Posts Tagged ‘John Nathan-Turner’

John Nathan-Turner (1987)

November 2, 2009

Here’s John Nathan-Turner’s guide to season 24, in which he discusses the casting process for Sylvester McCoy, his first meeting with Andrew Cartmel, and how ‘Time and the Rani’ has the best special effects he’s ever seen on television.

“Andrew Cartmel was suggested to me by his agent. He’s a writer, relatively young – in his twenties – and I read an awful lot of his stuff which I thought was smashing. We then met, to find out whether he’d be interested in finding out more about television as a script editor, and he leapt at it. If you’re going to have a new script editor, you want to capitalise on him, and what was most exciting about Andrew was that we sat and chatted about ‘Doctor Who’ and a sparky conversation happened – there were things we agreed on, things we disagreed on, and things that sent us off on tangents, and that’s the best kind of environment for a producer to work in. If the producer has a script editor who totally agrees with everything he says, or totally disagrees with everything he says, it becomes a stifling of everyone’s talent.

“I think ‘Time and the Rani’ has some of the best special effects that I have ever seen on television. It’s a very interesting story, it’s not highly complex, but really what you’re trying to do is to profile the new Doctor, and to make him showy and to the fore. Similarly, with someone like Kate O’Mara, you want there to be a good section with her. I think it’s a cracking good story for the new Doctor to embark upon. I approached Kate first. She loves the series, and she agreed to do it even before seeing a script. She gave me an early go-ahead, and that meant I could commission the story.

“I think what Stephen Wyatt has created with ‘Paradise Towers’, quite brilliantly, is a different way of speaking and a completely new way of life for a new civilisation. It’s been thought through all the way along, how people eat, how people live, and most specifically how they talk. There’s a very interesting way, for instance, that the Kangs speak. It’s that fullness of characterisation that has attracted the likes of Brenda Bruce, Liz Spriggs, Judy Cornwall, Richard Briers and Clive Merrison.

“Malcolm Kholl is somebody that Andrew knew. ‘Delta and the Bannermen’ is a sort of pastiche; music plays an important part in the script. Malcolm has specified which numbers are the background to which scenes, so that virtually all, but not all, the music has been selected by the writer. Really, I would hate anyone to call this ‘Doctor Who – The Musical’, but it’s the closest the show will ever get, because music was such a focal point in the 1950’s.

“Ian Briggs’ ‘Dragonfire’ is a relatively traditional story, in the sense that it’s studio-bound and ‘Doctor Who’ started out as a studio-bound programme. It’s a very nice cast again. Tony Selby returns as Glitz, and we’ve got Shirin Taylor, Tony Osoba, Patricia Quinn and Edward Peel. It’s all set on an ice plant.

“Altogether, I think the whole season is varied and well balanced. There’s no similarity between stories or styles of writing. I’m rather excited, but still tentative. We’ve certainly heightened the humour – but it’s not silly like ‘Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’. I think there’s a lot of character humour, which is the best kind, because it comes from the essence of the part. There’s also the wit of dialogue, and there’s Sylvester McCoy – he’s very witty and amusing. Very inventive, tremendously physical, and he wants to do his own stunts, which he’s very good at. He was suggested by his agent, so I went along in January to see him in ‘The Pied Piper of Hamlyn’ As a result, I met him and chatted to him. And there we were. So the thought that agents’ letters are a waste of time, that they’re never really read and are just thrown into a bin, really goes out the window.

“I devised Melanie Bush as a character in July 1985, but as it wasn’t too important at that point, I never started to think about the casting. Then in December, I happened to be up in the West End, when I phoned Barry Burnett, Colin Baker’s agent, to see if he wanted to meet for a chat. I thought, as one does when meeting agents, who else was on his books, so you can make polite conversation. I remembered Bonnie Langford, and realised that she fitted my concept of Melanie as this health fanatic perfectly. I asked about Bonnie, but said that I doubted she’s want to do it. But Barry thought it was just the sort of different thing she’d been looking for, and so it went from there. The background I’d already created for Melanie in my book, ‘The Companions’, with the computer fraud involving the Master, was really a brief to writers who might want a background reference for her. I never intended to take it as established ‘Who’-lore. Indeed, we went right against it during the trial, because she didn’t know who the Master was.”

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John Nathan-Turner (1990’s)

October 21, 2009

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.”

