fri 19/07/2024

An Adventure in Space and Time, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

An Adventure in Space and Time, BBC Two

An Adventure in Space and Time, BBC Two

Doctor Who anniversary celebrations continue with a love letter to how it all began

CS Lewis meets HG Wells meets Father Christmas': William Hartnell (David Bradley) in An Adventure in Space and Time

Of all the ways in which the BBC has chosen to mark the 50th anniversary of one of its most celebrated exports, surely this (other than the obvious) was the most anticipated: a feature-length retelling of the origin story of Doctor Who, written and executive produced by some of the same names behind the show’s current run.

And, from the way in which Mark Gatiss told the story, what it took to get the show on air was as dramatic and full of unlikely events as those fictional stories - which is why the nit-pickers would do well to remember the opening disclaimer that you cannot rewrite history “unless you are embarking on an adventure in space and time”.

Raine in particular was the perfect combination of force, self-assurance and vulnerability as LambertAn Adventure in Space and Time was not averse to a little time-traveling of its own: it opened with the filming of The Tenth Planet, the 1966 serial that featured both the death of the first Doctor and the first appearance of the iconic Cybermen, before heading back in time. We were only briefly introduced to William Hartnell (David Bradley), the irascible old actor that portrayed the Doctor back before he was anticipated to sell action figures and posters for teenaged bedrooms, before the clicking numbers of the TARDIS’ “yearometer” took us back to 1963 with a sound that hadn’t changed a bit.

Sacha Dirwan and Jessica Raine in An Adventure in Space and TimeAt a party in London, Verity Lambert (Jessica Raine) was watching the first woman in space and contemplating the glass ceiling interfering with her TV production ambitions when she got the call that would change her life. Her old boss, Sydney Newman (Brian Cox; no, not that one, he was last week), was fresh from ITV and looking for a new show to fill the gap between Grandstand and Jukebox Jury. Verity was, he told her, “someone with piss and vinegar in her veins” and his first choice to deliver the new science fiction serial he dreamed of - provided there were no robots or “BEMs” (bug-eyed monsters).

Elsewhere, actor Hartnell was drinking whisky and snarling at his granddaughter, bemoaning a career in which there was nothing left for him but “crooks and perishing sergeant majors”. However, his irritable demeanour eventually warms to a part dreamed up as “CS Lewis meets HG Wells meets Father Christmas”. And while Verity butted heads and defied expectations in the manner of a real-life Bel Rowley, the BBC’s first Indian director Waris Hussein (Sacha Dhawan, above right, with Raine) got to deal with some neanderthals of his own.

So many people were responsible for bringing Doctor Who to the small screen that fans will rightly be annoyed by the little made of, for example, composer Delia Derbyshire or Dalek creator Terry Nation; but by focusing on the roles of Hartnell, Lambert, Newman and Hussain Gatiss was able to bring their stories to life. Raine in particular was the perfect combination of force, self-assurance and vulnerability as Lambert, quashing the doubts of anybody who may have thought her just too sweet from her previous appearance in the “Whoniverse” (oh, and that other thing). Bradley captured Hartnell - or at least, his take on the Doctor - brilliantly, both in looks and demeanour. The way in which he portrayed Hartnell’s inability to master his character’s often complex dialogue and developing illness tied the two together probably a little more neatly than they were in real life, but his portrayal - particularly in the last five minutes, as he prepared for Patrick Troughton (Reece Shearsmith, looking nothing like Troughton) to replace him in the role - was incredibly moving. I blame a couple of little “easter eggs” for fans of the newer series towards the end for the tears that were flowing by Bradley’s final scenes.

There was some sense of those actors that were playing actors starting with on-screen personas and working backwards to develop their characters, meaning that it was hard to tell if they properly captured the people behind those roles - but that is a small niggle in what was a very sweet love letter to the start of a show that, 50 years on, has become more successful than any of those original players could have dreamed.

The show was not averse to a little time-traveling of its own


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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