Friday, 22 January 2010

Postcards from Another World 13

Part Thirteen: Seasons 30-32 (1993-95)

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.

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