Liverpool Sound and Vision Rating 9/10
Cast: David Bradley, Jessica Raine, Sacha Dhawan, Brian Cox, Jamie Glover, Jemma Powell, Claudia Grant, Anna-Lisa Drew, Reece Sheersmith, William Russell, Carole Ann Ford, Sophie Holt, Nicholas Briggs, Sarah Winter, Jeff Rawle, Andrew Woodall, Ian Hallard, David Annen, Sam Hoare, Mark Eden, Lesley Manville, Cara Jenkins, Reece Pockney, Charlie Kemp, Roger May.
Within the space of a little over 24 hours, history was changed. The events in Dallas on November 22nd 1963 had changed the United States of America irrevocably and forever. It dominated the news and a new type of America was born in the aftermath of the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. As the clock turned 5.15pm, history of a different kind was being made by the B.B.C. and in homes up and down the British Isles; the first episode of Doctor Who was being transmitted.
Ask anyone over the age of 55 on their thoughts of the two days and there will be an opinion on both moments. The sadness felt by many at the senseless murder of a President who had already started the change in American society and the joy, perhaps confusion of its popularity, sometimes complete despair of what is seen in some quarters as nothing more than a children’s show, both go hand in hand, it was the period in which television first came into its own. The wall to wall news coverage, perhaps only matched in recent times by the death of Princess Diana and 9/11 and the start of a global fascination.
Celebrating 50 years of a television programme is something almost unheard of, certainly in the realms of Science Fiction but thanks to the ideas and ideals of Sydney Newman, the brilliant Verity Lambert, the original Producer for the show, the young Indian Director Waris Hussein, William Hartnell and a whole host of B.B.C. personnel including Delia Derbyshire, this programme has thrilled children and adults alike since the grainy black and white transmission took to the air.
Mark Gatiss, a man whose own love affair with Doctor Who has seen him pen episodes, play villains, including the very creepy Doctor Lazarus and add a very special note to the world of the man from Gallifrey. In the one of television treat for the fans and social historians alike, Mr. Gatiss wrote the exceptional, almost love letter like, nod to the past and the accomplishments of all involved, An Adventure in Space and Time.
From a spark of an idea from a Canadian television man, to a young Jewish woman who became one of the brightest lights at the Corporation and beyond, a young Indian who faced racial ignorance came something that is uniquely British but has been taken to the hearts of millions around the world, thus Doctor Who was born. Mark Gatiss’ script was as good as anything that you would expect when such a rich history is involved.
David Bradley, recently giving such a powerful performance in Broadchurch was an inspired choice to play the man who made The Doctor an institution of British television, the great William Hartnell. Mr. Bradley captured everything about the man who had appeared as hard men, such as his stirring performance in the British Noir classic Brighton Rock, and gave it heart. His unease at first at taking on another long project after his time in the Army Game, his growing acceptance at his responsibility at playing a part which framed children’s imagination and in the end his ill health which became the problem for the powers that be on how to keep the show going.
Whilst this was a drama that was dedicated to showing how much Doctor Who was a team effort from the start and how much it has stayed a group affair to this day, it also shone a very big light on Verity Lambert, Portrayed by Jessica Raine a woman whom really without that the programme may not have had the staying power and love that it has received over the 50 years.
With a very strong cast, including Jamie Glover, Jemma Powell and Claudia Grant as Ian, Barbara and Susan, the first set of companions that made their way through the Tardis door, there was no room for error and like Doctor Who, it became very much a team effort of gigantic proportions. Brian Cox was almost uncanny as Sidney Newman, flamboyant, a believer in the ability of what was then the youngest Producer at the B.B.C. and above all a showman, Cara Jenkins’ portrayal of William Hartnell’s own granddaughter Judith showed the actors caring for his craft but also bad tempered self perfectly and the small cameos of Nicholas Briggs, the man behind the Big Finish Audios, William Russell, the superb Carole Ann Ford, Jean Marsh and the very wonderful nod to the future Matt Smith, this was a party, a huge hug from a fan to the millions that have cowered at the sight of The Daleks, been terrified at the thought of Cybermen and who have loved the man with no name.
Something successful will always have detractors, the people that don’t get the feeling or even those that just at the end of the day do not like programmes such as Doctor Who but you don’t celebrate 50 years for nothing, An Adventure in Space and Time was the perfect pre-birthday present for all who love the show.
Ian D. Hall