Ever since the first pictures began to leak out earlier in the year there has been a buzz that Mark Gatiss' An Adventure In Space and Time would be something special - and it didn't disappoint.
It had a lot of ground to cover - from the launch of the show in 1963 to the departure of William Hartnell in 1966. In the main, it succeeded beautifully, although there's one caveat which I'll come too in a minute.
Essentially, AAISAT was the story of four people - William Hartnell (The Doctor), Verity Lambert (Producer), Waris Hussein (Director) and Sydney Newman (BBC Head of Drama and the "father" of the series). With only 85 minutes running time it did mean that many other people's important contributions went unrecorded, such as the first story editor David Whitaker and the designers Raymond Cusick and Barry Newbery. But this was inevitable, and the decision to focus on four key people did make dramatic sense.
Cast-wise it would have been difficult to get any better than this. David Bradley was outstanding as Hartnell, capturing both his abrasive side and his more considerate nature. Brian Cox (despite a moustache that looked painted on) was good fun as the brash Canadian, Newman. And Sacha Dhwan and Jessica Raine gave lovely performances as Hussein and Lambert - two outsiders (one an asian, one a woman) who dared to breach the conservative BBC.
The re-creations - Totters Lane, the Dalek city, the breathtaking TARDIS console room - were a massive treat, as were the numerous cameos from some of the great and good of the series' past.
But with a timeframe of three years there were times when things seemed a little condensed, and my only real criticism of Mark Gatiss' script is that whilst Hartnell's difficulty with lines was well illustrated, we maybe could have done with a scene that made it clear that Hartnell was a very good actor who gave many fine performances during the three years he was in the show, right up until the end when he was far from well.
There's no doubting the love Gatiss has for both the show and Hartnell, but a short scene with Lambert and Newman discussing Hartnell's line-fluffs with Lambert championing Hartnell's performance was sadly missing. Hartnell was technically a very good actor and his years of experience in films meant that he instinctively understood the camera. An off-told story (and something else that it would have been nice to see in the show) related to Hartnell's knowledge of when the camera was focused on him in close up - so his movements were restricted - and when the camera was further away - then he could be more expansive in his gestures. This is the sort of small detail that would have illustrated how good Hartnell was - otherwise you could come away from this programme thinking that Hartnell was just an old duffer who couldn't remember his lines.
But that apart, there was so much to enjoy here and by the end, with an ailing Hartnell forced to leave the part he loved, it was truly heartbreaking.
The surprise cameo at the end was a nice touch and an acknowledgement that today Doctor Who owes everything to one person - not Sydney Newman, not Verity Lambert, not even Dalek creator Terry Nation - but William Hartnell. If he hadn't made the Doctor such a compelling character then the series would never have endured. On the eve of the programme's 50th anniversary AAISAT is a fitting tribute to an old-fashioned actor who started something which still entertains today, and, I'm sure, for many more years to come.
on 21 November 2013
Almost 50 years after the show started, Mark Gatiss sends us back to where it began!
No, not a junkyard on Totter's Lane, even further back than that, to the world of the smoky BBC offices of Sydney Newman. To the casual fan, this may seem like a slight bore, a documentary, or nothing exciting. However, those who took the time to see the broadcast will see that Mark Gatiss has orchestrated a masterpiece.
Pulling in bucket loads of elements surrounding the creation of Sci-Fi legend Doctor Who, Gatiss expertly combines Billy Hartnell's lack of self belief in inspiring generations, Sydney Newman's belief in Verity Lambert's production, helping her overcome the glass ceiling blocking her, Waris Hussein's pressure in successfully directing the first episodes, and later on, Billy's reluctance to leave and eventual realisation that this show will continue without him, becoming more of a legend than just a mere TV program.
