Friday, 22 November 2013

Musings On An Adventure In Space And Time...

Best not to read until you've seen it yourself.
If that didn't move you, you've got the heart of a Weeping Angel. Often funny, full of little nods to the series' history, increasingly tragic, but ultimately uplifting. I've been looking forward to Mark Gatiss' An Adventure In Space And Time probably more than Saturday's anniversary episode - and I wasn't disappointed. The Day of the Doctor is sure to be epic, funny, sharply written - but will it really come close to the emotional impact of this?
AAISAT begins at the end - with Hartnell (a quite exceptional performance from David Bradley) stopped in his tracks by the sight of a Police Box on Barnes Common, one evening in 1966. Our first visual reference to the series is that Box, with a Policeman in the fog. Hartnell has just discovered that he is going to replaced in the role of the Doctor, a role he has created and made his own. He's shell-shocked. After a disappointing career, he is now loved by millions - especially children. Now it's all being taken away from him.

We won't see the decline until the final third of the programme. Before that, we watch as Sydney Newman, Verity Lambert and Waris Hussein pull Doctor Who together, fighting against the BBC stuff-shirts.
Now, this is a drama-documentary. Gatiss forewarned us that certain characters (such as Donald Wilson) would not appear, and certain events would be compressed in time. We see the creation of the titles, music and sound effects simply as little cutaways as Hussein and Lambert wine and dine Hartnell in an attempt to win him over. To have attempted to show the whole creation in all its minutiae would have damaged the drama. It is the story of Hartnell's time as the Doctor that is key, and the programme wisely sticks to that.

When we first see him, Hartnell is an irritable old sod, impatient and curt with his grand-daughter. He mellows as the programme progresses - mirroring the First Doctor's on-screen journey. One lovely sequence shows him encountering a party of children whilst out for a walk. For them he is "Dr Who", and he revels in it. In a recreation of The Edge of Destruction, we see the famous Fault Locator / Fornicator joke. In rehearsals for An Unearthly Child, we witness this most insecure of actors being placated by having his ego massaged.
I loved the way that Hartnell came to own the TARDIS - knowing exactly how it ought to operate and what every switch did. He insisted that the kids would  notice if he got it wrong.
The TARDIS Yearometer records the passage of time - as does the neat idea of showing the press introductions for later companions - held outside TV Centre. As first Vicki, then Steven and Dodo, then Ben and Polly are introduced, Hartnell's face tells it all.

The recreations of TV studios - and glimpses of classic episodes - are a delight. We see Hartnell prepare for his final scenes - with a smoking Cyberman named Reg (Whitehead, of course) in attendance. The TARDIS control room, Totter's Lane junkyard, Kublai Khan's palace, Revolutionary Paris, Daleks in their city and on Westminster Bridge, and the planet Vortis are all faithfully recreated, with suitable props and costumes. The dialogue is full of well known phrases from interviews and from the programme itself.
One scene in particular stands out - where the current version of the series is nicely referenced. Hartnell has returned home and is telling wife Heather that he is leaving the show. He leans against the fireplace. Bathed in the glow of the flames - illuminated like a regeneration - he says "I don't want to go". It's the end of Ten.

William Russell cameos as a jobsworth BBC Commissionaire, Carole Ann Forrd as a mum calling her kid in off the street to watch the Daleks on TV. Present at Verity Lambert's leaving party are Jean Marsh and Anneke Wills. Toby Hadoke (he of the "Moths Ate My Dr Who Scarf" show, and countless DVD commentaries) is the barman of the BBC bar, and Nick Briggs gets to portray his hero - Peter Hawkins.
I'm sure there will be a lot of comment about the ending - especially the scene where old meets new, which I'm not going to elaborate upon as it is a spoiler of sorts. Personally, I thought it was wonderful and brought yet another lump to the throat. It was lovely to see the real man himself in the closing moments as well.
The other day I commented on Hartnell only coming second from bottom in the Radio Times poll. I was gob-smacked. Hopefully, people will reappraise him after watching this. If you can't appreciate his contribution after this, and I meet you in the street, I will happily kick you up the arse. You'll deserve it.

No comments:

Post a Comment