As a standalone piece of work, I would think that this will be generally considered an eminently watchable drama, but for this particular Doctor Who devotee, I am struggling to remember a more compelling hour and a half’s entertainment in many a long year.
Perhaps it helped that I recognised most of the protagonists involved in the creation of what would become a television phenomenon, but maybe it didn’t matter all, as rounded characters were created seemingly effortlessly thanks to the quality of performers and script alike.
Much of the focus will understandably be on David Bradley’s portrayal of a very much “old before his time” William Hartnell. Writer Mark Gatiss successfully showed the various sides of Hartnell’s personality, from the irascible to almost playful: maybe Hartnell’s less endearing qualities were underplayed, but in any adaptation of real life events, it’s surely accepted that some allowances have to be made. That said, when the moments came for emotion to break through Hartnell’s tough exterior, Bradley’s performance was genuinely moving.
Some may disagree, but for me the acting honours would actually go to Jessica Raine, as the series’ producer Verity Lambert. Jessica is one of my favourite actresses (or do I have to say “actors” nowadays?), who seems to have a natural affinity with middle to latter half of the last century viz. Call the Midwife and the Doctor Who story Hide.
Her look, her clothes, her performance... all wonderful, allowing the audience a real insight into the Verity herself as well as the mood (and prejudices) of the time.
But the absolute highlights were the sets of the old studio (beginning with the brilliantly conceived scene involving a Tenth Planet Cyberman smoking a cigarette), the recreation of the original TARDIS set, and the re-enacted snippets from vintage episodes. Breathtaking television that I honestly believe the much-vaunted anniversary episode may struggle to match.
For those wanting to delve beneath the surface, I’m sure there will be some elements of morality to debate, or the high-profile demonstration of the oft-quoted fact "no one is irreplaceable", but I am far too shallow to get overly involved in such matters. Sometimes you just have to sit back as the end credits roll, take a deep breath and say “Wow...”