Despite the historical and social plot strings, the acting is spectacular. David Bradley throws himself into Hartnell's shoes, and his heartbreaking moment of realisation of leaving the show is utterly spellbinding. Reece Shearsmith, even though he only appears for mere minutes, manages to capture the vivacity of Pat Troughton perfectly. The costumes and recreations of historical scenes are amazing and accurate, an old style Cyberman sat having a cigarette next to the TARDIS, a Dalek operator complaining about the cramped interior, and, in the opening scenes, Bradley walking into the TARDIS' perfectly recreated interior, and gazes up solemnly at the set one more time.
The DVD release, although a while off, does include the perfectly-recreated scenes such as the first encounter with the Doctor, The Doctor's final speech to his granddaughter, and a 'festive greeting' perhaps from the fabled lost Christmas broadcast 'The Feast of Steven?'
An utter masterpiece celebrating 50 years of Doctor Who, the people who started it all, and of course, the wonderful William Hartnell, played with style, gravitas and an air of humbleness.
I would easily give such a beautiful piece of drama more stars if I could. Definitely a must buy.
Mark Gatiss' outstanding docudrama was the crown jewel of the `Doctor Who' 50th anniversary celebrations. If it's possible to feel nostalgic about a time you don't actually remember, then this is the programme to do it - because anything is possible when you travel in Space and Time ... 5*
At the very centre, quite properly, is the story itself. The story of `Doctor Who', the BBC and the brilliant trio who were there at the creation - Sidney Newman, Verity Lambert and Waris Hussein, who are themselves perfectly brought to life here by Brian Cox, Jessica Raine and Sacha Dhawan. Issues of running time were probably responsible for the omission of some of those who shared in creating the legend, this tighter focus worked well dramatically but a few name-checks would have been nice.
And at the centre of the central story is William Hartnell. THE Doctor, when there was only one. David Bradley gives a superb performance in every way, as Hartnell the actor and Hartnell the Doctor. We see William Hartnell grow and then sadly fade as the Doctor, from initial grumpy uncertainty about the role into warm, relaxed confidence, surrounded by eager young autograph-hunting fans before the final, tragic period when illness began to take hold. William Hartnell and the Doctor are here almost blurred together at times, their real and imagined lives over the three years travelling in eerie and very moving parallel.
My only criticism would be that there were perhaps too many `line-fluffing' scenes with William Hartnell; a scene or two showing the exceptional actor he was at his best would have been welcome too. Watching `The Aztecs' showed me clearly just how good he was when the characterisation and dialogue were there to be acted, it's a wonderful, subtle performance.
The realisation of the mid-1960s BBC looks excellent, with extensive location filming at Television Centre and careful attention to detail, linked to the wider world by references to the Cuban missile crisis, Valentina Tereshkova's space mission and the Kennedy assassination. Better still, for fans, are the beautiful recreations of icons of 1960s `Doctor Who'; the TARDIS console room, Totters' Lane, the Dalek city, a `Tenth Planet' Cyberman (smoking a ciggie between takes!), two Menoptera flown in from Vortis, rehearsal scenes from `Marco Polo' and `The Reign of Terror' and even a squadron of Daleks crossing Westminster Bridge.
The brilliant script is simply heaving with `Doctor Who' references and allusions from the obvious to the very subtle. Lines of perfectly placed dialogue brush your memory from our past, their future; for any classic-series fan it's a rich hunting-ground - I'm quite sure I haven't yet spotted them all and more knowledgeable fans than me will have a field day.
Links are created with people as well as words; there are delightful cameo appearances from famous faces, brought through time from the 1960s to take part in the `Doctor Who' story once more. Reality, drama and fantasy all intersect for two brief moments at the end, as David Bradley's portrayal of William Hartnell's First Doctor meets a "ghost from the future" and The Original appears on a monitor screen, bidding goodbye to Susan and in a way, to the viewers.
Among the extras is the five-minute `William Hartnell, The Original' which was broadcast after the drama and contains short but very welcome contributions from many people famous in the early life of `Doctor Who', including interview clips with William Hartnell himself.
The word is overused, but `An Adventure in Space and Time' really is a masterpiece.
Originally broadcast in 2013, as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of Doctor Who, this is a feature length dramatisation of the early years of the show. How it came to be. The struggles to get it made. And the end of it's first era when William Hartnell left.
