An Adventure in Space and Time (2013)
Film: Basically, Doctor Who is a third parent of mine. I don’t mean my mum was once an intern in the 60s at the BBC, but instead, he took care of me by being my after school babysitter and also taught me a general sense of right and wrong when I watched him on the ABC as a kid.
My first experience with Doctor Who though wasn’t the TV series but instead the books, when my mum bought me a copy of the novelisation of Death to the Daleks in the 70s and I was immediately hooked. When I then found out it was a TV series on ABC I became immediately enamoured with it. Since then it has always been a part of my life, and I have a sad and tragic collection that includes DVDs, comics, magazines, books, toys, t shirts… Basically everything.
Having read so much about it though I do have a pretty good foundation in knowing when and where the show came from, but imagine my excitement when I discovered that a TV drama was being made of the genesis of my favourite TV show, written by a writer whose work I admire, being League of Gentlemen’s Mark Gatiss, directed by award winning director Terry McDonough (Wire in the Blood) and starring several actors I like, including Brian Cox (Manhunter), David Bradley (the Harry Potter films)and Jessica Raine (The Woman in Black).
An Adventure in Space and Time is based in the early 60s and tells of then Head of Drama Sydney Newman (Cox) coming up with an idea for a TV show for children called ‘Doctor Who’. He approaches his former production assistant Verity Lanbert (Raine) to be head producer and make the show along with director Waris Hussein (Sacha Dhawan), but can a Jewish girl and an Indian man create a show when it appears they may have been set up for failure by the old guard of the BBC?
You better believe it!
They employ well known actor Bill Hartnell (Bradley) to play the Doctor and we follow the next three years of production, obviously told in a quite abbreviated matter and look at the key elements of the series’ life in those early days if television, and how Doctor Who went from being something that the BBC didn’t have faith in, to a million viewer show.
With the current huge fan base for Doctor Who, this really was the best way to create a historical document about the origin of the show. Sure, there could have been factual documentary made, but essentially, a lot of the people involved have passed and for the rest it would have been little more than a talking head doco that may not have held too many people’s interest except for die hard fans, like your truly.
Having a drama though, written by post millennium who writer Gatiss, and starring a Harry Potter series favourite was definitely to best way to go to get the younger fans involved. The script is fun and the actors are charismatic enough to make what could be a stodgy story about the old Beeb irreverent and entertaining. I must admit to having somewhat of a crush on Jessica Raine now as well.
The story moves along at a cracking pace and a lot is fit into the time, but it never feels rushed. The departures of Hussein and Lambert seem to happen quite suddenly, though their absence, along with some of the initial costars does lead to Hartnell’s departure as well.
The story is quite well written as well in the sense that it is a show about a TV series, and yet starts as a story about Lambert yet ends as a tale about Hartnell, without taking a breath. The tale ends with a round up of what each character went on to do with their careers.
A special mention must go to the soundtrack by Edmund Butt (Ed Butt… Brilliant: he should have been a WWE wrestler). It is a wonderful combination of cinematic whimsy with a few winks to Doctor Who, and really suits the production magnificently.
Eagle eyed fans should also keep a look out as there may be an old cast member or two turning up here and there.
I really only have two real criticisms of this production. The first has to do with opportunistic, schmaltzy fan service. In a scene where Hartnell ponders his and the show’s future, we are presented with a phantom of the 11th Doctor, Matt Smith. The populous piece of claptrap exists to make sure the current fans get a look at their Doctor, but to this old fan, it seems to be a disservice to all the other people who have played the part of the Doctor. Am I being over sensitive? Possibly, but it essentially served no other purpose.
The second criticism involves a catastrophic bit of miscasting. Reece Shearsmith is put forward to play a young Patrick Troughton, Hartnell’s replacement of the role of the Doctor. He simply looks terrible in his extraordinarily bad wig, and I feel like he only exists in the role as a favour to Gatiss, the pair of them being ex League of Gentlemen cast mates. Don’t get me wrong, I like Shearsmith, and the role is only brief, but it is like fingernails down a blackboard as he plays it like a pantomime caricature which doesn’t sit well within the well executed acting by the rest of the cast.
The An Adventure is Space and Time DVD looks and sounds great, presented in 16:9 with a Dolby 5.1 soundtrack.
All in all though, and even taking those criticisms into account, this is a thoroughly enjoyable drama about an important part of my life, that is, my adoration a silly science fiction children’s television program, and also is an interesting look at TV production in the 60s, told in an amusing and affectionate manner.
Extras: A great deal of extras for the Who fan here as well:
William Hartnell: the Original looks at William Hartnell’s career with interviews of former cast and crew mates, others Doctors, family members and directors. It is an affectionate look at his life, and includes some wonderful footage of him in an interview from the 60s.
The Making of an Adventure is a good old fashioned making of, though it is hosted by actor Carole Ann Ford, who played Susan, the original Doctor’s granddaughter. It is a combination of a documentary about the original series, and a making of this production.
Reconstructions is a series of recreations of scenes from the original series. They are really clever and include all the faults, dialogue mistakes and miscues of the originals, and also act as deleted scenes (though there are a few of those as well). They include Scenes from An Unearthly Child, Regenerations, Farewell to Susan and Festive Greeting.
The Title Sequences compares the actual original title sequence from Who with the replica titles from this production.
There are also two deleted scenes: the The Radiophonic Workshop and Verity ‘s Leaving Party.
A special mention must also go to the menus and the accompanying leaflet. The artwork on the cover is a recreation of the first Doctor Who Annual. The leaflet itself contains photos from the production, a drawing if William Hartnell as the Doctor and a few Daleks, and an introduction from writer Mark Gatiss.
WISIA: As a dedicated Who nut I found this extraordinary, though a non Who fan may not be as impressed, I doubt though they could not enjoy the production in itself, as it is well written and a lot of fun. Having said that, it may not have the water to regularly rewatch!