I was really upset and annoyed that I had to miss the previous screening of An Adventure in Space and Time and Episode 4 of The Celestial Toymaker (i.e. The Final Test), which was the last of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society‘s screenings at Riverside in 2023. Set for the 24th November, it coincided with a train strike and so I couldn’t make it. But I was really pleased when DWAS announced that another screening was planned because so many people were annoyed that they’d had to miss out and, deciding that I wasn’t going to miss out a second time, I booked a ticket instantly!
The previous screening had included David Bradley and Peter Purves as well as a few extra guests and thanks to my kind friend Maria she managed to grab me an autograph from David Bradley as well as one from Frances White, who had guest starred in The Myth Makers. So I was excited to see who DWAS managed to secure this time around and we weren’t let down. David Bradley’s co-stars, Claudia Grant, Jamie Glover, and Sacha Dhawan were in attendance alongside Carole Ann Ford, director Waris Hussein, and cameraman Dudley Dardby with one of the surviving extras from The Celestial Toymaker. It was a fantastic line up of guests and each time I think that DWAS can’t top the guests from the previous event, they effortlessly do.
Making my way to Hammersmith is slowly becoming second nature to me now, even if the tube can be a little confusing to us country folk! Luckily, I got there with plenty of time to spare and it was a lot of fun to see people enjoying the exhibit of photos that Riverside Studios had put up to celebrate the show’s 60th anniversary last year; there was also really amazing ’60s TARDIS model! It’s always nice to see people that I recognise from other events as well as from Twitter, and I’m pleased, too, that I’m getting better at talking to people, something I wouldn’t say I was overly confident doing.
The event kicked off with a showing of The Final Test, the fourth, final, and only surviving episode of The Celestial Toymaker. It’s a strange story, no doubt let down by the fact the previous three instalments don’t exist beyond their audio recordings and is an incredibly visual story that doesn’t lend itself to being translated into audio. It’s also strange because the Doctor isn’t really in it and while a lot of the plot revolves around Steven and Dodo surviving one final game, they don’t get a lot of screen time. Instead, whole minutes are eaten up by shots of the Trilogic Game, which is an element I’ve never understood in this story.
However as with a lot of these Riverside/DWAS screenings, it gives you a chance to see the show in a different way. I know I always mention it but it’s really interesting to see episodes of Doctor Who without any restoration work done on them, wrinkles and warping and all. Of course, the ending got a huge laugh, with the Doctor foolishly trying one of the sweets from the Toymaker’s realm. I got so into it, I was half expecting the first episode of The Gunfighters to be up next!
But instead, it was An Adventure in Space and Time which originally aired in 2013, a dramatized retelling of the origins of Doctor Who. I’ve only seen this a few times, once when it originally aired, once on a rewatch of the modern era, and then in November 2023 when they released a new version with Ncuti Gatwa appearing at the end instead of Matt Smith. Of course, in keeping with DWAS showing things as originally as possible, it was the Matt Smith version on offer here and so it’s unfortunate that no one has quickly reedited the ending so the CGI places Smith behind the TARDIS console instead of behind it!
Of course, that doesn’t spoil the enjoyment of it and I found myself laughing along with the other fans there. Another great thing about these events — alongside those held by the BFI — is that you notice how funny certain lines or scenes are and often gives you a new perspective on stories. There were a number of brilliant comedic scenes in the beginning of An Adventure in Space and Time which got lots of laughs.
Following the screening, the guests were introduced on stage with Carole Ann Ford adding commentary from the audience, mainly due I think to the lack of chairs on the main stage. Hosted by author James Goss, the guests spoke about their work on An Adventure in Space and Time. Jamie Glover and Claudia Grant talked about how they found it challenging not only having to play William Russell and Carole Ann Ford but also playing Ian and Susan. And how there was a lot more to that than people might think. They both agreed that their work with Big Finish is now a lot easier because they are playing those characters and not the actors and how happy and privileged they feel that they get to continue the adventures of the First Doctor.
