The BBC period drama An Adventure In Space And Time premieres Friday, November 22 at 9PM (ET) on BBC America in the United States and on Thursday, November 21 in the United Kingdom on BBC Two. Starring in the film, which is tied to the 50th anniversary celebrations for Doctor Who, is David Bradley as the actor who played the very first Doctor, William Hartnell. Also starring is Jessica Raine as original Doctor Who producer Verity Lambert, who championed the show through some tough times; Brian Cox as the series’ co-creator and very unique individual Sydney Newman; and Sacha Dahwan as one of the earliest Doctor Who directors, Waris Hussein.
We spoke with David Bradley this summer about playing such an iconic actor as Hartnell, who is fondly loved and remembered five decades later as the first man to introduce us to the Doctor.
“My first thought was that it was a huge responsibility to do not only the film justice, but also to honor his career, because he was one of those great British character actors, and relatively unsung,” Bradley explained. “A lot of people had seen him in supporting roles in films, whether they knew his name [or not], and when Doctor Who happened, it suddenly brought him to the attention of millions, and he hadn’t really known that. I don’t think he saw it at the time, that that was what it would be like. For him, it was like ‘I’ve done these great movies and now I’ve been asked to do a kids’ show, made by kids. What’s going on? I don’t think I can do this.’ And he had doubts, all the way through, but as soon as he started playing it, he realized he was on to something that was going to change his life and his career, and he embraced it, eventually,” he said.
As An Adventure In Space And Time is not just William Hartnell’s story, we won’t be seeing a whole lot of that early career, and there are other major players in this story. “It’s about the making of it, and the characters like Sidney Newman, Verity Lambert, and Waris Hussein, and the problems they had of getting it greenlit and persuading people like Hartnell to be in it, because it was a very unpromising project at the very beginning. The benefit of hindsight, with 50 years, [people are likely to be] imagining it arriving fully formed 50 years ago, where someone plunked a script on a producer’s desk and said ‘read that,’ he read it, and said ‘yep! That’s great. It’s going to be a hit, we’ll throw money at that, and we’ll do it.’ But of course, it was a much rockier road than that to get it made, and it was fascinating, for me, to find out the human drama of what it took to get it going,” he explained.
“In fact, it nearly didn’t happen! If one little thing had gone wrong, if Sidney Newman lost faith in these kids… because the first pilot, they weren’t happy with it, they thought it was a big mistake… but fortunately for us, it was Verity Lambert who persuaded Sidney Newman and William Hartnell, and the heads of the BBC, to do it… it was her drive, and her ambition and enthusiasm for the project that sold it and got it going when someone with a lesser personality and drive might not have had the courage or the will to do. So, she’s kind of a hero, really,” Bradley enthused.
Because of this focus exclusively on the early years (1963-1966) of Doctor Who, we should not expect to see a sequence recreating or even mentioning the real William Hartnell’s return to Doctor Who with “The Three Doctors.”
“No, it doesn’t include that,” Bradley confirms. “It starts off with the genesis of the idea, and it ends up when he leaves. Of course, his career after that went down, through illness, and it wasn’t the kind of work he wanted to do. I think it was ill health that beat him in the end. Not only do we recreate the episodes, but his life at home with his wife and his granddaughter; his relationship with the other characters in Doctor Who off screen as well. When they’re sitting around playing cards or having a cigarette in between scenes… and it goes behind it all, and shows his personal relationships. It’s not just his professional one,” Bradley says.
As mentioned before, An Adventure In Space And Time premieres Friday, November 22 on BBC America and it is certainly worth seeing. Here are some photos from the film so you can see how well they captured the 1960’s time period: