Already an actor of some repute William Hartnell had carved out a niche as something of a ‘heavy’ – an authority figure who’s stern nature could brilliantly be pitched at the high end of farce in the likes of The Mouse That Roared or a nature that could be found clinging on in the bitter-sweet shadows in the likes of This Sporting Life – before the Doctor came calling in 1963.
Looking back at his distinguished career BBC America have chosen the performances that paved the way to the Doctor in a new blog series Life Outside the TARDIS.
First up is Hartnell’s appearance opposite Richard Attenborough in the 1947 adaptation of Graham Greene’s classic novel Brighton Rock – playing hard nosed criminal Dallow in John Boulting’s look at Brighton’s inter-war criminal underbelly.
Something of a forgotten film The Way Ahead – directed by Carol Reed (The Third Man) and staring David Niven (A Matter of Life and Death) – influence pops up in all manner of places.
A remake of an Army training film – written by spy novelist Eric Ambler and raconteur Peter Ustinov – the movie was expanded for commercial release and saw Hartnell taking the roll of Sgt Ned Fletcher (a role he later lampooned in both Carry on Sergeant and Private’s Progress.)
Probably its most lasting impression was its end credit sequence of advancing soldiers which was stolen wholesale by Dad’s Army.
While there are shades of the Doctor in many of his previous roles perhaps the role that eventually won him the part of the Doctor was his turn as ’Dad’ Johnson in Lindsay Anderson’s (If…) This Sporting Life.
Starring opposite Richard Harris (yes, the first time the Doctor met Dumbledore) and one of the best of the British 1960s New Wave films, Hartnell’s sensitive, wounded performance caught the attention of Who producer Verity Lambert and the rest, as they say, is history.
For more clips of William’s performances head over to the BBC America site.