John Nathan-Turner (1995)

September 7, 2009

Just a brief bit from John Nathan-Turner, defending Colin Baker’s costume… by comparing it to a Hawaiian shirt…

“There were some complaints about the costume, and it’s nonsense. It was nonsense then and it’s nonsense now. Colin’s costume is fine for the Doctor, he’s not a human like one of us, he’s an alien, he’s a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey and so he’s bound to have different customs and different outlooks, and so it seemed logical to make it a bad taste costume. Bad taste in our opinion but not in his.

“I always liked wearing Hawaiian shirts, and Hawaiian shirts are very colourful, and I always felt that people took you very well, that they assumed you were a warm, friendly, funny, likeable, approachable sort of person if you were wearing a Hawaiian shirt, because of the bright colours and the patterns and so forth. So when it came to designing a costumer for Colin Baker, I thought why not make it a Hawaiian shirt, but make it Edwardian, like the other Doctors wore, like Tom Baker or Jon Pertwee would have worn, sort of Tom Baker meets the Hawaiian shirt. So we decided on a multi-coloured motif.

“It stretched to the opening title sequence as well, we took the Peter Davison title sequence and added streams of multi-colours, just like on my favourite Hawaiian shirts. I thought it looked terribly nice”.

John Leeson (1984)

September 3, 2009

Here’s an extract from John Leeson’s ‘Mythmakers’ video, in which he talks about his early career and his time playing the voice of K9.

Q: Do you have a theatrical background of any description?

A: I don’t suppose I do, really. All my family were in the church, my father was a clergyman, my godfather was a bishop, my uncle is a clergyman, and I’m an actor!

Q: Did you leave school and go straight into acting?

A: No, I didn’t, I left school under a black cloud, which probably disappointed my parents a lot. I then went out into the big bad world doing what other people do, I worked in a bookshop for a while, in Leicester, then I worked in a hospital. I worked in the Leicester Royal Infirmary as a hospital porter. I think my father was instrumental in that, because he wanted me to get my feet on the ground a bit, so I spent a fair bit of time portering, carting people about from ward to ward, and the mortuary porter went sick for four months just after I landed at Leicester Royal Infirmary, and a young porter named John was deputed to take his place. It was a very quiet job, but again it was very good experience.

Q: Why didn’t you go straight into acting at this point?

A: Again, because I still hadn’t got my act together. I still didn’t know where I was going, what I wanted to do, or anything. I had vague notions of wanting to become an actor, but they were very vague. I joined the Leicester Dramatic Society, which was very good, but I hadn’t really got the courage to take the plunge until one day I suddenly I decided I would audition for RADA. They had, I think, thirty places to fill and I discovered, just having auditioned, that there were only 450 audition applicants. I did what must have been the worst audition I’ve ever done in my life, but a fortnight later I had a very nice letter saying that I’d been accepted! I couldn’t believe it.

About a year after I went to RADA, I started to get my act together by means of Restoration drama. We had a teacher called Eddie Gray, he was marvellous. He was a Restoration comedic figure himself, I think he wouldn’t mind me saying that… marvellous style, and size. He taught me, and most of us, the art of being on stage and striking twelve, and not having any fears about making our point, which was super. And I think after that point I started to realise that this really was for me.

Q: Do you think, with generations of your family having been in the church, that you were a disappointment to your family?

A: Well I don’t know, my father was very philosophical about this, he said ‘After all, it’s the same job’, in the sense that he as a clergyman with a congregation, there’s an element of theatre, with a stage and an audience. But there’s another similarity, which is that it’s a priest’s function to stand between the realm of ideas, and Earth, and so an actor, in sort of symbolic way, I suppose does the same sort of thing. He stands on a stage and is the medium through which ideas pass to the audience.

Q: So then you went to the London stage?

A: Yes, I had little forays onto the London stage. I did a pantomime for the Westminster theatre, and I did ‘Toad of Toad Hall’ – in fact, I met my wife while I was understudying Mole, (who was played by) a wonderful actor, Richard Goulden, he fell into the pit on the opening night, which was very alarming. The manager of the theatre phoned me, said ‘Do you know the lines?’, and I said ‘Of course’, but of course Richard was the kind of actor who was never off stage.

Q: And you were getting married three times in a week?

A: Eight times a week, including matinees. Yes, I was playing a bridegroom in ‘Plaze Suite’, a Neil Simon play that was then running concurrently in Broadway. It was three plays, and in the third of these a guy is fetched to the house of the bride, who has locked herself in the bathroom and can’t go through with the wedding, and the bride’s father creates mayhem.

