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Sydney Newman

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Toronto-born Sydney Newman, the father of BBC's 50-year-old iconic television series, is profiled in anniversary docudrama

The late Sydney Newman, the legendary head of drama for the BBC, is played with an immense, palpable zest by Scottish actor Brian Cox in the docudrama An Adventure in Space and Time.

With his psychedelic bow ties and bright cardigans, Newman comes across as a P.T. Barnum of the television age, an entirely outlandish figure steering the helm of the stuffy BBC.

The take-away for Canadians may be that the Toronto-born Newman was not only a major cultural influencer of British pop culture, but he was also the father of one of the most iconic television series of all time —

Doctor Who, which celebrates 50 years of existence this year.

"We want to do a science fiction series, but no bug-eyed monsters or robots," he demands in the docudrama looking at the origins of the series. "We want history, too. Proper history. The kids at home should learn something."

An Adventure in Space and Time, which airs on Space Friday at 9 p.m. — one day before the 50th anniversary of the show's debut in 1963 — is a loving, carefully crafted tribute to half a century of the world's most popular time lord. The period drama recreates the quirky, cheaply shot BBC series that was originally supposed to be a children's show, but morphed into something much more.

It also captures a fascinating time in the BBC's history, where the Canadian was seen as something of a heretic, producing popular programming that didn't mesh with the broadcaster's vision of itself.

Newman's decisions would alter the BBC forever. That included inadvertently starting the BBC's first merchandizing boom — way before George Lucas got in the game, where Dalek robot outfits and sonic screwdrivers would become a staple of Halloween for generations.

He also promoted his former assistant Verity Lambert to take the reins as the producer, becoming the first female to head up a major series.

The old guard is referred to by Lambert as a "sea of tweed and sweaty men."

And the docudrama shows that the battle for respect is steep in the maledominated, tradition-bound world that is the BBC.

For good measure, Newman also paired Lambert with Waris Hussein, the BBC’s first director of East Asian descent.

Newman, of course, was already something of a legend, having created the spy-fi series The Avengers, teaming up a top-hatted, umbrella-toting Patrick Macnee as John Steed, alongside a slew of partners, the most famous being Diana Rigg as the stylish and deadly Emma Peel.

In the docudrama, William Hartnell, the first Doctor Who, is played by David Bradley of Game of Thrones fame.

It is a remarkably tender performance, especially since most viewers will remember Bradley as the gloriously evil Lord Walder Frey, the host of the notorious Red Wedding in the popular HBO fantasy series.

Bradley starts off as a curmudgeon and is transformed by the role into something sweeter and lighter as he sees the impact that a seemingly ill-conceived children’s show can have. It helps that he gains the kind of recognition given to rock stars. Hartnell was eventually replaced in the series because of deteriorating health, and actor Bradley potently reveals the pain the actor must have felt when he was replaced.

“He was born illegitimately behind St. Pancras Station in London. And he never knew his father,” Bradley told critics in Los Angeles. “It was just not a very good start in life … But one feels that it left him with a deep insecurity.”

Also lovingly recreated is the retro BBC set where directors were only allowed to stop filming four times per episode because the cameras and equipment were so cumbersome.

Most people didn’t know that Newman insisted on reshooting the entire first episode because he wasn’t happy with the quality of it, according to director Terry McDonough. And Doctor Who was perilously close to being cancelled if not for Newman’s insistence.

His famous instincts were wrong however, when it came to “no bug-eyed monsters or robots.”

For lack of a better script, Lambert got her nowfamous Daleks, and the rest is history. The docudrama leads nicely into the culmination of the Doctor Who 50th anniversary celebrations, which includes Space’s commercial-free broadcast of the telefilm The Day of the Doctor on Saturday at 2:50 p.m.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Wong, Tony (2013-11-21). Sydney Newman. Waterloo Region Record p. D1.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Wong, Tony. "Sydney Newman." Waterloo Region Record [add city] 2013-11-21, D1. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Wong, Tony. "Sydney Newman." Waterloo Region Record, edition, sec., 2013-11-21
  • Turabian: Wong, Tony. "Sydney Newman." Waterloo Region Record, 2013-11-21, section, D1 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Sydney Newman | url= | work=Waterloo Region Record | pages=D1 | date=2013-11-21 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=22 July 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Sydney Newman | url= | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=22 July 2024}}</ref>

  • Title: Doctor Who still reinventing himself
  • Publication: Toronto Star
  • Date: 2013-11-21