An Adventure in Space and Time

A set and location report for DWM. Published November 2013.

7.00am. Sunday 17 February 2013. 

It’s that moment in the morning when everything is blue. The air itself is blue. The River Thames, at the turn of the tide, is an unblemished mirror. Viewed from the southern bank, every detail of the Palace of Westminster is perfectly doubled in its reflection. It’s a frozen, bewitching moment… Until the silence is broken – respectfully – by Big Ben chiming out the hour.

And then, right on schedule, the Dalek invasion begins.

A large white van pulls up on Westminster Bridge Road, and the Daleks are hauled from the back of it, each in several pieces, and carefully assembled on the pavement. It’s immediately clear that they are the perfect Daleks for the day: from the silver balls of their eyestalks down to the thick black rubber of their dodgem-car bases. Freed from their reliance upon the static electricity of their city on Skaro, these Daleks draw power via a satellite dish mounted on their backs – or so the story goes. In reality they are driven by the scrabbling plimsolls of their eager human operators, now hidden within, twitching and spinning the machines into sinister life.

“A wondrous sight, isn’t it?” says Mark Gatiss, his breath frosting. Clearly a man with experience of night shoots and dawn calls, he’s wearing a heavy coat and fur hat, as if he’s just slipped away from the Siege of Leningrad. As the four Daleks fall into line, Mark’s heavy sigh of satisfaction fogs the air around us. The sight of Daleks gliding over Westminster Bridge is a potent image for any Doctor Who fan, but has an even deeper resonance for Mark.

After all, he’s been here before.

8.00am Sunday 31 October 1993. 
Westminster Bridge, London.

Doctor Who is gearing up to celebrate its 30th birthday. The series itself may be four years dead, but the fans remains as loyal as ever – and one, Kevin Davies, is preparing a celebratory documentary for BBC One: 30 Years in the TARDIS. The highlight of today’s filming is a recreation of a key scene from the 1964 serial The Dalek Invasion of Earth, for which Kevin has assembled a slightly ragtag troop of homemade Dalek casings. However, the Dalek operators are required to be members of the actors’ union Equity, so suitably qualified fan friends have been drafted in; among them Barnaby Edwards and Nicholas Pegg – for whom Dalek-ing will ultimately become something of a vocation – and the 26-year-old Mark Gatiss.

“The early 90s was a dark time for Doctor Who,” recalls Mark. “At that point, I really didn’t think it would ever come back. All you could do was try to keep the flame alive in whatever small way you could. And so when Kevin was looking for Daleks to be in his documentary, I jumped at the chance.

“I remember trundling along the bridge, with fibreglass splinters in my neck, and thinking: ‘This is really difficult!’ It was barely-controlled chaos, and kids were running about behind us, shrieking with delight. 

“But then one little boy came right up to me and tugged at his mum’s sleeve and said: ‘What are they, mum?’ And my heart sank. How can anyone say ‘What are they?’ about the bloody Daleks? And I thought: ‘This is it, the world is starting to forget. This is how it ends.’”

8.30am. Sunday 17 February 2013. 
Westminster Bridge, London.

Word has got round that the Daleks are in town, and a huge crowd has gathered across the street, snapping away with cameras and smartphones. Tourist buses pass at a crawl, allowing their passengers to enjoy the spectacle. Pictures have already been tweeted and retweeted around the world.  Everyone loves the Daleks.

Doctor Who fans have been waiting for a moment like this ever since the announcement that BBC Two would be marking the 50thbirthday of Doctor Who with a special feature-length film, telling the story of the creation of the show and the struggle to bring its earliest episodes to the screen. Today’s location shoot is the first chance fans have had to appreciate the true ambition of the production.

“It’s over a decade since I first pitched the idea to the BBC, for the 40thanniversary,” explains Mark – writer and co-executive producer of An Adventure in Space and Time. “I’ve been back and back to it over the years. I talked to Steven Moffat about doing it when Matt Smith took over, as a way of reminding the audience that there had been other Doctors before David Tennant. But he said – and I agreed – that it was better to save it for the 50th. At the time it felt like years away, but then: ‘Oh no! It’s here!’ 

