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Film / An Adventure in Space and Time

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We want to do a Science Fiction series. The legitimate stuff though — no tin robots or BEM... Bug-Eyed Monsters! You know... mutations and death rays, brains in glass jars, that kind of crap. We will run all year long. So a good-looking guy, a good-looking girl and a kid who gets herself into all kinds of trouble. Plus an older man. Quirky. I'll come back to him.
Sydney Newman

The one where it all began... behind the scenes.

An Adventure in Space and Time is a ninety minute docudrama about the creation of Doctor Who, and more broadly about the First Doctor's era, headed up by Mark Gatiss in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the show's existence. It premiered on BBC2 on November 21st 2013.

It stars David Bradley as William Hartnell, Jessica Raine as the show's first producer Verity Lambert, Brian Cox as BBC Head of Drama Sydney Newman, and Sacha Dhawan as Doctor Who's first director Waris Hussein.

Much acclaim was given to David Bradley's performance as Hartnell. Many viewers noted that with the makeup, David Bradley looked uncannily like the First Doctor. He made such an impression that he was tapped to play the First Doctor in the series proper for the 2017 Christmas Special "Twice Upon a Time", the final part of the Grand Finale for Peter Capaldi's Twelfth Doctor, making him the third such actor to play One (after Hartnell himself and Richard Hurndall, both of whom were long dead). David Bradley, Claudia Grant, Jemma Powell and Jamie Glover (who played Carole Ann Ford, Jacqueline Hill and William Russell) also appear in a series of First Doctor stories produced by Big Finish.


  • The '60s: The docudrama is set between the conceptualization and launching of Doctor Who in 1963 up to the end of William Hartnell's run as the First Doctor in 1966.
  • AcCENT upon the Wrong SylLABle: "DAY-leks"? "Door-locks"? No Sydney, it's "Dal-eks". Although, he does get it right the third time.
  • Adaptation Origin Connection: In real life, Innes Lloyd was the one who recruited Patrick Troughton to be William Hartnell's successor. Here, it's Sydney Newman due to being a Composite Character with Lloyd.
  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: The circumstances leading to William Hartnell's departure from the show is heavily altered for Rule of Drama (full details below).
  • Aloof Dark-Haired Girl: Verity Lambert rarely loses her composure, which is a good thing considering her job.
  • And Starring: "With Lesley Manville and Brian Cox as Sydney Newman".
  • Bait-and-Switch:
    • What appears to be a TARDIS on a film set turns out to be a real police box.
    • What appears to be a close-up of a Dalek turns out to be Lee Harvey Oswald's rifle.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The original creators of the show depart one by one to an increasing air of melancholy, and Bill himself is eventually forced to depart the show due to ill health, but their legacy lives on half a century later.
  • Blatant Lies: The producers buttering up William Hartnell on how great the show is. Ironically it all turns out to be true.
  • Book Ends: The show starts off with William Hartnell at a dead stop at the sight of a Police Box at the side of the road. You find out at the end it was right after he was told he was being cut from the show and was still in shock.
  • Butt-Monkey: Len is an extra who is frequently on the receiving end of various misfortunes. Over the course of the film, he overheats in his Cyberman costume while waiting for William Hartnell to get on the set, gets sand in his underwear while playing a caveman, is forgotten about when the rest of the production crew flees the set due to the sprinklers going off, and is yelled at by a director for letting his Dalek get too close to the kerb.
  • Call-Forward: As he breaks down over the end of his tenure as the Doctor, despite accepting it, William Hartnell says the immortal final words of the 10th Doctor.
    William Hartnell: I don't want to go!
  • The Cameo:
    • William Russell and Carole Ann Ford, who played the original companions Ian Chesterton and Susan Foreman in the show's first seasons, appear. Anneke Wills, known for her role as Polly Wright, and Jean Marsh (companion Sara Kingdom, Morgana Le Fay) show up in the cheering crowd during the celebrations after finishing "The Web Planet". (In real life, Verity Lambert stayed on later.)
