REVIEW: An Adventure in Space and Time at the BFI

From the @BFI

Doctor Who at 50: 
An Adventure In Space & Time
Ft. Mark Gatiss, David Bradley and more.

BFI Southbank, London, Nov 12, 2013

Review by Cameron K McEwan

So far, this year, there's only been one standing ovation at the BFI's Doctor Who events I've attended, and that was for the panel which featured Tom Baker, Louise Jameson and Philip Hinchcliffe, but as soon as the credits rolled on An Adventure in Space and Time, the audience at the Southbank in London lept to their feet in admiration for this truly moving and spectacular drama about the genesis of the world's greatest television show, Doctor Who.

Indeed, excitement surrounding this film had been mounting for some time and the fact that some audience members queued for return tickets for eight hours is a testament to the interest in the project, helmed by Mark Gatiss (The Crimson Horror, The Unquiet Dead, et al). But it wasn't just the fans who turned up to celebrate, the audience was packed full of Who legends such as Carole Ann Ford, Anneke Wills, Louise Jameson, Sophie Aldred, Philip Hinchcliffe and Waris Hussein. (Mathew Waterhouse was also in attendance.)

Mark Gatiss
Before the screening began, Gatiss introduced his work in a brief but incredibly heartfelt fashion - it's clear An Adventure in Space and Time means a great deal to the writer. Even more so, upon viewing.

Although fun and sprightly in humour at times (thanks to smoking Cybermen and annoyed Dalek operators), with huge dashings of good old-fashioned can-do spirit and chutzpah, the tone is very moving throughout as we find a man at the end of his career, William Hartnell, finding overwhelming success and becoming loved by a nation.

At the start, we find him being asked to "move on" by a Police officer, as he is parked outside an actual Police Box - from hereon in, the tone is set. Niftily using the TARDIS as a tool to go back in time, from 1966 to 1963, we're then treated to his journey from being approached for the role to his eventual regeneration. Hartnell is portrayed as a complex man; a man who drinks and smokes heavily and is slightly rude to his granddaugther. A man fed up with the roles presented to him until Verity Lambert comes along with Doctor Who.

David Bradley
His joy at becoming Doctor Who is palpable and David Bradley (Dinosaurs On A Spaceship) does such a tremendous job as Hartnell, he captures each beat, each mood perfectly. His pride at the success of the show is heartwarming (and, in particular, there's a very touching moment when confronted by young fans). Gatiss is keen to observe the home life of the actor, displaying his affectionate relationship with his granddaughter (Hartnell's real life granddaughter was present at the screening) and his commitment to the role but also his ailing health which, ultimately, led to his removal from the show.

There's a great sadness as his cast and crew leave around him (something that Doctor Who is famous for and takes great stock in regenerating every few years) and Bill isn't able to understand or handle why people want to move on. One by one they leave and he is left with those, he feels, don't appreciate the show the way he does - leading to the well documented "irrascible" William Hartnell. His sense of loneliness and longing for the role is moving in the extreme.

But, if anything, the film is just as much about Verity Lambert and her extraordinary rise in the BBC. Played by Jessica Raine (Hide), her story is just as interesting. A young girl promoted to producer, very quickly, who had to deal with, what can only be referred to as, "men". Full of "piss and vinegar", to quote Sydney Newman, played with much gusto and fun by Brian Cox (The End of Time), she gets the job done and Raine is delightful in the role.

Sacha Dhawan
Helping her out, as it were, in this drama are Mervyn Pinfield, Jeff Rawle (Frontios), and fellow outsider Waris Hussein (Sacha Dhawan). The trio are a force to be reckoned with (not to mention some help from Douglas Camfield now and again) and work together, on screen, superbly.

If there's a third character here in An Adventure in Space and Time, it's BBC Television Centre. Gatiss and director Terry McDonough were very mindful to celebrate the passing of the establishment and featured it as much as they could, and in a most romantic light too. Shots of the building, inside and out, are sprinkled throughout and, as Jessica Carney (Hartnell's granddaughter) would comment later, An Adventure is very much a "love letter" to the building.

For fans, there are numerous nods to Doctor Who throughout the ages (which I shan't spoil for you), and a few amazing cameos to look out for too. Of course, there's also some classic Who episode action going on which will please in the extreme (again, I shan't spoil which ones). The sets are exquisite and you might find your eyes wandering to the camera monitors to see the details to which they've gone. I will say, not being a particular fan of the intergalactic pepper~pots, the appearance of the Daleks is sublime. A real moment.

An Adventure in Space and Time is perfect. Though, as a fan of both William Hartnell and Doctor Who, perhaps my interest and allegiances are slightly unobjective. It's a very powerful drama about people moving up and moving on - whilst others can't bear to, not wanting to go. It is fun too, a lot of fun, but there's such heart here. Such a strong, beating heart. Mark Gatiss' love letter could well be the pinnacle of the 50th Anniversary year.

The panel afterwards (pictured above, l-r) consisted of director Terry McDonough, Sacha Dhawan, David Bradley, William Hartnell's granddaughter, Jessica Carney (who had to take a moment out before taking to the stage, such was the power of the drama), Mark Gatiss and  and was hosted by Matthew Sweet, who did such a fine job of moderating; attentive and polite to his guests, displaying a real interest and warmth to the proceedings.

Gatiss revealed that money played a huge part in what was and what wasn't realised on screen. One of his wishes was to recreate Sara Kingdom's death scene from The Daleks' Master Plan using original actress Jean Marsh (who had agreed to it) as the aged version of her young self - sadly, this could not be afforded. Similarly, Mark spoke of another scene he was eager to film:

Bradley and Carney
"The original ending was going to be Super-8 footage of The Three Doctors photo-shoot for the Radio Times, but we couldn't afford that. However, what I could afford was to hire my own costume and, on the most stressful day of filming, get dressed up as Jon Pertwee and walk on to the set. We've got photographs to prove it, it was wonderful!"

When pushed on filming missing episodes, the writer joked, to much applause, "Just lock the doors an we'll do Marco Polo!" whilst he also revealed that a child's Dalek costume was acquired from well known internet trading site, eBay. Interestingly, Jessica Carney was questioned by an audience member on the recently found interview with her slightly grumpy grandfather (available on The Tenth Planet DVD), to which she replied that she found it "curious", adding, "I don't think it was the most sympathetic interviewer."

The panel topped off what was a fascinating, enjoyable and hugely moving evening (I don't mind admitting a few tears were shed by your reviewer). The BFI continues to impress mightily with its magnificent Doctor Who coverage.

Thanks to the BFI

An Adventure in Space and Time airs:
BBC Two, Nov 21, 9pm; BBC America, Nov 22, 9pm [ET]; ABC1, Nov 24, 8.45pm.
For more info and pics, visit HERE and pre~order the DVD HERE

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