Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary continues with An Adventure in Space and Time, which I got around to watching last night. If you are not familiar, this is a feature length film about the early days of Doctor Who. Written by Doctor Who and Sherlock writer & actor Mark Gatiss, the film tells the story of a number of the key personalities who were responsible for breathing life into the series back in 1963. Primarily, the focus is on Verity Lambert, the program’s original producer, and William Hartnell, who created the role of the Doctor back in 1963. Also featuring heavily are Sydney Newman, who was the original visionary behind the show, and Waris Hussein, who directed several of the early serials, including the first one. But it’s Hartnell and Lambert who really carry the lion’s share of the story.
Brian Cox’s Sydney Newman is a larger-than-life figure, and hard to swallow in parts, but who knows – maybe Newman was really like that? And Sacha Dhawan’s Waris Hussein is serviceable, but does not steal any scenes. Claudia Grant plays Carole Ann Ford so well that I think it’s a completely wasted opportunity not to cast in her in the actual series as a young Susan Foreman for an episode or two.
But the here is David Bradley, who brings to life the star William Hartnell in an extraordinary way. The movie portrays him as an actor who was really saved from drudgery and one-note casting by becoming part of the series. His “rock” as he calls her is Verity Lambert, played excellently by Jessica Raine. Lambert is a first-time producer in a time when the BBC had never had a female in that role before, and we see her endure all the challenges that that involves. Hartnell relies on Lambert in many ways to make sense of what he is doing, but in the end she moves on, as does everyone else that he comes to be connected to.
The movie shows us not only the beginning of the series’ life, but also the end of Hartnell’s involvement with it, as his ill-health catches up with him and he is asked to leave. It’s an appropriately heart breaking sequence. But a brief but magical moment of pure fantasy in the film’s closing moments reminds us of the legacy that the actor will leave behind.
The show is actually full of a number of easter eggs and cameos, not quite to the degree that The Five (ish) Doctors Reboot was, but enough to keep fans chattering about it afterward. These include brief speaking roles by William Russell and Carole Ann Ford (the two surviving original cast members of the series), which I appreciate. But thankfully, these moments don’t really draw attention to themselves, and they don’t come without being integral to the story. So what we experience in the audience is not a sense of constant “shout outs,” but rather moments in the story of the show that echo moments in the show. The effect is that it enhances the story, rather than distracts from it.