An Adventure in Space and Time: David Bradley on William Hartnell’s “sadness” at leaving Doctor Who

The man playing the first Time Lord during the early days of Doctor Who discusses how Mark Gatiss concentrates on different elements of Hartnell's character

David Bradley has been speaking about the sadder elements of Mark Gatiss’s drama, An Adventure in Space and Time, which reimagines the early days of production on Doctor Who. The 71-year-old actor, who plays first Doctor William Hartnell, discusses how “It’s clear how he absolutely loved [the role] and found it very hard to let go,” before teasing, “That’s an element that Mark Gatiss brings out in the script.”


It was deteriorating health led Hartnell to quit his role on the sci-fi series in 1966 after three years playing the Time Lord. “There are moments of sadness in Space and Time where he becomes aware that he hasn’t got the strength to do it anymore,” Bradley elaborates.

But Hartnell’s despondency came after an initial reluctance to take on the part of the Doctor, following a number of “tough guy” roles prior to his work on the sci-fi series. “He felt quite insecure about it as it was new territory for him,” says Bradley, “but once he started he embraced the whole idea of the part.”

And while he holds Hartnell in high esteem – “I really admire him as a Doctor” – Bradley does concede that he was not always a popular character among the cast and crew. “I know he had a reputation at times for being cantankerous and rather difficult and one has to play that… I think maybe when people joined the show later, different directors and different actors, if they showed a lack of commitment then it would upset him and he would let people know that’s how he felt.”

Nevertheless, Bradley describes playing Hartnell as “one of those great jobs and an experience I’ll always remember… I hope I’ve done justice to an actor that I admire greatly.”


An Adventure in Space in Time is expected to air on BBC2 later this month.