Just a little note, this review does contain spoilers.
An Adventure in Space and Time is one of those new fashionable programmes which takes an affectionate behind the scenes look at the creation and filming of Doctor Who, tracing the story of its inception and the journey of its star William Hartnell (David Bradley) through his time as the First Doctor. What makes this so special is that it's a drama about the people who brought it to life, people working passionately towards a project that they believe in. In this respect, the fact that said project is Doctor Who could have been treated as incidental. Instead, Gatiss treats the heart of his story with the utmost affection and the programme is full of little nods and curios that would warm even the most casual fan's heart.
There is also a real sense that Gatiss has made this for everyone to enjoy, even people who have never watched an episode but are no doubt aware of the iconography that the show has given the world. I must admit, the Hartnell years are a big gap in my Who knowledge (I'm looking to rectify this, dear reader, never fear) but An Adventure didn't seek to alienate, but include. References weren't obscure, but knowing and I'm sure there were a tonne that I missed but will no doubt rediscover when I'm a bit more clued up on the First Doctor.
An Adventure also captures that attention to detail that fans have come to love over the fifty years; it's the little things that matter. For Hartnell, it is ensuring that each button on the TARDIS panel has a function and worrying that he couldn't just press any old button to open the doors. The wobbly sets and the malfunctioning doors was a great visual joke whilst Hartnell knowing how to work the TARDIS set added not only humour but a poignant moment towards the end of the episode too.
However, the real triumphs were the performance given by its excellent cast. Jessica Raine (a recent Who star herself in the last series' episode Hide) stars as legendary producer Verity Lambert, here at the very early stages of her career. The only female producer at the BBC at this time and with something of a point to prove, her passion for bringing Doctor Who to the screen was matched well with Sacha Dhawan's Waris Hussein, the director who was less enthusiastic but just as dedicated.
However, An Adventure in Space and Time belongs to David Bradley from the moment in which he first appeared to his final scene. As the programme shifts its focus to Hartnell's story, it steps up a gear, transforming into a story about an old man who was giving a chance to do something completely different towards the end of his career and embraced it with open arms and enthusiasm. Bradley plays Hartnell with a great deal of respect, capturing the alternating grouchiness and passion with which he approached the role of the Doctor. As everyone around him moves on to other careers and he is forced to retire from the show, the sense of grief is palpable and his scene at the fireplace (echoing Ten's sentiments before his regeneration), exclaiming 'I don't want to go' just about broke my heart.
The final moments of the episode in which the First Doctor came face to face with the Eleventh was not only an inspired nod to the future of the role, but also of the lasting legacy of Hartnell's work. Here was this character who had gone through so many incarnations to the one which currently graces our screens and it was Hartnell who laid those foundations, who established the 'twinkle' and capacity for imagination that the Doctor has become known for. It was a lovely nod to past, present and future and played wonderfully by both Bradley and the cameo-ing Matt Smith.
Doctor Who is a show founded on constant change, the endless possibilities that result from having a title character who can travel through time and space and go just about anywhere he likes. This is naturally to be celebrated as it has resulted in some great moments in not just science fiction, but television in general. However, what makes An Adventure in Space and Time so special is that it looks at the human aspect of this change, the loss that Hartnell feels as everything changes around him. It still celebrates this change, but acknowledges those that it leaves behind in the process.
All in all, An Adventure in Space and Time was a moving, heartbreaking and witty look at the early days of the Doctor and the people who brought him to life; it was a perfect tribute.
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