One of the reasons why Doctor Who has survived and thrived for 50 years comes down to one of the more clever narrative conceits in science fiction history: the Time Lord’s ability to regenerate. Within the fiction of the show, it allows the character of the Doctor to evolve and change as the show carries on, revealing different elements of his persona. But die-hard Who fans know that the concept wasn’t in place at the beginning of the show, and in fact a newly discovered copy of the script for William Hartnell’s final episode reveals just how late in the day his regeneration was added.
A draft script for the 1966 serial “The Tenth Planet” was recently discovered in the attic of former Who writer Kip Pedler, unearthed by author Michael Steely, who is writing a biography of Pedler. In addition to being the final adventure for Hartnell’s First Doctor, “The Tenth Planet” also introduced the iconic Who baddies the Cybermen. After discovering the “Tenth Planet” draft, along with several other scripts, Steely realized “it was the first draft [script editor and co-writer] Gerry Davis prepared when Kit fell ill in June 1966.”
More interesting than what is in the script is what isn’t: Hartnell’s First Doctor regenerating into Patrick Troughton’s Second is nowhere to be found. The draft script is dated June 1966, and according to SFX, Hartnell’s wife once noted that the actor told her he was leaving the show on July 16, 1966. Given that rehearsals for the episode began on September 14, 1966, it’s amazing to realize how last-minute the notion of regenerating the Doctor and casting a new actor came. Had the show continued with Hartnell for a few more seasons, who knows if the notion of Time Lord regeneration would have been hit upon or not. Perhaps the show would have been scuttled after a relatively short run, rather than lasting five decades as it has.
Steely offered a few more observations about Hartnell’s departure:
[Script editor] Gerry Davis and [producer] Innes Lloyd were always very diplomatic and tactful in their interviews. Both died in 1991, long before ‘warts and all’ interviews became the norm. We know that William Hartnell was being persuaded to give up the role he loved over the summer of 1966, and that they were sounding out replacements. He only decided to leave in the middle of July, the month after this draft was written.
Fans of Hartnell’s Doctor will definitely want to pick up the DVD release of The Tenth Planet, which hits shelves on November 19th. The bonus features will include a newly discovered interview with Hartnell. Recorded on the BBC news show Points West, the video is the only on-screen interview with Hartnell known to exist. It originally aired on January 17, 1967, some three months after his final episode of Who (which aired on October 29, 1966).
Who fans will get to see a dramatized version of the show’s origins this November in An Adventure in Space and Time, starring Harry Potter’s David Bradley in the role of Hartnell. The airdate for the TV movie has not been announced yet.