[Review] - An Adventure In Space And Time

[This is the part of a month long series of articles, lists and other features celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who.]

Courtesy of the BBC

If there was any doubt about my assertion that Mark Gatiss is the most logical choice to take over running Doctor Who when Steven Moffat steps down, those doubts should now be extinguished. An Adventure in Space and Time is an emotionally drenched retelling of the events surrounding the origins of the series, awash with reverence and nostalgia, but without ever letting it take away from the core storyline. And while it certainly adheres to the concept of "there is a difference between truth and accuracy," it is hard not to accept Gatiss' version of events as anything other than right. Things this important, that last this long, should have epic origins. It should mean something. And the way this story tells it, it means tears. Lots and lots of tears.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that wish they were in colour.

As the press release tells it, this is the story of how Doctor Who began. That isn't really what it is about. The "origins" of the series take less then the first act to get out of the way. Sydney Newman's pitching of the concept to Verity Lambert happens almost immediately. For all the woes the show faced, it was all put together in relatively short order. For all the sidewise glances and talk of being oppressed, Verity and Waris Hussein manage to get the show up and running with little physical resistance. And while the uphill battle of putting together a science fiction show on the straight laced BBC, with the first female producer and the first Indian director in company history would have made for a fascinating story, it was all just set dressing until the actual focus of the story arrived. The man who would be the Doctor, William Hartnell.

Adventure is Hartnell's story, through and through. And damned if David Bradley doesn't just lay waste to everyone around him. His Hartnell is a tragic figure, desperate for a defining role, something he can be proud of. His Hartnell is one immensely proud of the work they did on Who, of the impact it had on the UK, and whose stiff-upper-lip way of working means his personal health take second priority to the job. He works his way into your heart, does Bradley's portrayal, going from a grumpy curmudgeon to a kindly old man driven by a desperate need to remain relevant. And when the end comes, and he breaks down, it rips your heart out. Those final twenty minutes are crippling. From Sydeny's (happily fictional) firing, right straight through to the brief glimpse across time at the show's lasting legacy, if you've got dry eyes then you might just be a Dalek.

The level of resemblance is astounding. This isn't just hiring people who happen to look like the actors, this is hiring people who can do the best possible job, who happen to look exactly like the actors they are playing. It was frightening, the level of resemblance the cast achieved, especially Bradley as Hartnell and briefly Reece Shearsmith as Patrick Troughton. While recasting roles isn't ideal, it's not without precedent, and if the need is ever there, there is little reason these actors couldn't be called upon once again. Gatiss has said that they had to resist the urge to simply refilm some of the lost materials, with the sets and costumes and actors all assembled. I can understand that, and don't know if I would have had his self restraint. There are moments here, where classic scenes like the first encounter with the Daleks or the Marco Polo set, when viewed through the black and white filter, that you would be forgiven for forgetting that it was all recreation.

For those reasons, the show only really works once Hartnell is introduced. As I mentioned, the actual putting the show together breezes past. And while how they made the TARDIS sound effects, or came up with the original designs might not need any more than a fleeting mention, it does seem to fly by very quickly. You never get to know any of the other characters as well as you get to know Hartnell, and because they all departed the series before '66, there isn't really a need to. Waris is probably the least defined, just another soul in desperate need of a win, and is the first to leave. And as everyone knows, once you've left the TARDIS, the Doctor moves on. Even Vertity, who seems to share the focus with Hartnell at first, quickly becomes second fiddle, and then departs, leaving Hartnell alone and without a steady rock.

Gatiss has written a love letter here, a open hearted declaration of his affection for this monumental series. This isn't a man who enjoys a show, this is a man who lives and bleeds Who, who has integrated it into his life as much as one does a limb. But as a writer he also understands what makes for good drama, and manages to balance the two. Adventure is every bit on par with Day of the Doctor, and between them Moffat and Gatiss have given Doctor Who exactly the sort of celebration that it deserved for it's 50th anniversary.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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