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The Doctors: The William Hartnell Years DVD review

Collection of six features on the original stars of Doctor Who.

The William Hartnell Years

The William Hartnell YearsKoch Media continues to release archive interviews with the stars of Doctor Who that were originally made as the Myth Makers tapes in the 1980s and 1990s, produced by Keith Barnfather and presented by Nicholas Briggs – the modern-day voice of the Daleks!

These detailed Doctor Who documentaries can fairly be considered the definitive recorded history of the making of the series, providing fans with full personal accounts from the major stars of the show.

The William Hartnell Years takes fans back to the genesis of the series in 1963. The six instalments split across these two discs feature the surviving major players. The first two concern actors who are now long deceased: William Hartnell (the First Doctor) and Jacqueline Hill, who played one of his original companions Barbara Wright. A personal touch is added in both instances: Jessica Carney, Hartnell’s granddaughter, is interviewed at Riverside Studios (where a few of his stories had been filmed), and fills in the gaps about his early life, with snapshots from the family album charting Hartnell’s journey from impoverished childhood into his early years as an actor. The most moving contributor to Jacqueline Hill’s episode, which similarly has a warm and thoughtful biographical element, is her widower Alvin Rakoff – the Canadian producer. Who fans will recognise William Russell (Ian Chesterton) and Maureen O’Brien (Vicki) who also lend their reminiscences, as well as the late Verity Lambert, the producer. There is convention footage from Jacqueline Hill’s one and only appearance on the circuit in 1985.

Perhaps the most rewarding section is the one dedicated to William Russell (father of Alfred Enoch), who played Ian Chesterton – the original male companion. A lot of thought goes into the production. Nicholas Briggs catches up with a sprightly Russell at Trafalgar Square – where the Daleks famously paraded with Nazi salutes in 1965. From there, Russell is taken on a double-decker bus to various landmarks from his time on the show. Viewers will recognise the Embankment, where Ian kissed the fish on the lamppost in the Chase, and Riverside Studios, where the Dalek emerged from the Thames. Russell is an incredibly engaging interviewee, and having had such a remarkable and varied career, is thoroughly amiable and interesting. There are anecdotes about working with the likes of Charlie Chaplin and Marlon Brando. As a final flourish, Russell is left at White City Tube Station – where he originally departed in the show.

The second disc catches up with Peter Purves (Steven Taylor). In stark contrast to the Russell interview, in which the actor enjoyed a trip down memory lane, Purves speaks from his home in the countryside, and some of the interview is taken up with his restoration of the property. Purves comes out of his shell and gives a good interview, laughing heartily at times as he reminisces. His admission of occasional cantankerousness with the fans (quite well-known) comes across as charming, and one leaves at the end of it with a good sense of Purves the man.

Carole Ann Ford, who played Hartnell’s granddaughter Susan, also speaks to Briggs, though that instalment is split between two interviews – one she had previously given for the Myth Makers series, and a further one in 1996. Ford recalls her early career, which was very distinguished, and reflects that Doctor Who did her career no favours, but without bitterness, giving her reasons for leaving the show. Last up is Jackie Lane, who played the short-lived companion Dodo – the first attempt to have a regional voice on the programme. Alas, many of Lane’s episodes no longer exist, so combined with her short tenure as a companion, her contribution is rather more niche. Nevertheless, it’s interesting to hear about her career and what she thought of Doctor Who – both at the time and now.

All of the actors reflect on working with William Hartnell, and there is a genuine sense of affection for the man, and sympathy for his ill-health that was the cause of much of his famous tetchiness. Most of the interviews were filmed in 1995 or 1996, making them now almost as old as the series they were recalling at the time! There is the occasional use of unnecessary special effects (less special now than they once were) – especially during the Jackie Lane interview – but overall these are highly watchable labours of love that give the stars of the show breathing space to tell their stories. Briggs proves an outstanding interviewer – always asking the right questions and only ever pushing things respectfully. He brings the best out of everybody.

Running to just under an hour each, the series of interviews are detailed and incisive. We can be very grateful they were recorded when they were, as they will remain the definitive accounts of the making of a television legend, and deserve to be part of every Doctor Who fan’s essential collection.

Cast: William Russell, Peter Purves, Jackie Lane, Carole Ann Ford Director: Keith Barnfather Cert: E Duration: 324 mins Released By: Koch Media Release Date: 13th November 2017

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