The Tour Supremos watched a little Doctor Who last night. Actually it’s more accurate so say it was Doctor Who ‘adjacent’ in that it was one of those wonderful surprises woven into the tapestry of the 50th Anniversary celebration back in 2013. Mark Gatiss drew the (enviable?) assignment to create a drama about the creation and earliest years of Doctor Who, and had to thread the needle between entertainment, accuracy, honesty, and a certain amount of fan service.
And he succeeded wonderfully … at a price however. In opting for honesty first, the difficult real-life character of William Hartnell must come forward. An Adventure in Space and Time is primarily the story of Hartnell from skepticism to appreciation to estrangement as the creative team, including Verity Lambert, who was the other main subject of AST, changed around him. You can well imagine that for the uninitiated a jolt of discordance between their hazier memories of the Hartnell Doctor and the portrayal of Hartnell here.
For the experienced fan however, especially watching again after a significant amount of time, there are so many delights ranging from the re-creation of iconic scenes from the era down to the superlative casting choices of Jessica Raine (who also appeared in Hide) as Verity Lambert and, in the wake of Series 12, Sacha Dhawan as Waris Hussein.
David Bradley was the obvious choice to portray Hartnell, and in almost every respect, despite being significantly older (by 16 years!) than Hartnell was here, a point which would be re-proven in Peter Capaldi’s finale Twice Upon a Time. But, as should be expected, the differences between the two are largely superficial. For the Tour Brain Trust this didn’t bother us so much when Bradley was measured against Capaldi, but in AST, especially given how faithful it was trying to be, you begin to notice how much taller and more imposing he was than Hartnell, and this, for no reason other than pure pedantry, began to nettle at us.
Hartnell was hardly the tallest person in the room, until, that is, he was.