08 January 2016

Happy Birthday William Hartnell!

Yes, that's right, William 'The Guv'nor' Hartnell would have been 108 today. He's probably best known to readers of this site as playing the first incarnation of The Doctor in Doctor Who but also appeared in high-profile roles in productions like The Army Game, This Sporting Life and Carry On Sergeant. Hartnell was born in St Pancras, London in 1908 and after an extended period of deteriorating health sadly passed away in his sleep of heart failure in 1975.

To celebrate his birthday, we've picked out three of his best stories - in chronological order.

Planet of Giants
This was the first story of the second season and saw the Doctor, along with travelling companions Susan (his granddaughter), Ian and Barbara shrunk to just an inch tall. Whilst miniaturised they were menaced by several terrifying discoveries, such as an normally-sized sink, a matchbox and a fly (foreshadowing their trip to Vortis later the same year in the classic tale The Web Planet) as well as being party to foiling quite a thrilling plot involving pesticide or something that was happening in and around the house they found themselves in. One of the true greats of the 1960s.

The Dalek Invasion of Earth
This was the story following Planet of Giants, and is arguably just as good - if not better. As the title suggests, the travellers arrive in a time when the Daleks have overrun the Earth. Fancying a bit of an upgrade in the spaceship stakes, the maniacal pepperpots have decided to drill to the Earth's core from their base in Bedfordshire, hollow it out, and use it as their new set of wheels. It's actually really good and there's a great monster for horror fans in the form of the Slyther, whose design was no doubt inspired by (and realised using) bin bags. Oh, and Susan leaves at the end, so there's really quite a lot going for this one.

The Gunfighters
Coming towards the end of Hartnell's final full season, The Gunfighters defines the term 'fan favourite', in that it gives them so much to complain about. The whole thing is framed with musical interludes sung by Lynda Barron as the Doctor, now joined by plucky young assistants Steven and Dodo, arrives just as things are kicking off at the OK Corral. The guest characters and the actors who play them are absolutely delightful here - just look at how Hartnell interacts with Mr Wearp - coming together to give us quite the show. Sure it doesn't have the style (or substance) of The Daleks' Master Plan, which preceded it by just a few months, but does The Daleks' Master Plan have the Doctor's companions playing the piano and singing very badly while being held at gunpoint? Exactly. In short, The Gunfighters is a classic.

If you feel like sticking one of these on today in Mr Hartnell's honour, we recommend Planet of Giants as, at three episodes, it's the shortest. Thanks for reading, and if it's your birthday too (like it is mine) then have a great day! Maybe even try and have one even if it's not.

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