“It’s a great, compelling story – but honing in on the best way to tell it has been the challenge. But I always knew I was going to get the Daleks out on Westminster Bridge again.” 

Only a short sequence is to be to be filmed this morning, but a challenging one. With artful instinct, a thin mist gathers along the Thames, lending a dreamlike quality to the scene. The traffic is stopped at both ends of the bridge, and an uncanny silence falls as the Daleks glide across, casually inspecting their latest real-estate acquisition. One camera frames the familiar shots from 1964, while another, high up in a window of the old County Hall, captures a brand-new perspective.

Then: “Cut!” But this is not the voice of Terry McDonough – director of An Adventure in Space and Time – but of actor Ian Hallard, who’s playing the cravat-wearing director of the original Dalek Invasion of Earth, Richard Martin. With perfect comic timing, one of the Daleks swings its eyestalk round to regard ‘Richard’ as it receives furious notes on its performance.

“I love it!” chuckles Mark. “That’s staying in! Now… I don’t suppose you know anyone with a Zarbi costume do you? Or a Voord?” 

I confess that I don’t, and Mark explains: “We have a tiny scene in the film where I need an unexpected monster. Someone’s told me there might be a Mechonoid in Sunderland, but our budget can’t stretch to the transport.”

11.00am. Sunday 17 February 2013. 
BBC Television Centre, London.

The Daleks are packed away again, and An Adventure in Space and Time moves back to TV Centre, where the unit has been shooting on location for the past week. Today’s scenes feature Jessica Raine, as Doctor Who’s first producer Verity Lambert, and Brian Cox as her boss, Sydney Newman. The pair hurry through the Stage Door reception area, which has been stripped back and polished to its gorgeous 60s best. Newman is explaining the idea for a new television series to Lambert. “They travel about in space and time, getting into scrapes,” says Newman, putting it in a nutshell. Cox looks the very image of the Newman: former BBC Head of Drama and one of the chief engineers of Doctor Who. With a cigarette holder clenched in his teeth, he squarks his dialogue from side of his mouth, like the Penguin from Batman. “And I want you to produce it, kid!” he tells Verity. “I need someone with piss and vinegar in their veins!”

It’s an unlikely catchphrase, and totally thrilling to hear Sydney Newman say it out loud.

Flashback. May 1965. 
BBC Television Centre, London.

19-year-old Brian Cox arrives at the studios to record his first ever TV. It’s a small part in a one-off drama, A Knight in Tarnished Armour, written by Alan Sharp and directed by John Gorrie for the prestigious Wednesday Play strand. Later that evening, in the BBC club, he is introduced to the man with ultimate responsibility for The Wednesday Play: BBC Head of Drama Sydney Newman.

“He was quite a character,” recalls Cox. “Bear in mind that I was nobody, and didn’t know anyone or anything, and he was still very charming and very nice to me. But yes, Sydney was amazing character, and he really set the agenda for how drama was done on TV in the 60s, and that work still has a massive influence today. The Wednesday Play – along with Armchair Theatre, which he did for ITV – gave so many great writers and directors their first work. He brought people like Harold Pinter in to do TV. There was Dennis Potter and Tony Garnett and Ken Loach. He fashioned himself like one of the great movie moguls, like Jack Warner or Louis B Mayer. He had a great sense of showmanship, but also great integrity. He was very hands-on and very encouraging and very open. He was a true enthusiast, and Doctor Who was born from that enthusiasm.” 

Nearly 50 years later, Brian Cox CBE is now world-famous, thanks to a prestigious career with the Royal Shakespeare Company and a host of blockbuster films, such as Manhunter and X-Men 2. So does he think Sydney would approve of his big-name casting?

“I hope he’d be proud,” says the 67-year old star, laughing. “But I really don’t know. He might say, ‘Too Scottish!’ or ‘You should be more Jewish!’ Hopefully I’ve captured the spirit of the man. And I’m wearing brown contact lenses so I match up better. They were made for another part, but I brought them along today. I don’t think the director has noticed!

“When the script for this came through I jumped at it. It’s a great script, and really captures Sydney and Verity and how things were back then. And it was perfectly timed for me, as I’m doing a play in London. I thought it was a great way to pay tribute to Sydney and to work at TV Centre one last time.”

