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Who's Who: A History of the Six Doctors Who

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It all began on a quiet Saturday afternoon on the 23rd of November in the year 1963. A police box was found among the debris in a junkyard at London's 76 Totters Lane. This box would be the starting point for a series of adventures that would continue for over 18 years.

Doctor Who is the longest running SF/fantasy TV series in the world. Since it began, no less than five actors have portrayed the title character in the BBC-TV series and one actor played the lead in the two feature films. Each succeeding actor brought a unique characterization to the role, providing the mysterious traveller of time and space with a series of astonishing metamorphoses.

The late William Hartnell was the Doctor when the series premiered on BBC-TV that fateful November afternoon. His characterization was that of a "crotchety old man." In fact, the Doctor was, at the beginning, a bit of an anti-hero. Much of the heroics were left to Ian Chesterton, one of the Doctor's two school teacher companions. The first Doctor was rather uncooperative and insisted on having his own way. In fact, when we first meet the Doctor, his attitude toward the two teachers is not only hostile, but downright aggressive: he forces them to become terrified prisoners inside the TARDIS!

In the first Doctor Who adventure, "The Unearthly Child," school teachers Barbara Wright and Ian Chesterton follow their mysterious pupil, Susan Forman, "home" to speak to her guardian about the girl's erratic behavior. They come across the police box and discover that Susan and her grandfather are living inside it. The interior of the police box, however, is surprisingly vast compared to the tiny exterior. Ian and Barbara soon learn that the girl and her grandfather are, in fact, exiles from another planet who live inside a time/space machine that only looks like a London police call box. The girl's grandfather, who only offers the term "Doctor" as his name, refuses to let the humans go free and he launches the time/space machine into the vortex. They eventually land back on Earth in the year 100,000 BC and become involved with a tribe of primitive humans.

Originally, the series alternated between fantasy and historical drama and, if one cares to consider a Stone Age adventure "an historic drama," the nature of the second Doctor Who serial is unquestionably fantasy. Unaware of what fame and fortune his next script would bring him, writer Terry Nation nearly turned down his first assignment for the series because of a previous commitment. But when that fell through, he found out his agent had not yet turned the BBC offer down and so Nation accepted the job, devising th( seven-part serial, "The Dead Planet." The landing on Skaros was, as usual, an accident. Even the Doctor's first incarnation could not repair or control the erratic Time and Relative Dimensions in Space (TARDIS) machine. Within the petrified jungle was a city populated by the creatures that would become the Doctor's most famous enemies—the Daleks!

Daleks & Other Fiends

During the first three years William Hartnell's Doctor encountered Marco Polo, the Sensorites, the Aztecs, the Zarbi, the French Revolution, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, the Cyberman, and he foiled two more Dalek plots. Of the 29 serials Hartnell appeared in, only nine were historical dramas. Doctor Who was fast becoming more and more a solid fantasy adventure series.

The character of the Doctor's granddaughter, Susan, was the first of the Doctor's companions to depart the series, and so began a tradition in which the producers breathed new life into the show by creating new and interesting continuing characters to complement the Doctor. Actually, Susan was written out of the series (in the second Dalek adventure, "Dalek Invasion of Earth") because Carol Ann Ford, the actress who played Susan, became too old to continue to play a 15-year-old girl.

Hartnell departed the series when his health declined and the role became too great a strain on him. His last solo performance as the Doctor was in the first Cyberman adventure, "The Tenth Planet." He would later make a guest appearance in the tenth anniversary serial, "The Three Doctors," with his two TV successors.

During the period that Hartnell was playing the Doctor on TV, Peter Cushing was enlisted to play the Doctor in two feature films based on the first two Dalek serials ("Dead Planet" and "Dalek Invasion of Earth"). For the first film, Dr. Who and the Daleks, Milton Subotsky's adaptation of Terry Nation's TV script changed the personalities of the four leading characters. First and foremost, the Doctor was no longer an alien. As far as the audience knew, he was just a jolly old man who had (for some odd reason) built a time/space machine in the form of a police call box. The Doctor was also very kind and considerate, but somewhat mischievous. Subotsky wrote Barbara Wright in as the Doctor's granddaughter and made Ian Chesterton her boyfriend (probably as a speedy introduction for the foreign audiences).

For the second feature film, Daleks: Invasion Earth-2150 A.D., Cushing returned in the lead role. The film opened only three months prior to William Hartnell's departure on October 29, 1966, when the last episode of "The Tenth Planet" was aired.

Changing Doctors

The following week, Patrick Troughton assumed the role of the Doctor in "The Power of the Daleks." Unsure how the change of their leading character would affect the series, the producers chose to go with a serial featuring the popular Daleks in the hope of assuring an audience. They didn't have much to worry about; Troughton's characterization captured the viewers. An expert in character acting, Troughton molded the Doctor into a "cosmic hobo." While Hartnell dressed somewhat Edwardian, Troughton's Doctor looked quite sloppy in baggy pants with a handkerchief hanging from his coat pocket. A bit of a clown, the second TV Doctor would sit cross-legged on the floor and play his flute whenever he needed to think.