They also spoke to the actors about when they met their counterparts to ask them about their time on the show in the 1960s. Claudia said that Carole Ann Ford was incredibly helpful and Carole was in high spirits too, complimenting the performance and how happy she was to see the moment William Hartnell leaves flowers in her dressing room following an argument over money. It was emotional hearing her talking about those memories and how they marked a turning point in their relationship as actors. It was also quite emotional to hear from her how vulnerable Hartnell really was. On screen and from some actors, both main and guest cast, he can come across as a little brash and angry, every bit the grouchy old man he was playing. But Carole Ann Ford described a man who was so desperate to get everything right. That was the reason he took it so seriously, especially when the BBC didn’t — he saw this as his big chance. An Adventure in Space and Time made a big point of him taking the show because it meant he didn’t have to play army personal anymore and Carole reiterated that Doctor Who was his chance to demonstrate to the world that he was a lot more than just an angry army sergeant; he was a talented actor who was the unfortunate victim of typecasting.
Of course, a lot of this is well known information but to hear it from someone who knew the man well made it a lot more emotive. She agreed that William Hartnell could be hard to work with especially as at the time they weren’t aware of him being ill, something which doesn’t show in the first series; but as the show goes on, you can see how unwell he was becoming. Waris Hussein added that he never had a problem with Hartnell — in fact, the hardest time he had was him and producer Verity Lambert trying to convince him to take on the role and he could well remember how frightened he was sat opposite him in the Chinese restaurant. Hussein was quick to reiterate that he never had an issue with Hartnell as an Indian director working for the BBC: all of the hassle he received unfortunately came from those in charge of the BBC. Indeed, it was also tough to hear him talking about how Verity Lambert would get stared at for walking down the office in a time of male producers and directors and she would wear a hat so that she could tell herself that people were staring at her hat and not at her. It’s a reminder of how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go, especially as it’s still a male dominated industry.
Sacha Dhawan spoke happily about meeting Hussein and being invited to his house. When he got there, he saw all the original documents that he still had for An Unearthly Child — it was amazing to hear that they still exist, even if Dhawan didn’t manage to pocket any… which he said he was tempted to do!
DWAS always get good guests and the interviews are always informative; even if it’s the same stories being told again and again, they always find a way of making it feel like it’s the first time you’ve heard it. While I decided to not get a photo with the guests, my friend Maria and I both went to the autograph tables. I decided to get Jamie Glover and Claudia Grant to sign my print with David Bradley’s autograph on it; Jamie was glad to hear about how well Adventure went down and Claudia was chatting to me about the Big Finish releases of theirs, which have gotten better and better — their historical stories are some of the best tales Big Finish has ever told.
Next up was Sacha Dhawan who I was slightly nervous to meet. I was already surprised by how short he was. Both Maria and I said we think it’s because his portrayal of the Master was so larger than life that we assumed he must be the same. But he was a delight to meet, telling me that I had a lovely name. I thanked him and asked him if taking the role of the Master was an easy “yes” or if he had to think about it first. He did say it was a very quick “yes” — he always loved the character of the Master so it was a delight to get to play the role but he was also told by his partner that he needs to work in Doctor Who because it was so fun. What also swung the role for him was getting to spend a few weeks on location in South Africa so he could get a little holiday out of it too! He was lovely to meet and was definitely the highlight of my trip.
Also delightful was Warris Hussein, who didn’t really say a lot but he was pleased when I thanked him for making something 60 years ago that means so much to so many people. He was genuinely pleased by that comment and it’s true: no one then would have thought Doctor Who was going to last beyond the first series, let alone for the next 60 years! Waris told me that we are very welcome; of all the things he worked on, he’s happy that Doctor Who is something he’s the best remembered for.
It was another great event from DWAS with a fantastic guest list. It’s always so lovely to be surrounded by people who have the same interest as you. It’s easy to strike up conversations with people there and it’s lovely to see people you recognise from social media. And of course it’s fantastic to meet the fabulous guests there too! I’m looking forward to seeing what DWAS are doing next at Riverside…