An Adventure in Space and Time (2013)

David Bradley, Ross Gurney-Randall, Roger May, Sam Hoare
A dramatization of the conception, birth and early years of Doctor Who (1963), with the story revolving around BBC executive Sydney Newman, novice producer Verity Lambert and actor William Hartnell.
  • 22 Nov 2013 Released:
  • N/A DVD Release:
  • N/A Box office:
  • Mark Gatiss Writer:
  • Terry McDonough Director:
  • N/A Website:

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A Perfectly Balanced Tribute5/10
I was privileged to attend the premier at the National Film Theatre. The audience was asked not to give away any spoilers, so I'll respect that wish (not that I wouldn't have done so anyway, of course).

The programme was far more emotional that I had expected and the audience's reaction - laughs, tears and much rapt silence - showed I wasn't alone. Admittedly, the place was packed with Doctor Who fans, so it was hardly going to send any of them to sleep, but they could also have been counted on to be highly critical of any factual errors.

The time frame covers 1963 to 1966 and is as much a biography of William Hartnell, the first Doctor, as the early years of the show he fronted. The Doctor is played by David Bradley (no complaints from me about his crotchety but committed portrayal) and is pretty much throughout seen as ailing in physical health or mental agility, which seems like a true depiction but is rather unfortunate for his legacy as someone often described, in his earlier years, as a fine character actor. Hartnell's granddaughter, who was in attendance at the post-screening Q&A) referred to the fact that prided himself on remembering his lines, so his problems with this as depicted here should be taken into context, although it would have been a tall order for the programme to have tried to focus on any more of the man's life without overrunning its 90 minute time.

Many of the key production staff have key roles, although (as writer Mark Gatiss acknowledged during the Q&A) not all of them were included as to do so would have been made the programme too difficult to follow. Thus there is no David Whitaker, for example, but there is much screen time for the Sydney Newman, the Canadian Head of Drama at the BBC, amusingly played by Brian Cox. His pivotal role in appointing and supporting Verity Lambert, the Doctor Who producer, was one of the unexpected revelations here.

Without giving away any really key moments (and there are plenty of lovely surprises) the show is both reverential of the programme as well as poking fun at the ridiculousness of making a prime time science fiction programme on a BBC budget with no computer technology and live editing. Plenty more such contrasts abound: the daleks are both funny and awesome at the same time; Hartnell's crotchety but committed personality is shown to be a benefit and a hindrance.

If you are even slightly interested in Doctor Who I'm sure you'll love it as much as the audience who gave it a standing ovation. Young children would probably be unlikely to find much of interest in it but older ones with more than a 30 second attention span may well enjoy it. Considering that much of the story of the programme is known to many of us and that there are no deaths or love affairs involved (that's not a spoiler - surely you weren't expecting that?) it is to its credit that it managed to be so entertaining for a film-length duration.
Like All Good Stories, Bigger on the Inside5/10
As part of the 50th anniversary celebration of Doctor Who, the BBC has produced this movie about the origins and Bill Hartnell years of the TV show. Writer Mark Gatiss, a longtime Whovian, has dug through all the stories and legends and has produced a fine script.

The thesis of the movie is that Sydney Newman chose a novice producer, Verity Lambert, who proceeded to build an unlikely team: the first Indian director of the BBC; an actor frustrated at his lack of advancement; and the already worn out facilities at Lime Grove. Somehow she managed to hold this together long enough to create a series which has prospered for half a century, despite the best the suits at the BBC could do.

There's some fine casting in this one, especially David Bradley as William Hartnell. It's rather shocking to me to see him, clean-shaven and well dressed and he gives a fine performance as the William Hartnell of the standard story: old, collapsing under the impact of ill health, but unwilling to give up his claim to fame.

That's not precisely the reality of the matter. Doctor Who ran on a killing schedule during Hartnell's term: forty episodes a year, dialogue filled with scientific bafflegab. Almost anyone would have crumbled under it.

Still, the story as written is cogent and should please the series' fans. the production values are top notch and the actors are excellent and look like the ones who played the original roles. I'd like to give a shout out to the stand outs, but I'd have to name just about every member of the cast.

This movie probably won't appeal to people who are not rabid fans of the show, but for those who, like me, are, it's a great treat.
I only started watching the new series just this summer, but I'm hooked! In Belgium, Doctor Who isn't well known, so that explains a lot why I'm a rather new fan. I've wanted to start watching the Classic Who's, but I never got to it.

After seeing this, I just can't say anything else but WOW! I now understand that Doctor Who has such a legacy and we are so priviliged that it's still on! I loved the cast and how they showed us even the dark side of themselves, by showing us that they didn't really care about the budget of the show when it just started.

The movie was fantastic, it really touched me, I cried... a lot!

So I think I'm ready now to watch the Classics, but now, first of all, the 50th, so every Whovian out there, young, new, classic fan or new fan, Happy 50th, Happy Day of the Doctor!!!

May we have 50 years and more!!
I Don't Want To Go5/10
In the middle of the celebrations for Doctor Who's 50th Anniversary, came this docudrama about how the series came to be. It spans 1963 to 1966. It begins, as we see at the end, with Hartnell's post final scenes. The Tardis then metaphorically travels back to 63.

Though it is a film about Hartnell, it must be said that this is also the story of Verity Lambert and Sydney Newman. Played wonderfully by Jessica Raine and Brian Cox. But it is David Bradley, who gives the performance of his life as both the 'First Doctor' and William Hartnell. He comes across initially as a bitter man, disillusioned by the typecast roles he kept getting. In fact, I was worried that the portrayal of him may cloud our love of him. I need not to have worried. The way the story progressed and the obvious love Hartnell had for the role of the Doctor not only on screen but in public, was heartwarming.