Troughton played the Doctor for three years before deciding that the time had come to leave. He didn't want to be so identified with the character that he would be permanently typecast. Except for his appearance in the anniversary serial, Troughton has never played a character like the Doctor.

Jon Pertwee was the actor selected to take over the role in 1970 and many people were quite surprised that he had been considered. For many years prior, Pertwee had gained a reputation as a comedy actor and cabaret entertainer, but he brought a whole new look to the series that kept viewers on the edge of their seats. Pertwee's Doctor was a man of action. Dressed flamboyantly, often with a long cape, the new Doctor would personally leap into action against his enemies.

The Doctor's true identity had finally been revealed in Troughton's last episode, chapter 10 of "War Games." The Doctor, we were told, is a Time Lord, a member of a race of beings who have conquered time travel. The Time Lords, however, have made it a rule to never interfere in the affairs of others, but the Doctor believed he could help those who were threatened by the many evils throughout the galaxy, such as the Daleks and the Cybermen. Stealing a time capsule from a repair dock on his home planet, the Doctor set out into the Universe. Towards the final chapter of "War Games," the Doctor finds that he must call on his people for help, but in doing so, he places his freedom in jeopardy. The Doctor is brought before the Time Lords and sentenced into exile—on the planet Earth. The Time Lords change his appearance and take away his ability to operate the TARDIS. He is marooned, but his arrival is timed with the Nestene invasion in "Spearhead from Space." During the battle, the Doctor is reunited with an old friend, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. The Doctor first encountered him in the serial "Web of Fear," which starred Patrick Troughton. After convincing the Brigadier that the new Doctor is one and the same man, the Brigadier invites him to become Scientific Advisor for the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT), which the Brigadier commands.

For the next two years, the Doctor's mostly earthbound exploits featured fantastic gadgetry and continual battles with his arch-enemy, the Master (also a Time Lord). Ruthless beyond all reason, the Master continually tried to rule the Earth and the Universe, but , the Doctor always managed to outwit him.

Three for the Price of One

The tenth season of Doctor Who opened with the previously mentioned anniversary special, "The Three Doctors." To save themselves from destruction, the Time Lords ask the Doctor to stop the bitter Time Lord Omega from draining their energy into a black hole. The only help they can send the Doctor is his previous incarnations (Troughton appears in the flesh, but poor health forced Hartnell, who passed away in 1975, to appear only on a TV screen from time to time to offer advice). After "The Three Doctors," the Doctor was rewarded by the Time Lords and given back his freedom to travel the cosmos. For the next two years, Pertwee bounced between earthly battles and the dangers encountered on alien worlds throughout the Universe.

Pertwee began the tradition of making public appearances in costume while he was playing the Doctor, and he usually brought along many of the UNIT gadgets—such as his special roadster, "Bessie," or the "Who-mobile," a combination hovercraft/flying saucer that Pertwee helped design.

Also feeling that he might become trapped by his success, Pertwee bowed out after five years. His last episode, "Planet of the Spiders," saw the Doctor's body riddled with radiation, and in an effort to save himself, the Doctor forced himself to regenerate into his fourth TV incarnation.

Tom Baker assumed the role in 1974 and brought back some of Patrick Troughton's eccentricity. His 17-foot long scarf and floppy hat soon became the Doctor's trademarks (especially in America where many fans have only been exposed to Baker's portrayal). Baker's Doctor first comes across as somewhat scatterbrained. In fact, he has a hard time remembering important facts but, in a pinch, he never fails to thwart his adversaries.

After seven years as the Doctor, Baker bowed out of the series and married his costar, Lalla Ward (who played the second incarnation of the Doctor's only Time Lord companion, Romana). Baker has said that he felt the series was becoming repetitious and it was time for a change. This fall, 29-year-old Peter Davison is set to take over as the fifth TV Doctor. He is the youngest actor to take on the title role and, until the premiere of Doctor Who's eighteenth season, no one outside the BBC knows how he will play the immortal Time Lord.

Perhaps there will be another get together of the Doctors when Doctor Who celebrates its twentieth season in 1983.


Troughton, Pertwee and the late William Hartnell (l-to-r) in "The Three Doctors."

Tom Baker as a perplexed Doctor in "The Armageddon Factor."

Peter Davison: the new Doctor-to-be.

Peter Cushing as the cinematic Dr. Who.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Hirsch, David (issue 50 (September 1981)). Who's Who: A History of the Six Doctors Who. Starlog p. 48.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Hirsch, David. "Who's Who: A History of the Six Doctors Who." Starlog [add city] issue 50 (September 1981), 48. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Hirsch, David. "Who's Who: A History of the Six Doctors Who." Starlog, edition, sec., issue 50 (September 1981)
  • Turabian: Hirsch, David. "Who's Who: A History of the Six Doctors Who." Starlog, issue 50 (September 1981), section, 48 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Who's Who: A History of the Six Doctors Who | url= | work=Starlog | pages=48 | date=issue 50 (September 1981) | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=28 October 2021 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Who's Who: A History of the Six Doctors Who | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=28 October 2021}}</ref>