DVD review: An Adventure in Space and Time

22:13, Jan 15 2014
An Adventure in Space and Time
An Adventure in Space and Time's alternative cover.

An Adventure in Space and Time 

(BBC/Roadshow Entertainment, PG)  

William Hartnell, the first actor to play the lead in Doctor Who, is remembered as a grumpy old man.

An Adventure in Space and Time
An Adventure in Space and Time

A special feature on the Doctor Who biopic An Adventure in Time and Space, William Hartnell: The Original proves that.

''We were rehearsing and something happened and he went, totally, and they cancelled the rest of the rehearsal,'' remembers Mark Eden who played Marco Polo opposite Hartnell. ''He came in the next day with three little posies of flowers for the ladies and he obviously thought 'what can I take the chaps' and he came in with a tin of biscuits. It's so moving somehow. It was his grumpy way of saying 'I'm sorry'.''

This story is one of many about Hartnell realised in Doctor Who scriptwriter Mark Gatiss's fantastic 90-minute television film starring David Bradley. The 71-year-old Bradley plays Hartnell from 1963, when at the age of 55 he was approached to play the Doctor, until 1966, when he was sacked.


Gatiss's film, then, is a romanticised version of Hartnell's journey written by one of the show's biggest fans.

Gatiss has written for Big Finish Productions, which makes new audio adventures starring actors from the classis era of Doctor Who, as well as the re-launched television series.

It's clear that Gatiss has drawn on as much historical data as possible, in telling Hartnell's story, but there are bound to be moments that are apocryphal. The opulence of the BBC head of drama Sydney Newman's office, which Gatiss admits to in the special features, is one. The private musings of Hartnell as he is whisked away on his adventure is another.

Everyone I know who has seen this film, casual viewers and Doctor Who fans alike, have raved about it because, at it's heart it is a human drama.

First Newman (Brian Cox), producer Verity Lambert (Jessica Raine) and director Waris Hussein (Sacha Dhawan) had to recruit the film and television actor for the role and, at least at first, he wasn't keen. The film beautifully chronicles how Hartnell's career got a second wind as he became beloved by a generation of children and their parents who had never seen anything quite like Doctor Who on their flickering black and white television screens.

But it all goes terribly wrong when Hartnell starts flubbing his lines . . . he could only incorporate it into his character so much before it became workable. ''I knew he wasn't well when he was working with me, you could really see the stress and strain on him,'' remembers Peter Purves who played companion Steven Taylor. ''I discovered later that he had been suffering from something that caused him to have memory loss. I was very sad that he left the show. That must have been an absolute body blow to him.''

One nice moment is when Hartnell's grand daughter confronts his about it while watching the show. Jessica Carney, who also appears in the special features, said: ''My memories of him are really muddled up with Doctor Who. The character that we saw on the television screen was my grandfather. I think he came to love playing the Doctor.''

But no one summed him up better than William Russell, who played the Doctor's first companion school teacher Ian Chesterton.

''The whole thing about Bill was that he was unpredictable. You didn't know what he was going to do, there was this mystery about him.''

Russell has a small cameo in the film, and there's one scene where a whole host of Doctor Who alumni come together to form a crowd.

The actual DVD harks back to the genesis of the show as it resembles a reel of film, and a reversible DVD cover borrows imagery from an early Doctor Who annual.