Sunday 17 February 2013. 
BBC Television Centre, London.

When the sun shines down into the rotunda of TV Centre at just the right angle, it is reflected and scattered by the wide circle of windows into a hundred diamond-shaped beams – which, in turn, reflect and scatter again. It works like a gigantic glitter ball. It’s the dazzle of pure showbiz, of a thousand stars. 

When the production team assembles under this golden glow – ready to film Sydney Newman’s first arrival at the BBC – the remaining working life of TV Centre can be measured in hours. An Adventure in Space and Time will be the last ever drama to be filmed at the studio.

“It’s so spooky that we’re here,” says Mark Gatiss, gazing up into the kaleidoscope of light. “Most of the fittings have been ripped out, and we’ve had to put the building back together again, just before it closes down. Frankly, it’s a national scandal that they’re closing it at all.”

Brian Cox agrees. “I worked here in the 60s, the 70s, the 80s and the 90s,” he says. “It’s so quiet here today – eerily so – but it used to be this incredible hive of activity. TV Centre was a greenhouse for creativity, providing the perfect conditions for talent to flourish, and for people to learn their trade. Designers and make-up people for example – the best you find in the movie business honed their craft here. And, boy, the make-up department Christmas party was the place you wanted to be, I can tell you. 

“All things must pass, of course,” he adds, “but you think, in closing TV Centre, maybe they’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater? It’s very sad. For me, this place is full of ghosts. Spirits walk those corridors.”

Filming pauses while a tour group passes through. Owing to the unique way the BBC is funded, An Adventure in Space and Time was almost prevented from filming at TV Centre at all. There was a concern that actual TV production would cause too much disruption to the tour schedule. 

“Have you seen upstairs yet?” asks Mark. “Have seen you what we’ve done?”

Summer 1973. 
Sedgefield, County Durham

Mark Gatiss is seven years old, and he loves Doctor Who. It’s been part of his family life for as long as he can remember. His mum does an excellent impression of a Fish Person from The Underwater Menace. His brother tells wondrous stories of when Cybots invaded the sewers of London. His dad’s tyre-pressure gauge is regularly pressed into service as a sonic screwdriver. Memories of Inferno mean that Mark lives in terror of the nearby gasometers.

1973 is the year of Doctor Who’s 10th anniversary, and Mark’s new favourite book is The Making of Doctor Who, by Malcolm Hulke. 

On page two he reads these words: ‘An idea as good as Doctor Who doesn’t just happen. Like building a bridge or a house, a great deal of thinking and work goes into a television series before you ever get to see it.’

2.30pm. Sunday 17 February 2013. 
BBC Television Centre, London.

The fifth floor of TV Centre has been dressed to recreate the 60s offices of Sydney Newman and Verity Lambert. Next door, the office of the design department, ready for scenes where Verity has to pester a begrudging Peter Brachacki to imagine her a TARDIS control room. 

The level of detail on these sets is quite astonishing. Copies of original BBC production paperwork cover the desks and walls. Even the sides of cupboards that will never be seen in shot are pasted with nuggets of Doctor Who history. ‘Design budget allotment for pilot episode: £291’ reads one memo. Another, from BBC Controller of Programmes Donald Baverstock tells Verity Lambert: ‘Following the viewing of episode seven today, I now agree to commit myself to accepting an additional ten episodes, making 36 in all… I hope that in these you will brighten up the logic and inventiveness of the scripts.” All this documentation is covered in familiar names: David Whitaker, CE Webber, Raymond Cusick, Terry Nation, Donald Wilson…

“I’ve been fascinated about this story – the creation – ever since I first read The Making of Doctor Who, which was like our Book of Genesis,” says Mark, perching on Verity Lambert’s desk. “The most difficult task has been to hone it down to something that will fit in a 90-minte drama. 

“I always knew I’d start the film with William Hartnell’s last day, but then spin back to the very beginning. The big challenge was finding a way to focus the story on, essentially, just four people. Bill Hartnell of course, and then Sydney Newman, Verity Lambert and Waris Hussein. Verity was the first female producer at the BBC, and Waris was the first Indian director, and also gay. Sydney had just come in from ITV, and was very much the resented outsider. So all of them represent change. They’re all a challenge to that rather fusty and old-fashioned way of doing things at the BBC in 1963. And all of them can drive this story in a unique way.

