Well, it was supposed to have been a surprise. Fifteenth Doctor Ncuti Gatwa let the cat somewhat out of the bag at the GQ Men of the Year awards on November 16, when he announced to The Mirror “I shouldn’t say this but I shot a scene, somehow, with the first ever Doctor, William Hartnell.”
Doctor Who fans put two and two together, correctly guessing that Gatwa didn’t mean the actual William Hartnell, who passed away in 1975, but the version of him played by actor David Bradley – first in 2013 docudrama An Adventure in Space and Time about the creation of Doctor Who, and subsequently in “The Doctor Falls”, “Twice Upon a Time” and “The Power of the Doctor”.
Knowing that An Adventure in Space and Time had yet to appear as part of BBC iPlayer’s extensive Whoniverse, and was scheduled for a BBC Four repeat on the night of the 60th anniversary, a re-edit was expected. UPDATE: And one was required, according to RadioTimes.com, due to the BBC no longer having the rights to Doctor Who‘s first four episodes “An Unearthly Child”, reconstructed scenes from the filming of which originally featured in the 79-minute docudrama.
The scene Gatwa and Hartnell shared was a silent exchange between the First and Fifteenth Doctors in An Adventure in Space and Time’s closing moments, which had originally been shared between Bradley/Hartnell and a digitally added Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor, who was in the TARDIS at the time of the 50th anniversary.
It’s a recreation of the moment before Hartnell’s farewell scene – and the first ever regeneration – was filmed on Doctor Who, after Hartnell’s ill health had caused him to step back and the Second Doctor Patrick Troughton, played here by Reece Shearsmith, arrived to pilot the TARDIS. In the drama’s previous scene, Hartnell is shown at home with his wife and in tears, he delivers the Tenth Doctor’s regeneration words “I don’t want to go.”
And here’s the 2013 version with Eleven:
Leaks being almost as regular a feature in Doctor Who as the Daleks, back in 2013, Matt Smith’s cameo was also spoiled ahead of broadcast, but this time by a national newspaper after the press screening. Speaking to Den of Geek in 2014 about Smith’s cameo having being leaked, An Adventure in Space and Time writer Mark Gatiss said:
“When I thought of that idea, it made me cry and I was really so thrilled with it. I thought if we can bring that off it’ll just be absolutely magic. The mistake I made was simply not asking people not to [leak it], which Steven [Moffat] has had remarkable success with. If you make an appeal to the press, they almost never break faith with it, which I think is fantastic, but I just forgot to actually ask them!”
Gatiss didn’t think Smith’s cameo leak spoiled the surprise for most viewers, he continued, but when secrets can be kept until broadcast, it’s really something special.
“I remember watching Gridlock, and when David peers through the fog and he sees those crabs and says “Macra!” I got up and ran around the room I was so thrilled! It was a tiny little reference to an always-forgotten Patrick Troughton story that made my week, and I was so glad I didn’t know about it. It’s fantastic to preserve those things if you can, and we all know what it’s like when it does happen, it’s magic.”
The feature-length special was the final drama filmed at BBC Television Centre in 2013, which meant scenes could be filmed in the same spot as the original Doctor Who episodes, dressed to resemble itself five decades earlier.
Gatiss had first broached the idea of writing a docudrama about the show’s behind-the-scenes creation as early as 2003, four years after his “The Pitch of Fear” sketch for 1999’s Doctor Who Night aired.
“I’d tried years ago when the show was off-air, which was an uphill struggle obviously. Then Steven asked me if it was something we should do when David [Tennant] was leaving and Matt [Smith] was taking over to remind new viewers that there have been other Doctors, but the general consensus then was that it was more like an anniversary thing. I remember thinking ‘Oh, another delay!’ but of course, with time going so quickly it didn’t really seem that long in the end.
“It was a blessed thing from beginning to end, it was a wonderful thing to do and I’m very proud of it and very touched by people’s response to it. I cry every time I see it. It always gets me.”
And now, it’s been brought bang up to date, with a wink and a smile.
Doctor Who returns with The Star Beast on November 25 on BBC One and iPlayer in the UK, and Disney+ around the world.