    • William Hartnell, just before he films his regeneration scene, looks over the TARDIS to find Matt Smith, in-character as the 11th Doctor (the incumbent when the film was produced and first broadcast) smiling back at him. The version first aired on BBC Four in 2023 replaces this cameo with one of Ncuti Gatwa in-character as the 15th Doctor.
    • At the very end, there is a TV showing the real William Hartnell delivering his famous goodbye speech from "The Dalek Invasion of Earth".
  • Casting Couch: Variant: people in the BBC assume that Verity Lambert got her job as producer of the show because she was sleeping with Sydney Newman. It's not true.
  • Casting Gag:
    • Nicholas Briggs is the current Dalek voice-actor. He portrays Peter Hawkins, who had been the Dalek voice-actor.
    • Mark Eden had played the title character of "Marco Polo". Here, he portrays the executive who orders Doctor Who cancelled (and a scene shows the cast filming "Marco Polo").
  • Celebrity Paradox: David Bradley, Jessica Raine, Brian Cox, Nicholas Briggs, Jean Marsh, Reece Shearsmith, and Sacha Dhawan have or will appear on Doctor Who before and after the docudrama. Same can be said for William Russell, Carole Ann Ford, Mark Eden and Anneke Wills, but what's special about their case is they are also characters here played by different actors/actresses.
  • Composite Character:
    • The character of Waris Hussein combines the real-life activities of the real Hussein and script editor David Whitaker.
    • Also Sydney Newman takes over actions done by the series' post-Verity producers, in particular the scene where he informs Hartnell the show is going on without him. In real life, producer Innes Lloyd had that conversation. By that time, Newman had moved on to another job at the BBC and no longer had any involvement with the show.
  • Cool Old Guy: Hartnell becomes this as the film goes on.
  • Deceptively Silly Title: The title makes it seem like the film/special is light-hearted and all fun. It had its moments but the overall tone is dramatic.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Verity Lambert and Waris Hussein appear to be the leads with Hartnell in a supporting role... until Waris leaves halfway through the film and Verity follows shortly afterwards, leaving the weight of the drama squarely on Hartnell's shoulders.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance:
    • It's strongly implied that many within the BBC didn't take producer Verity Lambert and director Waris Hussein seriously, because she was female and Jewish, and he was homosexual and Indian. This gets lampshaded when Hussein and Lambert respectively call themselves "the posh wog" and "the pushy Jewish bird" during a toast.
    • Almost everyone smokes. This was Truth in Television.
  • Description Cut: When Verity is trying to sell William Hartnell on the idea of the series. When she describes the "state of the art facilities", we cut to the Lime Grove studio in disrepair and when she talks about how the sound effects are created with the latest technology, we cut to BBC Radiophonic Workshop composer Delia Derbyshire revealing that sound tech Brian Hodgson was just scraping metal keys across piano strings to create the signature TARDIS sound effect. And "The scripts are going wonderfully! Wonderfully!" Cut to script being thrown in the waste paper basket.
  • Dramatic Irony:
    • A comedic example with Sydney Newman's pitch for the show, where he states that Doctor Who will set itself apart from other sci-fi stories by being devoid of "tin robots or BEM... Bug-Eyed Monsters! You know... mutations and death rays, brains in glass jars, that kind of crap," all of which would appear in Doctor Who on multiple occasions over the years.
      • In a similar vein, there's the fact of the matter that the Daleks, the one alien race that keeps popping up on the show again and again, despite numerous attempts at writing them out of the show, are the reason why Doctor Who wasn't cancelled outright from the start.
    • Hartnell on realising how famous he's become. "No-one's irreplaceable, eh?"
  • Dramatization: The film retells the behind-the-scenes circumstances behind the early years of Doctor Who.
  • Epigraph: The film opens with a recreation of one of The BBC's channel idents from the 1960s, with the continuity announcer reciting the Doctor's line from "The Aztecs" stating that "you can't rewrite history, not one line."
