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How it all began

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2013-11-23 TV Times p19.jpg



We meet the writer and stars of a tribute to original Time Lord William Hartnell, 50 years after Doctor Who made its debut


Thursday BBC2

On 23 November 1963, a low-budget children's programme about a man travelling through space and time in a police box made its debut.

No one involved in the creation of that original series could have possibly imagined that, half a century later, millions of children and adults around the world would still be captivated by the adventures of Doctor Who.

And now, the story of the creation of what became the longest-running British science-fiction series has regenerated into a 90-minute docudrama, penned by writer, actor and fan Mark Gatiss as a curtain-raiser to next week's 50th anniversary special.

An Adventure in Space and Time shows how William Hartnell (David Bradley), a film actor who did not suffer fools gladly, was cast as the lead in the innovative series, produced by Verity Lambert (Ca/Idle Midwife's Jessica Raine), directed by Waris Hussein (Sacha Dhawan) and commissioned by the BBC's Head of Drama, Sydney Newman (Brian Cox). TV Times has arrived at BBC Television Centre at the beginning of 2013, a few weeks before the iconic building is closed and sold off. It's here that the original show was conceived, and also where Mark's drama is being filmed.

'It's so spooky that we're here and we've put this building back to how it was 50 years ago just before it closes down, says Mark as he sits down with us. 'It's weird. I think I must have gone back in time and sowed the seeds of the disintegration of TV Centre just so it would be available for us to film in!'

An Adventure in Space and Time has been a labour of love for Mark, who's been working on it for 13 years and originally proposed it to the BBC to celebrate Doctor Who's 40th anniversary.

'It's essentially about discovering that you're replaceable, he says. And nobody likes to think that. He's a man who doesn't want to give up his favourite job he just happens to be Doctor Who:

In 1963, William Hartnell was initially quite reluctant to take the role of The Doctor, fearing it would damage his reputation as a serious actor.

Career departure

'I think the idea of playing the part was attractive to him, but when it was mentioned that it was for children, one can understand his initial reluctance, explains Harry Potter star David, 71.

'But then I think once he met Verity, Waris - who was actually watching when I did my first scene - and Sydney, he realised it was going to be quite a career departure: Playing the BBC's first female drama producer, 31-year-old Jessica says Verity had a 'real steel' about her.

She was strong-willed, compassionate and very warm. She had a fire in her belly about projects she believed in.

Jessica tells us that it was hard researching

Verity's mannerisms, owing to a lack of video footage. 'While I was auditioning I did look for video clips. They were all from recent years, but it was interesting to see her. I felt she was very composed and very classy.

'I also watched the original episode that Verity, Waris and Sydney created, and I was really struck by how it holds its own. I think it subtly encapsulates a time in the Sixties when we were on the brink of this huge change:

David watched William Hartnell's episodes over and over again, as well as rare interview clips. He was also able to get some insight from former Doctor Who companions Carole Ann Ford and William Russell.

'They both said he was absolutely charming and great fun to be around, but on other days not so much. He was a complex man. But I admired him terrifically as an actor and I think he was one of the great unsung heroes of British film. I feel quite a responsibility to do justice to both him and the fans.

David, who 'would have loved' to have played The Doctor in the regular series, calls him a 'terrific screen actor.

'I think even with the limitations on him at the time, his performance just shines through; he smiles. 'I was never sure who my favourite Doctor was, but now I definitely think it's William Hartnell'

An Adventure in Space and Time Is previewed on pages 74-75

Don't miss next week's TV Times for a Doctor Who at 50 special

Caption: David Bradley as William Hartnell and (inset) the real William as the Doctor

Caption: Jessica Raine and Brian Cox as Verity and Sydney

Disclaimer: These citations are created on-the-fly using primitive parsing techniques. You should double-check all citations. Send feedback to

  • APA 6th ed.: Taylor, Frances (2013-11-23). How it all began. TV Times p. 19.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Taylor, Frances. "How it all began." TV Times [add city] 2013-11-23, 19. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Taylor, Frances. "How it all began." TV Times, edition, sec., 2013-11-23
  • Turabian: Taylor, Frances. "How it all began." TV Times, 2013-11-23, section, 19 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=How it all began | url= | work=TV Times | pages=19 | date=2013-11-23 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=29 June 2022 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=How it all began | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=29 June 2022}}</ref>