Celebrating David Bradley
Guest contributor Luke Gwalchmai looks at the two very different roles Bradley played in honour of his birthday.
Today marks David Bradley’s 72nd birthday. Bradley is a very experienced actor who has portrayed many roles on screen, and a variety of different character, be it evil, comedic or the lovable protagonist. David was born in York, Yorkshire in 1942 and trained as an actor at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. He is best known for playing Argus Filch in the Harry Potter films and Walder Frey in Game of Thrones. David is an award winning stage actor, winning a Laurence Olivier Award in 1991 for his role in a production of King Lear. He has also appeared in the hit ITV series Broadchurch, and films such as Hot Fuzz and Captain America: The First Avenger.
Bradley is a very versatile actor and we are lucky to have had him on our screens on more than one occasion playing a character in the Doctor Who universe. This article will look at those two very different roles he played in honour of the great actor’s 72nd birthday.
Solomon -- Dinosaurs on a Spaceship
His appearance in the fun Series 7 episode was the first time I’d seen David Bradley on TV. His character was a rogue trader named Solomon. He came into this episode after ordering his robots to bring the Doctor, along with Rory and his father, to his ship. This was because he wanted the Doctor to repair his legs after a dinosaur attack. We soon discover that he sent out a distress signal from his own ship and was picked up by the Silurians. But when he discovered the ‘cargo’ that was on board the Silurian ship (the dinosaurs) and its value, he ordered his two robots to jettison the Homo Reptilia out of the airlocks.
Solomon was a genuinely twisted man, who was only out to make a profit from anything he can find, be it a living person or a dormant object. He even would have sold the Doctor if he could have valued him. He murdered Tricey just to prove a point to the Doctor; he had no consideration for any life other than his own. As long as it would satisfy him, he would happily murder plenty of innocent species. Solomon was a really sinister character; he kidnapped Queen Nefertiti because of her high value. And whilst he was probably going to sell her for a profit, he quite clearly had some very sadistic intentions towards her.
Solomon’s actions send shivers down your spine and show you how ice cold his heart was. He was a pure out and out villain, he was dark through and through and met his demise near the end of the episode when the Doctor traps him on his ship that is being targeted by missiles, and leaves him to die.
Was this out of character for the Doctor? That’s a question for another day. But did Solomon deserve the end he got? Yes, probably. Redemption was never going to be on the cards for a guy like Solomon; he was never going to change. This was proven when he was begging the Doctor for his life, and he did it by offering him anything he wanted. It was still all about money for Solomon right until the end; it just goes to show that a Leopard can’t change its spots.
Solomon was a brilliant one-off villain who was acted superbly by David Bradley. He’s a good old-fashioned ‘baddie’; sinister, no remorse, no chance of redemption at all. David Bradley more than holds his own in his scenes with the show’s leading man, Matt Smith, and showcases what a brilliant villain he can portray.
William Hartnell -- An Adventure in Space and Time
An Adventure in Space and Time is the one off docudrama that aired two days prior to the 50th anniversary special. It depicted the making of Doctor Who all the way back in 1963, and David Bradley starred as the man who brought the character of the Doctor alive for the very first time: William Hartnell.
Here we see the rise and fall of Hartnell as the Doctor. We see him first get the part, keen to play a different type of character than the hard, military men he was well-known for portraying. Hartnell was reluctant to make the move into children’s TV, but it was not a decision he would come to regret. He, like the rest of the team, has a tricky start but eventually gets into the swing of things, and Doctor Who becomes a huge success. There are children on the bus pretending to be Daleks while the public’s opinion of Hartnell has changed; he is no longer only recognised for playing the gruff parts but as a time travelling alien, a hero to children everywhere and an iconic British figure. Hartnell is clearly basking in the attention he is receiving, playing Doctor Who with local children in the park.
Gradually, as the drama moves on, we see the key people around Hartnell start to move on. Carole Ann Ford; Hartnell’s on screen granddaughter, Susan, who he had got off to a rough start with, but eventually grown close to, decided to leave. As most of the original cast and crew leave, including Verity Lambert, now a good friend of Hartnell’s, his health starts to decline. This leads to him becoming increasingly difficult to work with as he becomes irritable and starts to forget his lines, meaning scenes have to be re-shot. He goes to Sydney Newman and requests a lighter workload, but is informed of the decision to replace him in the titular role.
Hartnell struggles to accept the decision, due to his emotional attachment to the role, but he is forced to reluctantly accept the situation around him. He then has a poignant scene in which he breaks down to his wife, admitting he doesn’t want to leave Doctor Who. This is tremendously acted by Bradley, who here shows us a devastated, defeated man who is forced to move on from a show he loves. David Bradley is tremendous throughout though. Bearing an uncanny resemblance to William Hartnell, Bradley grasps the character perfectly and elegantly portrays a man who goes from being at the top of his game in the role of his dreams, adored by families all over the country, to a struggling actor on the back end of his career, forced out through ill health and old age. He gives a memorable performance and educates us viewers how William Hartnell brought the character of the Doctor alive.
So, there are the two big roles that David Bradley has played in the Doctor Who universe, or Whoniverse, if you will. The stark contrast between these two characters, and how much he was praised for his performances, demonstrates how versatile an actor this man is. We are very lucky and privileged to have had this wonderful talent play a part of Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary year, as well as just being able to attract him to the show for a single episode. He is an actor of the highest calibre, and we should be grateful for his service in showing us all what William Hartnell and, for some of us, what the First Doctor was like. 72 years young and still going strong, you can expect to see David Bradley on your screens for a while yet. Thank you all so much for reading.
Happy Birthday, David, have a good one!