  • Everybody Smokes: Even a Cyberman... well, an actor in a Cyberman costume at the very least.
  • Executive Meddling: In-Universe. Subverted with Sydney Newman, who admittedly did meddle in Doctor Who's early days, but this was out of a genuine love of the show and wanting to see it be the best it could be. Played straight with Newman's superiors who want to kill Doctor Who after only one night's viewing figures, figures which had been hugely skewed by the previous night's assassination of John F. Kennedy.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: Waris Hussein complains about how hot it is inside the studio while the production crew is preparing to start filming the first episode of "An Unearthly Child". A couple minutes later, the power for the set cuts out and the fire alarm and sprinklers go off, resulting in the actors fleeing the TARDIS set.
  • George Lucas Altered Version: The 2023 television broadcast of Adventure replaces Matt Smith’s cameo with newly-filmed footage of Ncuti Gatwa’s Fifteenth Doctor to reflect the continuing future of Doctor Who. Additionally, scenes based around the filming of "An Unearthly Child" had to be edited due to the ongoing rights dispute with the original writer's son, Stef Coburn, which has also prevented the serial itself from appearing on streaming services.
  • Gilligan Cut: When Verity and Waris are extolling the show's virtues to William Hartnell:
    William: I need to see scripts!
    Verity: Oh, they’re going wonderfully!
    Mervyn Pinfield bins a script.
    Verity: The BBC are really excited about the show, they’re throwing everything at it. State of the art facilities.
    A stagehand sweeping the dim, deserted Lime Grove Studio 34.
  • "Good Luck" Gesture: During filming the Daleks' first serial, Verity Lambert crosses her fingers behind her back, hoping this would boost the ratings. Thankfully, this works.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: The first half focuses on producer Verity Lambert and director Waris Hussein's struggle to get Doctor Who off the ground with actor William Hartnell just being one of many puzzle pieces they must fit together. Then after the Daleks have ensured that the series will be a smash-hit, we start to make time-skips following Hartnell and his failing health, and how he was forced to bow out from the show in order to save it.
  • Happily Married: The Hartnells. Mrs. Hartnell is clearly dedicated to looking after her husband as his health is failing.
  • Harsher in Hindsight: In-Universe:
    • Hartnell's initial reluctance to take on the role, given the circumstances of his eventual departure.
      Hartnell: I don't want to take on another long run, had enough of that on The Army Game, nearly killed me.
    • Hartnell's earlier flubs ("Check the fornicator!") turn out to be this when it becomes apparent he's ill and his memory is starting to suffer.
  • Homage:
    • Many scenes from the show were recreated for the docudrama as accurately as possible, including the scene of the Daleks on Westminster Bridge from "The Dalek Invasion of Earth". And apparently the Daleks today are just as hard to steer as they were in the sixties.
    • At one point, while he's struggling to recall his lines, Hartnell complains to the director of "people dancing about in my eyeline." In real life, this was actually said by Jon Pertwee during the production of a 1970s episode. (The footage still exists, and has been included as an extra on DVD.)
  • How We Got Here: Starts in 1966 with the production of "The Tenth Planet", then jumps back to 1963 and works its way from there. As a result, the initial scene of Hartnell's angry outburst in his dressing room takes on a new context when we return to it later on.
  • I Am Not Shazam: Played straight in-universe. Everyone, even people on the show, even William Hartnell himself refer to the character of The Doctor as "Doctor Who," which is historically accurate.note 
  • Insistent Terminology: Daleks are not robots, nor are they BEMs (bug-eyed monsters).
  • It Will Never Catch On: A higher BBC executive wants Newman to cancel the show after the first four episodes. Newman is opposed to introducing the Daleks (and gracious enough to later admit he was wrong). The "cancel after four bit" really occurred, although the order of events is changed for dramatic purposes — in reality, the show had been ordered to twenty-six episodes when it began transmission.
