As part of Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary celebration, which was in full swing last week, BBC America aired a made-for-TV movie called An Adventure in Space and Time. This two-hour film takes us back to the early days at the BBC, when Doctor Who was first being made, and gives us a piece of that story, with a focus on the show’s first titular star, William Hartnell (David Bradley, Harry Potter, Broadchurch), and producer Verity Lambert (Jessica Raine, Call the Midwife).
An Adventure in Space and Time is an important tale. Not only does it reveal the origins of a legendary series which is one of the longest-running shows ever, but it also represents a bold, brave era for the network. It was the BBC’s first real attempt at science fiction. Lambert was the youngest producer there, and the only female producer at the time. Because of this, it deserves better.
I won’t say I didn’t enjoy An Adventure in Space and Time. It was actually pretty good. I thought the acting was terrific, and I was excited to learn new things about this show and era. It was well-paced and the production looked good.
But it felt like a TV movie, rather than an epic film. Much of the story was told in small vignettes, stand-alone occurrences, rather than a cohesive tale. Either Verity or Hartnell could rate their own full movie, but instead, each part is cut down so that there’s room for them both here. I felt like both were under served in this way, without much exploration as to what Verity herself did to help the show along. Hartnell’s plot is bit more complete, with a clear beginning, middle, and end, but still, I would have liked a few more details, including a slower descent at the end, and the cheesiness of starting at the end then flashing back should not have been allowed.
Bradley and Raine could pull off more complex versions of the roles, I’m sure. They both manage to get a lot into their parts, conveying beyond what’s on the page. We see Hartnell’s rise and fall, and what it costs him. We see Verity coming into her own. Were they given more time, or if this were made into a miniseries, rather than confined to two hours, these actors could have absolutely risen to an award-bait level.
They are joined by Sacha Dhawan (Outsourced, Chuggington) as director Waris Hussein. Waris is another part that feels like it didn’t get is due. While playing a smaller role in the history, and thus confined to only a portion of the movie, Dhawan makes an impact. Sadly, he is not developed much beyond filling a vital, but small, position.
Other than those three, most of the rest of the cast are merely on the sidelines, with only a couple that sort of stand out a bit. Brian Cox’s (Bob Servant Independent, Deadwood) Sydney Newman is overblown and cartoonish, in a good way, fitting for someone of his temperament in his position. Claudia Grant seems to capture Carole Ann Ford perfectly. Lesley Manville, Jeff Rawle, Jemma Powell, and Jamie Glover all play parts that should matter, but are largely forgettable, likely more because of a lack of focus from the script than the performers themselves.
I do think An Adventure in Space and Time is worth watching; as I said, I enjoyed it. I just mourn for the potential that hasn’t been reached, especially when there is never a more opportune time for a project such as this.