As part of the 50th Anniversary celebrations, An Adventure in Time and Space takes us back to the early 1960s to witness the birth of Doctor Who.
Sydney Newman (Brian Cox), a BBC big-shot, has been asked to create a new show that will appeal to adults and children alike. His big idea: A show about a time-travelling doctor. He calls upon inexperienced producer Verity Lambert (Jessica Raine) who, along with show director Waris Hussein (Sacha Dhawan) cast the grumpy, opinionated William Hartnell (David Bradley) in the starring role. We then follow the show through Hartnell’s tenure, seeing the fledgling show grow into a global phenomenon. Perhaps most striking is how close the Doctor’s most iconic foe, the Daleks, came to being dismissed, as they went against Newman’s ‘no bug-eyed monster’ policy.
The climatic scenes are truly touching with the majority of the original team moving off to other projects, Hartnell’s health begins to deteriorate, which leads him to forget lines more and more frequently. Bradley’s performance tugs at the heartstrings as we see the slow decline of the fantastic actor, from his strong confident beginning as the Doctor to a pitiable wreck by the end. As he sobs to his wife by the fireside, having been told he is to be replaced, even a heart of stone would soften at this emotive scene.
If I have one criticism of this otherwise amazing tribute, it’s the final scene. As Hartnell stands with the TARDIS console, shooting his final scene with his successor Patrick Troughten waiting in the wings, he glances across the controls to see Matt Smith standing there, grinning. I understand that it’s meant as a nod to the legacy Hartnell left, but it was jarring and stole the limelight from what was a stupendous performance by Bradley and the rest of the cast.
Having said that, the programme was an amazing look back at the humble beginnings of the world’s longest running sci-fi show, a fitting tribute to 50 years of TARDIS travel. Bradley embodies the rise and fall of Hartnell in the role of the First Doctor perfectly and I will be very surprised if there is not a BAFTA with his name on it in the near future.