R.I.P. William Russell, original Doctor Who Companion

Russell played the Doctor’s earliest companion, Ian Chesterton, in the show’s pilot episode. He was 99

R.I.P. William Russell, original Doctor Who Companion
William Russell in a 2022 episode of Doctor Who Screenshot: BBC

William Russell, best known as Ian Chesterton, Doctor Who’s first male Companion, died on June 3, The Guardian confirmed. A cause of death was not reported. He was 99.

“An absolute legend, for Doctor Who and the whole of television,” Doctor Who showrunner Russell T. Davis tweeted. “In 1963, William created the template for the Doctor’s companion, and that’s still going strong, 61 years later. He’s adored by fandom, and will never be forgotten.”

Russell had a prime spot for a history-making episode of television: As the first male companion in the pilot of Doctor Who. The episode wouldn’t air until the ‘90s, but science teacher Ian Chesterton would make his impact long before then. From 1963 through 1965, Russell appeared as Chesterton, who, along with The First Doctor (played by William Hartnell) and fellow companions Barbara Wright (Jacqueline Hill) and Susan (Carole Ann Ford), took the very trip in the TARDIS. His journey lasted 78 episodes, but he wouldn’t stay away for long.

The actor continued to return to Doctor Who throughout his life. Though an attempt at reprising the role of Ian Chesterton fell apart in 1983, Russell returned for the home video release of “The Crusade,” a four-part storyline from 1965. However, because two of the four episodes were lost, new scenes of an elderly Ian Chesterton reminiscing about the adventure filled in the gaps about the missing pieces.

William Russell returns to the role of Ian Chesterton after 34 Years

Russell again boarded the TARDIS in 2005 for an audio series in which he played the character Darzil Carlisle. Lord Carlisle would stay on Mars, and Russell would soon return to reprise the role of Ian Chesterton, whom he would voice in numerous Doctor Who audio dramas. In 2022, he set a Guinness World Record for the longest gap between TV appearances when he appeared in a small cameo in a Companion support group scene. The episode, “The Power Of The Doctor,” aired 57 years after Ian Chesterton returned to London 1965.

In some ways, Russell was a major get for Doctor Who. The actor had already made a splash on television playing the lead role in The Adventures Of Sir Lancelot. Russell played a “steely Sir Lancelot du Lac with dashing endeavor,” writes BFI’s Tise Vahimagi. The show was a big hit and found its way into the history books thanks to an American need for color shows. 14 episodes of Lancelot were shot in full color, making it the first British series shot in color for Americans.

The Adventures of Sir Lancelot – 4k – Opening credits – 1956-1957 – ITV

Russell’s screen career began in the early 50s. Starring opposite Norman Wisdom in 1955’s One Good Turn, Russell changed his name from “Russell Enoch” to “William Russell” at the behest of the star, who feared audiences would confuse him for Wisdom’s rival, also named Enoch. Russell would resurrect the name later in his career, but movie roles never materialized in abundance. Instead, he took small parts in The Great Escape, They Who Dare, and The Man Who Never Was, as well as the 8th Elder of Krypton in 1978’s Superman.

In 1992, he began a 46-episode run on Coronation Street, the longest-running TV soap opera ever. As Ted Sullivan, Russell played an aging widower beset by illness. Early in his run, it was revealed that Ted had a malignant brain tumor, which would kill him several episodes later—but not before he married Rita Fairclough.

William Russell was born on November 19, 1924, to Alfred and Eva Enoch. After moving from Sunderland to Wolverhampton, England, William left for school in Edinburgh and later Trinity College at Oxford University. Upon finishing his national service, he began appearing on stage.

Russell married twice, first to Balbina Gutierrez in 1953. The couple had three children, Vanessa, Latetitia, and Robert, but divorced. He also has four grandchildren from the marriage. With his second wife, Brazilian doctor Etheline Lewis, he fathered a son, actor Alfred Enoch, who starred as Dean Thomas in the Harry Potter movies.

“It was very exciting at the time,” Russell said in a recent interview. “We all enjoyed ourselves very much and got on with each other very well, and I think that was the key to it. You know, sometimes it doesn’t work, and it really worked with Doctor Who for the four of us with Bill.”

“It’s strange, really, how one thing can be more important than the other things that you did, but I think it is for me. It was a very happy time, and we knew we were treading where no man had trod.”

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