An Adventure in Space and Time

Sorry progress has been so slow – ridiculously busy week. But as it turns out, the day that we were given our first look at David Bradley in this year’s Christmas special seems like an apt time to be watching this. I wasn’t originally intending to include this in the re-watch, but with what’s coming up, I couldn’t resist. I actually revisited it for the first time as I got to the end of the Hartnell era, and I wrote this on the old version of this blog:

I re-watched An Adventure in Space and Time last night, for the first time since it was broadcast. I adored it the first time round, but oh boy is it better once you’re more familiar with Hartnell’s tenure. It’s the condensed version of a story that I saw play out over the course of three-and-a-bit seasons. By the time Bill was called to Newman’s office, I was in tears. As a viewer, I didn’t want Hartnell to go, but I knew that the time was right. We see Bill reach the same conclusion, and David Bradley is utterly superb.

However, I feel the need to speak out about a little inaccuracy. I don’t care about events being moved around, key people being omitted or anachronistic monsters – that’s artistic license, and it’s what makes for the best possible story being told. I’m aware there are people who despise the whole production because there’s a Menoptera at Verity’s leaving party, but these people are cretins.

No, my only objection is this: William Hartnell was a better Doctor than An Adventure portrayed, and that era of Doctor Who was a much better show than the one we saw glimpses of here. Again, yes, there’s some artistic license, and most of the cock-ups portrayed were based on real events. But seriously, watch some Hartnell stories – particularly from the first two seasons – and he’s a world apart from the bumbling weakling that he’s remembered as.

I love An Adventure in Space and Time – but don’t let it put you off the real thing.

I stand by that, although obviously it barely impacts on how astoundingly brilliant this show is. It was a key component of the anniversary celebrations; equal parts heart-warming and heart-breaking, and a perfect distillation of everything that makes Doctor Who so special. It emphasises how the likes of Waris Hussein and Verity Lambert were complete outsiders, and how the show’s success is the ultimate underdog story.

What struck me this time round, as my industry increasingly feels the effects of so many studio facilities falling by the wayside, is that Television Centre is such a character in the story. It’s a love letter to a version of the BBC that doesn’t exist any more. There are some things best left in the past – the racism and sexism, the boys’ club mentality, the alarming amount of workplace smoking – but the sense of creativity, risk-taking and utter devotion to the cause was what TVC symbolised, and you worry that these ideals are much harder to realise these days, with the corporation constantly under attack and under pressure.

Mostly though, it’s just brilliant to see so many lovely old things lovingly recreated, my favourites being the Marco Polo set, the first annual and of course the Daleks on Westminster Bridge. So many great cameos as well, particularly William Russell as an apoplectic commissionaire. The recreations of particular scenes were all fascinating – it was the bit from the end of The Massacre that inspired that original blog post though, and it’s a shame we didn’t see Bradley do it as well as Hartnell did IRL.

It’s clever the way the story sheds its main players one by one – first Waris, then Verity, then Hartnell. Each one makes you a little more emotional, leading to the absolute heartbreak of Bill breaking down in front of the fireplace. His “I don’t want to go” is much, much sadder than Tennant’s. But then the Matt Smith cameo is lovely, and the glimpse of the real Hartnell doing the Dalek Invasion of Earth speech is a great note to end on. It gets the balance of fanwank and genuine drama absolutely spot on, and it’s a superb piece of television about television.

RATING: 10

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The Chase

This time round, I knew that The Chase had a bad reputation, but had little idea what to expect. It was The Keys of Marinus but with Daleks – what’s not to love?

This is Doctor Who as a sketch show, and most of those sketches are successful, particularly the Time-Space Visualiser stuff, the Mary Celeste scenes and Peter Purves’s performance as the wide-eyed American tourist atop the Empire State Building. The only duff bit is the haunted house stuff, which just comes across as confusing and convoluted.

The final couple of episodes, set on Mechanus provide a more traditional format, and it’s all good stuff. The Robot Doctor is a little badly executed – why did they use the double for scenes where the real Doctor wasn’t present? – but you can easily look past that.

Now, the ending. I had no idea that this was Ian and Barbara’s last story, so it was as much as a surprise to me as it would have been if I’d been watching in 1965. It comes a little out of the blue, simply because their ongoing goal to get back home hadn’t been mentioned for a while, but you’re with them every step of the way as they make their decision to take the risk and part ways. The montage of them back in contemporary London is heart-warming and superb. And then when it cuts back to The Doctor, who finally admits his true feelings of loss and sorrow… well, I may have done a little cry.

I’ll miss them too, Doctor.

RATING: 9

The Space Museum

Like The Keys of Marinus, I had no idea this was poorly received until after I’d finished watching. I couldn’t believe it – I bloody loved this. Such a great concept, with the crew struggling to avoid a pre-determined fate, and it’s executed so well – every time they think they’re breaking the chain of events, they wind up exactly where they were destined to be anyway.

Aside from the pre-determinism, the main plot is somewhat of a staple at this stage of the series – two rival factions on a planet, the crew have to figure out which ones to side with. Vicki inspiring the goodies to follow through on their plans for revolution further cemented my fondness for her as a companion.

The bit of business with the Dalek casing early on was great, but the cliffhanger to the last episode was even better. Even though – thanks to the DVDs coming in a twin pack – I knew The Chase was next, and that it was a Dalek episode, their sudden appearance at the end made me cheer out loud and grin with joy.

RATING: 8

The Crusade

Ah, this is more like it. A proper story of intrigue, political machinations and betrayal. There’s some decent moral ambiguity going on here, with Richard The Lionheart being a bit of a shit at times, while Saladin is portrayed as noble and kind despite being in charge of the baddies.

