the Silence wanted to kill the Doctor, so it was nice to see Moffat tie up some of the loose threads.  I re-watched last year’s finale, “The Wedding of River Song” after watching “The Name of the Doctor” and found that I enjoyed it more this time, now that I understood a bit more about the Silence’s plan.

Besides connecting back to the previous season’s story arc, “The Name of the Doctor” resulted in me feeling a bit differently towards some of the episodes from this season. In particular, I reevaluated my opinion of “The Bells of St. John” and “Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS.”

When it first aired, I really enjoyed “The Bells of St. John” and I still do; it’s a fun ride and a clever premise.  However, it ended with the revelation that the Great Intelligence was behind the Spoonheads and Miss Kizlet.  At the end, the Great Intelligence did not seem terribly upset that his plan had been foiled and even had protocols in place for when his location was discovered.  Why he was uploading people, however, was never explained.  There is also the mystery of the girl in the shop who gave Clara the number to the phone on the police box (which isn’t supposed to work), saying it was the best helpline in the universe.  I assumed that these things would be explained later in the season, when the Great Intelligence’s master plan was revealed, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.  I’m not sure how uploading people would fit into his plan to enter the Doctor’s timestream at Trenzalore, and there was certainly no mention of the girl in the shop after this episode.  Unless there is more to come from the Great Intelligence, which seems unlikely at this point, the ending is very unsatisfying.

“Journey to the Centre of the TARDIS,” on the other hand, was one of my least favorite episodes of the season.  While I still did not particularly enjoy the episode, the finale did fix one issue I had with it.  I was very disappointed that at the end of the episode Clara no long knew about being the “impossible girl.”  The Doctor believed that he had to keep it a secret from her, even though he had told he during the episode and she seemed to handle the news pretty well.  I really disliked the fact that this knowledge was taken away from her.  Well, in the finale, this information comes back to her and directly results in Clara realizing what she has to do, in fact, what she must have already done, to save the Doctor.  The knowledge, then, was not wasted, and caused me to feel a bit more kindly towards that particular part of the episode.

Obviously, there is more from this storyline that will be picked up in the fiftieth, so I might be reevaluating further in November. These are just the examples that came to mind after I finished watching the finale.  However, I am assuming the finale was the end of the Great Intelligence, which does leave the unresolved issues in his story arc, as I discussed above.  Still, “The Name of the Doctor” did serve to answer some questions that I was beginning to think would never be answered, so maybe Moffat still has a few tricks up his sleeve.