BBC America is running a marathon of Doctor Who episodes this week celebrating the 50th anniversary of the show culminating in the worldwide showing of Doctor Who: The Day of the Doctor on Saturday, November 23. But on Friday evening, the 22nd, they will show An Adventure in Space and Time, which is a dramatic recreation of how The Doctor and his Companions finally made it to the “telly” 50 years ago.
Space and Time was written by Mark Gatiss, directed by Terry McDonough and stars David Bradley as William Hartnell, the very first Doctor. It also features Jessica Raine as producer Verity Lambert and Sacha Dhawan as director Waris Hussein.
An Adventure in Space and Time gives a glimpse of why and how Doctor Who has become a fan favorite all over the world. The show is an amazing feat, a one of a kind experience, but it almost didn’t happen. The first pilot never aired, they didn’t think Hartnell was right for a children’s show and that’s just part of the story.
“The film does cover quite in detail how hard it was for our three main characters to get the film made originally,” McDonough explains. “And also the problems they had on getting it broadcast. The first time the episode was made Sydney Newman [creator and Head of BBC Drama] insisted that they reshoot the whole thing. He just wasn’t happy with the quality of it.
“And also Sydney had problems with the people above him saying Verity doesn’t know what she’s doing and she’s costing too much money and that kind of thing happens. A lot of in-house politics, I think, and also with Verity being the first female producer at the BBC and Waris Hussein being the first Indian director at the BBC.
“When I discussed the film first off with Mark, I was very keen to make a film that felt like it was made then, watching it now. And then we went through the process. There have been some great people on board, like John Pardue, our DP, and Dave Arrowsmith, our designer, and Suzanne Cave our costume designer, Vicki Lang our make-up designer. And working together with all those departments on how we could achieve this look. But we didn’t have a great budget.
“We only had 20 days to shoot it, and one camera, so that in itself, it was a bit of a challenge. And the budget wasn’t that big. So we pulled in favors left, right and center. And then we found that a lot of the favors seemed to come from people who were just big fans of the show, and it was part of their childhood as well, so people were prepared to help out a lot.”
Luckily McDonough was able to spend some time with Waris Hussein, the first director, who helped him with all the “little details”. Hussein had also kept the original floor plans which were invaluable for the recreation.
“But for the look itself,” McDonough says, “we went about creating some of the sets in the original program and then heightening the colors that we used on set so we could then, in the post production process, tone them down to give an overall more ‘60s technical like kind of feel to it. We also added some gain in post-production to take away this kind of hard video look that comes across on some of these projects. We’d have a laptop on the set. And because most of the shots from the first episode were developing shots, we also employed a TV cameraman to operate a studio pedestal camera and do the track, camera move, and choreography the whole thing exactly how it was when it first went out, frame-to-frame.”
An Adventure in Space and Time airs Friday, November 22 on BBC America