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Customer Review

85 of 88 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "You can't have Doctor Who without Doctor Who, can you?", 22 Nov. 2013
This review is from: An Adventure in Space and Time [DVD] (DVD)
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.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 27 Nov 2013 23:30:50 GMT
R. Shore says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

Posted on 10 Dec 2013 22:39:52 GMT
Last edited by the author on 2 Jan 2014 12:31:43 GMT
A. Holliday says:
I enjoyed it too. With reservations. Very much a fan's love letter to the program rather than an accurate retelling. I suspect the needs of dramatic compression for a 90 minute film has probably given far too much importance to Waris Hussein's role (given it was the story after his that made the show a success - and Christopher Barry's direction of those episodes is head and shoulders above co-director Richard Martin's (who gets a look in btw. Could he direct anything well? The BBC's Ed Wood) or Hussein's. And the character of the Dr changed very quickly after the early episodes, so credit probably can't be given in that regard either. But it fitted the framework taken by the film - that the program was the product of outsiders and rebels against the moribund establishment of the BBC (the same moribund establishment that went to great lengths to poach Newman from commercial tv...oh hang on, that doesn't fit the fairytale being presented). The swinging 60s overturning the staid 1950s. etc etc. Very pat. Very storybook. The pity of it is that (so other sources have claimed) there were real dramas backstage with Hartnell in his later years on the show that would have been interesting to see. But not as celebratory for a 50th anniversary. Whereas remove the mock conflict of the 'young turks' premise and what's left is the story of an untested new series having some behind the scenes discussions prior to launching about its viability, direction and casting. Like every other program in tv history. How amazing.

And Hartnell's less than lovable attributes (racist and homophobe) were noticable only via their complete omission.

As I said, I enjoyed it - loved the cameos, even enjoyed Gatiss moving the ending of Green Death from the world of fiction to 'reality' (the Gatiss technique: if it worked somewhere, anywhere, bung it in here - see Victory of the Daleks or Cold War for more of the same) , but it could have been so much more (Roger Shore is spot on about that. And the Patrick Troughton casting). It could have been true for example. Yet many reviews posted here cite the program's 'accuracy' as a key component. When even Gatiss admits what we watched didn't actually happen like that (it's slightly disturbing that so many appear not to care that fiction is masquerading as reality). The only bit that I really believed in was Matt Smith turning up at the end!

In reply to an earlier post on 11 Dec 2013 17:46:19 GMT
Last edited by the author on 11 Dec 2013 17:47:25 GMT
An accurate retelling of Doctor Who 1963 - 1966 was, sadly, never going to fit an 85 minute slot. If it had concentrated on the creation of the series, ending on the broadcast of the first Dalek story that would have given more time for detail and less broad brush strokes.

But then you would have lost the drama of Hartnell's departure which was obviously the key point of the piece.

Given it was a key part of the 50th anniversary celebrations it wasn't surprising that Hartnell's darker side didn't get much of a look in. He came over as a grumpy old bugger though, so it wasn't a total whitewash!

I think the complete story of the creation and early years of Doctor Who can only be told in book form. Slightly surprising no-one has done this yet. The material's there - the production diary of The First Doctor Handbook is the best we've had to date, but for anyone willing to plough through all the paperwork there's probably a deeper and more involved story than is known at present.

Posted on 26 Dec 2013 07:40:49 GMT
happy andrew says:
i caught the 2nd half of this programme & will be buying this to see the bit i missed as well. i was 11 when Doctor Who started and remember watching the first episode, and the following week the first episode repeated before the second was shown. in 'An adventure In Space & Time' it was stated that the first episode was repeated because of the assassination of J.F.K. and the audience figures being distorted because of this. a fact i didn't know until i watched this. an excellent programme and sad to see how much Hartnell deteriorated towards the end and how he didn't really want to leave.

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Jan 2014 12:34:15 GMT
Last edited by the author on 2 Jan 2014 12:47:20 GMT
A. Holliday says:
Overall I have to agree with DK Smith's points, but both they and my original comment highlight that there is something at the core of this production that is seriously problematic - namely the presentation of a simplistic fantasy fable as an accurate biopic account of reality. I have no problem with either approach, but I do have a problem with one being passed off as the other. As an anniversary piece I enjoyed this a lot (like a good Hollywood western), but the anniversary is over and this piece will remain in circulation, and about as accurate a piece of history as one of those Hollywood westerns. Except no one pretends they're true.

Posted on 9 Aug 2014 23:16:49 BDT
Fantastic detailed review my friend, thoughly deserve the high positive votes.
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