Q: But you got married three times?

A: Yes, you keep coming back to this. Yes, my wedding day fell on a Saturday, then there was a matinee, then an evening show. I got married in the morning, I think at eleven, the matinee was at five, and the evening show was at eight. And we had a very short honeymoon because we had to be back on Monday.

Q: So how did you get into television?

A: (pause) I don’t know! How does anyone get into television? It’s a very good question. Um… I really don’t know, I did a religious play for the BBC called ‘The Wedding Feast’, when I was a very hungry actor and there was food in it and I thought that was good. The first television play of any note that I was in was ‘The Spanish Farm’, by R.H. Mottram, it’s a good novel, all about the First World War. I played a young solider who was in the trenches and couldn’t take it, I did my schooldays again, I did a flip, and he eventually gets shot and it was a very nice introduction to television. But the sort of weight I am, the sort of build I am, I tended to do situation comedy. ‘Dad’s Army’, I did, years ago, and I was livid because they gave me an army haircut, a real basin job, and then of course put me in a balaclava and a tin hat, so nobody could see the hair anyway, but it was in the contract, you had to have an army haircut to play the part.

Q: You were a bear as well, weren’t you, in ‘Rainbow’?

A: I was, yes, I confess, I was a bear. I went up to Thames Television for this show, ‘Rainbow’, and I didn’t know what I was letting myself in for. The costume hadn’t been made for this bear, this creature. The producer said they wanted a jolly, cuddly figure, then had me fitted for this amazing bear suit. No-one could see any expressions on my face at all, it was all voice acting, inside this incredibly hot bear suit. I was really ill inside this bear suit, because if you spent all day in this hot bear suit in a small studio, you were in trouble. So I was poured out of this costume every evening, into a taxi, and I kept taking the money. It was useful, because I could do a lot of voiceover work, where nobody ever saw me. I did a lot of freelancing for the BBC, and it was a meal ticket because Judy was no longer working because we were expecting our son, who duly arrived. That year I did on it (‘Rainbow’) was a very good cushion to sit on, a stepping stone.

Q: You were also setting questions on ‘Mastermind’, weren’t you?

A: Yes, that was a fluke. If you consider my school record, I had no business setting questions on ‘Mastermind’, I had no business setting questions on anything. But a very good friend of mine was a researcher on ‘Mastermind’ at the time, and she said ‘John, you should set the questions, one of our question setters is on a sabbatical, and you’ve got a mind like an old bag of tricks, full of rubbish, send twenty questions to the producer and see if he likes them’. So I sent twenty questions, and he liked them, and after about twenty thousand I’d had enough, been squeezed like a lemon. You found out the most ridiculous things, because you had to not only set the question, you also had to provide notes on it, but I found out things like, for example, I set a question on royal fish, heraldic symbols, but if fish are landed in territorial water they become the property of the queen. But all questions about this are handled by the ministry of transport! Ludicrous!

Q: How did you land the role of K9?

A: Well you don’t leave RADA hoping to get the part of K9. It’s one of those really weird jobs that comes up. A friend of mine, a director I’d worked with years ago in rep in the North of England, was in a local pub and I was there too. He was doing ‘Z Cars’ or something at the BBC at the time, and we chatted and he said ‘I may have something for you’. A week later, my agent called me up and said ‘John, I’ve just had the BBC on the line, they’d like you to play a tin dog, and they’d like you to play a virus in ‘Doctor Who’. What do you think?’. I thought, well, I’d been asked to do some strange things in my time, I had nothing to lose, except my dignity, my sanity and my family, so I did it.

I went to see Graham Williams, who was then producing ‘Doctor Who’. He showed me the blueprints for K9, for which a voice was required, and asked if I’d think up some voices and put them on tape, which I did. And then there was a call from his office saying ‘John, have you accepted the job? We’re waiting to hear from you’, because I didn’t realise it had actually been offered to me. So I said ‘Yes, fine’, and lo and behold I found myself being K9!

Q: And how did you come up with the voice of K9? You said you’d recorded several…

A: Well, yes, the idea was to have this machine that was omniscient and could churn out data at the press of a button, and then suddenly uttered it with a tiny little voice, as if it came out of a tiny little speaker on a transister radio. So I just took the voice up a register or two, and clipped it a bit. One of the ideas I had was from a Len Deighton film called ‘Billion Dollar Brain’, where there was a computer that spat words out, totally detached from any other words in the sentence. I had a go at that a bit, but it wasn’t very successful, you couldn’t modulate it and carry on a dialogue with the other actors.

