Cert: PG Runtime: 90 mins Director: Terry McDonough Cast: David Bradley, Jessica Raine, Jeff Rawle, Sacha Dhawan and Brian Cox
You can’t rewrite history. Not one line!
Doctor Who has celebrated it’s 50th birthday this month, The Day of The Doctor was a decent special. For me the last twenty minutes saved the whole thing. The real gem from this celebration is Mark Gatiss’s story of how Doctor Who came to be. For me as a child Doctor Who didn’t really exist, but I did read many novels based on the show and even got to see a few Tom Baker episodes growing up. It wasn’t until Russell T.Davies brought the show back that I got hooked on it, I haven’t seen many William Hartnell episodes but after this TV movie I just mite start. In 1963 Sydney Newman (Brian Cox), progressive head of BBC TV’s drama department, wants to fill a Saturday tea-time slot with a show with youth appeal and hits on the idea of an august figure, like a doctor, leading a group of companions on time travel adventures. He engages inexperienced young producer Verity Lambert (Jessica Raine) to expand the idea. Fighting sexist and racial bigotry Verity and young Indian director Waris Hussein (Sacha Dhawan) persuade crusty character actor William Hartnell (David Bradley) to play the doctor figure and, despite technical hiccups and competition with coverage of the Kennedy assassination, the first episode of ‘Doctor Who’ is born. As the show becomes an success Hartnell displays an obsession with his character.
The first thing to say is that nobody does these self-referential television movies better than the BBC. Mark Gatiss’ excellent script teases the initial wonder and subsequent popularity of the show out beautifully, but doesn’t shy away from the many budgetary and performance shortcomings that are clearly there on-screen if you re-watch the original material. The casting is universally superb, as are the performances David Bradley as Hartnell especially and this is a handsomely mounted production full of nostalgia and pathos, with a clear undying love for the source material. The scene near the conclusion demonstrates this the best, with a tired Hartnell staring into the distance on “his” TARDIS set, wondering what will become of “his” show and “his” Doctor after he leaves – to be confronted by a grinning but clearly reverential Matt Smith as the latest incarnation – is bursting with the magic and charm that made the early show the phenomena it was, and demonstrates why it’s still on today. No true fan could watch this without welling up I suspect, nor could a general unknown to Doctor Who.It’s the last drama to have been made at BBC Television Centre in Shepherd’s Bush prior to its closure, and it never looked finer. Well done BBC. I couldn’t think of a better tribute to one of your greatest creations.