“I was talking to [Doctor Who historian] Marcus Hearn the other day, and he asked me who was playing Donald Wilson. And I had to say: ‘He’s not in it!’ Poor Marcus was dumbstruck. And I realised I was going to be spending the rest of my life having that conversation.

“The thing is, you just can’t include everyone,” explains Mark. “It’s not that I don’t understand or appreciate the scale of Donald Wilson’s contribution to Doctor Who as Head of Serials – or of David Whitaker as script editor, or Bunny Webber’s contribution to the format. In an early draft I had a scene where Sydney is barrelling down the hallways of TV Centre with about 30 people trailing behind him, all shouting out ideas, all with their names above their heads. Then gradually they’d disappear down to just Sydney holding the file that contains the first outline of Doctor Who. But in the end, I had to just pack away my inner anorak and think: ‘This is a drama.’ There’s lots of books and websites out there, and I’m not trying to rewrite history. In the end I went with a simple, single line from Verity to Bill Hartnell: ‘So many people have been in at the birth of this thing… we’d be here all day if I told you.’ Hopefully, the fans will appreciate the little wink there.

“It cuts both ways, of course. When, in 50 years time, they come to make the Benedict Cumberbatch biopic, and they do a little bit about Sherlock, I’m sure Steven Moffat and I will be merged into one character for dramatic convenience. If we make the cut at all!”

The conversation continues as we take the lift back down to Stage Door, to meet with one of An Adventure in Space and Time’s most special guest stars [see box out].

“What I hope to capture in the film is quite how young everyone was,” says Mark. “Waris and Verity’s careers had barely begun – she’d been little more than a secretary to this point. Sydney Newman wasn’t young, but he certainly felt like he was. Bill Hartnell is the anomaly, of course – though at 55 he was hardly ancient. But then he was so enlivened by this youthful company. It gave him a whole new lease of life. Bill was at a crossroads in his career, but the rest of them really had everything to prove and nothing to lose. And they end up creating, I think, great art. 

“It’s ridiculous really. You have an untried producer, a director with no confidence, a nervous star, a tiny studio… and a whacking great police box, of all things! But in this absolute hothouse of possibilities, in this potent primordial soup, there’s a flash of lightening and a miracle occurs.”

Mark is one of the hardest-working people in television. He’s on set every day for An Adventure and Space and Time, answering questions, making suggestions. After Adventure wraps, he moves on to Sherlock– for which he writes, produces and acts – while busily preparing a BBC Four documentary about writer MR James, to be shown at Christmas alongside a new dramatisation of one of James’s ghost stories, The Tractate Middoth – which Mark will both write and direct. And so – as actor, writer, director and producer – he must know the TV business of 2013 inside out… How different, then, is it to the BBC of 1963, and the struggles faced by Verity and Waris?

“It’s the same – but different,” he muses. “And now I’ll try to make sense of that! There are just as many lily-livered people around today, who don’t have the courage of their convictions, and are just waiting around for someone to tell them if a new project is a good idea or not. But every now and again you get someone as confident and enigmatic as Sydney Newman – or Russell T Davies, or Steven Moffat – who can say: ‘Trust me. We must do it my way.’ And those are the people who carry you through to huge success. 

“Equally, I think there’s also a great myth of a golden age of television. There’s always been lots of terrible stuff, just as there’s always been lots of great stuff. But I think something we’ve definitely lost is the room to at least risk failure, and therefore the room to experiment. It’s all down to ratings pressures, sadly. I think there’s less room today for a maverick to say ‘How about we just try this?’”

Mark phone rings. He answers, listens for a moment and promises immediate action. Pocketing his phone, he says: “Now, you’ll have to excuse me for a moment. I have to go back upstairs and urgently retrieve a photo of Douglas Camfield on his wedding day. It’s needed in make-up.”

Shooting in and around the rotunda and the scenery dock continues throughout the afternoon. And then, at 5.30pm – as the sun sets – it’s a wrap for BBC Television Centre.

