Saturday, 23 November 2013

An Adventure in Space and Time

Even after all this time, he cannot understand.  I dare not change the course of history. 
Well, at least I taught him some precautions – he did remember to look at the scanner before he opened the doors.
And now, they’re all gone.  All gone.
None of them… could understand.  Not even… my little Susan.
Or Vicki.
And as for Barbara and Chatterton - Chesterton – they were all too impatient to get back to their own time.
And now, Steven.
Perhaps I should go home.  Back to my own planet. 
But I can’t…
I can’t…

Though An Adventure in Space and Time is my love letter to Doctor Who, my hope was always to celebrate the show and create a human interest drama that could appeal to anyone.

Me:  Well, what did you think?

Him:  It was…


Me:  Yeah.  I was a bit like that.  Did you think David Bradley was good?

Him:  Yeah.  I still don’t understand why there so many moments with him standing about, just staring at stuff while people called out his name.  I think there were three.

Me:  It’s odd.  We don’t get to see Hartnell succeed in the role.  The moments he knocked it for six just aren’t there.

Him:  What do you mean?

Me:  You know that last long speech?

Him:  Um…  Which one?

Me:  The one Mark Gatiss bravely cast himself in.

Him:  Oh, the one about Mark Gatiss?

Me:  Nah, it’s the speech from the end of The Massacre.  The one about everyone leaving.

Him:  Right.

Me:  Well, in the actual show, Hartnell was amazing.  He didn’t fluff any of that particular speech.

Him:  Right.

Me:  And a lot of the time, the mispronunciation of Ian’s name was done on purpose.

Him:  Yeah.

Me:  Seeing as we’d not long watched all of Hartnell’s run, I did feel a bit proprietorial.

Him:  You didn’t like it much, did you?

Me:  It’s… more complicated than that.  I’ll explain later.1  What did you think?

Him:  “Who’s who?”  Or, more importantly, who are you?

Me:  Ah, that’s Reece Shearsmith.

Him:  Was he the man cast for looking least like Patrick Troughton?

Me:  Ha!  No.  I don’t think so.  Okay, let’s go through it in stages.

Him:  Go on.  Start with the stages.

Me:  Was it too long?

Him:  To be honest, it didn’t feel too long.  It probably was-

Me:  For all I’m going to say about it, I wouldn’t have minded it being longer.  Or more focused.  Using the time better perhaps.

Him:  Right.

Me:  Go on then.  Companions?

Him:  Well.  I don’t think any of the companions whatsoever looked like who they were supposed to be.

Me:  Ha!  They get worse as they go on as well.

Him:  Yeah.  Although Vicki didn’t look too bad.

Me:  The little we saw of her.  Steven?

Him:  He looked nothing like Steven. 

Me:  And Ben?

Him:  Ben looked less like Ben than Ben did.

Me:  Ha!  Polly?

Him:  Honestly, none of them looked like who they were supposed to be and Polly was no exception.

Me:  Fair enough.  How about the production team then?

Him:  What about them?

Me:  What did you think of them?

Him:  Verity Lambert looked like Barbara.  But so did the real Verity Lambert.

Me:  They were good friends.  Okay, moving along.  Which bits did you like?

Him:  I don’t know.  Don’t ask me complicated questions.

Me:  Which bits stuck in your mind?

Him:  Like shrapnel?

Me:  Love it.  Yeah, which bits?

Him:  Ask me simpler questions.  I’m trying to go to sleep.

Me:  Right.  We’ll do word association.

Him:  Okay.

Me:  Dalek.

Him:  Burlap.

Me:  Ha!  No, in the context of An Adventure in Space and Time.

Him:  Right. 


Me:  Do you mean they got the Daleks right?

Him:  No, no.  I was just saying that I understand what I’ve got to do.

Me:  Funky.  Dalek.

Him:  Matches.

Me:  Matt Smith.

Him:  I have no idea.  He doesn’t even seem to belong there.

Me:  I think it’s to show Hartnell’s vision of Doctor Who’s longevity rather than just being an hallucination.  Cyberman.

Him:  Which one?

Me:  Tenth Planet one.

Him:  Badly made.  Didn’t look as good as the ones in The Tenth Planet.  Well, they didn’t, did they?

Me:  No.  Newman.

Him:  Sydney.

Me:  Pop pop pop.

Him:  Exterminate.

Me:  Kennedy.

Him:  It all comes back to Kennedy.

