You may not have been aware but Tuesday evening was the BFI’s preview screening of An Adventure in Space and Time, Mark Gatiss’ much-anticipated dramatisation of Doctor Who‘s early years, focusing on William Hartnell’s time on the show.
Before we get to that, though, don’t miss an excellent Radio Times interview with actor Brian Cox in which he describes a scene in which Sydney Newman (who he plays in the film) sacks William Hartnell, as well as his recollections of working in the 1960s – a time when he even met Newman himself!
He was very different from the other people around. In 63 when Doctor Who started, everybody was still very much in BBC suits and waistcoats, pipe-smoking. He had this aspect particular to him that made him brash, kind of mogul-like. He had this Canadian Jewish accent. He’d say, ‘How are you, kid? Are you OK? Enjoying yourself. That’s good, GOOD.’ It was not what you were expecting.
So, onto the screening, held at BFI Southbank and attended by many fans and industry personnel. Among those there was, of course, writer Mark Gatiss, for whom An Adventure in Space and Time has been a pet project for many years.
Obviously if I was writing a film about [BBC TV police series] Z Cars, I would feel a bit more dispassionate, so I had to put my anorak away and treat it very straight.
Anyone could watch this and hopefully be very moved by it because it’s a universal story in that we all discover we are replaceable.
Among the guests (alongside Carole Ann Ford, Anneke Wills, Louise James and Sophie Aldred) was Jessica Carney, William Hartnell’s real life granddaughter. After the screening, she spoke to BBC News about her memories of her grandfather’s time as the star of Doctor Who, specifically during the recording of The Web Planet in 1965.
I sat in the dressing room with my grandfather, and it was fascinating to watch the wig and make-up being put on.
On the main set there were actors wandering around in very odd costumes. The cameras were so cumbersome and there were loads of huge cables everywhere.
Because there were so few TV channels the numbers of people watching were huge. On Monday in the school playground everyone would be talking about the programme.
All my early memories of my grandfather are muddled up with Doctor Who because he was Doctor Who and I watched him every Saturday on the television.
Carney also thanked David Bradley “for playing my grandfather so wonderfully.”
One of Kasterborous’ occasional contributors Adam Chamberlain attended the screening, and has this spoiler-free summary to tease us…
Whether you’re an ardent Whovian or bemused at quite what all the fuss is about, please save the day and consider watching An Adventure in Space and Time when the BBC premieres it (on both sides of the Atlantic) next week. I was lucky enough to be in the audience for a preview screening this evening at the BFI, just across the aisle from writer Mark Gatiss, star David Bradley, and even William Hartnell’s (somewhat overcome) granddaughter!
A beautiful realisation of the myth behind the series’ birth, it is also a moving human drama about the actor who found himself at its heart, and something of a meditation on both the potential and inevitability of change. Funny, sad, and inspiring by turns, it is not only a “love-letter” to Doctor Who, but also something of a celebration of the legacy of BBC TV Centre. It had this fan frequently in tears, and a rapt audience on their feet as the credits rolled. A note-perfect, early anniversary gift to us all.
An Adventure in Space and Time hits screens next Thursday, 21 November 2013 on BBC Two.