Philip Hinchcliffe (1990’s)

Here are a few Philip Hinchcliffe interviews, from DWM and DWB, kind of squeezed together. He talks about the influences for Tom Baker’s Doctor, the accusations from Mary Whitehouse that the show had become too scary for children, and why he thought ‘The Ark in Space’ was one of the scariest stories.

“There was definitely a buzz about it. It was my first job as a producer, and I had a very good team working with me. There was a sense of doing something very exciting and of communicating that excitement such that the programme, I felt, became a focus of attention. It wasn’t just another television programme any more, it was always in the public eye and at the back of our minds Bob Holmes and I were always seeking to think of new ways of keeping it there.

“For Tom’s Doctor, we had this picture in our minds of self-portrait by Toulouse Lautrex, showing this Bohemian figure standing beneath a wide brimmed hat. We all agreed the Doctor should have the image of a French painter: an intellectual, nomadic figure who doesn’t care too much for the neatness of his appearance. The idea was taken along to costume designer Jim Acheson, who eventually came up with the loose-fitting trousers, hacking jacket and waist-coat, plus of course the felt hat. I think the scarf was Tom’s own idea, he went along to the dressing session one afternoon to try on Jim’s suggested outfit, and the scarf was one of the the items present there courtest of the Costume Department.

“Basically, all the stories in the first season I produced had been commissioned by Bob Holmes. He had chosen ‘The Sontaran Experiment’. ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ had been written in a loose form by Terry Nation, and there was an outline already in for ‘Revenge of the Cybermen’. ‘The Ark in Space’ was a story Bob had wanted to do that was in a very fuzzy state when I arrived. He’d had a go at it with another writer and it hadn’t worked, so I commissioned him to do it and acted as his script editor, working out the details on the lines we’d agreed.

“The two of us gelled! We immediately felt we wanted to make the series more exciting, and what we did with ‘The Ark in Space’ was to take it into the realms of real science-fiction. That point of view we then carried over into our treatment of other stories, including the ones that had been commissioned already. We wanted to lose the Cowboys and Indians approach – of men in red hats shooting at men in blue hats in caves, that sort of thing. It seemed to me that there was a poverty of genuine science fiction within the series – and by genuine science fiction I mean of the literary kind.

“The plot for ‘The Ark in Space’, for instance, is a very old plot but what I did was to take great pains to present it in an adult appealing way. We pushed the design side to make it feel real and to make it constantly interesting to the eye. Then we pushed to beef up our monsters so they would be taken seriously, even in subsequent stories where we were using old favourites like the Sontarans and the Daleks we determined to treat them slightly differently and remove the traces of silliness from them.

“In ‘The Ark in Space’, there’s a scene where Noah begins to get infected and the Doctor and Vira meet him in the corridor. Immediately he s tarts pleading with them, saying ‘shoot me… shoot me… I’m in terrible agony’, and it turned out to be a sequence that really made your blood run cold. We ended up editing it down a bit although, with hindsight, I think it would have passed over the heads of the children and only been disturbing to adults.

“Similarly, with ‘The Seeds of Doom’ we had another scene we had to chop down where the guy is being turned green by a plant infection. You see, it all has to do with the portrayal of human pain which, curiously enough, does not worry many children but does worry a lot of adults. If you have a good actor who is made up to look horrible and who is really putting e verything into portraying pain, anguish and tormet then it does convey very strong across to the audience. So you have to be a bit careful.

“Personally, I felt those two scenes in ‘The Ark in Space’ and ‘The Seeds of Doom’ were far more frightening than the one which did create the big fuss with Mrs. Whitehouse where, in ‘The Deadly Assassin’ cliff-hanger to part three, we held the Doctor’s head under water that bit too long. So what Bob and I discovered was that, having made the series more adult and more realistic, we had to run up against the thin dividing line between what is acceptable to Saturday tea-time family viewing and what is not. I felt we steered a pretty good line and I would suggest that most of Mrs. Whitehouse’s criticisms were somewhat over-hysterical.

“At the time, there were a lot of people at the BBC who were very worried about Mrs. Whitehouse’s general onslaught at the Corporation. But, at the same time on my front, there were medical experts writing to me saying that ‘Doctor Who’ was having beneficial effects on children, that it was helping children to crystalise what had previously been inarticulated fears. In other words, if a child can actually pin its fears on something that is acted out, then although the child might be frightened during the battle of good versus evil, it gains a release and a removal of those fears when the Doctor is seen to win at the end.

“The ultimate moral trait that was so clear in Jon Pertwee was much less clear in Tom Baker’s performance, and so probably also less clear in the balancing of good and evil in the story-telling. I remember having discussions with both Bob Holmes and Tom Baker on this point, and I think what emerged in effect was that the Doctor would be very eloquent and articulate about morals, but that maybe what he actually portrayed was less clear-cut. In the mid-Seventies, people were more interested in the Doctor being human with all the human frailties, so that while the Doctor might talk about the Time Lords being non-human and unemotional, underneath, the Doctor was a far more vulnerable and human figure. The ‘with one bound he was free’ level of story-telling could not apply to him.

“We had a deliberate plan to raid the whole genre of science fiction in all its manifestations, from sword and sorcery to the gothic strain but avoiding the Earthbound setting of a present day Doctor fighting an invasion from space. All that had been done. What we wanted was to take the viewer into a more fantastic scene at a time before that great upsurge in the medium which happened after I left. Bob and I wanted to fertilise ‘Doctor Who’ by borrowing from richer and more well-known themes from acknowledged classics.”

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