William Russell, ‘Doctor Who’ Original Cast Member, Dies at 99

William Russell as Ian Chesterton in Doctor Who
Everett Collection
William Russell as Ian Chesterton, William Hartnell as The Doctor, Jacqueline Hill as Barbara and Carole Ann Ford as Susan; Everett Collection

William Russell, the stage and screen actor who played schoolteacher Ian Chesterton in the original series of Doctor Who, has died. He was 99.

He is the father of Harry Potter and How to Get Away With Murder actor Alfred Enoch.

The passing was announced in an obituary posted by The Guardian newspaper in the U.K., revealing Russell died on Monday, June 3. A cause of death was not provided.

Born on November 19, 1924, in Sunderland, County Durham, England, Russell was involved with acting from a young age, organizing entertainment during his national service in the Royal Air Force and then, after university, going onto repertory theatre.

William Russell in Doctor Who

He is best known for portraying science teacher Ian Chesterton in the original two series of Doctor Who, which premiered in 1963. He was one of the four leads alongside William Hartnell as the First Doctor, Jacqueline Hill as Barbara Wright, and Carole Ann Ford as Susan Foreman.

Russell left Doctor Who in 1965 after starring in every episode of the first two series (except for the last four); however, he reprised his role in 2022 for a cameo appearance in Jodie Whittaker‘s final episode, “The Power of The Doctor.” This feat broke the Guinness World Record for the longest gap between TV appearances.

Original Doctor Who cast

William Russell as Ian Chesterton, William Hartnell as The Doctor, Jacqueline Hill as Barbara and Carole Ann Ford as Susan; Everett Collection

Even though Russell left Doctor Who in 1965, he stayed closely associated with the show throughout his career. He lent his voice as narrator to several audiobook releases of the lost 1960s episodes. He also appeared in The Game, one of the continuing Doctor Who audio stories produced by Big Finish Productions. In addition, he recorded readings of some CD audio adaptations of Doctor Who novelizations.

Russell was intended to reprise his role as Ian for the 1983 story “Mawdryn Undead” alongside Peter Davison‘s Fifth Doctor. Unfortunately, scheduling conflicts meant Russell couldn’t fulfill the part.

In addition to Doctor Who, Russell’s other credits include the title role in the British drama The Adventures of Sir Lancelot and Ted Sullivan in the long-running soap opera Coronation Street.

He also appeared in films such as The Man Who Never Was (1956), war classic The Great Escape (1963), and the 1978 version of Superman.


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A post shared by Russell T Davies (@russelltdavies63)

Current Doctor Who showrunner Russell T. Davies shared a tribute to Russell on Instagram, writing, “A fine, nimble, witty, heartfelt actor who absolutely sold the truth of those early years. Before that, he’d been Sir Lancelot on the BBC; it’s often undersold what a star booking he was for Doctor Who.”

He added, “Absolutely lovely man. A fine, long life. Well done, sir, well played.”

Russell is survived by his second wife, Etheline (nee Lewis), and their actor son, Alfred Enoch, and by his children, Vanessa, Laetitia and Robert, from his marriage to Balbina, which ended in divorce, and four grandchildren, James, Elise, Amy and Ayo.