If you’re a fan of sci-fi and fantasy, you surely know who David Bradley is. The only question is who you know him as. Maybe he’s Walder Frey from ‘Game of Thrones‘. Or perhaps it’s his roles in ‘Hot Fuzz’ and ‘The World’s End’. And of course, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who didn’t recognize him as Argus Filch, Hogwarts’ notoriously ill-tempered caretaker. And most recently, he’s made his most significant mark yet on ‘Doctor Who‘, taking up the mantle of the First Doctor for Peter Capaldi’s regeneration this past Christmas.
At the recent Great Philadelphia Comic Con, we had the great privilege of speaking with Mr. Bradley. In the course of our conversation, we discussed his approach to the First Doctor and how that was informed by his prior portrayal of William Hartnell.
When you step into a role like the First Doctor that has such a well-established portrayal, how does that affect your approach as an actor?
Well, it helps to have plenty of footage of the original performance. So I find that… In many ways, it’s harder playing someone who’s a real person, who actually existed, because he had family and grandchildren, and people still around. His [William Hartnell’s] granddaughter helped me by giving me a book of his life, which she wrote, called ‘Who’s There?’, and I spoke to colleagues like Carole Ann Ford and William Russell, who were in the original. And they filled me in on a few things about his character. But mainly watching his performance and his way of speaking. And it helped that I had all that to help me.
Do you have a favorite memory from your time on Doctor Who?
Well, I had three experiences. ‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’ was done with Matt Smith, of course. But I think that the very first shot we did on ‘Adventure in Space and Time’. It was a low-level shot of him walking onto the TARDIS for the first time. And watching, I could see out of the corner of my eye, was Waris Hussein, who was the original director from fifty years ago. He came and joined us. And Mark Gatiss said – as I walked past him, the camera was on me – he was watching the monitor, and said a single tear rolled down his cheek at the memory from fifty years ago, and he was really quite touched and I was very moved that it had that effect on him.
Did your experience playing Hartnell inform your approach to the Doctor at all?
In what way?
Well, having gotten into the actor’s head for the one role, did that help you get into the character a bit better?
Oh, yes! Absolutely! Having done ‘Adventure’ previously, I felt I knew his… One, I knew the world of ‘Doctor Who’ better than I did before and I had an insight into his character and his nature. And how he played it. So when we came to doing the Christmas special, I felt I was already halfway there and it helped give me a platform to go from.
And to wrap it up, do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to share with us?
Yes, I’m starting filming a TV version of Les Miserables. It’s a dramatization without the songs that we’re filming in Belgium next month. So I’m looking forward to that.
Be sure to check back with ScienceFiction.com for more from the Great Philadelphia Comic Con in the coming days, and of course for news and commentary on the upcoming eleventh season of ‘Doctor Who’ as it becomes available!
For more from David Bradley, be sure to follow him on Twitter.