William Hartnell

There are relatively few William Hartnell interviews concerning his time on ‘Doctor Who’, and most of them are puff pieces intended for promotion. This interview is based on various comments pulled together, and as such is less of an interview and more of an overview of his comments on the programme.

“I was so pleased to be offered Doctor Who. To me kids are the greatest audience – and the greatest critics – in the world.

“It may seem like hindsight now, but I just knew that Doctor Who was going to be an enormous success. Don’t ask me how. Not everybody thought as I did. I was universally scoffed at for my initial faith in the series, but I believed in it. It was magical.

“Before the part came along I’d been playing a bunch of crooks, sergeants, prison warders and detectives. Then, after appearing in This Sporting Life, I got a phone call from my agent. He said, “I wouldn’t normally have suggested you work in children’s television, Bill, but there’s a sort of character part come up that I think you’d just love to play.

“My agent said the part was that of an eccentric old grandfather- cum-professor type who travels in space and time. Well, I wasn’t that keen, but I agreed to meet the producer.

“Then, the moment this brilliant young producer Miss Verity Lambert started telling me about Doctor Who, I was hooked. I remember telling her, “This is going to run for five years.” And look what’s happened.

“We did it forty-eight weeks a year in those days and it was very hard work. But I loves every minute.

“You know, I couldn’t go out into the high street without a bunch of kids follwing me. I felt like the Pied Piper.

“People really used to take it literally. I’d get letters from boys swotting for O-levels asking complicated questions about time-ratio and the TARDIS. The Doctor might have been able to answer them – I’m afraid I couldn’t! But I do believe there is life on other planets – and they know there’s life here but don’t have the technology to get through.

“Doctor Who is certainly a test for any actor. Animals and children are renowned scene-stealers and we had both – plus an assortment of monsters that became popular in their own right. Look at the Daleks. They started in the second series and were an immediate success.

“At one time (in late 1964) I thought we might extend the series and I suggested giving the Doctor a son and calling the programme The Son of Doctor Who. The idea was for me to have a wicked son. We would both look alike, each have a TARDIS and travel in outer space. In actual fact, it would have meant that I had to play a dual role when I `met’ my son.

“But the idea was not taken up by the BBC so I dropped it. I still think it would have worked and been exciting to children.

“Memories? There are so many. There was the occasion when I arrived at an air display in the TARDIS and the kids were convinced I had flown it there! On another occasion I went by limousine to open a local fete. When we got there the children just converged on the car cheering and shouting, their faces all lit up. I knew then just how much the Doctor really meant to them.”

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