Geekbat Tunes

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

William Hartnell

Ah, William Hartnel. The First Doctor. THE Doctor. Famous for his crusty, grandfatherly manner. Even more famous for his repeatedly flubbed lines. Due to an illness. That was undiagnosed. And probably killed him.

So it's not so funny to laugh at anymore.

(Due also to the BBC not having the time or money to do multiple takes, so it was recorded practically as if it were live.)

He was funny, at times endearing. He was grumpy, at times block-headed. He had a funny little cackle, and a very particular pursing of the lips. He was my Halloween costume last year. He often claimed to be human. He had a mysterious signature signet ring, along with a monocle- possibly the most awesome accessories a sonic-screwdriver-less Doctor could have. He had power over hypnosis and the ability to mimic voices flawlessly.

He was my favorite.

Don't get me wrong, I still love David Tennant's Tenth Doctor, and if he hadn't gone through his manic-depressive-emo phase (I.E. The Gap Year) he might still retain that spot. But as of now, having viewed the First, Second, Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Doctors, I think it's safe to call him my current favorite. That may change, admittedly... but he will always hold a high ranking in my estimation.

He was the first, without whom there would be no other Doctors.

He was the original, the authority, the one that held it all together.

He was the Doctor.

And he will be missed.

My Top 10 Favorite First Doctor Moments
10. Trouncing an assassin (The Romans):
The Doctor takes to impersonating a musician that the group finds dead (for his own safety), not realizing that the dead man was the target of an assassination, and the group he’s fallen in with are determined to keep trying, believing that their initial attempt failed and the Doctor is their still-living target. A mute assassin is sent to stab the Doctor in his sleep as the group stops at a tavern for the night- and the Doctor handily thrashes him, throwing the man around the room with an almost carefree and disinterested ease, not even for a moment concerned for himself. This physical display, and the extreme confidence accompanying it, suggesting this to be merely the tip of the iceberg of the feats that the Doctor is physically capable of, is as surprising to the audience as it is to the assassin, and Hartnell’s bravado through it all really makes it stick in your memory.

9. Resigned Trojan horse proposal (The Myth Makers)
Captured by the Greek armies and coerced into finding a way to breach the unbreachable walls of Troy, the Doctor steadfastly refuses to consider the Trojan Horse as an option, believing it to be a historical myth- here, he has an opportunity to craft, and discover, how Troy really fell. After a series of far-fetched proposals, Steven again suggests the well-known horse, and the Doctor soundly rejects the notion, instead briefing the commander on his final proposal: catapult-launched hang-gliders. The skeptical general agrees, but informs the Doctor that Hartnell will be the one made to test, he will be the first launched on the ridiculous contraptions. Faced with the prospect of riding on his own lethally-absurd creation, the Doctor calls the general back and, ever so reluctantly and with great resignation, suggests a giant wooden horse instead. Hartnell’s performance- from stubborn refusal to begrudging acceptance, makes this one of the most hilarious of Myth Maker’s many laugh-riot scenes, even through the stills of a reconstruction.

8. “DO… NOT… KILL!”/The Double Fight (The Dalek Master Plan):
The strange clearly-not-identical-doppelganger-stunt-double plot comes to a head in the penultimate chapter of the Dalek Master Plan, as the Doctor and his double fight- itself a rare and exciting fight-scene moment for Hartnell, its memorability is enhanced by his unique solution- another use of his vocal mimicry skills to imitate the Daleks’ halting speech and order the robot not to kill, causing it to hesitate long enough to defeat it (admittedly, I find it memorable especially because I didn’t understand what he was doing, and found his odd-cadenced yell to be oddly hilarious)- a scene enhanced by Hartnell’s double-duty roles, and the way that the imposter is discovered- referring to Vicki as ‘Susan’ (recently departed) because the robot’s programmed information was out of date. Definitely one of the Doctor’s most memorable confrontations.

7. Beating the Toymaker (The Celestial Toymaker):
Coming at the climax of a serial in which the Doctor is seldom seen, the titular villainous Toymaker has put the Doctor and his companions through their paces in his sinister games, and they have triumphed. There, on the stage of his final defeat, the Toymaker appears and admits that he is a sore loser- one game has yet to be completed, until which time the TARDIS crew cannot leave- and making the final move will instantly destroy the world which they inhabit, leaving them the choice of eternal imprisonment, or perishing in a pyrrhic victory. Yet the canny Doctor, who has managed to irritate and confound the far-more-powerful Toymaker at every turn, has a trick up his sleeve, turning the Toymaker’s own voice-command system back on him to complete the final move (after a false-start in which his first attempt fails, leading the overconfident Toymaker to smirk in derision) from the safety of the TARDIS, dematerializing it at the last second. It’s a brilliant and well-written gambit, the solution of which had been hinted at, like the great murder mysteries, subtly throughout the serial for those that had been paying attention. It’s a great use of the First Doctor’s unique voice mimicking capabilities. It’s a brilliant and very satisfying comeback as the Doctor utilizes the tool used to intimidate and bully him throughout the serial to have his cake and eat it, too. And his look of victory as he begins his escape makes it all the better.

