Doctor Who pays tribute to the late William Russell

Russell T Davies, Bonnie Langford and other members of the Doctor Who family share their thoughts on the late actor, who played one of the Doctor's first companions Ian Chesterton.

William Russell, a legend in Doctor Who history who played Ian Chesterton, has passed away aged 99.
Sixty one years ago, audiences followed schoolteachers Ian and Barbara as they entered a mysterious police box that was bigger on the inside in the very first episode of Doctor Who - making them the first companions we ever saw to jump aboard the TARDIS.
One of the founding members of the Doctor Who family, William had a deep connection with the show’s history and his passing has been felt by all of us at Doctor Who.

William Russell
William as Ian Chesterton in early photography for Doctor Who

Former members of the cast and the wider Doctor Who family share their thoughts and condolences:

“An absolute legend, for Doctor Who and the whole of television. 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 T Davies (Showrunner)

“I was so very sad to hear that the wonderful William Russell, Russ, has passed on - a lovely, genuine, and delightful man who will be greatly missed. He made me so welcome when I first appeared in Dr. Who, little knowing I was to replace him on the show, as he planned to leave after 80 episodes. I met him many times at signings and conventions and he was always the nicest of people. I send much love and sympathy to his family and friends.”

- Peter Purves (Steven Taylor)

“One of our most revered actors. What a privilege to know him. He loved telling the story of when he first arrived in London in the early 1950s and he couldn’t find a room to rent. I also remember, a few years ago in a castle in Germany we, his Doctor Who friends, gave him a 10 minute standing ovation. We really loved him.”

- Anneke Wills (Polly Wright)

William Russell
William as Ian with the First Doctor (William Hartnell) in 'The Sensorites' (1964)

“When I met him I said ‘forget Doctor Who, you William, were my Sir Lancelot,’ and I mentioned some of the actors that had been in the show. Robert Scroggins played his squire and he was at Corona School and we were in awe of him because he had an Alvis sports car! William couldn’t believe I remembered that.”

- Frazer Hines (Jamie McCrimmon)

“I had the privilege of meeting William at several Doctor Who events. Always a joy, always a gent and I know he will be much missed by many. Thoughts are with those nearest and dearest. I know there's been a huge outpouring from the fans. May he rest in peace. A life lived.”

- Louise Jameson (Leela)

“I first knew the character of Ian Chesterton from the three sixties novels, countless years before I ever saw William playing him, and I was struck by how close he was to the Ian I had envisioned from the books. He was a fine actor and I was pleased to meet and work with him at a couple of conventions.”

- Matthew Waterhouse (Adric)

"I was very sorry indeed to hear of William’s passing. Sadly, I really only worked with William briefly whilst recording a Big Finish story. He seemed such a charming and gentle person. Our Doctor Who family has lost one of its treasures."

- Sarah Sutton (Nyssa)

William Russell
William as Ian in 'The Daleks' (1963)

"William Russell was a delightful man with charming manners. The only time I had the honour of working with him as an actor was on The Power of the Doctor. It was not long before his 97th birthday and he was very frail. We were all thrilled that he was there and somewhat in awe of him. He’s Doctor Who Royalty."

- Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka)

'William was the epitome of grace and elegance. A true gentleman and a fine actor. He represents the foundations of Doctor Who… excellent, genuine, and kind. He will be much missed, but dearly remembered."

- Bonnie Langord (Mel Bush)

“William Russell’s portrayal as Ian Chesterton was a perfect foil to William Hartnell's sometimes cool and aloof doctor. Ian was warm and funny but also brave and utterly fearless. In portraying Ian in this way William was drawing the template for all companions who followed. He will be much missed but always admired by the whole Doctor Who family.”

⁃ Phil Collinson (Executive Producer)

William Russell Dedication
William in his final appearance as Ian Chesterton in 2022's 'The Power of the Doctor'

As well as tributes from the wider Whoniverse, William was honoured in Rogue, the latest episode of Doctor Who since his passing. A dedication in loving memory to him can be seen in the end credits.

William Russell Dedication
William Russell's dedication, as seen in the credits of 'Rogue'.

WILLIAM RUSSELL: 1924 - 2024

More on Features

more from the whoniverse

More From Read and Watch

from the store

More from the store