8.00am Tuesday 19 February. 
Wimbledon Studios, London.

“Come with me,” insists Mark. “You must see it immediately.” 

He takes me by the hand and drags me from reception, past the production offices, and straight to the studio being used by An Adventure in Space and Time. I suddenly understand how it must feel to be the Doctor’s companion. Then we round a corner, and there it is… 

Mark watches for my reaction. I can only stare in slack-jawed wonder. It’s the TARDIS control room. The original. It’s there, and it’s real.It’s mind-bogglingly beautiful. And the shock of it will be quite undiminished when you see it on TV for the first time. It’s not merely a studio set from Doctor Who, it’s like someone has rebuilt a real but half-remembered place from your own life – your childhood bedroom, your first classroom at school – down to the last detail. The feeling is that primal.

Mark is still watching. I’m choking back tears. “Where shall we go?” he says impishly, skipping over to the console. The lights flash, the central column slowly turns. “The future? History? Or sideways?

“Oh, I know how you’re feeling,” he adds. “When I saw it for the first time, I had to stuff my scarf in my mouth to stop myself screaming.”

Walking slowly the console, I notice two brass pillars either side of the main double doors into the control room – huge decorative candle holders.

“But they can’t be…” I say. “Surely?”

“Oh yes they can,” says Mark. “Ha-ha! What have we done?”

Later that day.

I linger in the loading bay with production designer Dave Arrowsmith, and congratulate him on his magnificent TARDIS. 

“I think we’ve got it pretty much spot on,” he says. “We couldn’t find any plans for the console, so basically we just researched the hell out of it. I spent the Christmas holidays watching the whole of the first series with my 11-year-old son. Although he’s a fan of the modern series – he insisted I took the job, actually – I thought he would be bored by the 60s episode, but he loved it all. Especially the Dalek one. And that shows you how well it holds up even today. 

“So I frame-grabbed everything I could. Lucienne Suren, the art director, and I took measurements from objects that we knew the size of, and then worked out the proportions of everything else.

“This has been an amazing job, with so many different challenges. Bill Hartnell’s cottage, all the offices at the BBC, the junkyard, the planet Vortis, Kublai Khan’s palace… But the TARDIS was the biggest challenge. It took us about three weeks to build that set, and that’s with the help of modern tools. God knows how they managed it in 1963 with hacksaws and flat-head screwdrivers – it’s mind-blowing.

I ask about the brass pillars in the control room. 

“Now that was a great find,” says Dave. “One of our art department took a trip to the BBC Archive near Reading, and discovered paperwork which revealed that props for the pilot episode where hired in from a company which still exists today. So we went along to their warehouse, and managed to find some of the same props – still there in storage and available for hire. And so, those brass columns in the TARDIS are the exact same ones that were in the TARDIS in 1963. What are the chances of that?”

8.10am Tuesday 19 February. 
Wimbledon Studios, London.

“Weird things like that keep happening,” says Mark. “I think we’re in danger of blowing a hole in the space-time continuum. On our first night shoot, we erected our police box on Wimbledon Common – it’s actually pretending to be a different London common in the film – and it was only later that we realised we’d put our TARDIS, quite by chance, on almost exactly the same spot as it stands when Dodo runs into it in The Massacre.” 

The studio is starts to fill with cast and crew. Today is perhaps the most challenging of the whole shoot, with scenes covering the recording of Doctor Who’s pilot episode.

David Bradley waits in the shadows beside the broad blue gates to 76 Totter’s Lane. In full Doctor costume – Astrakhan hat, cape, college scarf and all – he’s the next wonder in a day of wonders. As he waits for the lighting to be set for the day’s first scene, David taps a smartphone with a stylus, looking for all the world like the Doctor taking notes out in the desert of paleolithic Earth. To complete the scene, a caveman joins him, all ratty beard and animal skins.

I turn to Mark. “You have caveman at the recording of the pilot episode,” I say. He narrows his eyes. “You know what people are going to say about…”

“Yes. I’m braced for that,” he says. “But we’re creating a sense of the atmosphere of the time. I hope the most fervent fact checkers will appreciate that we need some artistic license. We have three years of Doctor Who to compress into 90 minutes.”

