The festivities honoring the 50th anniversary of legendary British series “Doctor Who” have already kicked off on BBC America, but the real action doesn’t happen until this weekend. The day before the worldwide simulcast of the massive “The Day of the Doctor” anniversary special, BBC America will present a TV movie commissioned by the BBC chronicling the start of the show, called “An Adventure in Space and Time,” airing Friday, November 22 at 9/8c.
David Bradley (“Harry Potter”) stars as William Hartnell, the curmudgeonly character actor who ended up creating one of the most iconic TV characters ever when he was cast as the original “Doctor” in 1963, in a show pitched to him as a children’s science fiction series.
xfinityTV spoke to Bradley about the experience of playing Hartnell, painstakingly recreating scenes from “Doctor Who” of yore, and his own experience of growing up with the Doctor.
Q: You’re playing a real person and an iconic character. Does that mean double the pressure?
A: No pressure there. [Laughs] Actually, pressure is when you’ve got three kids and there’s no work coming in. But it’s a big responsibility, I felt, to do [William Hartnell] justice as a man and as an actor. We were also recreating some of the scenes from the earlier episodes, so I watched a lot of DVDs that were sent to me. There’s a lot of fans out there who remember exactly what the character was like and how he performed it and how he sounded. I worked quite a bit on the voice and on the physicality. But in the end, it’s not about doing a perfect imitation or impersonation him, it’s more about capturing the spirit and the essence of the man, really, and what he was about.
Q: What was it like recreating those classic moments?
A: It was a quite small studio. We wanted to recreate it in pretty much the same conditions and it gave me a shiver. There were the Daleks, there was the TARDIS, and the console, which was lovingly recreated in the same colors it was in. It was in black and white at the time on TV, and I thought ‘Wow, it was green!’ And quite a bright green. Having all those wonderful cameras, those big clunky cameras that were this wide and you had to sit on them and get pushed around, we had about three of them in there. One of them was actually operating, and we shot some scenes through it when we recreated the first episode. You’ve got that black and white grainy image which you would’ve found difficult [to get] with a modern, sophisticated camera. So our modern, sophisticated cameras were filming them filming us, and it just made it look so authentic and the guy sat on the side in a chair with a microphone doing the “exterminate, exterminate.” The guy was brilliant. He’s been doing it since the show came back. He just had that voice perfectly. Just to look over and see him sitting on the chair with the script and the control box, the lighting, the sound box, it just it was just astonishing walking through the studio every morning.
Q: What does “Doctor Who” mean to you?
A: I’m old enough to remember seeing William Hartnell. I still enjoy watching it. It kind of drew you in on a Saturday night when you were getting ready to go out. I was probably about 20, 21, so I didn’t normally watch kids’ TV. There’s so many great things out there now, but a lot of children’s TV in England was on the primitive side and played down to the younger kids. To have something as sophisticated in its themes and what it let your imagination do as an audience, to take you backward and forward in time, nothing had been like that before.
Click on the Image Below to Watch and Episode of “Doctor Who”:
Q: What’s your favorite “Doctor Who” memory?
A: I watched a lot of Tom Baker because my flatmate’s girlfriend was Louise Jameson, who played Princess Leela, so before we went out we’d watch with Louise and Bob to support her. So I probably saw more of Tom’s than anybody else’s. But I remember seeing Patrick Troughton as well, and I can’t have seen many of William Hartnell’s but I must have seen a few — you don’t forget his face. It’s an amazing face. Every Doctor is defined for themselves but Hartnell defined it for the first time. It’s easy to forget that when you’re working from a blank canvas, every subsequent Doctor has something they can take from him. For me, Matt [Smith] captures the essence of the Doctor because he’s funny and eccentric in a very youthful way with endless curiosity, and for me that’s the best quality of the Doctor. That’s the character — one common shade is his endless curiosity of the universe and everything in it.
Q: Would you have liked to have the chance to play “Doctor Who”?
A: I’ve got it! [Laughs] I never thought I’d be in “Doctor Who,” let alone be playing him. When I did “Dinosaurs in a Spaceship” a couple years ago I thought, ‘That’s it, I’ve played a who baddie and that’s my Doctor Who experience.’ Little did I know.
“An Adventure in Space and Time” airs Friday, November 22 at 9/8c on BBC America.