Sunday, 31 January 2010
Saturday, 30 January 2010
Tuesday, 26 January 2010
Monday, 25 January 2010
Sunday, 24 January 2010
Saturday, 23 January 2010
Friday, 22 January 2010
Sylvester McCoy’s first season as the Doctor was also the show’s thirtieth anniversary year. A special feature-length episode was commissioned for Children in Need night (always broadcast in November, close to the anniversary of the broadcast of Doctor Who’s first episode) and all surviving previous Doctors had agreed to take part, though only Jon Pertwee would have a significant role (to avoid diluting the focus of the plot). Several old Companions would also feature, including Nicola Bryant and Paul Darrow reprising their roles as Peri and Nova Rek, and Nicholas Courtney - returning as the Brigadier - who was given a chance to appear with both Colin Baker and McCoy’s Doctors.
The special was called Dimensions in Time, and it saw the conclusion of the Lady Peinforte story arc begun in the 25th anniversary serial Silver Nemesis. The story was a brave one from a production point of view, as its downbeat ending saw Richard (Gerard Murphy) sacrifice himself to save the Doctor(s). A powerful and moving performance from McCoy deflected some criticism, but the story still attracted a number of complaints from viewers who thought it too frightening for children.
JNT was ‘hauled over the coals’ by his BBC bosses after Dimensions in Time, and subsequently the remainder of his era as Producer was characterised by the tension between his desire to ‘play it safe’ and his writers and Script Editor’s desire to push at boundaries. JNT was increasingly isolated in the production team, but he was the Producer and ultimate decision-making power was his.
One thing JNT was not criticised for during this period was his willingness to bring in new writers. Although Terrance Dicks and Paul Cornell were by now practically guaranteed one script per season, most of the remaining four-or-five slots went to new blood. That said, Cornell’s submission for season 32, entitled Human Nature, was rejected by JNT on the grounds that it was “a fine sci-fi story, but not suitable for Dr Who” (Human Nature would eventually see the light of day over 10 years later). Its replacement was Videomancer, by newcomer Mark Gatiss (who would later become famous as a writer and comedy performer in the League of Gentlemen).
This story was popular with the public but provoked outrage and criticism from an unlikely corner - JNT’s Unofficial Continuity Advisor Ian Levine saw it, or rather the character of the titular Videomancer (a man whose obsession with a decades-old children’s TV series - a thinly veiled reference to Doctor Who itself - attracts the attention of seemingly supernatural forces), as a thinly veiled attack on himself and he threatened both to resign and to sue Gatiss for defamation. Although placated by JNT, many see this over-reaction as the reason Levine was not retained by the production team after JNT’s departure.
Gatiss has always maintained that the Videomancer was based on his own lifelong obsession with Doctor Who, not Levine’s.
Thursday, 21 January 2010
Wednesday, 20 January 2010
Tuesday, 19 January 2010
As the 25th season took shape, Cartmel began looking to introduce his own ideas into the show, and took a proposal to JNT. This proposal, which was later to become known in fan circles as the ‘Cartmel Masterplan,’ found immediate acceptance with JNT and, when it was raised with him, Colin Baker, because of its intention to take the Doctor down the darker path that Baker had envisioned for his character when first taking on the part, albeit not in quite the way originally planned by him and Saward. The Doctor’s past, which had never been explicitly revealed in the show before, would return to haunt him.
There was, however, no place for Paul Darrow’s Nova Rek in the Masterplan - Cartmel intended for him to be dropped at the end of the season, and Darrow’s contract not renewed. JNT agreed to this, perhaps as a form of revenge for Darrow’s blocking of his Bonnie Langford casting. In the end it was agreed that Rek should depart in the penultimate serial of the season, Crooked Smile.
A change to the shape of the season was required to be made when the BBC decided to move the final serial to the Children in Need night in November (this had previously been done with Five Doctors, the show’s twentieth anniversary special, in 1983), edited to show the complete story in one go. The serial chosen for this was Silver Nemesis (to symbolise the ‘silver’ anniversary), written by Terrance Dicks - his first planned writing engagement since 1983 - from an idea by Kevin Clarke.