How can get all that into one feature? By concentrating on a couple of things...
Beginning in 1966, with a scene that lays some symbolism on a unsubtly, it then flashes back to three years before. When Canadian Producer Sydney Newman [Brian Cox] wanted to fill a gap in the saturday evening schedules. A show about an eccentric time traveller was the idea they devised. He trusted Verity Lambert [Jessica Raine] to produce the programme. The very idea of a woman doing such an important role at the bbc in 1963 was not something many went along with.
Her choice for leading man was William Hartnell [David Bradley] a professional actor of many years, who'd become stereotyped in hard man roles. A complex man who could be difficult to work with.
Little did any of them know they were creating a tv institution...
As ever, the BBC never let you down with period drama. And this recreates the time of it's setting, the fashion and the way tv was produced back then, absolutely perfectly. The script has to condense a lot down. Some people, such as head of serials Donald Wilson, who was heavily involved at the time, get written out. And it barely touches on the behind the scenes troubles in the show's third year. But it manages to get the story by focusing on two main things.
Firstly, Verity Lambert's struggles and ultimate success. Jessica Raine does very well in portraying a lady who had to find the inner strength that Syndey Newman knew she had. There's a pretty compelling performance in that role from Brian Cox, also.
But when Verity moves on, the focus moves over to William Hartnell. David Bradley is amazing in the role. Not trying to copy Hartnell, but acting the part. A man who had some of the attitudes of his time. But who came to love this role he'd been hesitant about taking. Only for the ravages of illness to mean he couldn't keep it forever.
As the story moves on through his days struggling to keep his health and keep the role, it becomes incredibly moving. And you really are left feeling so very sorry for him.
There's an ending that strives for emotional impact. Which might not work for some. But if it does for you, then it really will leav you with a lump in the throat.
A perfect tribute to a tv legend, and those who brought it to us. And an excellent drama with it.
Look out for cameo appearances from original companions Carole Ann Ford and William Russell. And keep watching after the end credits.
The dvd has the following language and subtitle options:
It's also English audio captioned.
William Hartnell: the original. A five minute long profile of him with various people sharing their memories. This is the material from post the closing credits. It's a bit short to have much substance, but it is occasionally touching.
Behind the scenes: narrated by Carole Ann Ford, this is a nine minute long making of feature. It's also a bit too short to have much substance, but occasionally touching as well. Do watch this otherwise one of the next batch of extras will catch you out.
Said next batch is reconstructions and regenerations: the cast and production team recreate scenes from the original pilot episode and first story. One from the tv story the Dalek Invasion of Earth. And the christmas greeting. From the 1965 episode 'The Feast of Steven' when the Doctor wished viewers a happy christmas. These are all superbly done and great to watch.
Regenerations recreates the first regeneration. But not in the manner you might expect...
Title sequences is a short look at the difference between the original title sequence for the show, and the one used for an adventure in space and time.
There are also two very short but very good deleted scenes, that are both worth a watch.
on 22 November 2013
I was three days old when Dr Who began and it's played a big part in making me the person I am today (although I do plan to regenerate before this week is out). I was overjoyed watching the show last night. It was unashamed nostalgia and absolutely lovely. Christmas has indeed come early for us fans of The Doctor. I have just one question of the BBC, why oh why isn't there a blu ray release? The show looks exquisite and demands it. Please BBC I want to spend more money.
on 19 June 2014
As a child I had a fear of the original theme music for Doctor Who, so I missed out on the series, apart from little glimpses now and then, when I was being especially 'brave'. As an adult I still find that famous theme music unnerving, though not in the new series, where Murray Gold has updated it to something less eerie, and probably upset a lot of die-hards in the process. With my fear in mind, I approached An Adventure In Space and Time with some trepidation when it was on TV. I confess to having recorded it to watch during the day, which is ridiculous coming from a 40-year old! However, I am delighted that I didn't miss what has to be one of the best one-off drama's of recent times.