I think the way of working with K9 contributed to his success. I was actually in the rehearsals, running around on all fours, being the dog. He was only in for one story, as far as I was concerned, so I might as well go for broke. It provided an eyeline for the other actors, it amused Tom Baker immensely and it kept me out of trouble. They put the voice through a ring modulator, with a microphone, and I couldn’t be near the other actors or their voices would also come through the ring modulator, I suppose. So come recording time, I’d be stuck away somewhere with a monitor in front of me, a screen to watch, a pair of headphones, and a micrphone, and try to reproduce what had happened in rehearsals.

But the first time that K9 appeared, the electronic signals being sent to K9 to make him move around, were on the same frequency as the signals being sent to the cameras. So whenever K9 appeared, the cameras slowed up and K9 just careered around into the furniture. And I’d rehearsed it for two weeks, but I thought the BBC would never employ me again when this wretched thing couldn’t do as it was told So there were two voices, there was the virus as well, but the virus was this immense prawn-like creature made out of fibreglass, which a very small actor called John Scott-Martin put on. He clamboured into this thing, and it wasn’t possible for him to have his voice relayed from this. So I had to have this very plummy voice, that I don’t have naturally.

But after a while of playing K9 I found I got more into the character, and we needed less and less of the fuzz on the voice.  Very worrying. We had a situation in Oxfordshire once, when the BBC had taken a video unit out, a great big van with big scanners, and Tom Baker was doing a scene a couple of miles down the road but my voice was coming from – I was sitting in the van, in the driver’s seat, and I could hear what was going on, I had headphones. But what I didn’t realise was, during a break Tom got out his paper to do the Times crossword, because we tried to do it every day and we usually got about a third of it finished. And Tom said ‘John, have you got your crossword with you?’, and I said I did, so we started solving it, and of course all the locals who’d been to watch the filming saw K9 on the grass verge and Tom Baker with his Times, and they were both doing the Times crossword.

Q: You left for a year, didn’t you?

A: Yes, I left for a year, with no intention of going back, because being out of  vision for a year is no place for a career actor to be. You need to get your face around, and it was purely for that reason, no other at all. The character of K9 had been well-established, there wasn’t much more that could be done with it. One of the difficulties of the K9 character was that it wasn’t a dynamic character, it couldn’t move very fast for a start, and if you consider that the Doctor is a plus factor, his companions are a plus factor, and you don’t want too many plusses in the mix, you want some baddies, Daleks and Sontarans and so on. Also, if you have a computer playing a part that is capable of solving any problem in a microsecond, it’s fine on page seven of part one, but then you might as well pack up and go home because the story could be well wrapped up by then. You know, if K9 was actually allowed full reign. So he was always having flat batteries, he couldn’t go out onto swampy planets because he hadn’t been under-sealed. Even in the special, he couldn’t be the lead, he needed Sarah-Jane Smith to carry the heroic thrust of the story.

Q: So why did you go back?

A: Well there’s been a producer change. John Nathan-Turner was the producer now, he suddenly phoned up and said ‘Would you be interested in coming back, K9 will probably be phased out, we’re not sure, maybe, maybe not, would you consider coming back an seeing him out properly?’. So I talked to my agent, and my bank manager, looked at my watch and said ‘Alright’ and stayed with ‘Doctor Who’ for another year.

Q: How did people react to K9 on the set? Did people like him?

A: Some did and some didn’t. Some felt the character had overstayed his welcome, but I think that’s partly the problem that I’ve indicated in the writing, if you haven’t got enough for the character to do, he’s spare weight. If he can be seen to be earning his crust, in terms of the story, then there’s a very good reason for him to be there, and he’d be welcomed. But there were certain people who didn’t like him. In his last season, he was always getting kicked about. Bill Fraser kicked his head off! He became a lame duck, a lame dog, so to speak.

Q: Were there any spin-offs from doing the K9 voice?

A: We had a pilot for a hopeful series that never came to anything, called ‘K9 and Company’, where another ‘Doctor Who’ character, Liz Sladen, found K9 in her attic, or her auntie’s attic or something, as a present from the Doctor. An unlikely thing to happen, but it was quite fun, a black magic story. But unfortunately I think the money ran out, or there was a change in the regime at the BBC, so what was agreed in the first place ended when the money ran out.

