It sounds as though Mark Gatiss’s fascination with–and admiration for–First Doctor William Hartnell has only grown thanks to An Adventure in Space and Time. Gatiss’s upcoming docudrama about the very beginnings of Doctor Who features the character of Hartnell (as played by David Bradley) in a key role.
In a lengthy article that was published this week in The Telegraph, long-time Who writer, actor, and superfan Gatiss revealed his deep interest in the man who would be First:
William Hartnell once said ‘If I live to be 90, a little of the magic of Doctor Who will still cling to me.’ …Hartnell was out of work when the call for Doctor Who came, and he wasn’t sure about doing it because it was a children’s programme. But once he got it, he grabbed it with both hands. It made him a hero to children.
And Gatiss also seems taken by the man himself–partly because Hartnell could be such a mystifying contradiction.
He was a very difficult man, but I don’t think he was a monster. There are some hair-raising stories about his prejudices, but they feel of a piece of his generation. …He was also immensely lovable, charming, and a very good actor. The tragedy is that he was used to film. The incredible treadmill of television production…and the fact that he was ill wore him out.
Gatiss also needed to delicately balance the true-behind-the-scenes-story of what happened in the early 1960s with making an entertaining movie for modern television:
The thing that I’ve really tried to use in An Adventure in Space and Time is the idea that the Doctor makes Hartnell better. That’s what doctors do. There’s something rather lovely about that.
In conclusion, Gatiss tells his aim for the program and his portrayal of William Hartnell in the 90-minute story:
I hope that you can watch it without knowing anything about Doctor Who. It’s just the story of how something comes together-and how a man who got everything he ever wanted had to give it all away.
An Adventure in Space and Time, written by Mark Gatiss and directed by Terry McDonough, will air on BBC Two at 9pm on November 21st.