Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Adventures in Time and Space

The wildly popular BBC series "Doctor Who" had the misfortune to debut on the same day John F. Kennedy was killed.  Very few people watched the original airing as the British people were glued to the news just like we Yanks.

So it's no coincidence that "Doctor Who" celebrated its fiftieth anniversary at the same time we commemorated JFK's assassination fifty years later.

Fortunately for generations of fans, the BBC decided to rerun the first episode, gathering fans, until it became the phenomenon we know today.

Adventures in Time and Space is a movie produced by the BBC and shown on their network, as well as BBC America.  Written by Mark Gatiss, who has penned several episode scripts for the series, it is funny, yet surprisingly poignant.

Brian Cox (Red, Red2, among many other roles) plays Sidney Newman, a brash Canadian hired by the BBC to update their image and the quality of their presentations.

Jessie Raine plays Verity Lambert, Sidney's former assistant, whom he hires to be the producer for this new "children's program" he's decided to add to the line-up.  A woman producer was not the norm in those days and Ms. Lambert had her own battles to fight.

Sacha Dhawan plays Waris Hussein, a Indian misfit among the all-English staff.

David Lambert (Filch in the Harry Potter series, and the sexual offender driven to suicide in Broadchurch) plays William Hartnell, the irascible older actor who originated the role of the Doctor.
While this cast works very well together as a true ensemble, it is Lambert's show.  He gives a measured performance going from angry curmudgeon to bewildered victim of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries.)  And the hardest part to take is that Hartnell begins to enjoy his fame as the Doctor.  He grows comfortable in the role and even likes teasing young fans in the park.  He tells them to run because the Daleks are coming.  They run away screaming, "Exterminate, exterminate" with their best Dalek imitations, to the delighted laughter of Hartnell. He loves playing the role he was so reluctant originally to accept.

The point of the script is that four misfits, Sidney, Verity, Warris, and Hartnell came together with an "impossible" concept according to the administrators at the BBC and made a magical show that has endured.  They bucked the considerably hide-bound system and won.  Doctor Who has an enormous fan base, all over the world, called Whovians.  (Sounds sort of like Trekkers, don't you think?)

After several years of success, one by one the originators leave the show.  Hartnell is the last to leave and he does so unwillingly.  He has been having serious problems with his lines due to his disease.  He cannot remember the correct words, says outrageous things, and is quick to fly into a rage.

Finally, the role is recast and he is informed.  He takes it very well, a true English gentleman.  But he has one more episode to film where the Doctor will be regenerated into someone else - something they have used throughout the series to recast the role.  Hartnell begins his lines and loses them as he looks around the set of his beloved TARDIS.  A young man appears to him, smiles and nods.  It is Matt Smith, the eleventh actor to play the Doctor.  Hartnell leaves knowing his character will continue.

I am a fan of Doctor Who.  My favorite actor in the part was David Tennant, the tenth actor to play the role.

But I'd be willing to bet even the most hardened cynic would be moved by Bradley's performance.  He's got the part down.  I cried as I recognized the elderly man dealing with confusion and fright.

This film is a fitting tribute to the series, to Hartnell, and the others who have come later to the role.

It's another wonderful job by the BBC.  Oh, and by the way, Doctor number twelve will be introduced next month.  I for one am looking forward to it.

Don't miss this film if you like Doctor Who.  You won't be disappointed.

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

Enjoy a good movie, a book, some music, the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, football, whatever strikes your fancy.

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