Q: And K9 turned up in things like ‘The Generation Game’…

A: Yes. Well I always used to think that K9 was never a dog, he was a computer, and the dog thing was entirely incidental, he just happened to be that kind of dog shape. I was rather keen on letting the rather pedantic side of my nature come through in his voice.

Q: And you did Longleat?

A: Yes, the big twentieth anniversary celebration. I was asked to do the public address system, so K9’s voice boomed out across the Wiltshire countryside. But the crowds were such that on the second day, and so few could get in because it was vastly oversubscribed, I had to do it in my own voice, which was more commanding. But I was also the person to complain to, so I spent the day being a sort of public relations officer!

John Nathan-Turner (1993)

August 30, 2009

Here’s John Nathan-Turner, probably the most controversial producer in the show’s history, giving a quite wide-ranging interview about the show. He talks about working as a Floor Manager in the Patrick Troughton days, about trying to persuade Peter Davison to stay on for a fourth series, and about the real reasons for the Colin Baker era’s troubles.

Q: Going back to ‘The Space Pirates’, how did you find the production team, the atmosphere, compared to under Barry Letts, who was producer on your second one ‘The Ambassadors of Death’?

A: Well when I first worked on the show it was in the role of Floor Assistant, the most junior member of the production team, basically a kind of glorified Call Boy, my main responsibilities being getting the actors on the set at the right time. And the very first story I worked on was with Patrick Troughton as the Doctor, and subsequently two other stories with Jon Pertwee as the Doctor. Now the thing about the role of the Floor Assistant is that you’re working on the floor, you don’t have headphones, you’re not aware of what’s going on upstairs, and certainly it seemed to me that what was going on down on the floor was more fun on the Patrick Troughton show. There was a tremendous atmosphere of naughty schoolboys, almost, with the last Pat Troughton and Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury all goofing around. Being serious for the rehearsals and takes, of course. Now that’s not to say that when it came to working on the Pertwee shows they weren’t fun, they were just not as much fun. I think perhaps the technicalities of the show undoubtedly had become greater. The show had moved into colour, which required greater concentration in those areas. So that’s why my chief memories of the show are of Pat’s era, towards the end of black and white era of ‘Doctor Who’, as being a very fun environment, and Jon’s era being a little more serious from upstairs.

Q: When the BBC gave you the producer’s post in 1979, you’d already proved yourself as a Production Unit Manager on ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ and on ‘Doctor Who’ under Graham Williams. Did you know what you wanted to do from the start with ‘Doctor Who’, particularly with the changes to fan consciousness of the show in America?

A: I think if you’re hoping for something to happen, like you’re hoping to take over ‘Doctor Who’ as producer, then you tend to have very very tentative plans indeed, because I think the whole time perhaps you’re expecting disappointment and that it won’t happen. So I’d made only a few initial plans of what I’d do if I got to take over from Graham Williams. It wasn’t until I actually took over that I sat down seriously to appraise what it was that I actually wanted to do. I think it was a case of tempting fate too much, if I’d had an enormous list before I got the job.

Q: Recalling what Pat Troughton told Peter Davison, to not play the Doctor for more than three years, and then recalling the 18th month hiatus, the cancellation in 1989, and all that happened, do you wish you’d got Peter Davison to stay on for a fourth year?

A: Well I did attempt to persuade Peter to stay on after he’d completed three years. I think the decision that the optimum period is three years is one that’s been made subsequent to Peter’s time. I think everyone at the BBC – myself, the head of drama, perhaps even the controller of BBC1 – did attempt to persuade Peter to stay on. If that had happened, I think those questions of ‘What if?’ are very difficult to answer. One thing I know is that I really wish that I had moved on earlier, because I feel to some extent, although every actor who plays the part gets labelled by playing the leading role in the world’s longest-running science-fiction series, I feel that as producer for eleven years it labelled me more than I would like, because I don’t see my future being concerned totally with science-fiction. I actually see my career having a much broader canvas, really, so I think in terms of people moving on maybe I should have moved on earlier.

Q: On the bright side, if you come to the States you always have somewhere to stay.

A: (laughs) That’s true.

Q: Looking at Colin Baker’s era, and the official story that the show was put on hiatus for 18 months because of the excessive violence in his first year, do you wish you could change the violence level, looking back at it?

