Thursday, 22 August 2013

Doctor Who: the rediscovered William Hartnell interview

A 1967 TV interview with the actor who played the first Doctor, previously thought lost, has resurfaced. What does it reveal about the show's history?

William Hartnell in 1966, shortly before he stood down as Doctor Who.
William Hartnell in 1966, shortly before he stood down as Doctor Who. (Photograph: REX/Jon Lyons)

Lost for over four decades, a newly rediscovered filmed interview with the original star of the BBC's Doctor Who series is set to shed new light on the early years of the show. William Hartnell played the first Doctor from the programme's inception in 1963 through to the start of its fourth season in 1966. In those days, the show regularly had up to 12 million viewers but for years it was believed that not a single TV interview with Hartnell, who died in 1975, had survived.

Now, as the programme's 50th anniversary approaches, candid film of the actor has finally come to light in a local news archive in Bristol.

The interview was filmed for the BBC regional news programme, Points West, and broadcast on 17 January 1967, mere months after an enforced retirement from Doctor Who because of ill health. It was shot in Hartnell's dressing room at the Gaumont Theatre in Taunton, where the actor was appearing in the panto Puss in Boots.

The three-minute-long black-and-white film was actually discovered in 2009 by researcher Richard Bignell, working on behalf of BBC DVD. "While I was over at the [BBC] Written Archives [Centre], doing some stuff for the DVDs, I thought it would be worth going through the programme logs for regional news programmes," explains Bignell. "So, I had a look through for the four weeks [that Hartnell toured with Puss in Boots] and there were two interviews. There was one for Look East, for the first week of the pantomime at Ipswich and one for Points West from the last week when he was at Taunton … I got in contact with the Look East archive and found that their stuff didn't exist anymore… So, that one's definitely gone. But, I dropped the Bristol library an email, and about 20 minutes later, they got back to me with an email: 'Yes, we've still got it. I've got the can of film sitting on my desk here. What would you like me to do with it?'"

The film was transferred to a digital format at the BBC's Television Centre in the summer of 2011. However, it wasn't until this year that a suitable window arose for the material to be released. It will appear on November's BBC DVD release of The Tenth Planet – Hartnell's final Doctor Who story. "It's been quite a difficult thing not to say anything about it," says Bignell.

The interview was conducted by the director, Roger Mills, who, in 1967 was reporting for Points West. Mills recalls: "I wasn't really a reporter. I was more of a behind the cameraman, but down in the regions you do everything."

Read the article here

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