  • Jerkass: Rex Tucker, the interim producer of the show prior to Verity Lambert being installed in the position, is depicted as being a boorish, sexist idiot who wants to cast a younger actor as the Doctor, and basically ignores every comment Verity makes. She quickly sends him packing.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • After Hartnell realised he'd badly upset Carole Ann Ford by taking umbrage with her spending her money on frivolously items and "new togs", she later finds her dressing room table covered with roses and an apology note. Hartnell was grouchy and unapproachable in general, and tended to suffer with snobbery over being a "legitimate character actor", but Doctor Who really helped him become somewhat more mellow and he would happily go into character when approached by children.
    • Sydney Newman wasn't afraid to throw his weight around and be quite mean, but this tended to be more about lighting a fire under people he knew could do better than it was about being genuinely a jerk. He was also man enough to give people second chances and didn't mind eating crow when Verity proves him wrong about the Daleks.
  • Large Ham: Sydney Newman. His brash, Hollywood-style personalitynote  is in stark contrast to the sedate, by-the-rules approach of the BBC. And for a double helping of ham, Newman is played by Brian Cox.
  • Lighter and Softer: Sydney complains that the Doctor is too abrasive in his first appearance. He orders it reshot.
  • Logo Joke: The film opens with the 1963 BBC globe ident.
  • Magic Realism: The film is a realistic docudrama except for Hartnell's vision of a future Doctor actornote  at the end.
  • Making the Masterpiece: The film details the making of Doctor Who's first few years, from its initially rocky start in 1963 up through the departure of William Hartnell in 1966.
  • Manly Tears: Hartnell broke down to his wife after he was let go by the show.
  • Mascot Mook: Verity Lambert insists on keeping the Daleks in the programme, despite the skepticism of her superiors, and they quickly become this with the younger viewers.
  • Metafictional Title: A biopic of the people responsible for the creation of a show about a time travelling alien.
  • Mood Whiplash: When Verity Lambert can't get Hartnell to be less temperamental, Sydney Newman shows up and expertly butters Hartnell up with praise for his acting, putting Hartnell into a much better and more receptive mood. Verity is delighted and thanks Sydney, but he turns to her and brusquely tells her she needs to be a better producer. This causes her to take a level in producer (see below).
  • Mythology Gag: Quite a few peppered through the dialogue:
    • "Brave heart, darling!"
    • Waris complains about the cramped, tiny studio, saying it's "smaller on the inside."
    • "We're looking at ways of refreshing it. Um... regenerating it."
    • Hartnell sadly mutters "I don't want to go" to his wife when the news of his ousting sinks in.
    • "A doctor? Does he make people better?"
    • The opening shot of the drama is of Hartnell's car parked near a Police Box on Barnes Common. The original novelisation of the first Dalek serial had Ian and Barbara finding the TARDIS on Barnes Common, rather than in the junkyard at Totter's Lane.
    • Hartnell complains that the TARDIS set is "too bloody big - takes up half the studio". Fast forward to 2005...and then again to 2023...
    • When an extra refuses to have his teeth blackened for the caveman story, Waris Hussein says with exasperation that, "It's 100,000 BC! It's the Tribe of Gum!". The first Doctor Who serial was known as both "100,000 BC" and "The Tribe of Gum". The name "An Unearthly Child" was eventually made the pseudo-official title for the entire serial when it was featured on home media releases, but it was originally only the name of the first episode.
    • The narration over the recreation of the '60s BBC ident at the start of the film has a memorable one:
      Announcer: This is the BBC. The following program is based on actual events. It is important to remember, however, that you can't rewrite history, not one line. Except, perhaps, when you embark on an adventure in space and time.
    • In a bit of Tempting Fate, when William says goodbye to Verity, he says that "This old body of mine's got a few more years on it."
    • When Bill and Verity are checking how they did at the races by looking up the results in the paper on the set of Marco Polo, Bill responds to Verity's question about how much she's won by reeling off the list of things The Doctor had won in character playing backgammon in the story
  • Newspaper Dating:
    • In a variation, the opening scene features a close-up of William Hartnell's windscreen, with his tax disc set to expire Hallowe'en 1966, two days after the airing of Episode 4 of "Tenth Planet", his Grand Finale as the incumbent Doctor.
