Why you should watch An Adventure in Space and Time

I'm not even a Whovian and it still made me cry, says Ellie Walker-Arnott

I am not a Whovian. Sure, I’ve watched Doctor Who. Yes, I guess I’ve enjoyed it.


But I’ve never seen old Who. I definitely don’t own a replica of Tom Baker’s scarf. And don’t even ask me what a Metebelis Crystal, a Nova Device or an Om-Com is. 

That, though, wasn’t enough to stop me blubbing (on public transport no less) when I watched An Adventure in Space in Time.

The one-off drama from actor and writer Mark Gatiss, commissioned to mark last year’s 50th anniversary, tells the story of the birth of Doctor Who.

Set in the BBC’s iconic and now abandoned Television Centre, the drama stars Call the Midwife’s Jessica Raine as Verity Lambert, the only female producer working at the Corporation in 1963, and Brian Cox as Sydney Newman, the man who gave her the chance to helm BBC1’s new sci-fi show.

Its 83 minutes follow Lambert and her team as they struggle to get Doctor Who on air and turn it into the hit it eventually becomes. There is plenty of time to breathe in oodles of Who nostalgia – retro Tardis designs, primitive Daleks, detailed vintage costumes – and many knowing nods to the show’s history (a good few of which probably went entirely unnoticed by me) and even a little cameo appearance from Matt Smith to please new Who devotees.

But ultimately, Adventure is a human drama. An engrossing, uplifting and touching tale about William Hartnell, an ageing actor who finds success and a new lease of life at the tail end of his career.

David Bradley (whose own career strangely mirrors Hartnell’s – at 72 he recently won his first Bafta for a supporting role in ITV hit Broadchurch) plays Hartnell, a crotchety old man and unlikely choice for a children’s hero. But one who transforms within the Tardis’s walls. That is, until his health deteriorates and a decision is made to replace him with a new, younger actor. Time catches up with even a Time Lord.

Gatiss’s Doctor Who retrospective is a touching and bittersweet story. And one that you definitely don’t have to be a Who fan to enjoy. 


An Adventure in Space and Time is repeated on Sunday at 10:00pm on BBC2