Archive for the ‘Christopher Barry’ Category

Christopher Barry (1987)

October 9, 2009

Here’s Christopher Barry talking about his time directing ‘Doctor Who’, which included the first Dalek story, the first Patrick Troughton story, and one of the all-time classics of the Pertwee era – ‘The Daemons’.

“On ‘The Daleks’, Richard Martin and I worked very closely in the planning stages, and because our styles weren’t radically different, there weren’t any real clashes. The only problems we did experience came from Sydney Newman, who’d had quite a hand in the creation of the show and didn’t like the Daleks at all. I think he felt they were childish science fiction. When I first saw them, though, I was absolutely delighted. Funnily enough, I recently watched the first episode again, and I was quite pleased with it. I thought it stood up well and had something of an atmosphere to it. But when I saw the second episode I was a bit depressed – the sets looked too cheap and I thought it was a bit sloppy.

“The Rescue was a nightmare to direct. It started well enough, with the casting of Maureen O’Brien as the new girl, and with my choice of Ray Barrett in the double role of good guy and monster. Both Maureen and Ray went on to very much greater things, but I was glad to have them in the cast. My clearest memory of ‘The Rescue’, unfortunately, is sitting in that little control room in the studio, while down on the floor the actors tried to destroy a radio set at the end of the story – only the damned thing wouldn’t break. I went outside after the recording, feeling terribly, terribly depressed, and Verity Lambert followed me saying ‘It was good, it was good, I liked it’. Consequently, I didn’t care for that one. The Romans was the first one they played purely for comedy, and I enjoyed directing it tremendously. It was all done like a farce, and the actors really entered into the spirit of the thing.

“The Savages was filmed in a disused sand-pit and had Ewen Solon as one of its main characters. It wasn’t a particularly inspiring script, as I recall, and I think ‘Doctor Who’ itself was in something of a creative rut at the time. It wasn’t a trouble process to do, but it wasn’t very challenging either. Peter Purves certainly felt restricted by his part (Steven), as did Maureen and a lot of the other actors involved in the series at one stage or another. To play second fiddle in an adventure show is not the greatest of excitment for an actor, and in those days it was on so long that you really became identified very rapidly with the part. I believe Peter was glad to leave.

“For ‘The Power of the Daleks’, we  discussed a lot of different approachs that Patrick Troughton could have taken in rehearsal. He ended up doing it totally different from the first ideas, and of course totally different from William Hartnell’s portrayal. He couldn’t have done an imitation of Hartnell because as those dreadful Peter Cushing movies had shown, there was just no substitute for the real thing. Patrick was truly wonderful to work with on that irst one – and it could have been a very difficult time for the show. I must admit I was surprised that it had gone on after Hartnell’s departure, but that’s television for you.

“The Daemons is my favourite of all my Doctor Who’s, in spite of having quite a few problems to overcome during its production. One of the first was the bizarre weather we got on location. For the first week we got sun, and then during the second week we got snow. It was like a director’s worst nightmare. I woke up one morning during the second week, opened the curtains to let in what I thought would be blazing sunlight, only to discover that the bright glare came from a sheet of freak snow that had fallen during the night. I was in despair. We were due to film all the scenes with the Brigadier standing on one side of the heat barrier and the only thing we could do was literally sweep all the show that would have been in shot to the side and carry on, keeping the camera angles as tight as possible to avoid showing the effects of the weather. It looked very good on screen, but if you watched closely you could see that the grass was soaking wet.

“We were allowed to use more than the usual number of film cameras on location, but that meant I had to have eyes in the back of my head to make sure everything was coming up on screen. Then in the studio I experimented a lot with the relatively new CSO process, especially with the manifestation of the Daemon itself. To do that, we zoomed in as the creatre was supposed to grow, and I directed Stephen Thorne to twist around as we did it, so that it looked more effective. All the same, it was terribly time-consuming.

“The Mutants was supposed to be a satire on the British Empire, but we played it down, because I don’t think that ‘Doctor Who’ is really the place for such obvious political comment. We filmed it in an old chalk pit, quite a bleak place, and I had the landscape carefully dressed to make it look as unfriendly and alien as possible. We covered the place with specially imported bracken and foliage, and then I filled it with special effects smoke. It was freezing cold when we filmed, so that helped rather than hindered, for a change.

“The first Tom Baker story, ‘Robot’, was another period of change for the programme. I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much as I might have done had there not been an industrial dispute at the BBC at the time we were shooting. Funnily enough it had nothing to do with new technology, as the strikes often are, but scenery shifting troubles. We did all our location stuff without any hiccups, but when it came to the studio sessions there were delays and there was a pretty horrible, tense feeling running through the whole building. One doesn’t like to work when there are disputes involving one’s colleagues in a strike, and I think we had to have a remount on ‘Robot’.

“Tom was nervous, of course. I don’t think he quite understood how it had all happened to him, but he worked very hard from scratch to be as different as Jon as he possibly could. He was always a loner, but in rehearsal for that first one he established himself quite quickly as the star – which is as it should be. I was very struck with the difference in Tom when I returned on the next two occasions. By ‘The Brain of Morbius’ the following year, he was totally at his ease, supremely confident and not as unquestioning. By ‘The Creature From the Pit’, he was really very difficult to direct, very dominant, and with an awful lot of pre-conceived ieas as to how the show should be appearing. He was also getting tired more easily because he’d taken on a lot of publicity work, he was getting old and feeling the strain of playing such a demanding part for so long.

“In ‘The Brain of Morbius’, (the scene with the production team’s faces) happened because I couldn’t find any Equity actors’ faces that fitted the requirements of the script in time. So we all stepped in, via a quite amusing in-joke.”

“The Creature From the Pit was appallingly difficult to realise. I don’t know whether you laughed when you saw it – most people did, but the sad thing is, it wasn’t meant to be funny. There were bits I quite like – I liked the fight with all the laser beams zapping around the cavern and so on. The Wolf Weeds were good special effects, and all the studio filming at Ealing was good. It’s just that the monster didn’t work.

“By this time, Tom was wildly enjoying playing the part. I think he’d had to work with a lot of rather inexperienced directors, who weren’t perhaps as able to control Tom’s wilder excesses. Certainly, he’d had a spate of weak scripts at that time, and the other directors tended to encourage this ‘Let’s re-write in rehearsal’ attitude, which inevitably meant more pranks.

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