|Image Copyright BBC 2013|
As a man who has never really dabbled much in Doctor Who, I was somewhat unsure about how to feel about the madness surrounding the 50th anniversary episode. Was it to be something exclusively for the fans, or a possible invitation for newcomers such as myself to join the party? Or maybe even both? Either way, my knowledge of the programme was insufficient. I needed a way to feel educated about the universe of Doctor Who without necessarily watching through the hundreds of available episodes. Thankfully, An Adventure in Space and Time serves this purpose nicely.
The story chronicles the birth of the show and its various production troubles, from William Hartnell’s (David Bradley) ailing health and struggles as a typecast actor, to Verity Lambert’s (Jessica Raine) own trouble as one of the early female figures in British television. It becomes clear from the very first scene that this is not necessarily the smooth and obstacle-free ride that one might initially think.
With a keen sense of nostalgia, particular effort has been put into replicating both the context of 1960s Britain in all its gloomy-weather glory, and the harsh realities that come with working from within the BBC – a place not often associated with second chances. As a result, I was immediately drawn towards Hartnell, played with excellent cynicism and humanity by David Bradley. As an actor with very little direction in his career, Hartnell’s only desire was to steer clear of the authority figures he became so often associated with. Yet with the show’s aim to inform and educate as well as to thrill and terrify, the role was understandably irresistible.
What follows is an intense, but often fun series of events that follow Hartnell and Lambert as they both fight desperately to keep Doctor Who alive, regardless of whether it came from artistic integrity or something to pay the bills. Yet in a bizarre twist, I found the story’s finest moments were the ones that distanced themselves from Doctor Who. Such moments include Hartnell’s often adorable interaction with his granddaughter and wife, reminding us that he was still a human being, with familial concerns and constant reminders of his growing age in an industry that was constantly seeking to modernise itself.
Naturally, the references to the series itself are littered throughout the script. Some are impossible to miss, while others will no doubt be detected by only the most hardened of fans. But as the story reached its conclusion, I couldn’t help but feel a bit overwhelmed by the amount that was being thrown at me. Of course, there exists five whole decades of history behind Doctor Who, and it would be a missed opportunity not to acknowledge it through various nods and winks, but at times, it felt just a little too much.
Regardless, this was easily outweighed by the positives. Every actor gave an outstanding performance, in particular Brian Cox’s dominating presence as the iconic Sydney Newman – a role he clearly had incredible fun playing. But at its very core, An Adventure in Space and Time was a very human story about a very otherworldly concept. It provided an informative but touching look at both a man desperately looking to push past his own ‘grumpy old man’ persona, as well as the now cemented position Doctor Who holds as a key part to our history and culture.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.