The birth of a legend, and the only review you need of Mark Gatiss' poignant tribute.
On the eve of the 50th Anniversary Special, it took just a single, masterful programme in order to assure this reviewer that Doctor Who's landmark event was going to fulfil all of the lofty expectations of the show's strict fandom. That programme, of course, was Mark Gatiss' BBC Two docudrama An Adventure in Space and Time.
Gatiss' script is finely structured, opening proceedings with a glimpse at William Hartnell on the brink of his departure from Who in 1965, only to then flash back to 1963, the year it all started, and fo subsequently provide a retrospective of how the elderly star became an icon. At times, certain scenes descend into comedy, yet for the most part, this is a pure drama at heart and a greatly powerful one in terms of the stirring and oft-heartbreaking material contained within. It would undoubtedly take a hardened viewer to not have a hint of a tear or two in their eyes come the programme's conclusion, and it remains a testament to Gatiss' ability that he never allows a descent into tepid, superfluous melodrama either.
Were Adventure devoid of a worthy cast ensemble, then there would be an unrelenting sense of lost potential about the whole production. Enter David Bradley, whose portrayal of Hartnell is a near-unbelievable reproduction of the 'original' Doctor, steeped in pathos towards the special episode's climax and never anything short of captivating. Call The Midwife's Jessica Raine is equally impressive as producer Verity Lambert, whose influence upon the show's initial survival appears profound judging by her role here. Aside from the leads, Brian Cox, Sacha Dhawan and even Matt Smith have their chance to and do provide wonderful turns to accompany Bradley and Raine, though undoubtedly it's the latter pair's central dynamic is the core foundation upon which the programme develops and thrives.
All too often, the director's work on a biopic is understated and inspiring, but Terry McDonough evidently begs to differ. His depiction of the world and British society of the 1960s naturally inherits some of the fundamental stereotypes that a modern viewer might assign to the period; however, on the whole there's a clear respect shown for Doctor Who's defining age, the neat visual touches such as the implementation of the initial BBC TV logo intended to be a admiring homage to days gone by rather than any distasteful parody. This reviewer would in fact be thrilled to hear that McDonough had been appointed as a director on Who itself, since his eye for the show's key tropes and his own passion for the programme are crystal clear in this spin-off piece.
At this stage, of course, we find ourselves on Sunday November 24th, with the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who now behind us and the 100th Anniversary less than half a century away. Our review of The Day of the Doctor will première later today, but for now, any fan holding any suspicions of Mark Gatiss' stunning biopic who hasn't watched Adventure yet can be certain that there's nothing to fear, quite the contrary. An Adventure in Space and Time was the perfect prelude to the perfect anniversary present, thanks in no small part to Bradley and Raine's electrifying performances and what may just be Gatiss' finest script yet. Indeed, the journey to the 50th has been a long one, but with Adventure and its successor, the realisation has been that in fact, our journey to Doctor Who's return is the same as that of the Time Lord's next chapter- we were going home, the long way round.