Who’s in Charge?: Changing Character Agency in Early Doctor Who





Doctor Who, character agency, production context, television narrative


This article investigates the impact of production process upon character agency in early Doctor Who, focusing on the period between 1963 and 1966, during which time William Hartnell starred as the Doctor. As originally conceived by Sydney Newman, Verity Lambert and David Whitaker, it is debatable to what extent the Doctor could be regarded as the ‘hero’ of the narrative, as this role was often better fulfilled by his human companions, initially represented by teachers Ian Chesterton (William Russell) and Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill), who provided a ready point of identification for viewers. This situation changed significantly during Hartnell’s tenure, but the shifts in agency that occurred were so radical as to seem almost ad hoc, reflecting industry pressures that typified television drama of the time. The extent to which these changes were influenced by the programme's rapid turnaround are examined here via a combination of textual analysis and historical production research, before being briefly contrasted with the modern version of Doctor Who, starring Jodie Whittaker, whose production context allows for more considered development of long-term character arcs.


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Brighton Rock (1948).

Escape (Mankiewicz, 1948)

TV shows

The Adventures of Sir Lancelot (1956-57)

The Army Game (1957-60)

Blue Peter (1958- )

Dr Finlay’s Casebook (1962-1970)

Doctor Who (1963-1989)

Doctor Who (2005- )

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Nicholas Nickleby (1957)

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How to Cite

Hewett, R. (2020). Who’s in Charge?: Changing Character Agency in Early Doctor Who. Series - International Journal of TV Serial Narratives, 6(1), 5–15. https://doi.org/10.6092/issn.2421-454X/9805



Narratives / Aesthetics / Criticism