Me:  Hadoke.

Him:  What?

Me:  Hadoke.

Him:  Oh, Toby Hadoke.  Ummm…  Erm…  Doesn’t… Look much like Toby Hadoke?

Me:  How can he not look like himself?

Him:  They did a pretty good job on him. 

Me:  I hope we really were thinking about the same chap.  Music.

Him:  Murray Gold’s successor.  Something to do with Murray Gold.

Me:  I thought it was better than in the main series.

Him:  It wasn’t as noticeable.  But it was there.  Unlike the series where you remember it.

Me:  That’s because you’ve heard it before.

Him:  You really remember it.

Me:  That’s ‘cause you’ve heard it lots of times before.  I was surprised that they didn’t smother that David Tennant intro with the usual comedy parp parp music.  Waris.

Him:  I don’t know.  Didn’t really…  See much of him.  Not like the companions you only see in the photo shoots.

Me:  Yeah.  How about, “I don’t wanna go”?

Him:  Ummm…

Me:  Never mind.  Was it worth the wait?

Him:  Yeah.  Sure.

Me:  Would you watch it again?

Him:  I might do.  But probably not anytime soon.

Me:  Fair enough.  Do you want to go to sleep now?

The Him’s asleep.

Me:  Night then.  Big day tomorrow.  I’ll just write up my thoughts in the footnotes, get this formatted and then go to bed.


Me:  Hmmm….  I’m talking to myself again.

And it’s so damn cold it’s just not true…

As seen in DWM 67.  Tch.  Fans, eh?

1. I've spent the last week – inbetween other stuff – watching docudramas from ‘recent’ times.  I haven’t watched telly (as broadcast) for ten years now, so I’m a bit out of the loop when it comes to trends in acting and so on.  I thought it would probably be a good idea to get a feel for how these things are looking these days – so I’d have an idea of what to judge it against.  For the record, I watched Fantabulosa!, Cor, Blimey! and The Curse of Steptoe.  They’re based on a similar time, even if they address comedies and’re all flawed in one way or another.  One thing they all have in common is that the lead performance is, without exception, excellent.

An Adventure in Space and Time was highly anticipated.  I’m not going to list the background and technical information because rather than a ‘just the facts, man’ objective approach that I’d employ elsewhere, I think this deserves a gut reaction.

I’ll start with what’s good about it and get around to Mark Gatiss toward the end.  Firstly, it looks lovely, as it should.  An Adventure in Space and Time is a period costume drama and we know the BBC excel at those.  The entrance to the TARDIS and the arrival of the Daleks are both brilliant.  The set of Marco Polo looks fabulous.  I’ve watched it twice now, and both times…   

No.  We’ll come back to that at the end.   

Finish on something emotional, eh? 
The reconstructions are glorious and some of the acting’s really good: David Bradley, Leslie Manville Claudia Grant and Jeff Rawle are superb; Jessica Raine and Brian Cox do what they’ve been told to; almost everyone else is either competent, stunt-casting or fast-racked through the Jobs-For-The-Boys casting scheme.

The scenes between just Hartnell and Lambert are exquisite.  In fact, almost all the scenes with less than three characters work marvellously.  I’m a bit concerned about the noose hanging behind Heather Hartnell and Verity Lambert during their hasty bit of “Bill’s ill” exposition but I’m sure it isn’t meant to be there.  

There are tiny touching tributes all the way through it – Douglas Camfield, Baldric’s sand-flea infested underpants – the full credits to An Unearthly Child gliding by on Hartnell’s telly, the wonderful cameos – but make no mistake, this is a fan film.  Gatiss can wail and moan (in much the same way his Sherlockian sibling once did) but that’s what it is.  You can’t stick in subtle references to Dalek operators having to piss down London drains without knowing your stuff.2  Budget is the only thing separating An Adventure in Space and Time from the Doctor Who Night skits in 1999 (including The Pitch of Fear, the forerunner for this in exactly the same way that The Curse of Fatal Death prefigured Moffat’s tenure) and The Corridor Sketch.Budget, of course, affects the tone of the piece.

So.  Gatiss then.  He’s turned in an interesting love letter.  The script’s not quite the calibre of, say, The Curse of Steptoe, and takes as many liberties with the lives and characters of its subjects as that one did.  I don’t think there’s much chance of this one being pulled from circulation and (essentially) wiped, as happened with the Corbett/Brambell biopic, but kudos to Stef Coburn for showing up on cue.  Every celebratory feast needs a Banquo. 

