While most people were focused solely on The Day of the Doctor, the BBC in truth had two big specials for the celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who. An Adventure in Space and Time, written by Doctor Who alum Mark Gatiss, chronicles the early days of Doctor Who, from the problems getting it on the air to the departure of the First Doctor, William Hartnell.
Fittingly, the man that runs away with the show is David Bradley, who brilliantly plays Hartnell. Bradley doesn’t play Hartnell, he inhabits Hartnell, both in his bigger than life persona as the Doctor and the real life man full of fear and doubt trying to hold on despite a mind that is continuing to fail him. Bradley is so damn good in this that even when he isn’t doing anything in the shot he somehow manages to steal the scene.
Other noteworthy performances include Brian Cox as Sydney Newman and Jessica Raine as Verity Lambert. A clever fan might also notice that it is Nicholas Briggs playing the original voice of the Daleks and Cybermen, Peter Hawkins
One thing that bothered me immensely was the Matt Smith cameo. The entire special up to this point had been about the period and had stayed very grounded. This break from reality to see Hartnell looking off and seeing Smith as the Doctor felt cheesy, unnecessary, and depending on how you want to look at it, possibly offensive given Hartnell’s real life medical problems. It doesn’t need to be there, Hartnell would never had any clue at that moment that the show would last as long as it has in that moment. It is a huge disconnect from the rest of the piece and the idea should have found its way not onto our screens, but into the trash.
What really should have happened here is instead of a special, they should have done a mini-series. Almost none of the characters are given any chance to develop, and thus, even under a pen as skilled as Gatiss’, the people feel more like cutouts than actual people, save for Bradley’s Hartnell. This is a story with people coming and going all the time, the only character that is in it from start to finish is Cox’s Sydney Newman, and even with him, we barely get to see past the surface. Trying to fit in so much history and information makes the special more about what they did then who they were, which is unfortunate. A mini-series would have allowed a better balance of character work and historical information. Doctor Who broke as much cultural ground behind the camera as it in front of it, and some of the weight of that gets lost because the story has to rush so they can squeeze all of the story in. A mini-series would’ve allowed things to slow down and give the audience time to appreciate all the hard work and interesting people that went into getting this titan of the small screen on the air and making it what it is today.
At the end of the day, the special is well made and is something that both Whovians and Non-Whovians can enjoy for different reasons. While I can’t help but pine for what could have been, what is there is enjoyable and full of charm.
So what did you folks think of An Adventure in Space and Time? Sound off in the comments below!