A trip to Cornwall prompts a look back at William Hartnell’s Doctor
If the BBC’s marketing department is doing its job right, you should be well aware that Doctor Who is back. Along with a reinvigorated title sequence, squeaky theme tune and (slightly) new Tardis interior, the Doctor himself has become a darker departure from Matt Smith’s portrayal. Peter Capaldi’s Doctor is a little knotted, his jokes bristle with cynicism but you still know he’s the same, reliable Time Lord. For me this is a welcome change, while I loved Matt Smith the Twelfth Doctor channels one of my all time favourites: the First.
Recently I was speaking to a friend about classic Doctor Who and they were amazed to hear that I haven’t watched (or listened to) every episode. I had to explain that there were nigh on 700 episodes and that sooner or later I have to get round to watching Orange Is The New Black because everyone’s banging on about it. With that in mind I’ve started picking off the last few Hartnell stories and it’s been a tremendous ride. I’ve only got The Massacre Of St Bartholomew’s Eve and The Celestial Toymaker left and I really don’t want it to end.
I started watching the Hartnell stories in the late 90s when I was 10/ 11. Part of the charm of the First Doctor stories for me was that they seemed so ancient. They were black and white, not all of them survived, and the special effects were wonderfully resourceful. My uncle would record the stories off UK Gold and post them to me which bestowed them with a strange, fantastical aura (intercut with hilariously dated adverts, too). Without the internet, Sky television or a video shop near us, the fact that I was getting to watch these adventures at all felt amazing. I was also impressed with how good they looked in general. Once you allow for the constraints they were filming in, the episodes look fantastic – the title sequence was so good that it was used 50 years later on The Day Of The Doctor.
The mix of genres is perfectly balanced in the first three series, making the whole collection feel like some strange fairytale almanac from long ago that you’ve stumbled across in a car boot sale. There are very few rules this early on in the run, and for me the show’s all the better for it. The Doctor’s character is tricky and unpredictable, one minute he’s smoking a pipe, the next he’s deliberately sabotaging the Tardis for his own ends. While the character had to settle in order for him to take carry the show (rather than relying on his companions), the first few adventures reveal a startlingly selfish, callous nature that I hope Capaldi will explore in future episodes.
The lack of mythology bizarrely makes the Doctor’s universe feel immense. There are only two recurring villains in the First Doctor’s run (the Monk and the Daleks), so the fact that each week there’s something completely new really does make the Doctor feel like a ‘wanderer in the fourth dimension’, rather than the all powerful god he’s become. The imagination on display is admirable, too, with whole stories populated by giant insects, beings that live in ammonia tanks who communicate through robots, and a twelve part space opera epic. It’s this sense of recklessness where anything can happen that I always look for in the new series, which might explain why I enjoyed Matt Smith’s cameo in Deep Breath. If it’s something gobsmackingly new then I’m all for it.
A Holiday For The Doctor
The launch of the most recent Doctor Who series involved a world tour verging on Beatlemania, it’s truly a testament to the groundwork William Hartnell established as the Doctor. If you haven’t seen it already check out An Adventure In Space And Time (a biopic about Hartnell and the inception of the show), it’s an outstanding and moving introduction to those classic serials.
Sadly I didn’t get to go to any of the Doctor Who tour dates, so I used a holiday to Cornwall to visit my parents as an excuse to create my own Tardis pit stop. The First Doctor’s penultimate story, The Smugglers, is a baffling adventure involving pirates and treasure on the Cornish coast. Given that I’m from southern Cornwall the story naturally caught my interest and I decided to research where it was filmed, only to find out that parts were recorded in my home town, Newlyn! After digging deeper I discovered that it was also recorded at Nanjizal bay which prompted a visit and photoshoot.
Recent storms have ruined the Cornish coastline and Nanjizal bay is no exception. The golden sands seen in the story have been buried underneath stones and coastal rubble, but that didn’t stop me bringing the Tardis back to where it appeared decades before. The tide was too high for me to get a picture of the Tardis in the cave where it landed in the story, so instead I plonked it among some alien looking balanced stones that had been left by a seaside artist.
I’m hoping to take the Tardis back to filming locations once I’ve finished off other eras, so look out for a blog about the Second Doctor in the future!
Are you a fan of the First Doctor? Let me know in the comments what your favourite adventures are! I’m a fan of The Daleks, The Ark, and The Gunfighters…