As the morning’s scenes are played out, it’s immediately clear that David is perfect as the First Doctor, stiff-backed and haughty, bright eyes dancing. 

“He was my first and only choice,” confirms Mark. “Who else could it be? David’s one of our very best actors, simple as that. He’s an absolute gentleman and an adorable man. And he’s completely embraced the idea of Bill Hartnell as a pugnacious little terrier, who is completely transformed by playing the Doctor. Bill Hartnell became the Doctor, I think. And David has absorbed all that meticulously.”

Working alongside David today, and no less striking, is Claudia Grant, who channels Carole Ann Ford’s distinctive, sing-song speech pattern as Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter.

“It’s a freaky thing,” says Claudia between takes. “My agent rang me to tell me I’d got the part, and she said: ‘I have to say, I really wanted you to get it, because I’m William Hartnell’s real-life granddaughter.”

Claudia’s agent is Jessica Carney, who is herself – as a little girl – a character in An Adventure in Space and Time. It’s a day for seemingly fated connections.

Summer, 1951. 
Alleyn’s School, Dulwich, South London

English master Michael Croft – who would go on to found the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain – stages a ground-breaking and critically acclaimed performance of Julius Caeser in the school grounds. Playing Mark Anthony is the 16-year-old Julian Glover. Croft invites his old friend William Russell to see the show, and give the cast a talk about the life of the professional actor.

1.30pm Tuesday 19 February. 
Wimbledon Studios, London.

“William Russell was only 10 years older than Dad at the time,” says Jamie Glover. “But he was this great, glamorous, grown-up actor that all of the boys at Alleyn’s wanted to be. Russell’s talk was a great inspiration to Dad. Of course, he worked alongside Russell, and Bill Hartnell, in the story about the Crusades. I know he was totally thrilled to do that.

“It’s a strange thing, isn’t it,” muses Jamie, “that I’m now playing William Russell, who was my own dad’s hero? Dad told me to send him his best!” 

Jamie is called away to join castmates David and Claudia – along with Jemma Powell, who plays Jacqueline Hill – as they gather with the director and crew around a MacBook laptop. This will happen every half-hour or so during the afternoon, as all assembled watch and re-watch the first TARDIS scene from the pilot episode – noting and practicing every gesture, every line stress. “What are you doing here?’ tries Claudia as Susan, then: “What are you doing here?”

Crowding into the TARDIS are both modern HD and vintage Marconi cameras. (The latter rented from a specialised company called Golden Age TV, whose senior operator – and we’re almost starting to take this weirdness for granted – is former Doctor Who Magazine cartoonist Dicky Howett.) The 60s cameras feed to equally vintage monitors around the set, and to the control-gallery set built to one side of the TARDIS set, occupied by Sacha Dhawan, who plays director Waris Hussein. Essentially, there’s a working 1963 studio built within a working 2013 studio, and this has inspired the production team to go for broke and shoot a lengthy TARDIS sequence in a single take, working to the original camera script – all the while trying to recreate the same mistakes the original cast made while taping that first episode. It’s as complicated, and challenging, as it sounds.

“It’s one of the hardest things to do,” says Mark. “Trying to make the mistakes not look forced, and like they are making them for the first time.”

The team go for multiple takes, as they try to get the details of recreation exactly right; such as how and when the TARDIS doors bang noisily open, or how David Bradley fumbles with the Doctor’s too-tight scarf.

The effort from all is tremendous, and the results, particularly when viewed on the 405-line monitor, are uncannily accurate. Finally, it’s all in the can, and it’s time to move on… Or maybe not. The first assistant director calls his boss’s attention to a playback.

Moments later, Mark gives his broadest grin and a rueful shrug. “The MacBook was left in shot on the chair at the back of the TARDIS… Oh, it’s splendid really – we’re so busy copying the mistakes of the past that we make our own! And it’s an utterly 21st-century mistake. They’re surely laughing at us from 1963: ‘It’s not as easy as you think, is it?’ There’s ghosts in this machine!”

Perhaps they should recreate more that the pilot, I suggest. What about all those missing Hartnell episodes?