Silver Nemesis is generally regarded as the best story of the 25th season of Doctor Who. It saw the return of old enemies the Cybermen, but is more notable for introducing a new ‘old enemy’ of the Doctor’s (the characters had backstory together, but had never before been seen together on screen), Lady Peinforte, played by Fiona Walker.
Lady Peinforte was in some ways a combination of the best traits of the Master and the Rani - a dark mirror of the Doctor, as powerful and intelligent as he, but using her knowledge for evil and not good, and with a clearer, more human, motive than the Master had ever shown. There was, and remains, speculation that Lady Peinforte was once the Doctor’s wife, although this has never been confirmed within the show (though neither has it been officially denied) and the rumour is believed to originate with JNT creating the story just to see if it leaked. It did.
With the decision to rest the character of the Master, Lady Peinforte was to become the chief recurring villain for the remainder of Colin Baker’s tenure as the Doctor, threatening him with not only her evil plan of the week, but also the knowledge that she, and only she, could reveal the terrible secrets from his past.
Monday, 18 January 2010
Sunday, 17 January 2010
Saturday, 16 January 2010
Friday, 15 January 2010
Faced with popular and critical acclaim for the 22nd season of Doctor Who, the production team was once again in the position of wondering how to follow their previous success.
JNT and Saward had been brought closer together by their shared trials and tribulations of the past year, and decided they could dispense with Letts and Dicks (all accounts agree that this was an amicable decision) and continue on their own. Colin Baker was reconciled to his relationship with co-star Paul Darrow - although Darrow’s character had the ‘dark’ edge that Baker had wanted for his Doctor, and the sardonic Nova Rek frequently got the best lines, Baker was still the star, and Darrow’s presence constantly drove him to up his game in the acting stakes so as not to be upstaged. Critics of this era of Doctor Who often regard it as the show’s hammiest period.
Thus season 23 continued in much the same vein as season 22, with a few returning old foes (popular with the fans and JNT, himself a fan) including the Ice Warriors (last seen in 1974), the Celestial Toymaker (not seen since 1966), and Sil (introduced in season 22’s Vengeance on Varos).
Although season 23 did not have the time and scheduling issues of season 22, it did have budget problems. Around this time budgets were being cut throughout the BBC, which is usually attributed to the introduction of daytime TV. The re-use of old monsters, for which designs and/or costumes already existed, could therefore be seen as a sensible cost-cutting exercise.
Nevertheless, season 23 is usually regarded less well than its immediate predecessor, and chief among the criticisms are a certain complacency or lack of ambition, and the instances of serials looking ‘cheap.’ The show’s enemies within the BBC seized upon these criticisms, and between seasons 23 and 24, Doctor Who was attacked by the enemy within…
Thursday, 14 January 2010
Wednesday, 13 January 2010
Casting for the second Companion was now on. It was decided by JNT that the Companion should be male, and should be older than the last two male Companions Turlough and Adric (he was anxious to avoid too many comparisons with Turlough, who was recently departed from the series and had begun his tenure in an antagonistic role working for the Black Guardian, trying to kill the Doctor). Again, time was against them in making this last minute addition to the regular cast, but a stroke of inspiration (which has in the past been claimed by Colin Baker himself) caused JNT to cast someone already lined up for a guest role in season 22: Paul Darrow, originally due to play the villainous henchman Maylin Tekker in Timelash.
Darrow, most famous for playing the anti-hero Avon in Blakes 7, was thrilled at the prospect of upgrading his status from ‘guest-artist’ to ‘regular,’ but was even more thrilled when JNT explained the new character’s concept to him.
The character of Nova Rek has often been criticised for its lack of originality and its suspicious similarity to Darrow’s favourite old role, but this has to be understood within the context of when and how it was created. Rek was very much a last-minute addition to the script of Attack of the Cybermen (originally the character of Lytton, first seen in season 21’s Resurrection of the Daleks, was due to return, but Rek was written into his place) and the rehearsal schedule was a problem for Darrow for the first four serials of the season due to his last-minute commission. It therefore made sense to allow Darrow to fall back on the method and mannerisms of a character he had grown accustomed to playing over the course of four years.
