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William Russell (1924- 2024), Ian Chesterton in Doctor Who

William Russell, one of the most iconic and important people in the legacy of Doctor Who, having played First Doctor companion Ian Chesterton, has passed away, at the age of 99.

Born William Russell Enoch on 19th November 1924 in Sunderland, County Durham, the actor came to prominence for playing the lead in The Adventures of Sir Lancelot in 1956 to 1957, but made history in 1963 when he took on the role of Ian Chesterton; in doing so, he, alongside Jacqueline Hill as Barbara Wright and Carole Ann Ford as Susan, became one of the first ever Doctor Who companions.

As Ian, his influence on the show cannot be overestimated. In many ways, he was the archetype on which further companions were based; notably having someone on the TARDIS team who can play more of a physical role in events. He first appeared in An Unearthly Child and left alongside Barbara in The Chase (1965), and appeared in numerous classics, including The Daleks, Marco Polo, The Aztecs, The Dalek Invasion of Earth, The Romans, and The Crusade.

After leaving the show, Russell was due to return for Mawdryn Undead; sadly, scheduling conflicts meant that the part was instead filled by Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. Nonetheless, William maintained his connection with Who, something he was clearly very proud of: he filmed special in-video segments for missing episodes on VHS, recorded various commentaries and documentaries for the DVD range, and was involved in audiobook recordings of Target novelisations including Doctor Who and the Daleks, Doctor Who and the Zarbi, and The Edge of Destruction.

He further appeared as Harry, a BBC Commissionaire, in the 50th anniversary docudrama, An Adventure in Space and Time, which retold the story of those early days of Doctor Who. The role of William Russell was played by Jamie Glover, son of Julian Glover (who appeared opposite Russell in The Crusade).

William also made a cameo appearance in the final Thirteenth Doctor story, The Power of the Doctor, for which he won a Guinness World Record for the longest gap between TV appearances. That became his last appearance as Ian Chesterton in the show, though Rogue was dedicated to him.

But of course, Doctor Who exists beyond TV, and Russell appeared in many audio adventures for Big Finish, including The Five Companions, Domain of the Voord, The Transit of Venus, The Rocket Men, The Light at the End, The Time Museum, Susan’s War: Sphere of Influence, The Game, and The Library of Alexandria.

Away from Doctor Who, William played Ted Sullivan in Coronation Street in 1992, Rokin in Van der Valk (1977), The Duke of Winchester in The Black Adder in 1983, Lanscombe in Poirot: After the Funeral (2005), Gabriel Firth in Heartbeat (2000), and Sorren in 1963’s The Great Escape.

In 1953, Russell married Balbina Gutierrez, and they had three children together — Robert, Laetitia, and Vanessa. After divorcing, he married Etheline Margareth Lewis in 1984, and four years later, they had a son, Alfred. He, too, became an actor, best known for playing Dean Thomas in the Harry Potter films.

Russell was an incredible actor and ambassador for Doctor Who. He holds a special place in the hearts of all fans, and will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and prayers go to his family and friends.

Goodbye, Chatterton.

Philip Bates

Editor and co-founder of the Doctor Who Companion. When he’s not watching television, reading books ‘n’ Marvel comics, listening to The Killers, and obsessing over script ideas, Philip Bates pretends to be a freelance writer. He enjoys collecting everything. Writer of The Black Archive: The Pandorica Opens/ The Big Bang, The Silver Archive: The Stone Tape, and 100 Objects of Doctor Who.

William Russell (1924- 2024), Ian Chesterton in Doctor Who

by Philip Bates time to read: 2 min
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