John Nathan-Turner (1990’s)

Here’s John Nathan-Turner talking to DWM about filming in Paris and Amsterdam, and the plans for Robert Holmes’ ‘Yellow Fever and How To Cure It’.

“I was Production Unit Manager for Bill Sellars on ‘All Creatures Great and Small’. I used my own dog Pepsi in that. Robert Hardy wanted to echo the books and have Siegfriend with dogs constantly yapping at his heels. Being a mean PUM, there was no way that I was going to spend money on hiring all those dogs every week, so we used two of Bill’s, one of Robert’s, one that belonged to script editor Ted Rhodes, and Pepsi. She wasn’t calle Pepsi in the programme, because it was set before the drink was invented; she was called Pepper, and we both worked on the show for the next three years.

“I was an Assistant Floor Manager on Martin Lisemore’s ‘The Pallisers’, a twenty-six part costume epic, and our production manager had to go into hospital. Martin had confidence enough to let me take over rather than bring someone else in. When he was tragically killed in a car crash just after his biggest success, ‘I Claudius’, some of his closest friends in the business decided to mount a show as a tribute to him. They book a theatre but had no experience of putting on anyhing of that nature, so they asked me to take it over. I roped in Ted Rhodes, and together we compiled, wrote and produced the show. The BBC was magnificent, giving us secretarial help, production staff, costume designers and the use of a publicity team. We raised enough money to set up a trust fund for the family.

“During my third year as  PUM, I also did ‘Flesh and Blood’ with Thora Hird, Bill Fraser, Michael Jayston and Nigel Stock, most of whom later appeared in ‘Doctor Who’. Then one day I was called in to see Graeme McDonald, Head of Series and Serials, and I can remember exactly what he said – ‘John, your time has come. I want you to produce ‘Doctor Who’. So I started at the beginning of November 1979.

“Lalla Ward wanted to leave the programme and Tom Baker, having played the Doctor for seven years, also decided to go two stories later. When that happened, I decided to break with the tried and trusted tradition of the programme. Normally, the changeover of Doctors was marked by a regeneration in which the Doctor’s face was gradually phased out, but you didn’t see the face of his replacement because they often didn’t have one at the time! But because Tom had played the role for so long I thought that, as we had cast Peter Davison earlier than usual, we should establish him as soon as possible, so his face was seen at the end of the series.

“I had to change the locks on my office door more than once. We had a lot of theft from the studios and from my own office, some minor and fairly valueless, others causing us difficulties. We also discovered that pre-transmission scripts were circulating openly at a well-known public school for boys, and sometimes I saw them on sale at American conventions, selling for as much as two hundred or two hundred and fifty dollars. I used to get quite upset about people finding out what was coming up in the storylines, but in recent years I’ve come to think that if people want to spoil it for themselves, then let them.

“At various stages, we came into a lot of flak. In retrospect, sometimes the criticism has been fair. As far as violence is concerned, pehaps we did go a little bit beyond the line of what was acceptable occasionally. But I don’t agree that it was ever like a pantomime. Panto is a very specialist genre of theatre which stems from the commedia dell’arte. If anyone can really show examples of panto in ‘Doctor Who’, I’d love to see them. I don’t recall a single song sheet or a transformation sheet either, unless you count the regenerations!

“On the first day of filming (for ‘City of Death’), we discovered over lunch that Lalla’s shoes had been lost and that was just the beginning. When we went to the art gallery where we were to film, we found that it was closed. And when Tom and Lalla mimed opening the gallery door, a piercing alarm went off! We had to pack everything up hastily and move on before the police arrived. I remember the Fleet Street gang dived into the nearest bar.

“On the second day, a cafe we had chosen because it had a fine view of the Sacre Coeur was totally boarded up and there was worse to come on the final day. At the Louvre, our fixer arrived to tell us that we had been denied permission to film. Michael Hayes asked me what we should do, and I replied ‘Do it quickly’.

“For ‘Arc of Infinity’, we were filming in a huge square. It was the scene in which Peter Davison as Omega (impersonating the Doctor) had been infected. He was covered in green gunk and rice crispies, and was filmed moving through the crowds and the pigeons. No-one batted an eyelied!

“Yellow  Fever and How to Cure It would have involved Peri hankering for a trip home to the United States, and began with her seeing the Statue of Liberty through the TARDIS screen. Then she discovers it’s a replica in an ornamental garden. that was just one of a wide variety of locations we planned to use in Singapore. The story would have involved Kate O’Mara as the Rani.”


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