Dr Who 50th Anniversary: An Adventure in Time and Space
This special drama celebrating the beginning of Doctor Who was predictably sweet about the real people depicted here. The first female BBC producer, the British Indian director, and the curmudgeonly actor - this was a tale of their empowerment and deliverance where prejudice was beaten soundly and the children of the world saved us all. Mark Gatiss abridged a few bits of the history of The Doctor's first incarnation, reducing the cast to manageable numbers and ensured that it was all a little bit Mad Men as well.
The tale as told had the moody Hartnell presented as an unhappy soul and a scary grandpa whose popularity as The Doctor brought him a status and affection that rescued him from his bitterness until physical deterioration brought him down. The actor's alleged prejudices were relegated to one offhand remark to Waris Hussain and his legendary difficultness was shown as first a learning point for our valiant producer and something that became unmanageable when she and his key collaborators left. Still, where the drama was most affecting was where David Bradley was allowed to suggest Hartnells vulnerability before a sad, ignominious decline. I guess it's no surprise that Verity Lambert was shown as ballsy and on a mission to find a path through the bullshit for those who share her gender. Unlike Bradley, Jessica Raine (also a veteran from Who - Hide), had nowhere as much an arc to work with other than to guts it out and succeed despite the idiot men around her. She did this warmly enough, but like Sacha Dhawan playing Waris Hussein, she simply had to be determined and admirable as the positive role models both were intended as.
So, was this deeply warm and affectionate origin tale too sugary sweet or too lacking in reality? Well, would anyone watch a TV movie about this deeply loved show which went for gritty detail and avoided the nostalgia? Were you surprised that hoary old devices like the year clicking over on the TARDIS console were included, was it a shock that the cigarrette chomping Head of Drama told Verity her "job was on the line" and was the use of nameless bit players to provide the discriminatory pressures just a lazy cop out?The truth is that a documentary approach was unnecessary and the people watching just wanted to celebrate a program they already love. Once you accept that, then Mark Gatiss's story was a fun way of filling in some of the background to the show, and I am sure that he understood his responsibility to the fan-base and enjoyed any corniness he could get away with.
As one of the few dramas the BBC will produce now BBC4 has had its wings clipped, we should embrace this entertaining story and hope more can be squeezed out of the budget like it.
An Adventure in Time and Space can be found on the BBC IPlayer and will be available from 2nd December on DVD as well