All My Love to Long Ago: An Adventure in Space and Time Review

December 4, 2013 10:09 am

an adventure in space and time 2The announcement that current Doctor Who Consul Mark Gatiss, with the help of Terry McDonough as Director and Matt Stevens as Producer, was recreating the show’s earliest days for the small screen led many (including me) to conclude that An Adventure in Space and Time would be yet another polished and sanitized re-account of the 1960’s, overtly white washed in the name of sentimentality and in the hope of attracting (and not offending) as many viewers as possible. Even as the air date got closer (and despite the reassurance from the cast and crew) there was always the fear that what was going to be delivered wasn’t going to live up to the promise given by Gatiss in the early parts of the year. Last night however, as the minutes passed and the show settled, it became clear that what was being delivered was going to be nothing less than an enjoyable, warts and all look at the beginnings of Doctor Who.

With a production such as this it would be stating the obvious to say that all the actors involved performed admirably but I really do have to tip my hat to David Bradley’s interpretation of William Hartnell; a kind (if misunderstood and often misunderstanding) “unpredictable” old man who gets more joy than he lets on from entertaining children. Bradley’s Hartnell is one who channels his love for his granddaughter Jessica Carney (who appeared at the end of the special to discuss her grandfather) into his on-screen interaction with Carol Anne Ford, who played Susan Foreman. Bradley is the kind of actor who knows how to manipulate a line of dialogue into a hammer, and use it to break the audience’s hearts; as he did when, after being told that he was to be replaced by Patrick Troughton, alone in his home, he muttered silently and tearfully: “I don’t want to go.” Words known for their ability to break any Doctor Who fan’s heart.

Jessica Raine’s interpretation of Verity Lambert is also excellent, she’s a woman (along with Sacha Dhawan’s Warris Hussein (another impressive performance, I must say) punching at the glass ceiling imposed on them by the BBC’s old guard, “sweaty old men that stink of smoke in tweed jackets” with only her natural talent, blood 4/5ths “piss and vinegar” and the belief of Brian Cox’s Sydney Newman backing her (and Mr Hussein) up. Raine’s Lambert is a woman who can be both motherly and childlike with Hartnell. Occasionally untruthful, but never malicious, and an upmost professional in a world which could often be a boys club. And although I cannot say that I ever had the pleasure of meeting Verity Lambert in real life, I do honestly believe that if Raine’s portrayal of her is in anyway close to the truth, then she is more than worthy of the title of ‘legend’ that the special credits her as.

One of the ways in which An Adventure in Space and Time exceeded where many historical dramas fail was its ability to ignore the allure of trying to become a microcosm of the earlier time period (in this case nineteen-sixties Great Britain) and instead concentrate on replicating Doctor Who and the BBC as an institution. The original TARDIS control room was re-constructed, down to the most minute detail, and the recreation of the inside of the BBC Television Centre (with exterior shots taken at the White City Facility itself) giving the entire production a polished, yet believable appearance. There are two things of particular note; firstly, I think the decision to have it that Hartnell is the only one who can make the TARDIS go speaks vast amounts about the respect that the production company wished to pay to him (after all, only the Doctor can properly pilot the TARDIS). And secondly, the decision to cast Matt Smith as the spectre at the end, a reminder to the audience that although Hartnell’s short song as the Doctor has ended, the story that Sydney Newman, Verity Lambert, Anthony Coburn and Warris Hussein created all those years ago hasn’t, and that now, just as it was back then, there is a kindly old man in a big wooden blue box sailing off into the universe who is there to watch over us like “CS Lewis’ Aslan and Father Christmas’ was nothing short of heart-warming.

This is only re-enforced by the repeated use of William Hartnell’s famous speech when leaving his granddaughter Susan Campell:

“One day, I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine. Goodbye, Susan. Goodbye, my dear.”

Clearly, if Mark Gatiss isn’t already considered a great writer on account of his own dialogue, then he should at least be considered for his ability to recycle past dialogue. That is not to say, of course, that the original dialogue in this special is in anyway lacking: some lines made me laugh, some made me frown, but where the special really excels is its ability to use phrases in order to call back to past (or, to put it another way, future) stories and weave them into the narrative in order to make the whole thing stronger and ultimately a much better story. All major characters get some truly magnificent lines and Gatiss should really be congratulating himself for this special.

doctor whoNow, whilst there is the argument to make that the production team have de-emphasized certain areas of the show’s past, for example Hartnell’s supposed prejudice’s (as reported by the late Nicholas Courtney), the show never goes out of its way to polish history: they show the passive aggressive racism that Hussein faced from his co-workers, the sexism that Lambert faced from her co-workers within the BBC and they explicitly show the difficulty that some of the other cast members faced from Hartnell. And here, I think, is the beauty part, not just of the special, Doctor Who, Science Fiction or the concept of Fandom entire. It’s the beauty part about being human; when Hartnell upset Carol Anne Ford he bought her a bouquet of flowers and apologizes, and when Verity Lambert left Doctor Who for greener pastures her leaving party was full to the brim with adoring co-workers, and when that co-worker who made that comment about Mr Hussein, another co-worker immediately told him to stop it. I don’t think the special is trying to suggest that being a part of Doctor Who makes you a better person, but what I think what it’s accidentally saying is that if you take part in something and you put enough passion into it then a family will grow around it, a family that doesn’t care about race, creed, skin color, gender or anything like that, and that if we could all do something like that, no matter what it is, then the world would be a much better place. And personally, I think that that’s a very important message, and one that isn’t spread enough.

To conclude, although An Adventure in Space and Time has some minor faults it is no less a beautiful and heartfelt look at the beginnings of what at the time was considered nothing more than a kiddies program, but which has become nothing less than a national institution. It is clear that, like the original makers of the show, the entire cast and crew of An Adventure in Space and Time poured their collective heart and souls into this production and should be respected as such by the show’s many millions of fans, casual or “hard-core”.

Ultimately, I can honestly, without shame, recommend An Adventure in Space and Time to anyone with even the slightest interest in Doctor Who.

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