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Still Restless, 50 Years On

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2013-11-22 New York Times.jpg


The 50th anniversary of "Doctor Who" is being celebrated all week on BBC America, with episode marathons, documentaries and "The Day of the Doctor," a standalone story uniting the 10th and 11th Doctors (David Tennant and Matt Smith) that is being broadcast around the world on Saturday.

Amid all this hoopla, the most unusual offering is "An Adventure in Space and Time" on Friday night, a feature-length film that tells the story of the creation of "Doctor Who" at the BBC in 1963 (as a science-fiction series for children) and its first four years. It's an admittedly self-congratulatory exercise. (When was the last time a television network commissioned a script and hired actors to dramatize a piece of its own history?) But for a show as venerable and quirky as "Doctor Who," allowances can be made.

The script is the work of Mark Gatiss, who has written for "Doctor Who," and you might wonder whether the movie will emulate the show's jokiness and frantic pace. No worries there: "An Adventure in Space and Time" turns out to be an entirely conventional backstage drama, moving at a leisurely pace and making every reversal and triumph easily comprehensible for an audience that may not have seen the original show.

Mr. Gatiss builds his story around Verity Lambert (Jessica Raine), the pioneering female broadcaster who was the show's original producer, and William Hartnell (David Bradley), the sometimes difficult actor who first played the time-traveling Doctor, and their contrasting paths. Hers is up, with "Doctor Who" serving as a launchpad to a distinguished career; his is down, with his increasing infirmity eventually driving him off the series. They meet for a while in the middle, sharing in the show's unexpected success, but we know what's coming every time Hartnell stares into space straining to remember a line.

Mr. Bradley ("Broadchurch") and Ms. Raine ("Call the Midwife") are fine within the limits of their characters, and Brian Cox delivers bursts of energy in a hammy performance as Sydney Newman, the BBC head of drama who was one of the show's creators. British-TV nostalgists will enjoy the many scenes shot inside the curving central atrium of the BBC Television Center, which the network vacated this year. But the overall production feels an awful lot like a watered-down version of the BBC's 1950s journalism drama "The Hour" — which, come to think of it, may have been the last time a network made a show like this about itself.

"Adventure" aims for poignant but more often lands on solemn or maudlin, as when a depressed Hartnell is suddenly surrounded by children asking him for the Doctor's autograph, or when he asks Lambert, "Why do things always have to change?" It's a funny line coming from the man playing popular culture's most famous time traveler.

Caption: An Adventure in Space and Time David Bradley stars in a film about the creation of "Doctor Who," Friday night on BBC America.

Caption: What started as a children's show became a phenomenon.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Hale, Mike (2013-11-22). Still Restless, 50 Years On. The New York Times p. C2.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Hale, Mike. "Still Restless, 50 Years On." The New York Times [add city] 2013-11-22, C2. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Hale, Mike. "Still Restless, 50 Years On." The New York Times, edition, sec., 2013-11-22
  • Turabian: Hale, Mike. "Still Restless, 50 Years On." The New York Times, 2013-11-22, section, C2 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Still Restless, 50 Years On | url=,_50_Years_On | work=The New York Times | pages=C2 | date=2013-11-22 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=27 November 2022 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Still Restless, 50 Years On | url=,_50_Years_On | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=27 November 2022}}</ref>