    • In the aftermath of the airing of "An Unearthly Child", Sydney Newman holds up a newspaper about the Kennedy assassination that occurred the day before it had aired.
  • Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: Invoked by William Hartnell in the interview footage at the end. He attributes his popularity with children despite being somewhat grumpy as being because both he and the Doctor are a mix of "the Wizard of Oz and Father Christmas".
  • Number of the Beast: The BBC sold their Dalek playsuit at sixty six shillings and sixpence, or £3.6.6.note 
  • Obligatory Joke:
    • At the start of the film everyone's waiting on Hartnell, who's moping in the dressing room.
      "What's the hold up?"
      "You know who."
    • And again:
      Verity: H. G. Wells meets Father Christmas — that's the Doctor.
      Hartnell: Doctor... who?
    • Patrick Troughton uses a "Who's who?" joke as a way of trying to defuse the tension when getting ready to shoot the regeneration scene with Bill.
  • Old Hero, New Pals: Deconstructed. The show's Revolving Door Casting of supporting cast members and off-screen personnel increasingly stressed Hartnell.
  • Playing Against Type: (In-Universe) Bill Hartnell was keen to take the role as The Doctor because he was becoming sick of being handed nothing but "Criminals and perishing Sergent Majors" to play. Ironic, given that subsequent Doctors (including Hartnell's immediate successor) would be worried that appearing on Doctor Who would get them typecast.
  • Real-Person Epilogue: The film ends with a side-by-side comparison of the real people depicted in the film with the actors who played them.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Sydney Newman zig-zags this trope. On the one hand he gives Verity Lambert the job of producing the show and sees enough potential in the pilot to let it be reshot (which was expensive), as well as, you know, commissioning the show to begin with. On the other hand he's heavily opposed to the Daleks, and several other aspects of the show which would become popular, though even then he's man enough to admit when he's wrong.
  • Rebuilt Set: A detailed replication of the First Doctor's TARDIS, plus Foreman's Yard, the Dalek city, World's End, Antarctica...
  • The Remake: Several scenes from the show, including the very first TARDIS scene, were reconstructed using the actors playing Hartnell, Carole Ann Ford, William Russell and Jacqueline Hill.
  • Replacement Scrappy: (In-Universe) Hartnell is visibly upset over his show's Revolving Door Casting of both behind-the-scenes personnel and on-camera talents, and he makes it clear to them. Ironically (and Truth in Television), the only replacement he didn't resent is his own.
    He really hates goodbyes, does he?
  • Rule of Drama: In real life, Hartnell's departure due to his deteriorating health was his own choice, and the casting of Patrick Troughton was on his recommendation. It plays out here as Hartnell asking for a reduced workload and Newman regretfully telling him he's out, but still conveys how the show has impacted Hartnell, and vice versa.
  • Saved by Canon: Verity Lambert's fears that the show will be cancelled are a little anti-climactic when you're watching the special with a big "50TH ANNIVERSARY OF DOCTOR WHO" stamp in the corner of the screen. Ditto with Sydney Newman's skepticism that the Daleks will catch on, after they've become so iconic and representative of the franchise.
  • Scenery Porn: If you like Mid-Century Modern design. As it was one of the last programmes filmed there, it's something of a love-letter to the BBC TV Centre, with numerous scenes showing off the building at various angles. It helped that the building was no longer in use, so the actors weren't getting in the way of any real BBC staff, and corridors could be dressed to match the period. (It's not entirely clear if the office interiors were shot at TV Centre or were studio re-creations.)
  • Sci Fi Ghetto: (In-Universe)
    BBC Exec: Science Fiction — is it really that popular?
    Sydney Newman: Last time I looked.
    BBC Exec: For the juvenile boys, perhaps.
    Sydney Newman: (under his breath) I like it...
