Happy birthday William!
As the sands of time continue to flow, there are individuals whose presence in television history remains eternally cherished. William Russell, the distinguished actor who portrayed Ian Chesterton, one of the original companions in the iconic series Doctor Who, is undeniably one of these cherished figures. As he reaches his 99th birthday on November 19th, 2023, it is the perfect moment to celebrate the enduring legacy of this remarkable actor and his invaluable contribution to the world of entertainment.
Russell’s journey into the world of Doctor Who began with the show’s very first episode, ‘An Unearthly Child’, which aired on 23rd November, 1963. In his role as Ian Chesterton, a science teacher at Coal Hill School, Russell brought depth, charm, and a sense of wonder to the character. Alongside his fellow companion Barbara Wright, played by Jacqueline Hill, Ian embarked on thrilling adventures in time and space, capturing the hearts of audiences and establishing the template for companions to come.
What set Russell apart was not just his acting prowess, but his ability to imbue Ian Chesterton with a rare combination of intelligence, bravery, and genuine compassion. He was the embodiment of the everyday hero, a character audiences could relate to and admire. Russell’s chemistry with his co-stars, especially with the First Doctor, played by William Hartnell, was palpable, creating a dynamic and endearing trio that became the cornerstone of Doctor Who’s early success.
Beyond his acting talent, Russell played a pivotal role in shaping the narrative of Doctor Who during its formative years. His character’s evolution from a sceptical bystander to a courageous adventurer mirrored the growth of the show itself. Russell’s performances added a layer of authenticity to the fantastical world of Doctor Who, grounding the series and making it accessible to viewers of all ages.
Russell’s dedication to his craft and his ability to connect with audiences transcend time, making him a beloved figure in the hearts of Doctor Who fans across the globe. Even after his departure from the TARDIS in 1965, Russell’s influence on the show and his legacy as one of the original companions endures, with Ian Chesterton’s character continuing to inspire future generations of Doctor Who companions. The 50th anniversary special ‘The Day of the Doctor’ opened on a sign outside Coal Hill School, with ‘Chairman of the Governors – I. Chesterton’ as a subtle nod to a much-loved character, while Russell himself made a cameo appearance as a security guard at BBC Television Centre in An Adventure in Space and Time, Mark Gatiss’s lovingly dramatised recreation of the show’s early years. And just last year, in Thirteenth Doctor Jodie Whittaker’s farewell story ‘The Power of the Doctor’, Ian Chesterton himself – still played by William Russell after nearly six decades – made a touching appearance as part of the ‘support group’ for the Doctor’s former companions.
As we celebrate William Russell’s 99th birthday, we not only honour the man himself but also the enduring spirit of adventure and imagination that he brought to the small screen. His portrayal of Ian Chesterton remains a testament to the power of storytelling and the ability of actors to leave a lasting impact on the hearts and minds of viewers. Here’s to a talented actor, a beloved companion, and a timeless icon whose legacy will continue to resonate through the ages. Happy birthday, William!
Here at Fantom, we are thrilled and honoured to have been joined by William Russell for several releases in our audio commentary series, Who Talk. His contributions can be heard on the instalments An Unearthly Child, The Dead Planet, Adventures in Time and The Edge of Destruction.