The blacking up is a bit unfortunate, though.

This four-parter has two surviving episodes, but I had to rely on reconstructions for the other two. It’s a shame the fourth episode is one of the missing ones, especially as I couldn’t tell what the hell was happening in the cliffhanger leading into the next serial – the effect of the crew being frozen in time has much less impact when portrayed as a series of stills!

RATING: 7

The Web Planet

Well, I quite like the premise and it started off well enough, but by God did this one drag. There really isn’t much to it beyond the anthropomorphised insects being quite cool. The story seemed to just go around in circles, with very little progress made from episode to episode. I did like the creepy weirdness invoked when Ian and The Doctor were first exploring the planet, but that wore off pretty quickly.

Oh dear, two stories in a row that I wasn’t too keen on. But on the plus side, Vicki is starting to come into her own at this point, establishing herself as a ballsy young gal, much more resilient and harder to freak out than Susan.

RATING: 5

The Romans

Well, that cliffhanger resolution was a pile of shit. The TARDIS topples over, falls down into a ravine… and then we cut to months later, with the crew just pissing about in a Roman villa.

This set me and The Romans off on the wrong foot, and the rest of the story wasn’t quite good enough to win me round. I really wasn’t keen on the portrayal of Nero, nor the Benny Hill-esque manner in which he went about his attempted rape of Barbara.

There was clearly a conscious effort to lighten up The First Doctor’s character in this second season, but the main effect seems to be a vast increase in Hartnell chuckling to himself and going “hmm?” in a high pitch. This can get a bit grating at times – the chuckling in particular – and detracts from the concurrent ongoing attempt to establish The Doctor as a moral guardian.

RATING: 6

The Rescue

Just a little mini story, designed to introduce new companion Vicki, but the plot is decent enough and the twist at the end is superbly executed. You don’t get much of a chance to get to know Vicki, but the conflict between her and Barbara over the latter inadvertently murdering the former’s pet gives you a good flavour of her personality.

Oh, and the cliffhanger at the end of episode two is great – it’s an actual cliff hanger!

RATING: 8

Dalek Invasion of Earth

I’d seen this one before a couple of times, but watching it in sequence made me appreciate just what a huge step up from the previous ten stories it represents. The whole world of Doctor Who just seems to open up all of a sudden, thanks to the scale and production value provided by the addition of location filming.

The story is similarly huge and ambitious, establishing an enthralling and believable future dystopia very quickly indeed. The Robomen are great, and clearly inspired the rather more enduring Cybermen a few years later. The little satellite dish on the Dalek’s backs are the first in a long line of contrivances to get around established continuity in order to tell a better story, and the Daleks are much better for their increased mobility. The sight of one rising from the lake at the end of episode one is extraordinarily good.

Plus, of course, this story concludes with the departure of Susan. The Doctor’s goodbye speech is so iconic that I feel like it’s been lodged in my memory from birth, but it managed to bring a lump to my throat when placed in the context that sequential viewing gives. That said, I was kind of glad to see the back of Susan. I love Carol Ann Ford’s performance, but the character herself is kind of an annoying wuss at times. It wasn’t always the case – she was great when she was all mysterious in An Unearthly Child and The Sensorites, but for the last few serials she’s been screaming, crying and generally being pathetic far too often. When you’ve got an older female role model that kicks as much arse as Barbara, it’s a shame to also have such a stereotypical girly girl with such little backbone.

RATING: 9

Planet of Giants

This is a strange one, to say the least, but the miniaturised crew navigating their way through a garden and a laboratory is great fun – very Honey I Shrunk The Kids. The B-plot, concerning a dangerous new pesticide and a bunch of resultant murder and intrigue, is a little bit jarring, but entertaining enough in itself.

It was only after I finished the story, and embarked on my usual tour of fansites and wikis for contextual information, that I learned of the production difficulties – it was shot as a four parter, and then re-edited into just three episodes. Personally, I felt it could have sustained its full length – the last episode did feel a little rushed in a way I couldn’t put my finger on until I knew the backstory.

RATING: 6

The Reign of Terror

The opening episode is one of the most exciting and gripping in the whole of this first season, culminating in a truly scary cliffhanger where the Doctor is trapped in a burning building, with little to no chance of escape. It feels so real – even though I knew the First Doctor didn’t die in a barn during the French Revolution, I felt a genuine sense of peril.

Sadly, the other five parts don’t come anywhere close to the promise of the first. It’s pleasant enough, but nowhere near as memorable as many other stories from season one, which this serial closes. It really suffers from Ian being missing for a couple of episodes, as at this stage, he was pretty much the main character, not The Doctor.

(By the way, from a modern perspective, it seems truly bizarre that a series would go on for so long that the regulars got a statutory holiday allowance, and more so that you’d just carry on without them for a couple of weeks!)

Oh, and this is the earliest serial whereby some episodes exist and some are missing. The DVD fills in the gaps with animation – I got The Invasion when it first came out and loved the animation there, but this one felt a little off. There were a hell of a lot of fast cuts, extreme close ups and dramatic shading – no doubt done with the intention of feeling slick and modern, but it just didn’t fit alongside a 1964 studio drama. I’d much rather have a plain old reconstruction of the best guess as to what the originals would have looked like.

RATING: 6

SEASON AVERAGE RATING: 7.75

  • Seasons/Series watched: 1 of 34
  • Stories watched: 8 of 253
  • Individual episodes watched: 42 of 813