  • Self-Deprecation:
    • Hartnell is getting ready to (unwillingly) hand over the show to Patrick Troughton and, trying to be a good sport, tells him how he told the producers there was only one man who could take over the show. Troughton sweetly defuses the tension by asking, "Couldn't they get him?"
    • When William Hartnell and Carole Ann Ford are talking about her leaving the show, Carole says she doesn't want to scream at "nasty monsters" anymore. William's response: "Well, that's not a nice thing to say about me."
  • Spear Carrier: Hartnell himself invokes this about a minor role he once had in a stage production of King Lear, alluding to his acting career in general.
  • Straight Gay: Waris Hussein, appropriately for the time period.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: Long after the original production crew have moved on, Hartnell is contending with a new crew he doesn't know very well and who don't know the ins and outs of the show they're producing. They don't even know how to make the glass cylinder in the TARDIS console move up and down. Thoroughly exasperated and fed up, Hartnell bellows the question of whether anybody knows how to do anything on the set.
    • Hartnell eventually shoos away the technician who's trying to operate the cylinder and flicks the correct switch himself. This almost certainly Artistic Licence, because in real life the unions wouldn't have allowed actors to do technicians' jobs.
  • That Came Out Wrong:
    Waris: It's what you do so well, Mr Hartnell. Stern and scary! (sees Hartnell's expression) ...with a twinkle!
  • They Changed It, Now It Sucks!: (In-Universe) Hartnell is increasingly upset over his show's Revolving Door Casting of both behind-the-scenes personnel and on-camera talents.
    Hartnell: They're all gone now, all gone.
  • Token Mini-Moe: Hartnell's granddaughter Judith fills the role. She's the only prominent child character and instantly provides adorable and heartwarming moments everytime she and her grandfather are sharing a scene.
  • Took a Level in Badass: Verity Lambert finds it difficult to get Hartnell under control by being nice to him, so when Sydney turns up on set, she calls him in. Sydney expertly flatters Hartnell's ego, but when Verity thanks him he bluntly states that she needs to start acting like a producer. Verity then takes the lesson to heart by going straight to the set designer's office and, rather than just ask him when the TARDIS set will be ready, she sits at his desk and demands he make something. It works.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Hartnell's character development over the programme, from a brusque, temperamental character actor to a man who became an icon to children across the UK and adored it, paralleling the First Doctor's evolution over the course of the show.
  • Tropes Are Not Bad: Sydney wants to avoid sci-fi clichés like Tin Can Robots and Bug-Eyed Monsters. The Daleks combine both these features yet help the show achieve popular success.
  • Troubled Production: (In-Universe) Since this covers the filming of "An Unearthly Child" and the early days of the show, this is a major given. As for the docudrama itself, getting it commissioned for the 50th Anniversary year wasn't difficult; however, Gatiss originally had the idea for the 40th anniversary back in 2003 before the revival of Doctor Who, and at that time there was far less interest.
  • Twofer Token Minority: Lambert is a Jewish woman, Hussein is Indian and homosexual.
  • Universe Bible: It shows how much Hartnell got involved with the show that he becomes a walking and talking version of this. He insists that the set be built so that he can assign a function to all the different switches and levers, claiming that the kids will notice if he uses a button to open the door one week and a different button for the same purpose the following week. When Lambert and Hussein have left the show, he refuses to start a scene because the TARDIS is meant to be in flight and the glass cylinder on the console isn't going up and down. When nobody knows how to make it do so, he says "I'll do it myself!" and pokes around inside the TARDIS console until he finds the right switch.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Downplayed. Aside from the altered circumstances of Hartnell's departure and the insertion of a few non-historical people just so old cast members can make cameos, everything is overall intact.
  • "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue: The ending of the docudrama briefly elaborates on what became of Waris Hussein, Verity Lambert, Sydney Newman and William Hartnell.
  • "YEAH!" Shot: Verity and Warris did this at the BBC station's rooftop after Doctor Who is officially green-lit.
  • Younger Than They Look: William Hartnell was a famous real life case of it, only being 55 when the show started. Here he's played by 71 year old David Bradley, who fits perfectly.