It was wonderful to see William Russell and Carole Ann Ford play characters within this. It must be said that a number of other Who Illumni were featured too. Mark Eden, Nicholas Briggs and Jean Marsh to name but a few. Also, and it had been rumoured, a lovely touch was, near the end, seeing Bradley's Hartnell look across the Tardis console and see 'Eleventh Doctor' Matt Smith. A really wonderful nod to just how much of an institution Who is and how long it would last.

Back to Bradley though, as I said, the progression of the story shows what a wonderful man Hartnell was. It was great to hear a mention of his part in Brighton Rock, a film everyone must see as a classic of British film. Some scenes of note that stand out include, when Hartnell is clearly beginning to get the onset of his failing memory, it was moving and very hard to watch. The clear love he has for the roll comes across and this needs to be put firmly at the door of Mark Gatiss who wrote it. Though Bradley really does bring it alive. One scene, which will be remembered is of Hartnell breaking down after being forced to quit. His line "I don't want to go" and subsequent tears, bought me to tears too. Interestingly Tennant's same line when he was about to regenerate, saw me in floods too.

The recreation of the Tardis looked beautiful and the attention to detail was astounding. The Daleks have never felt and looked more sinister since the Tom Baker era, I would say. So plaudits are deserved there.

It must be added that this was more aimed at an older audience, not so much for children. The post watershed airing, the use of the word p**s and the fact that today's generation will not only have a limited attention span but their interest in Hartnell's era may not be suited the fast paced current era of young Who fans.

This really is a wonderful docudrama to watch and I highly recommend it to any older Who fan. It really is a trip of nostalgia and a reminder how close Who came to not being continued. Equally so, it is a telling reminder that Doctor Who was William Hartnell. There were no regenerations as we look back from today's point of view. It really does show how heartbreaking it was for Hartnell to have to give up. It is also sad to document is decline into illness.

If you haven't seen it already, search it out. It really is that good!
A Nice Tribute Despite Much Artistic License7/10
Is it too much to state how much that DOCTOR WHO has shaped British popular culture ? Nearly everyone loves the show in all of its variable and diverse eras . That said if you're going to make a drama about the origins of the show then there's a very real danger that you're going to overstate everything and tell the story with embellished hindsight . To quote the late John Nathan Turner " The memory cheats " and if there's a problem with An Adventure In Space And Time it's that it's written with the view that the future of television itself is at stake . This is patently untrue and everything I've read on the origins of the show indicates no one had any inkling of the genie they'd released from the bottle and thought of it as a disposable children's television show that probably wouldn't last . That said the programme begins with a disclaimer - though be it in a pretentious manner - that some artistic licence has been taken by the storytelling

Sydney Newman a bold and brash Canadian newly arrived from ITV comes up with the idea of an educational children's show for the BBC that will fire their interest in both science in history . He decides to call it Doctor Who and delegates the task of producer to a young production associate called Verity Lambert . What the drama does very well is paint the picture of early 1960s Britain as being a million miles away from what it is today . Lambert being a woman - and a Jewish one at that - is an absolute anachronism in this world . Women in those days didn't have careers only jobs and often low paid menial ones at that because they were expected to be baby factories and housewives . She is joined on the debut story by her assigned director a young Indian man called Waris Hussein who is a closeted homosexual and young Jewish woman and closeted Indian homosexual have to fight tooth and nail to get the show off the ground usually against the creator of Doctor Who itself Sydney Newman .

One can understand the point Mark Gattis is making here that a show featuring an outsider in the role of the Doctor has a subtext all of its own in that it's being also being made by cultural outsiders who are about to change the face of television but again is true or is it merely shoehorned history after the fact ? It's interesting that Terry Nation gets name checked but it's a well documented fact of history that Nation only took the writing gig because he'd lost his job writing for Tony Hancock and Nation would always state with great relish he only wrote the Dalek story with the thinking of " Take the money and run " . To him writing the Dalek debut meant paying the rent as a struggling and jobbing writer and nothing more which again indicates that the BBC had little idea or faith as to how popular the show may have become . There's also an unforgiving airbrushing out of script editor David Whitaker from the show's history and Whitaker was probably more responsible than anyone else of shaping the character of the Doctor and bringing him to life and of giving the early show an ethos and unique feel of its own that made it more than mere disposable children's entertainment Whitaker not getting as much as a namecheck is unforgivable

That said the cast of the drama are more than adequate and we get some post modernism by casting William Russell and Carole Ann Ford in cameos as walk on characters . Pride of place goes to David Bradley as William Hartnell who you genuinely believe has somehow miraculously been reincarnated as himself . Unless they were movie stars actors in those days were berefit of the celebrity status where every movement was publicized by the tabloids and remained relatively unknown to the general public . From what we know of William Hartnell he could be very difficult and tiring to work with but at the same time he loved the show and the people he worked with and this comes across very well on screen . The only contentious point about the acting is Brian Cox gives a painfully over emphatic performance as Sydney Newman who seems to be a parody of a Jewish Hollywood movie mogul . This may or may not have been true in real life but Cox is still somewhat overdone

In summary this is an affectionate tribute to both the show itself and the people who created Doctor Who . It's a much better tribute than the much expected noisy mess of The Day Of The Doctor but at the same time many of the " facts " should be taken with a pinch of salt , if not the whole salt packet . It's a drama based on fact but isn't a fly on the wall documentary . Remember that while you're watching