Being a Doctor Who fan the last few weeks have been something of a treat simply due to how much one of my favourite TV shows and characters has been, not only on TV, but also in the general media and, aside from the 50th Anniversary episode itself, The Day of the Doctor, the one thing I had been most looking forward to was this dramatisation of the show’s early days.
Written by Mark Gatiss, a fan of the show and now writer for the series, it takes us from Sydney Newman’s (Brian Cox) first idea for a science fiction show to appeal to children and adults, through to the first regeneration and, for the most part, focuses on the actor who played ‘the first’ Doctor, William Hartnell.
Hartnell is portrayed here with amazing accuracy by David Bradley who, while clearly, physically, not being the same man, seems to channel something of his energy, most clearly in the scenes where he is being the Doctor, but with what feels like an amazing authenticity away from this as we see Hartnell at home and meeting fans of the newly popular show in a park.
It is Bradley’s performance that creates the heart of the story as we see Hartnell as a fully rounded man. As well as the side that interacts in quite a touching way with fans and the show’s original producer, Verity Lambert (Jessica Raine), An Adventure In Space and Time does not shy away from showing him as an irascible older man, prone to outspokenness and temper.
This makes for a performance and programme that feels genuine, even though it is clearly dramatised and thus heightened, but the whole thing has a ring of truth about it.
This is backed up by the production design that recreates BBC studios of the time with startling accuracy from the cameras down to the cramped conditions Doctor Who was originally produced in, as well as the sets and monsters from the show itself, including a marvelous recreation of the original TARDIS console room.
The Daleks, one of the shows most iconic creations, particularly stand out and seeing them in colour, based on the original designs, rolling both through the studio and across Westminster Bridge, is fascinating and hints at how they could once have been genuinely frightening to youngsters.
Another star of the show is BBC Television Centre which is shot in such a way as to make it look genuinely majestic, an impressive feat for a donut made up of many offices, but it manages to capture something of the magic it has always seemed to posses to me as a fan of so many of the TV shows made in its studios.
So I am a fan of Doctor Who and of BBC TV Centre, and An Adventure In Space and Time is clearly written as something of a love letter to both of these. That said, I think for anyone with an interest in TV history and well produced TV drama there is something here and Gatiss has managed to write something that works on both levels and, in Bradley, the producers have found someone capable of creating an astonishing performance of both William Hartnell and the Doctor.
And, with its references to Doctors to come, it also acts as a fitting tribute to mark the show’s 50th anniversary.