6. Accidental engagement (The Aztecs):
The Doctor has been growing close to the elderly retiree, Cameca- a closeness that means more to the kind and gentle Aztec woman than it does to the oblivious Doctor. When she offers him a cup of cocoa and he accepts- ignorant of its cultural significance and simply finding the prospect of some Hot Chocolate delightful- he finds a little more than he bargained for when she exclaims with joy about their new betrothal. The expression on the Doctor’s face simply has to be seen to be believed- and the comedy of the scene and wonderful character created in Cameca makes their eventual parting all the more tragic.

5. Farewell speech to Susan (The Dalek Invasion of Earth):
It’s shown at the beginning of specials for a reason. This was the first companion departure, a resolute but sad forced-departure of the Doctor’s own flesh and blood. Hartnell is tender and wistful as he makes the decision, but puts on a brave face for Susan, urging her to go forward and claim the life that she deserves. He gives the speech all the gravitas, regret, tender care, and loving, grandfatherly wisdom that such a moment deserves, and the result is mesmerizing. “One day I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs, and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine. Goodbye, Susan.

4. Failed Interrogation (The Space Museum):
The conquering authorities are trying to sweat the Doctor out in an interrogation, but he doesn’t seem to be worried in the slightest. The authorities, greedy for the secret of the TARDIS, haul out their big guns: a mind-reading device. They hook Hartnell up to it and fire away their question once again: “How did you get here?” There’s no way out of it this time! But the Doctor proves that he still easily has the upper hand, as the screen lights up with a picture of an old-timey giant-wheeled bike. Then, as the interrogators stare in shocked disbelief, he cackles with delight; though he’s in handcuffs, captured, and being interrogated, Hartnell is still firmly in control.

3. The Unintentional Hold-up (The Gunfighters):
Seldom has the Doctor (mistaken for Doc Holliday by vengeful Clantons) been so out of his element- believed to be a crack-shot (an illusion aided by an unseen shooter and bolstered by a deceptive saloon girl), the Doctor ends up in a Stetson, six-shooter in hand, holding up the three Clantons he’d just been trying to talk down. You can see written on his face the simultaneous excitement (really getting into being a cowboy, and loving it), and complete fish-out-of-water bafflement and fear; now that he’s got ‘em, he has no idea what to do with ‘em, and has to ask the Saloon girl what’s next. It’s one of Hartnell’s funniest scenes.

2. “I am that man!” (Keys of Marinus):
After a prolonged actor-vacation absence, the Doctor made his entrance into the courtroom drama of the final Key location just as Ian was bemoaning the need for a man that could stand with him, against the potential of sharing his punishment, to defend him at trial. With this pronouncement, the Doctor made his first truly heroic entrance, a save-the-day moment for the Doctor like those we’ve come to know and love, and finally started to demonstrate care and solidarity for the companions that he had, up until this time, treated more like unwanted baggage.

1. Confronting Koquillion (The Rescue):
In a fantastic moment that (even as of the Fourth Doctor’s second season) has been rarely matched, the Doctor has a true showdown with the villain of the piece, one-on-one. He confronts Koquillion in a dark, atmospheric ruined temple, fragmentary remnants of the society upon which he had committed genocide- keeping his back turned as Koquillion enters, the Doctor will not even look at him as he spins the tale he’s managed to work out, reconstructing the events of the past there in the moody, misty remains of a once-proud civilization. The resulting fight- with explosions about and dangerous chasm-edge battles- is cinematic and epic, yet very personal; this is a classic finale, brilliantly filmed with fantastic cinematography, and feels worthy of a major motion picture Doctor debut.
(As a side note, I am so proud of myself- it’s been a year since I’ve seen this, and I spelled Koquillion right from memory!) :-)

Also, here are a few honorable mentions that didn’t quite make my top 10 list, but I feel are worthy of notation for their distinctiveness:
The Backgammon matches from Marco Polo (notably the first time we really see the Doctor taking center stage and trying to save the day), outsmarting the chain gang in Reign of Terror (a great comedic scene), confronting the Monk (I always love seeing those two together), and the grueling Time Destructor standoff/march (another of the Doctor’s most memorable confrontations, and an incredibly powerful finale) in Dalek Master Plan, and facing down the oncoming War Machine in The War Machines.

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