I wondered if some of the 'in' jokes would go over my head, but they didn't, which is a testament to how Doctor Who is ingrained in our culture, but also says something about the way this drama is written. It isn't trying to be clever, or quirky. It's trying to tell a story, which is about one man, William Hartnell, every bit as much as it is about a TV legend.
All of the performances are outstanding, but David Bradley steals the show. My brother is old enough to remember when Doctor Who started, and he says that Bradley's portrayal of Hartnell is uncanny. Jessica Raine is also wonderful as Verity Lambert, whose story is told in a sympathetic and engaging way. Some drama's portraying women encroaching on a masculine world go overboard on the feminist agenda. I didn't feel that with this. Every step of the way the viewer roots for Lambert, engaging in her story just as much as Hartnell's.
In short, I loved An Adventure In Space and Time. I've now got the DVD. Oh, and that old theme music still makes me nervous, but I have the strangest feeling that it is supposed to do exactly that.
on 23 January 2014
When I read about this docudrama about how Doctor Who came about, I was a little concerned on how it would be portrayed. I half expected the BBC to rip into William Hartnell, as he was supposedly very difficult to work with.
However, what we're given it a very funny and touching drama on how such an iconic series was created, David Bradley gives a terrific performance as William Hartnell, the first actor to play the iconic Doctor and he really makes you sympathise with him as he is eventually forced to step down from the role. The surprising cameo at the end is also a nice little touch showing how far the show has gone in the last 50 years.
on 29 December 2013
Being obsessed with anything related to Doctor Who, I simply could not pass an opportunity to buy this. And I am absolutely glad I did.
First, there are no complaints about the packaging of the DVD. The special features are well worth watching for the trivia enthusiast, or just for some interesting insights about the show and all the people involved in its first season, or rather all the seasons of the 'first doctor'.
The main feature absolutely hits the right spot. It shows us so much about the show in its early days of conception and the people responsible for it. David Bradley is at his finest, dare I say in this marvellous offering, as are others who tried their level best to re-enact some of the scenes from the first season including the characters playing the producer, show runner and director.
It is really hard to praise this DVD without exposing any spoilers, so I will make it easy for you. Just buy it! But be ready to shed some tears, because I sure did! I am wondering if they will do this for each of the 'çlassic' doctors, but that will ruin the magic of this one.
My sincere and heartfelt thanks to Mark Gatiss for bringing this release for us Doctor Who fans!
on 21 November 2013
I remember clearly the impact Dr Who had on me as a six year old child in 1963. I was full of wonder for this unique atmospheric new drama, with the most Incredible Theme Music i had ever heard. William Hartnell was captivating and charismatic as the Doctor. His companions likable and memorable. One would have to be my age (or older ) to have experienced the first ever entrance of the Daleks which was mesmerising and so totally
original . It was the year of the Beatles and
James Bond. A time of real excitement in Britain. 50 years on, the Beatles, James Bond & Dr Who are more popular than ever !
Mark Gattiss has done a Brilliant job with this drama. William Hartnell's final scene in the Tardis had an unexpected feature which i personally found very moving and emotional.
I think the drama will appeal more to the First wave of fans (although i may be wrong) those who followed William Hartnell's Doctor.
I enjoyed it immensely, and will buy the DVD.
on 29 January 2014
There are so many reasons to go and buy this, even if you saw it on the TV. Well worth a repeat viewing any way, It also has many extras, among them recreated scenes using the TARDIS console room they recreated especially for this tribute to the greatest show in the galaxy. A brilliant performance from David Bradley as William Hartnell and all the others perform excellently too. Even if you did not know of (Unlikely!) or even dislike Doctor Who, this is a warm, poignant, funny and interesting story of one man's emotional journey in creating the role he made his own - Doctor Who. On the way it offers a fascinating glimpse into 60s Britain and particularly the BBC. Doctor Who is unique in having the first woman producer, Verity Lambert, and the first Asian director, Warris Hussain who worked on the first stories depicted here. If you have not seen it yet, do yourself a favour. You are in for a treat, I promise!