An Adventure in Space and Time is largely lipstick-deep.  Hidden shallows abound under the sheen.  I can’t bring myself to be annoyed by it, not really.  David Bradley’s done an outstanding job in that respect.  Along with the designers…

It’s complicated.  I keep saying that, which is great seeing as the blog’s not supposed to have any complications.  It is though.  I’m too close to it.  I’m going to make a risky statement now.  It needs to be said because it might help put this in perspective…

An Adventure in Space and Time is two different programmes.  It’s a superposition.  If you’re a casual viewer or only familiar with the new series then you’re going to be watching a totally different programme to someone who gets the references.  Your viewpoint alters your experience.  This is fan fiction for the masses and represents the opposing end of a spectrum that slaps The Night of the Doctor next to shelves and shelves of Big Finish audios (fan fiction for fans, half-heartedly passed off as mainstream every now and again).  In order to address a mainstream audience, Gatiss has painted in broad-strokes – using snippets from interviews as dialogue – it’s a true story after all.  Only the facts have been changed.

The An Unearthly Child rehearsal scene is a good example of the shorthand at work here.  Waris Hussein is stressing at Hartnell’s tetchiness, Lambert can’t placate him because she’s been let down by other BBC departments and then Sydney Newman rides in on a passing deux ex machina.  Brian Cox plays Newman as an archetype rather than a human being, but that’s because this is fiction and the power gets cut at ten so we’ve got no time for subtlety.  The second time round I was struck by how much Newman’s like a cross between Michael Gambon’s version of Dumbledore and Mr Toad from The Wind in the Willows – but that’s probably just the parping-

Sorry.  ‘Parping’ reminded me of the music.  Thankfully, not by Murray Gold, it’s still largely inelegant orchestral bludgeoning, which makes me wonder whether or not I was wrong about Moffat and music.  I can only assume he genuinely thinks that this stuff is adding value, tone, colour and rich emotion to the shows he’s producing.  This would explain why he used a Chris Rea track as Joking Apart’s theme song, I guess.  As An Adventure in Space and Time moves on, the music settles down and the stinging in your teeth becomes more of a background ache.  Which is nice.  Okay, digression over.

Where was I?  Oh yeah, ‘parping’.  So, Sydney Newman and Verity Lambert flatter Hartnell into compliance in a scene that might as well be lifted straight from the Fawlty Towers scene where Basil and Polly baffle Bernard Cribbins’ punctilious spoon-salesman.  Newman quacks off, leaving a swirl of smoke.  Everyone’s happy.

I didn’t buy it for a minute.  Ignoring the fact that Hartnell would surely have noticed he was being fobbed off by people who obviously don’t have a clue what they’re talking about, the main mistake is that he’s totally in the right with what he’s complaining about.  Not only that, Waris Hussein has been written with as much depth as tracing paper.  Later, when the recording that would become the pilot episode ends in disaster, the director drops his head onto the mixing desk and:

Waris:  I wish I knew what bloody dimension I was in.

Cue Wah, wah, waaaaah noise and fade to black.  Sketch over.  What the hell?  What was that?

The business with the TARDIS doors was just one of the things exaggerated to make sure that nobody missed it.  No time for subtlety.  The power cuts at ten and we can’t afford any overtime.  Nice to see Baldric.  But why?  And yes, Mr Gatiss, I see what you did with the blackout and the sprinklers.  Two birds with one stone, eh?  Very economical. 

Lambert’s leaving is sudden and shoddily handled.  I know we’re in a rush, but even so.  Borrowing lines from The Hand of Fear doesn’t forgive it either.  The whole Radiophonic Workshop section is also edited like it’s taking the piss.  The shorthand economy within the script is really, really irritating, especially when you’ve already heard most of the dialogue because you've read the same interviews.  I’m not saying it’s a cut-and-paste job but it does make you wonder whether or not the author’s bringing anything unique to the script, or whether he’s just "shoving trollies round Asda car park…"

That’s not to say that the author doesn’t have a unique voice.  Oh no.  We can hear it in this metatextual delight:

Lambert:  So many people have been at the birth of the thing, we’d be here all day...

That’s what we get instead of Terry Nation and Ray Cusick.  Luckily, Richard Martin directed bits of The Daleks as well as The Dalek Invasion of Earth and The Web Planet so by concentrating on those stories the production gets away with only have to cast one actor.  Which brings us back to the author’s voice.

