“No-one knows how long it is going to last. No-one’s irreplaceable.”
Originally broadcast around the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, Mark Gatiss’ docudrama about the creation of the long-running sci-fi TV programme was repeated over Christmas and so I couldn’t resist watching it over again. The programme itself ends up being a little constrained by its format at times like these, the expectations of a ‘special’ sky-high when the strength of the show (for me) is in its richness over the length of a series. And so the anniversary ‘special’ (and indeed the regeneration episode in the Christmas ‘special’) operate almost as stand-alones which aren’t always as successful as a storyline built up over numerous episodes.
And in the case of the anniversary, this was exacerbated by the sheer quality of Gatiss’ An Adventure in Space and Time which told the story of the birth of the series, from its genesis at the BBC, through the young guns who drove it to transmission and the tale of William Hartnell, the actor who took on the unknown role and started one of the enduring successes of the televisual era. It was full of details and grace notes that would have delighted the fanbase but more importantly, it also worked for the uninitiated as a powerful piece of drama with huge emotional impact (its finale was more moving than anything given to the real Doctor Who).
Jessica Raine as producer Verity Lambert and Sacha Dhawan as director Waris Hussein both gave great performances as the creative talents pushing the programme into production against the scepticism of all around. But the show belongs to David Bradley as Hartnell, an irascible thespian given an entirely new lease of life through the show’s unexpected popularity but suffering from declining health and unwilling to accept it. A bravura performance, ably supported by Lesley Manville as his wife, that paid tribute to Doctor Who in the best possible way.