Saturday, 23 November 2013

A Series of Adventures in Time and Space

Duncan comments on An Adventure In Space And Time.

I don't want to nitpick, because while I know that The Reign of Terror was over long before the first Dr Who annual came out, and that the time rotor was not in motion during the Doctor's great speech at the end of Bell of Doom (because otherwise the TARDIS would have left Steven behind), these things are not, when it comes down to it, important.

What I consider to be the one crucial flaw of An Adventure In Space And Time is that it told two stories instead of one, and as a result seemed to do full justice to neither.

The first story is that of the creation of Doctor Who in the BBC establishment of the early '60s. It is the story of the people behind the cameras that got it made despite all the obstacles, in particular the producer Verity Lambert and director Waris Hussein, both of whom faced prejudice for more than just being young (I am aware that is a massive understatement but that's not what I want to go into here). In this story the actors, even William Hartnell, are only a part.

The second story is that of the survival of Doctor Who beyond the expectations of any involved in its creation, which was only achieved by the successful replacement of crew and cast, one by one, culminating in the replacement of Hartnell as the lead at the time of the first regeneration. In this story Hartnell is the key character, as we see that the survival of the series is only possible because nobody, not even the Doctor, is irreplaceable.

Somewhere around the middle of the 90-minute run time, the focus shifts from story one to story two, a two-part story edited together like the '80s VHS releases.

You can see this by the change in focus from Verity Lambert, who fades from the centre of the stage once The Daleks gives her a hit and the vindication her character has been looking for, to William Hartnell, who takes the spotlight as the Doctor takes the central role in the series (it was an ensemble of four to begin with), and just in time for his declining health to make his departure from that role inevitable.

The result is that An Adventure In Space And Time feels to me like a compromise between these two stories, each easily strong enough to make a compelling drama of its own. We could have had a series of Adventures in Time and Space.

It is the crucial flaw, but is it a fatal flaw? No, definitely not. Even though, as a Doctor Who fan for 30 years (since I was so young I cannot remember a time when I did not know of multiple Doctors), I knew much of the background - enough to spot those nits I am refraining from picking (sorry for that imagery) - I was hooked by the characters and the superb portrayals by David Bradley, Jessica Raine, Sacha Dhawan, et al. This was, after all, a story; a drama, not a documentary. Like William Hartnell himself, it didn't have to be word-perfect.

It wasn't perfect, but it was very good. Right, with that said I'm off to watch Time and the Rani. Keep warm.

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