A: Well I think I have to pick you up there and say I don’t think it’s ever been said that it was taken off for 18 months because it was too violent. I think the real reason was that they needed a certain amount of money by cancelling many programmes – ‘Doctor Who’ was one of them – to establish daytime television on the BBC, and it was an attempt to suddenly demand this money because the BBC wished to pull forward their launch date because the independent companies were pulling forward theirs. So there was a sudden and dramatic attempt to get this money by cancelling a lot of shows, and this was always the reason, or certainly the reason I was always given, as to why it was rested. As for Colin’s contribution, I actually think he got a tremendously raw deal, in that he did one season, then there was the hiatus, then we came back and there were only fourteen episodes and they were in a different format, and then the decision was made to move forward with a new Doctor. So Colin never got a chance to get his teeth into the part. I think most people would agree with me that the first season of virtually every Doctor is really a very tentative one, the actor trying desperately to find a way to play the part, which after all is veyr thinly sketched, and coming to terms with the amount of themselves that has to be injected into the portrayal. So I really feel that Colin, maybe, if there hadn’t been that hiatus, would have got into a slightly higher gear that would have allowed him to mature his portrayal.

Q: He did seem to get screwed, and he did very well with the resources that he had. Was ‘Doctor Who’ put off a bit to make way for ‘Eastenders’?

A: No, I don’t think so. ‘Eastenders’ had been on the cards for a number of years. I think that where ‘Doctor Who’ got involved with ‘Eastenders’ was that after ‘Doctor Who’ was moved from its traditional Saturday slot, each year we’d be on different days. One year it’s be Monday and Wednesday, then another year Monday and Tuesday, and so on, and apart from doubling our audience during this time, which was a significant indication that those early evening drama slots could work, I think that what we were doing was really rehearsing which of the two evenings of the week would be ideal for a soap opera which had yet to be named, which was ‘Eastenders’. And the whole thing has come full circle, because this weekend in Britain there has been a programme celebrating thirty years of ‘Doctor Who’ combining the programme with ‘Eastenders’. The TARDIS arrives in London and gets embroiled with characters from ‘Eastenders’ in a two-part mini-adventure in 3D, a very exciting technology that I don’t think we’ve seen the end of. The story has all five living Doctors, twelve companions, a multitude of characters from ‘Eastenders’, and a multitude of monsters, something like twenty different monsters. And in a way there’s a certain irony that we were once rehearsing the slot for ‘Eastenders’, which by the way has just become the most popular programme in Britain, in positions one and two, it’s finally beaten ‘Coronation Street’.

Q: Fans want to know if the selection of Bonnie Langford as Melanie Bush was because the BBC wanted to keep the show on track when it returned, because she was popular from ‘Crackerjack’, or was it more a matter of calming down the front office from the BBC’s point of view?

A: You’ve got a lot of mis-information there. Bonnie was never on ‘Crackerjack’, which was a programme that was cancelled when ‘Doctor Who’ was rested in 1985, and ‘Crackerjack’ never came back. I don’t think Bonnie was ever involved in that. I cast Bonnie, it was my idea, I thought she was right for the part. I also thought that bringing in someone who already had a name, as a companion, would help with publicity, to refresh people’s memory and to help with that. It was not a popular decision with many of the fans in Britain, but I think you have to keep that in perspective. Fans with a big ‘f’ who are members of the DWAS in Britain total 2,500 people, and over the years, for example when we were doing two episodes a week and getting ten million viewers, I think you have to keep the views of the Fans in context.

Q: I was speaking to Sophie Aldred, and she said that she didn’t originally audition for the role of a companion. She said she auditioned for Chris Clough, then went to you for approval, then back to Chris Clough and found out that you had just selected her in a way that required no test readings or auditions whatsoever. And she said that she owes her career success to you.

A: Well it was a weird situation in a way, because at the end of that season there were two stories both of which featured a possible ongoing character. There was a young girl in ‘Dragonfire’ and a young girl in ‘Delta and the Bannermen’, and the script editor Andrew Cartmel and I couldn’t  decide which story should end the season, and consequently the casting of these two young girls involved my office in a very major way because whichever one went out last would possibly hold the key to staying on in the show as a companion. But I’m delighted that it was Ace. I certainly don’t think that Sophie was right for the other part. I’m not saying she couldn’t have played it, but I think she was much righter for Ace, and I think the combination of Ace with Doctor number seven, Sylvester McCoy, is probably one of the most successful in the show’s history.

