Hartnell was the oldest actor to be cast as the doctor, having been hired at the age of fifty-five, until John Hurt was cast as the War Doctor at seventy-three. Despite Hartnell’s gruff version of The Doctor, it was a role he really loved and never wanted to leave. But because of tension with production, his high salary and failing health, he departed the series when his contract was up in 1966, just three years after he was hired.
He returned for the tenth anniversary episode in 1972, The Three Doctors, to reprise his role and it would be his last. In 1974 he was admitted into the hospital permanently and after several strokes in 1975, he passed away.
Without a doubt, he set the tone for the Doctor. As goofy and eccentric as the Doctor has been portrayed throughout the years, there is always a sadness and a toughness that is common theme in that character. Peter Capaldi had these lovely words for his first Doctor:
Despite William Hartnell’s reputation for being difficult to work with, he was quite fond of actress Carole Ann Ford who played the first companion and his granddaughter, Susan. You can see here in this clip from A Dalek Invasion, when he says goodbye to Susan the amount of love he has for her and the overwhelming sadness of leaving her behind:
Happy birthday, William Hartnell, I hope you’re ok with the fact they’re using your voice in a Lego Dimensions video game, you’d probably love the attention you’re still getting after all of these years!