Now, I’m not convinced for a moment that the opening voiceover about not changing history (lifted from The Aztecs) is spoken by Gatiss, but he’s managed to give himself a sneaky key role.  When it was announced that Reece Shearsmith had been cast as Patrick Troughton, there was a lot of moaning.  Pointless really.  This a clique.  Of course the production team’re going to give jobs to their mates.  Wouldn’t you?  It doesn’t render the production immune from criticism though, nor should it.  There’s always a danger that familiarity is breeding contempt amongst all the unwashed out here beyond the realm of the television professional: we get what we’re given and yet we’re not always grateful.

The lights go off at ten.  I’d better speed this up.

Shearsmith uses his other character to play Troughton (the one that he doesn’t use for horror roles) and it’s fine for what it is.  As is the Matt Smith cameo.  I’m hoping that we’ll see the encounter from the Doctor’s point of view later on.  Who knows.  It was obviously tacked on as an afterthought because the CSO’s awful, which is in keeping with Doctor Who so we’ll let it slide.  Again, it does what it does.  Might’ve been nice to end with Hartnell actually staring at the audience, which is what almost happened.  I’ll get to the proper ending in just a moment, we’ve got one more thing to address before...  Well…  You’ll see.

Gatiss has long had a tendency to treat television dramas as vanity projects.  He crops up in bloody everything.  You can tell Jon Pertwee’s his favourite Doctor.  Both of them started off as comedians (more or less – I’m using shorthand here to tell my story) and neither would ever miss an opportunity to do a bit of voice acting.  Listen to the news report about the Kennedy assassination again.  Who’s that then?

Rumours flew that Gatiss had been seen on set, dressed as Pertwee.  It looked as though he’d written himself a role as the Doctor – the boy’s got form after all.  In the end, it was just the sort of jape that you’ll find when fans make a film, a chance to record some mock-footage for the period surrounding The Three Doctors that didn’t make it into the show, thankfully.

Gatiss:  Alright.  When you’re ready, Bill.

Hartnell:  Mr Hartnell to you, sonny.

Gatiss:  Sorry.

Hartnell:  You might call me by my first name if we get to know each other better.  If you…  If you last on my show that is.

Gatiss:  Can we go from the top of the scene, Mr Hartnell?  You make the TV screen come on.

Hartnell:  The scanner.

Gatiss:  Er… Scanner.  Right.  And then you flick the switch and the doors open.

Hartnell:  No.  No.  Can’t do that.

Gatiss:  Beg pardon? 

Hartnell:  I’d have to move round to the other side.  That’s where the – uh – the door switch is.

Gatiss:  Does it matter?

Hartnell:  Of course it matters! 

Gatiss:  Alright.  We’ll work around it.  You move where you like, Mr Hartnell.

Hartnell:  Thank you.

Well.  That’s how I heard it.  Seeing as The Massacre (of Saint Bartholomew’s Eve) is one of the few Doctor Whos with a female director, the formidable Paddy Russell, it’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on here.  The next bit doesn’t help.  It’s very, very strange.

Hartnell:  Now.  They’ve all gone.  All gone.  None of them ever understood.  Not even young Susan. 


Hartnell:  Or…  Or…  Vic.. Vic-Vic-Vic-Vickie.


Hartnell:  And then there’s Barbara and Chatterton – Ches-Ches-Chesterton-

Gatiss:  Oh, God…


Hartnell:  Perhaps I should go back to my own time.  To my own planet.  But I…


Hartnell:  I can’t…  I can’t…

Gatiss:  Is everything okay?

Hartnell:  I –uh- I can’t…

Gatiss:  Are you alright? 

Hartnell:  I can’t…


Hartnell:  I can’t…

Gatiss:  Mr Hartnell?  Mr Hartnell?

It’s one of the best moments in the whole thing.

Me and the Him spent a hell of a lot of time journeying with the First Doctor fairly recently, so it’s still fresh and raw.  I can remember watching The Five Doctors as it went out back in a November as unreachable as Vortis.  It started with the same piece of footage that An Adventure in Space and Time ends with.  I’ve watched this strange biopic twice now and both times that speech has made me cry.  Between you and me, I think that’s because I’m watching the fan version.

Still, brave heart, eh?

2.  Don’t forget that Gatiss himself once played a Dalek on Westminster Bridge, in More than Thirty Years in the TARDIS. 


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