Portrayed by: William Russell
Doctor(s): First Doctor
Tenure: 16 Stories (73 episodes), from An Unearthly Child (Nov, 1963) to The Chase (June, 1965)
Background: Ian Chesterton is a science teacher at the Coal Hill School alongside Barbara Wright. We are introduced to him in the series’ pilot episode as the teacher of Susan Foreman, who is soon revealed to be The Doctor’s granddaughter. Perplexed by Susan’s strange behavior, Ian and Barbara follow her back to her home in a junkyard, where they see her enter a mysterious police box. They follow her in, only to discover the TARDIS, the time machine that serves as a home to Susan and The Doctor. Though they promise to keep the secret, the paranoid Doctor refuses to let them leave and instead whisks them off through space and time.
Personality: Ian is an incredibly logical man of action, often taking on the bad guys who pose a physical threat, as The First Doctor is too elderly to engage in physical combat. He displays great concern for the safety of the group, often protecting Susan and Barbara while The Doctor callously puts them in harm’s way (in his early days, our favorite Time Lord was a lot less warm and cuddly). Though it is never made explicit, it is heavily implied that Ian and Barbara develop a romantic relationship over the course of their time on the TARDIS (in the spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures, it is mentioned that they have since married), and though they come to enjoy The Doctor’s company, when they see an opportunity to get themselves back in their own time using a Dalek craft, they take it and to return to their old lives as teachers.
Arguably a relic of the show’s original educational mandate (which planned to alternate historicals intended to teach children about the past with science fiction stories aimed at educating them about science), Ian also served as the show’s de facto lead in its early going. He was a moral compass for the TARDIS crew, a brilliant thinker, and unflappable under pressure.
Special Skills: In addition to his impressive scientific knowledge, Ian shows himself to be adept at horseback riding, sword fighting, and even displays knowledge of how to use pressure points to disable an opponent.
Best Story: The Crusade features Ian going on a solo mission to save Barbara, and sees him knighted as Sir Ian of Jaffa. Not bad for your average science teacher.
Worst Story: Marco Polo. Ian was present for most of the show’s first two series, and his tenure is a nearly unbroken string of stories that are either classics or incredibly fascinating misfires. Stories like The Keys of Marinus and his final adventure, The Chase, are a little bit bonkers, but way too fun to be outright misses. Marco Polo, however, is overlong and reasonably uninteresting, but worse than that, it is one of the missing serials, which means toiling through seven episodes worth of reconstructions.
Highlights of tenure: Almost too many to mention. Ian is the hero of the show for much of his run, saving his fellow companions at every turn and outwitting all sorts of foes. Highlights include watching his and Barbara’s developing intimacy (see The Romans for the closest the show ever comes to just admitting these two are doing it), saving the planet during The Dalek Invasion of Earth, and The Doctor’s heartfelt parting words when he and Barbara return to their time at the end of The Chase. We had seen a companion leave before (Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter), but the departure of Ian and Barbara really felt like the end of an era, and showed how much The Doctor had grown as a person and as the show’s hero since it began.
Lowlights of tenure: Following a locked TARDIS around for, like, months in Marco Polo, failing to kill literally all of the Zarbi, the ant-like creatures who make annoying screeching sounds throughout The Web Planet.
– “But it was a Police Telephone Box. I walked right round it. Barbara, you saw me.” Not quite “bigger on the inside,” but pretty close.
– “Doctor… some very strange things are happening. I feel we’re in a very dangerous position. This is no time for personal quarrels.” Good advice that has probably helped The Doctor survive all these centuries since.
– “I’ve got a friend who specialises in trouble. He dives in and usually finds a way.”
Other notes: Ian, along with Barbara, is arguably one of the most important Companions of all time. He came upon a madman with a box and taught him not just to care for others, but to fight for them. Without Ian and Barbara, The Doctor would never have evolved into the savior of worlds that we know today.