Friday, 22 November 2013

An Adventure In Space And Time (2013)

Doctor Who used to brilliant didn't it? You remember, no? It was a long time ago now and mostly before my time too but I've still seen every episode, even the reconstructions of missing episodes and the VHS copy of Shada with Tom Baker narrating the missing scenes due to industrial action. I love how it all began, so cleverly crafted. The wizened old man, the impetuous grand-daughter and the two teachers, history and science - the show's very core, all having adventures together in our real past and a futurists wildest dreams, alternating story by story. Imaginative, educational and exciting. Doctor Who isn't like that any more. It's the BBC's biggest export and 2 entertain video sales are astronomical but since it's third return to our screens we've lacked that original ethos in favour of over convoluted story arcs with no actual conclusions, just gaping holes in the plot. Back then stories made sense - Marco Polo, The French Revolution, The Romans, The Aztecs, The Wild West and much more were explored in Hartnell's era. Under The Moffat helm this would be just one episode with everything happening at once. What do we learn from that?

Tom Baker is my Doctor, I remember 'The Robots Of Death' with Louise Jameson at his side and it was 'City Of Death' with Lalla Ward before I was allowed to watch it again! I am a big fan of Douglas Adams so this period is still my favourite but as a child I didn't know the show's past. I was bought a book, Doctor who And The Daleks and I didn't understand. It wasn't like the Doctor I saw on television, and who were Ian, Barbara and Susan? I will buy that book again someday and watching them back now on DVD brings me enormous pleasure. Billy Hartnell was the original Doctor Who and the blueprint for all who followed. They all took something from him. He brought a character to life beyond our dreams, an angry old grandfather who cared so much he just kept saving the world. Then other worlds too. Carole was excellent as the likeable teenager who was just 'unearthly' enough to be alien. Well, aren't all teenagers alien? Jackie Hill and Bill Russell were so believable as the wide eyed teachers drifting in time and space watching their own subjects unfurl before them, for real. The daleks became national treasures, Sydney Newman was already a major player in television, Verity and Waris became hugely successful in tv and film. The legacy of these early works lives on so how good is this BBC production about those very days, the inception of Doctor Who? Very good indeed.

Focusing on producer Verity Lambert and character actor Billy Hartnell it was a moving story dealing with several issues. Verity was given a position of authority in a male dominated world. Her success in a time of old boy networks and patriarchal business models is given a large part of the story, also bringing in Waris Hussein's success and growth in a white, racist environment. Doctor Who again breaking new ground and looking to a future which we mostly now enjoy. Bill's success in his role is well represented as is his love of playing it but of course his is a story of ill health and ultimately sadness as he was unable to continue in the role. A moving tribute to some people who made a real difference to their art and to children's lives across the globe.
The cast was excellent on the most part. Jessica Raine (Doctor Who "Hurt") was excellent as Verity and not a bad likeness to the young woman about the universe.

David Bradley (Doctor Who "Dinosaurs On A Spaceship") was stunning as Billy Hartnell. Claudia Grant, Sacha Dhawan and Brian Cox (Doctor Who "The End Of Time") were all excellent as Carole Ann Ford, Waris and Sydney respectively. Jemma Powell look and sounded superb as Jacqueline Hill but like Jamie Glover as William Russell, their parts were too small really. Anna-Lisa Drew made a good Maureen O'Brien and Sophie Holt captured the look of Jackie Lane but Peter Purves, Anneke Wills and Michael Craze's counterparts just made it look like the producers had given up. Carole Ann Ford and William Russell are always a pleasure to see (Joyce and Harry) and who wouldn't welcome a cameo from Anneke Wills? There's even Jean Marsh (Doctor Who "The Crusade", "The Chase" & "Battlefield"). The only disappointments were Matt Smith and Reece Shearsmith. Matt obviously is there to boost DVD sales with the kids. If you are seriously suggesting Billy could see that lanky streak of piss playing a character of gravitas like the Doctor then you've gone a step too far. Shearsmith (The League Of Gentlemen) is clearly only there as he's buds with writer Mark Gatiss (The League Of Gentlemen). He looks, sounds and acts nothing like Patrick Troughton and that wig? Do me a favour. Those parts were a massive let down really but we move swiftly away from it. Other than that and a few clunky bits of dialogue which jarred, Gatiss did a stand up job. Then again he is a fan and has written for Doctor Who from long before it's return under Rusty Davies. Anyone seen the P.R.O.B.E. videos? Yes, I have. Guess who was in them? Yes, Gatiss' old mate Reece Shearsmith. A must for any fan, they're full of Who stars, perhaps I'll review them here. . .

So a success for the BBC, I'll be buying the DVD despite it's faults. Anyone who's seen Billy Hartnell in Brighton Rock or any other movie (with the exception of Carry On Sergeant) will know what a great actor he was and this is a great depiction of that. If you like cult TV like me then the study of Verity, Waris and Sydney in full, glorious colour is too good to miss. Even if you just like Doctor Who then the cameos and colour sets are worth it. It moved with joy both for Bill when he was playing with the children and Verity when the children on the bus are playing Daleks, then sadness with Bill's illness and departure. Excellent direction, mise, design, clothes and make-up. Dialogue and old boy casting cost it though, 4/5, almost classic drama.

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