When Southend theatre bosses announced they were to get the first ever Doctor Who – William Hartnell – to star in the festive panto for the 1967 season, hopes were high that the production would be knockout.

The actor, who played the Time Lord from 1963 to 1966 was a household name and was also known for starring in films including Brighton Rock and This Sporting Life.

By Christmas of 1967 Hartnell had been replaced as the Doctor by Patrick Troughton and the TV, stage and film star was swapping the Tardis to tread the boards in Southend.

The panto was Puss in Boots and it was to play at the Odeon Theatre in the High Street. The build up to the show had been exciting, with promises of Daleks and aliens to thrill the audience.

However, the festive offering failed to impress Echo theatre critic Del Flatley, who absolutely panned the panto.

“Despite William Hartnell, the former Dr Who, despite one or two talented artists, the show is appalling,” he wrote in a scathing review.

“I feel sorry for Dr Who, he was like a fish out of water. Surely a better introduction could have been found instead of the dreary business of having Dr Who, complete with the Tardis police phone box, transform into of all things, a fairy cobbler.

“From this point on Mr Hartnell’s undoubted powers of acting are wasted. He ambles through the production completely out of place.”

Echo: William Hartnell in an interview before his panto performance, which can be seen on 'Talking Doctor Who' on BBC iPlayer as part of the 60th anniversary celebrationWilliam Hartnell in an interview before his panto performance, which can be seen on 'Talking Doctor Who' on BBC iPlayer as part of the 60th anniversary celebration (Image: BBC)

He added how the audience had been left disappointed by the lack of Daleks in the show.

“If you expect Daleks in this production you are in for a disappointment. To the best of my knowledge they are not even mentioned.

“I may be wrong because at times the dialogue was completely inaudible.

Del did have a few words of praise for ‘Simple Simon’ actor Sonny Farer: “He holds the show together and breathes a semblance of life into it,” he said.

“This show also breaks with a great tradition. Normally the majority of the tale is unfolded in the first half. The second half is devoted to the specialties before the winding up.

“But the only guest star, Bobby Shafto, suddenly appears in the first half with no rhyme or reason and starts to belt out ‘Yellow Submarine’.

“In the second half the sets are good but even the coaching transformation scene is bungled.

“Perhaps someone from outer space could drop a message on the desk of the Rank Organisation chairman telling him this type of entertainment is certainly not good enough for Southend.”

William Hartnell died in April 1975 from heart failure. Despite this one terrible review he was considered a renowned actor. There have since been many Time Lords but he will always be remembered as the original ‘Doctor’.

As for the Odeon Theatre, it would close in 1970. It had originally been known as the Astoria Theatre and had opened in 1935. The theatre was famous for its Compton Illuminated Organ.

The theatre building was demolished in 2004 to make way for University of Essex buildings.

To help you get in the mood for the panto season check out our gallery of pantomimes across Southend over the decades, spanning all the way back to 1924.