William Hartnell (1908 – 1975) was an English actor and the first ever Doctor Who, playing the role from 1963 until 1966, and starring in 134 episodes over 4 series. He remains the second oldest actor to ever play the doctor, playing the role between the age of 55 and 58.
Hartnell was a stage and television actor who was approached for the role after Verity Lambert, the shows producer, had seen his performance in This Sporting Life. Unsure at first as it was pitched to him as a children’s show, he eventually decided to as it took him away from the gruff military parts in which he’d become typecast, and also as he had grandchildren and knew the part would be popular with them and other children. It became the role in which Hartnell is most remembered for.
Throughout his time as the Doctor, he wore a wig as the character had long hair, and he described himself as a cross between the Wizard of Oz and Father Christmas.
Hartnell’s health started to fail and affected his ability to learn his lines, and this combined with the fact that he did not have a good relationship with a new production team on the show led to Hatnell leaving in 1966, after suggesting Patrick Troughton should be the next doctor.
The producers had come up with the idea of the doctor regenerating his physical form as a good way of changing actors, and so Hartnell was the first Doctor Who to regenerate, as the doctors form change from himself into actor Patrick Houghton, the new Doctor Who.
Hartnell’s health continued to decline during the early 70’s and he passed away in his sleep in 1975 at the age of 67.