Videophiled: ‘An Adventure in Space and Time’ – The Birth of Doctor Who

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An Adventure in Space and Time (Warner, Blu-ray+DVD Combo) is a TV movie made for the BBC but it is a movie nonetheless, a bit of pop culture celebration that takes on the creation of Doctor Who in 1963 (just in time for the 50th Anniversary!). Scripted by veteran Doctor Who writer Mark Gatiss and produced by current Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat, it’s sweet, it’s sentimental and it’s nostalgic. It’s also unexpectedly engaging as a piece of light historical drama made with an affectionate passion and more than a hint of the BBC series The Hour in its observations of the inner workings of the broadcaster half a century ago.

David Bradley plays William Hartnell, the aging veteran actor who reluctantly takes on the role in what he sees as just a kid’s show, and Jessica Raine is Verity Lambert, the former production assistant given the assignment of creating a prime time family show by her mentor (Brian Cox), now a ranking executive at the Beeb. She’s the first female producer at BBC and her director, Waris Hussein (Sacha Dhawan), was a rare director of Indian descent, and their stories are a small but important part of this portrait of an institution in transition. Together they overcome budgetary limitations with flights of fantasy and creative special effects and the show recreates iconic events in the first four years of the series, from the series debut getting clobbered when it had the unfortunate luck of showing the night (British time) of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy to the first appearance of the Daleks to the explosion of Who-mania in Britain.

The Hartnell we’re presented here is a prickly old man who isn’t always easy to deal with but brings a warmth to the role of The Doctor. Bradley has played his share of grumpy old men, notably the caretaker Filch in the “Harry Potter” films, but he’s quite touching here as the frail veteran who, in the last years of his long career, becomes a pop culture sensation. It’s a late reward that takes its toll—he’s old, losing his memory, and exhausted by the demands of the role—and he offers a poignant performance.

For fans of the show, it’s a loving recreation of the original series art design and special effects along with key moments and characters of the show, but it’s more than simply an extended exercise in insider fandom. If all you know is the current incarnation, this is an entertaining, informative, and rather moving introduction to the birth of the phenomenon.

The Blu-ray+DVD Combo includes a featurette, deleted scenes, recreations of original Who scenes using original Marconi camera, and a bonus DVD featuring the first Doctor Who adventure, “An Unearthly Child,” starring William Hartnett at the Doctor and directed by Waris Hussein.

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