Some of the greatest hits in entertainment have had humble, rocky beginnings. For Doctor Who, one of the most wildly successful television programs ever, this couldn’t be more true.
It’s 1963, and Sydney Newman is the Head of Drama at the British Broadcasting Corporation. A spot has opened in the station’s lineup, and Newman has an idea for a new show. He also knows just the person to make it happen.
Verity Lambert has had dreams of being a director, but she finds herself stuck as a production assistant. She’s decided that if she cannot find advancement within a year, then she’s getting out of television altogether. Well, opportunity comes calling, literally, and Lambert picks up the phone.
The rest is history.
If you’ve ever wondered how Doctor Who began, then An Adventure in Space and Time will intrigue you. This TV movie is charming, witty, and maybe even a tear jerker. It boasts a distinguished cast in its leading roles, including Jessica Raine as Verity Lambert, Brian Cox as Sydney Newman, and David Bradley (many will remember him as Filch from the Harry Potter films) as the famous William Hartnell.
Sydney Newman is an apparent science fiction fan, which explains his eagerness to initiate a television program of that type. Verity Lambert, who used to work under him at the “other channel,” is on his list of people who will help him bring his plan to fruition. When she initially declines, he explains that he doesn’t just want her to be a part of the project, he wants her to produce it. It would be a milestone for the network – their first female producer. That seems to get her going.
Lambert’s got an uphill battle, though. She is faced with a bombardment of obstacles, some of which take the shape of a set design expert with an attitude and a hot studio with a rebellious sprinkler system. The latter is referred to by the director as a “broom cupboard” and says it’s “smaller on the inside.”
I see what you did there.
Perhaps one of greatest challenges of all is the man who’s been cast for the leading role. At first glance, William Hartnell seems a crotchety old timer who is easily antagonized. This may be due to the fact that he is tired of accepting roles he classifies as “drivel.” He’s a legitimate actor who deserves a legitimate part. When Lambert and Waris Hussein (the director) pitch the show to him (with a bit of humorous exaggeration) and describe the part they’d like him to play as “C.S. Lewis meets H.G. Wells meets Father Christmas,” Hartnell decides it may be worth a shot.
However, when it comes to actually working with Hartnell, he’s pretty touchy. With good reason, perhaps; Doctor Who is a children’s show, and Hartnell has a granddaughter who loves him to pieces. He wants Doctor Who to make a favorable impression with young viewers, so he wants his character to be just right. Though Hartnell comes off as irritable, if you think about it, there’s something to be gleaned from his attitude. When we begin to take others into account with our actions, we can find a renewed sense of purpose. For William Hartnell, this isn’t just about the money, and it’s not just about acting anymore. It’s about being a role model. His desire is to portray his character in such a way that will encourage his target audience to look up to him. He’ll be rewarded for this later.
As the story progresses, the crew struggles to get the show off the ground. Their first attempt at a premier episode is a bust – Newman thinks it’s a train wreck. When their second effort is approved, it’s given an air date, but the day the program finally hits the TV screens, it is eclipsed by the JFK assassination which occurred the previous day. The “high-ups” are not satisfied with the ratings, or the show itself for that matter, and Newman is ready to pull the plug. The future of Doctor Who is in jeopardy.
What happens next is amazing.
Initially a daunting, frustrating task, the Doctor Who project becomes a life changing experience for all as the program’s original members struggle through tension and stress and eventually develop a genuinely deep respect and appreciation for each other. The strong rapport that grows between Verity Lambert and the gruff William Hartnell as well as the latter’s avuncular manner towards Carole Ann Ford are particularly inspiring to see. It just goes to show that having an open heart and mind can result in some unlikely friendships and enable you to have significant impact on the lives of people you would have otherwise believed to be unapproachable – a concept that Christians would do well to remember.
An Adventure in Space and Time is a must see for all Whovians, old fans and new fans alike. Though there is some language to be wary of, the script is very well done. It’ll make you laugh and it’ll make you think. It will even tug at your heartstrings; a few scenes leave you feeling as though Mark Gatiss is trying to rip your heart out (he’s spending too much time with Moffat). There are some serious feels in here.
David Bradley gives a splendid performance, and Cox and Raine hit home runs of their own, while a touching moment with a surprise cameo caps the picture off wonderfully.
If you’re a Doctor Who junkie, definitely check this out