It is appropriate for the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who that even as “The Day of the Doctor” focuses on the very beginning of the current series’ story arc, The Last Great Time War that has influenced Doctors 9, 10 and 11, An Adventure in Space and Time celebrates the very origin of Doctor Who itself.
An Adventure in Space and Time is a two-hour television documentary drama that not only details the creation of the program in 1963, but also particularly focuses on the story of William Hartnell, the actor that plays the very first incarnation of The Doctor from 1963 to 1966. According to the writer of An Adventure in Space and Time, Mark Gatniss, the film will focus on a few of the program’s first few episodes (including the design of some retro and vintage-looking props). It also examines how Hartnell’s role as the First Doctor essentially changes his life, even as his ill-health forces him to turn over the character to another.
I have to admit that this film fascinates me on a few levels. When I heard that something was going to be made with The First Doctor before the 50th Anniversary Special, I had no idea that it was going to be a documentary drama about the series’ genesis. For me, it is kind of like a meta-narrative: a work that tells the story of the cast of a show that attempts to portray fictional characters: something that seems to illustrate how art attempts to go beyond space and time in a way that even a TARDIS would have difficulty attempting to do. Certainly, the fact that William Russell and Carol Ann Ford, the original actors for the human Companion Ian Chesterton and The Doctor’s granddaughter Susan respectively, will be playing other roles in the film gives it all a certain nuance and perspective.
And then there is that fact that the First Doctor is one of my favourites. Apparently Hartnell himself was like the First Doctor, cantankerous and likes to have his own way. And when you look at the character himself, in those early episodes that were supposed to be “Saturday tea-time television for children,” there is something morally ambiguous and calculating about how this old man, who turns out to be much older than he even appears to be, interacts with his very strange and terrifying universe. In fact, it seems that only Susan and both human Companions Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright begin to humanize him a bit. Yet even Hartnell’s Doctor always has a quirky sense of humour underneath that stern and snappish exterior, along with a sense of real gravitas that gets passed on throughout the rest of his incarnations.
But I think what really grabs me about the above trailer is the line that Doctor Who‘s first producer Verity Lambert (played by Jessica Raine) pitches to William Hartnell; “C.S. Lewis meets H.G. Wells meets Father Christmas, that is The Doctor.” After hearing this, strangely for the first time, it explains so much to me as to why I really like Doctor Who, and it is something that holds no less true even now. Just seeing this first trailer for An Adventure in Space and Time is enough to remind me of that point when I used to think that The Doctor, who I only knew as Dr. Who, was merely a time-traveller in a phone booth, only to find out that he and the program around him are so much more.
For even though this documentary drama may not be a TARDIS, when you look at the surface and go deeper, the depth you can already see makes it definitely look bigger on the inside.
An Adventure in Space and Time is scheduled to air on BBC Two November 21, 2013. If you are interested, here are some links to interviews with writer Mark Gatniss and David Bradley who plays William Hartnell.