January 8 is a pretty red-letter day for cool people to have been born. Not only is it the birthday of Professor Stephen Hawking, Monty Python‘s Graham Chapman, David Bowie, and Elvis Presley, it’s also the incept date for Blade Runner‘s baddest replicant, Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer). It’s huge. But not even those few are enough, it’s also the birthday of William Hartnell, the very first actor to play the enigmatic Time Lord on the BBC’s Doctor Who. Hartnell would be 108 if he were still alive today, which would put him pretty close to where the character was at the beginning of the show.
It goes without saying that his performance set the tone for the character of the Doctor going forward, and nobody recognizes this more than the show’s current star – and an enormous fan to boot – Peter Capaldi who spoke very highly and reverently of Hartnell’s portrayal in the above video. Many fans and critics have likened Capaldi’s gruff take on the character to that of the show’s first lead actor, and it’s easy to see why. When he was announced as taking the role, Capaldi even grabbed his lapels in a distinctly Hartnell-esque manner.
When Doctor Who first premiered in 1963, there wasn’t anything set in stone as far as what the character should be, and in fact he was less a crusading hero and more a mysterious and amoral figure who didn’t suffer fools, or anyone for that matter. Slowly, and certainly by the end of the first season, Hartnell’s Doctor had softened a smidgen. Capaldi speaks very eloquently about Harnell’s Doctor taking his companions into a fantasy, fairy tale realm.
To celebrate William Hartnell’s birthday, go on Hulu, or to your DVD shelf if you’re a nutcase like me, and watch “The Time Meddler.” It’s my very favorite First Doctor story and a damn fine showcase of our favorite crusty time traveler.
Let us know your favorite First Doctor moments in the comments below!
Kyle Anderson is the Weekend Editor, a film and TV critic, and the resident Whovian for Nerdist.com. Follow him on Twitter!