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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Blu-ray Review: An Adventure in Space and Time

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: ‘Doctor Who’ – ‘An Adventure in Space and Time’ on Blogcritics.

AAiSaTAs part of Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary celebration, BBC America aired a made-for-TV movie called An Adventure in Space and Time. This two-hour film gives us a piece of the story of the early days at the BBC when Doctor Who was first being made, 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).

This project is a huge one to tackle. Not only does An Adventure in Space and Time reveal the origins of a legendary show, which is one of the longest-running series ever, but it also represents a bold, brave era for the network, an important tale to tell. Talk about groundbreaking, Doctor Who was the BBC’s first real attempt at science fiction and Lambert was the youngest producer at the network, the only female producer at the time. An important tale of this magnitude deserves better than this TV movie, unfortunately.

Now, let me preface my opinion by saying An Adventure in Space and Time is pretty good, definitely enjoyable. I think the acting is terrific, and I am excited to learn new things about this show and era. It is well-paced and the production looks good.

But it feels like a TV movie, rather than an epic film, not a good choice for such an iconic moment in history. Much of the story is told in small vignettes, stand-alone occurrences, rather than a cohesive narrative. Either Verity or Hartnell could easily rate their own full movie, but instead, each part is cut down so that there’s room for them both in one production. By combining them, both are under-served, 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 like a few more details, including a slower descent at the end. Not to mention, the film starts at the end then flashes back to the beginning, a tired trope that comes across as quite cheesy.

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, 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.

Luckily, this release is flush with extras. The very first Doctor Who serial, “An Unearthly Child,” is included in its entirety (with its own bonus features) so fans can compare the look of An Adventure in Space and Time to the actual episodes. There’s a “Making Of” narrated by Carole Ann Ford herself, as well as a featurette on William Hartnell, delete scenes, and reconstructions. Best of all (in my mind) is a comedy sketch about the creation of Doctor Who starring producer Mark Gatiss and David Walliams. These help make the set feel worth it, and as I said, the film itself isn’t bad, if you can get past the squandered potential.

An Adventure in Space and Time is available now on Blu-ray and DVD.

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