“Don’t imagine I haven’t thought of that,” laughs Mark. “We have everything we need right here… Actors, TARDIS, a design department… Yes! Lock the doors! We’re going to make Marco Polo again!”

4.00pm Thursday 28 February 2013
Wimbledon Studios, London.

It’s a week later, the last day of shooting on the TARDIS set. A key scene from near the end of the film is being recorded this afternoon. Now, it’s important not too give away all the secrets of An Adventure in Space and Time, so let’s just say that this scene features David Bradley as William Hartnell and Reece Sheersmith as Patrick Troughton, and leave it at that. DWM archivist extraordinaire Andrew Pixley is a guest on set today, and earns his keep by providing the correct VT date for the prop clapperboard. “VT/4T/35067,” he says, without looking it up.

Throughout the month-long shoot, Mark Gatiss has invited a number of special guests to watch the filming, each of whom have helped him in some way during the preparation of the script. Sat at a monitor screen today are Jean Marsh and Anneke Wills, who played 60s companions Sara Kingdom and Polly. The scene about to be shot has special significance for Anneke, and she holds her hands to her face throughout, to stop herself – she explains later – from loudly gasping in wonder and ruining the take.

“I met up with as many people who were around during the Hartnell era as I could,” explains Mark. “Everyone was very helpful and generous with their time. I was familiar with most of the stories – as we all are – but it was nice to get a perspective on how people felt at the time. 

“There were a couple of nice little details I hadn’t heard. William Russell told me of a phrase that Bill used when he was celebrating their success: ‘Our arses are in butter!’ So obviously that went straight in. And while I didn’t get to meet Jeremy Young [caveman Ka from the first serial], Toby Hadoke sent me an interview he did with him. Jeremy remembered a production assistant from the time of live or almost-live TV, who, as the clock counted down to transmission time, would say over the tannoy: “Goodbye, real world!” Isn’t that wonderful? So I’ve given that line to Jacqueline Hill as she does her first Doctor Who press call, as that’s really what’s about to happen to them.

However, over on the TARDIS, it is the shock of a return to the real world that’s facing William Hartnell. Nobody, he has learned, is irreplaceable.

“There’s a real melancholy to this story,” says Mark, “of how Bill Hartnell was utterly spellbound by Doctor Who, but then was ultimately forced to give up this job he loved because of his illness. The hard work of it simply became too much for him. And David’s performance, as Bill comes to terms with that, will knock your socks off.

“And in that sense – that all things have their time – we’re telling a universal story. It’s life, isn’t it? The new people help change the old, and then they become the norm and have to be changed themselves.

“But where would Doctor Who be without change?” muses Mark. “It’s the great engine of it. And not one of us would be here without it.”

9.30pm Wednesday 9 October.

Eight months pass before I speak to Mark Gatiss again – and there’s certainly been change in the world of Doctor Who during that time. In June, Matt Smith announces that he’s stepping down as the Doctor. On 4 August, Peter Capaldi is unveiled at the Twelfth Doctor. 

It’s strange – I put it to Mark in October – that Steven Moffat has cast a famous 55-year-old actor as the Doctor, just as An Adventure in Space and Time tells the story of the casting of a famous 55-year-old actor as the Doctor. Yes, Doctor Who is all about change. But the more things change…

“It’s curious,” says Mark. “Bill Hartnell always felt and played old, of course, so this does feel different. But now, after two young doctors, it turns out that the radical thing is to go older. That’s fascinating, isn’t it?

“Peter Capaldi came down to the set in Wimbledon, you know,” adds Mark. “We’re old friends, and as he’s such a big Doctor Who fan, I knew he’d enjoy it. We stood in the fault locator looking out at the TARDIS, and we had this rather wistful conversation about how he thought, once upon a time, that he might have been considered for the Doctor – but that the moment had probably gone. But it turned out that quite the opposite was true.”

And it’s a beautiful thing to imagine: the unknowing future of Doctor Who gazing out, spellbound, at its glittering past, with the lights of the TARDIS column – rising, falling, rising – shining in his eyes. 

It is – by any measure – quite the great spirit of adventure.

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