Darrow was to play Rek for four seasons over four years, equalling his time as Avon in Blakes 7.
Tuesday, 12 January 2010
Monday, 11 January 2010
Many things have been written about Twin Dilemma since its initial broadcast, and it is generally agreed that the success of the serial is due almost entirely to the performances of the two leads, Baker and Bryant, and their instant chemistry. Most cite the scene in which Peri and the newly-regenerated Doctor visit the TARDIS wardrobe and choose his new costume (including the famous blue coat, trademark of the 6th Doctor) as outstanding - some say it lays the foundation for the 6th Doctor’s era.
These scenes were written by Saward at the request of JNT, though rumours persist that there was a great deal of improvisation by Baker and Bryant on the day of recording. Either way, the scenes established a rapport between the two leads that continued throughout the story, elevating what is generally agreed to be an unexceptional plot, direction, guest-artists and production values (the latter, of course, was standard for Doctor Who in the 1980s).
Audience figures of just under 8 million were sustained throughout the four episodes, but subsequent to the season ending word of mouth continued to keep the new Doctor in the public’s attention. This led to the BBC deciding to repeat Twin Dilemma at Christmas 1984, just prior to the new season starting in January 1985. It was edited into two double-length episodes, matching the format that had been chosen for the new season.
When this was announced, planning and production for season 22 was underway, and the decision (taken, naturally enough, without consulting the Doctor Who production team) caught JNT and Saward by surprise. When the new season debuted it would be following hard on the heels of the repeat, not with a gap of over 9 months. This presented them with a problem - one that divided the production team and provoked a crisis.
Sunday, 10 January 2010
Disclaimer: this is a work of fiction.
Part One: 1984 - The Turning Point
Doctor Who’s 21st season started badly but it ended on a high, with two of the best regarded stories of all time back-to-back: Peter Davison’s swansong Caves of Androzani, and Colin Baker’s triumphant introduction in Twin Dilemma.
It was a turning point for the series, and it came at a crucial moment in Doctor Who’s history - during the Peter Davison years episodes had been shown mid-week, twice-weekly, up against ITV heavy-hitters such as Coronation Street, and ratings had fallen as a result. Shortsighted as ever, BBC executives did not see the slump in context and instead blamed the decline in ratings on a decline in the quality of the programme (if we were feeling charitable we might assume they had watched the 21st season’s opening story, Warriors of the Deep, before drawing this conclusion).
Producer John Nathan-Turner (known as JNT) and Script Editor Eric Saward were presented with an opportunity to capitalise on the publicity surrounding the departure of Peter Davison from the role of the Doctor and the introduction of new Doctor Colin Baker. If they could attract a higher audience to the episodes surrounding the changeover and sustain them to the end of the season, it might deflect some of the criticisms being levelled at the show.
Initial ideas for the story of Twin Dilemma saw the Doctor acting erratically, in a “post-regeneration crisis” (an idea which found favour with actor Colin Baker, who would have a chance to stretch his acting muscles while finding his feet with the character), but wiser heads prevailed against this in view of the pressure the show as a whole was under - the Doctor acting out-of-character, even temporarily, might alienate the viewer from the hero of the story and jeopardise the precious ratings.
JNT persuaded his Script Editor that it was vital that the new Doctor “hit the ground running” and the story was re-written with this in mind. Several early scenes saw substantial alterations, or were dropped in their entirety - including one in which the Doctor goes crazy and attacks his companion Peri (played by Nicola Bryant).
The last six episodes of season 21 put an extra million onto the viewership - from 7 to almost 8 million - not the standout success that JNT was hoping for, but enough to satisfy someone at the BBC that Doctor Who was worth giving a chance. From the 22nd season it would be returned to Saturday evenings. Doctor Who was coming home.