As part of Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary celebrations, BBC One will broadcast An Adventure In Space And Time, a 90 minute drama examining the show’s origins.
Writer Mark Gatiss discusses the show which he describes as his “love-letter” to the hit series.
An Adventure In Space And Time stars David Bradley (William Hartnell); Jessica Raine (Verity Lambert); Sacha Dhawan (Waris Hussein); Lesley Manville (Heather Hartnell) and Brian Cox (Sydney Newman).
What can viewers expect from the drama?
Principally, it’s the story of how Doctor Who was created, so we concentrate on the very beginnings and the first few episodes. There are lots of treats for the fans but it’s also the story of William Hartnell, the first Doctor and how the part transformed his life.
Why did you want to tell this story?
I’m a life-long Doctor Who fan and the origins of this beloved show have always fascinated me. But, above all, I wanted it to strike a chord on a human level. These were brilliant, complex, talented people making something revolutionary. And, in William Hartnell, we have the very affecting story of a man redeemed by the role of a lifetime who then, sadly, had to let it go. I think we can all relate to something like that in our lives.
What was the casting process like? Did you set out to find such good lookalikes?
I’d had David Bradley in mind for some years but it wasn’t simply a question of a good likeness! David is such a fine and delicate actor, I knew he’d find something wonderful in the part. With everyone else, I stressed that we must first and foremost get the right people for the job. But it turned out the right people also bear the most amazing resemblances to the originals! Costume and make-up, of course, played a huge part in that.
Could you explain a little bit about the research process?
Doctor Who is probably unique in terms of TV shows in that its history has been exhaustively researched for years. Happily, this means that there are lots of interviews existing with people who are no longer with us. I’d wanted to tell the story for years – I sort of grew up with it. How no-one wanted the Daleks. About the first episode going out just after JFK was shot. But I wanted to get deeper than just the details of production and find the human story. I conducted new interviews with a lot of the original cast and crew. They were all hugely enthusiastic and very helpful.
Did you uncover any facts or information that you didn’t previously know as a Doctor Who fan?
A few bits and bobs but, as I say, most of it is very well documented now! It was very touching, though, to talk to people about a part of their loves that was often very happy and to discuss people long gone.
There were so many people involved in the show’s beginnings, why did you decide to focus on the four central characters of Hartnell, Newman and Lambert and Hussein?
I had to focus it down. Simple as that. This is a drama, not a documentary, and though it’s extremely painful to have to leave out some people who played a huge part, it makes dramatic sense. You simply can’t do everyone justice in 90 minutes. For instance, the story of how Terry Nation and Ray Cusick created the Daleks is almost a film all on its own!
Jeff Rawle plays Mervyn Pinfield, who was the Associate Producer, and his character sort of absorbs several others including Donald Wilson and the brilliant David Whitaker – the first script editor – whose contribution was immeasurable.
Set in the 1960s the drama brings to life that era through the costumes, hair and make-up and the sets, including the first ever TARDIS console. What was it like being on set?
It was extraordinary. To see the original TARDIS recreated genuinely took my breath away and everyone who came to the set had the same reaction. It was frequently quite uncanny. We used some of the original Marconi cameras and, on the black and white monitors, seeing David, Jemma, Jamie and Claudia was like looking back through Time. Spooky and very moving.
Finally, what do you hope audiences take away from the drama?
This is my love-letter to Doctor Who! In this 50th anniversary year, I hope fans will enjoy and be thrilled by it and all the kisses to the past it’s laden with. But my greatest wish is that it appeals to people who know very little or nothing about Doctor Who and see the struggle of talented people (almost) accidentally creating a legend!