If you didn’t know already, Ben loves Doctor Who. And this year, the longest running Sci Fi series in the world celebrates its 50th Anniversary. As part of the celebrations, the BBC produced a docu-drama to tell the story of how it all came to be.
The programme opens with a mock-60s BBC continuity announcement, which perfectly sets the tone and immediately takes you back to those glorious years, even if, like me, you weren’t around then. Then the titles. The opening sequence mimics the effects used on the original Doctor Who title sequence, again setting the tone and throwing in a bit of nostalgia. The music sounds like something from the BBC series Sherlock, also written by Mark Gatiss.
Straight away we are introduced to William ‘Bill’ Hartnell, as played perfectly by David Bradley. The character is shown to be quite tetchy and a bit aggressive, a far cry from the man we all know and love as The Doctor. But we will learn that this was how he was before playing The Doctor, as this drama is also about how the show changed Hartnell.
We are then introduced to Sydney Newman, played by Brian Cox. Newman was essentially the creator of Doctor Who, but goes largely uncredited in the show’s history, so it is interesting to learn more about him. He is quite a fun character who comes out with brilliant lines like “…someone full of piss and vinegar”. No idea what that means but it’s a great line.
Next, we are introduced to Verity Lambert, played by Jessica Raine. Lambert was the very first producer on Doctor Who, and was also the youngest and only female producer in the BBC at the time. An inspiring woman played expertly by Raine. She really shows how Lambert suffered trying to get Doctor Who going and how she overcame the many setbacks put in front of her.
The final important character to be introduced is Waris Hussein, played by Sacha Dhawan. Hussein was the original director on the first episode(s) of the show. He also suffered in making the show, with his Indian heritage making him a target in the BBC. Again we learn of Hussein’s initial doubts about the show, and it does kind of make you realise how ridiculous it all must have sounded in 1963.
But enough about Doctor Who trivia, on with the show and the incredible attention to detail put into it. From set design to the recreation of famous scenes, the programme really does do justice in making the whole thing believable. A good example being William Hartnell’s trademark ‘fluffs’, where he forgets lines and ad libs, calling Ian Chesterton ‘Chesterfield’ for instance. As the programme goes on there are increasing amounts of these, and the effort that goes into recreating these mistakes is marvellous. It’s hard enough to act something how someone acted it, but to act getting it wrong right must be very tough.
(I’ve just seen that Matt Smith and David Tennant are going to be on the Graham Norton show Friday, must remember that. Oh for crying out loud, there’s some political Doctor Who spoof on now, using the Doctor Who titles and adding in photos of political people. How awful. Why must people ride on the success of Doctor Who just to get people watching their terribly dull shows?!)
The sets themselves are immaculately accurate, and look stunning. The champion of these being the recreated TARDIS interior. As the original was only seen in black and white, it is so amazing to see it in full HD for the first time. Again every detail is spot on, and just shows how devoted the makers of the docu-drama are to Doctor Who and putting in the effort to be true to the original and make everything extra-special for viewers.
Talking of nostalgia, there are also a number of cameos from various ‘monsters’ from the first few episodes. The first of these being a um… Cyberman having a fag. Pretty early on we see a man in a lovely cyberman costume sitting smoking a cigarette and complaining about having to wait for Hartnell. This is a nice bit of humour that also reminds viewers of how hard the people in those rubber suits work. I bet many an ex-monster actor saw that clip and smiled. There are also appearances by cavemen and Zarbi. Again, seeing these aliens in HD colour is a really nice treat. There are also, of course, the Daleks. Originally despised by Sydney Newman, the Daleks are the most famous Doctor Who villains of all time (and space) and it is nice to see here how children originally reacted to them. We also get a beautiful shot from inside a Dalek casing, getting a sneak preview of what it’s like for the actor inside.
And it’s all these little sneak peaks and nods to the past that make the whole thing such a joy to watch. Quite rightly they haven’t filled it with nostalgia and fan-pleasing cameos, which works well for the casual viewer such as my Mother, who watched (and enjoyed) the programme.
We do get a good insight into what it was like working on Doctor Who at the very start, and learn just how hard people worked to create our great show. The star of the drama is of course Bradley’s William Hartnell, who we see grow from a grumpy old man to a loveable old man who cares so much about the show and has become a better person for it. Which really brings to heart the emotion of the time when he had to leave the show.
Hartnell became increasingly ill and was unable to play the part convincingly, with more and more fluffs and a decreasing ability to remember his lines and get on with the other cast and crew. So he was told he was being replaced. I didn’t know he had such strong feelings against leaving, and it suddenly became quite emotional to see how much the show had changed this man’s life and how he didn’t want to leave, to the point of crying at home and telling his wife “I don’t want to go.” This line echoes that of the Tenth Doctor’s final line, which most fans would no doubt have recognised. But it’s also very emotional, and it only gets worse.
We then go to the filming of his final adventure. Here we get a brief appearance by Patrick Troughton who is not entirely convincingly played by Reece Shearsmith. He looks too young and doesn’t channel the same energy as the original Troughton. This is somewhat forgiven due to what is to follow.
The final scene has built up to a very emotional ending, which I was unabashedly quite teary watching. We know he is leaving and he doesn’t want to, but we still have his final adventure to film. The camera lingers on Hartnell as he stares directly at you, with a faint smile as if he’s accepted his fate and is so proud of what he has done. The camera then cuts to… well, I don’t want to spoil it if you haven’t watched it, so i’ll put the spoiler below so you can choose whether to read it or not.
So it was a very emotional ending, and a perfect way to celebrate 50 years of the best show on TV. We are then treated to some facts about Sydney Newman, Verity Lambert, Waris and Hartnell, and thens a clip of the original ‘no regrets’ speech direct from the original episode.
To sum up the docu-drama, it works a both a great nostalgia trip for fans and a nice introduction to the show for the casual viewer. The amount of effort that has gone into the making of it and the detail is just unbelievable. The actors do a perfect job, the sets are stunning and the writing is spot on. Little snippets of humour mixed with heavy emotion, making it a timeless classic that I will no doubt be watching again in a few days.
(all images courtesy of the BBC)
Our rating: (5 / 5)