In 1963, the BBC had a space to fill in its Saturday time slot. Legendary producer and head of drama Sydney Newman had an idea for an educational science fiction show to fill it. He promoted Verity Lambert to produce the show (creating the first female producer of a dramatic program at the network). She hired character actor William Hartnell as the lead. It had a minuscule budget, a tiny studio, and got off to a rough start (the pilot aired the day of the JFK assassination) but went on to become the stuff of legend.
The show, of course was Doctor Who and An Adventure in Space and Time recreates its conception and first few years on the air. Jessica Raine plays Verity with Brian Cox in the Sydney Newman role and David Bradley portrays William Hartnell, the First Doctor. Rounding out the cast is Sacha Dhawan who plays Waris Hussein the director of the first several episodes.
Written by Mark Gatiss, it is a wonderful film, made with genuine affection by and for fans. It’s a love letter to a show that has lasted five decades and entertained millions all over the globe. Because of that, I’m not entirely sure how well it will play for those who have not seen Doctor Who. It’s written well enough that I have no doubt non-fans could follow the story though the heart of the drama is likely only meaningful to us Whovians.
But for those who do love the show it is a marvelous look at its beginnings and shines a little light on the very first Doctor who tends to be overlooked these days. The production quality is top notch and the actors are all in fine form. Jessica Raine and Sacha Dhawan create a lovely pair of producer and director battling stereotypes (Waris Hussein was one of the only directors of Indian decent on the BBC payroll) and trying to get the show to take off. Brian Cox is his usually brilliant self. David Bradley is a revelation. I know him as the curmudgeonly characters in the Harry Potter films and Game of Thrones series where he is perfectly good, but here – my god – he is transformed. He is William Hartnell in the flesh.
The whole film is made with love and care, perhaps too much. Because it was made for fans, and as fans we already know the story, there isn’t a whole lot of conflict or any real drama. It was hard to get too invested in these people trying to get this small show started when the movie was made for the same show’s 50th anniversary. Not that I really minded as it was such fun to watch.
The video and sound on the Blu-ray are all quite good. The 1080p imaging is warm and crisp. The colors and bold and beautiful. The audio as well is really well done. It isn’t a particularly robust film sound wise, but they’ve done a masterful job with the atmospherics allowing the sounds of the office and studio to immerse one into the story.
This is a three-disk set. There is a Blu-ray and DVD disk containing the film and its extras. The third disk contains the very first episode of Doctor Who, “An Unearthly Child,” which has its own extras. The third disk is actually the very same DVD that comes with the Doctor Who: The Beginning set.
The proper film’s extras include a couple of extended scenes. We also get the full versions of several scenes from early Doctor Who serials that were reconstructed and filmed for this movie. There is a comparison of the original titles with the titles for this film, and a silly regeneration sequence with Mark Gatis portraying Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor. Lastly, there are a couple of short features about the making of the movie and remembering William Hartnell.
Extras on An Unearthly Child include the original filming of the very first episode of the serial, which was scrapped and refilmed due to several gaffes and a Doctor who was way too abrasive. There’s audio commentaries, four comedy sketches, a photo gallery, and some presentations of the Doctor Who Theme.
An Adventure in Space and Time is a must-have for any Whovian and a loving remembrance of how Doctor Who got its start.