Q: How do you know if that chemistry will exist?

A: If you could bottle that kind of chemistry, you’d be the next multi-millionaire. I think it’s very much a kind of instinctive chemistry that happens between two people who are working together and something additional gels in front of the camera. It’s something that I think was particularly applaudable in the work that Sophie and Sylvester did.

Q: Onto the ‘New Adventures’ books, do you like the novels and their treatment of the characters?

A: I have to confess that I have limited knowledge of those novels and their characters. Not being the resident producer of ‘Doctor Who’, although I’ve just guested on this Children in Need thing, I find some of the things that have developed that I’ve read slightly odd, you know, but then I’m a sweet old-fashioned thing hankering after my old days. I think it’s right that the show should develop, and I’m not knocking what Peter Darvill-Evans does with the books, and I think it needs to go forward in order to be successful. The development of characters, situations, the whole premise of the show, I think it would be infinitely preferable if it happened on television rather than in the novels first.

Q: Sophie Aldred said that she didn’t like seeing Ace as a warmonger in the books, she wanted her to be a pacifist, but she said that she hadn’t actually read the books. I take it a lot of people from the show don’t know how the books have developed things?

A: Unfortunately not had the time, I guess.

Q: Your participation with the video releases, after the cancellation, did that help to convince the BBC that they didn’t really need to make new stories? That they could just make a buck with rehashed old stories.

A: Well, I think that’s a very simplistic view, if I may say so. I think inevitably there’s a buck to be made, but you don’t have to be a mathematician to see that the buck is going to run out pretty soon. In the UK, they release twelve complete stories each year, plus three specials, and that’s a hell of a lot of material. They’ve been doing it for a number of years, and I don’t think it’ll be long before those video releases run out. I know you get them slightly slower in the States, so they’ll hang on longer, but I really don’t think that anyone thinks it’s a substitute for making new product.

Q: When the show comes back, how would you like to see it?

A: I’ve said in print and in a docuumentary that goes out tonight in the UK that I see this ‘Children in Need’ thing as my absolute farewell to ‘Doctor Who’. Although it’s only twelve minutes, it has brought together every living Doctor, all of them in costume, all of them recording new material that’s specific to this rather than using material that was left over from a junked story, and it’s brought back so many of the companions and so many of my old team that I really feel that it’s the end of ‘Doctor Who’ for me. What it needs for the future is a new team with new ideas and a whole new aegis of taking the show forward into the next century.

Colin Baker & Nicola Bryant (1992)

August 25, 2009

This is a transcript of Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant at the Visions convention in the US in 1992. It’s a long one, but it covers a lot of ground, including the fan crusade against John Nathan-Turner, the bizarre attempt to sue the BBC for not making ‘Doctor Who’ in the 90’s (!) and the lack of interest some people on the show had for even the most basic matters of continuity.

Q: What have you been doing since ‘Doctor Who’?

CB: (laughs) Well I’ve been doing a lot of theatre. The only television was something I did for the Children’s Channel, which is a cable / satellite channel in the UK, but nobody’s seen it because nobody’s got cable / satellite in England. And I did one episode of ‘Casualty’, which is a sort of ‘Hill Street Blues’ in a hospital, but I’ve been doing theatre, seven or eight plays one after another. I did ‘Run For Your Wife’, I just finished ‘Death and the Maiden’, which is a 1992 Olivier Award winner, which is the same as your Tony awards here – not with me, the good ones left and they got me. It’s actually on stage right now in Wolverhampton with me in it. Tricky, that, isn’t it? But they have these things called understudies.

That play finishes tonight, so I then go back to England on Sunday night, Tuesday I drive up to Sunderland where I’m putting on a show as a production company, at the Sunderland Empire, presenting, trying to write, I’m doing all the linking stuff for it. That’s on next Thursday, to celebrate the fact that Sunderland’s now become a city, my company was asked to put a show on. Then on Sunday I start rehearsing for a pantomime, ‘Dick Whittington’ in Weymouth from the 9th of January, then I’m open to offers.

17th January we’re both filming with Bill Baggs to finish off the latest of his ‘Stranger’ films, that’s a trilogy. or a multi-gy, we hope, lots and lots of them. The BBC owns ‘Doctor Who’ so no-one else can make that, but Bill Baggs is a resourceful fellow and he’s written a series about a man called the Stranger, who travels through time and space with a lady called Ms. Brown, played by Nicola Bryant! And we battle evil people who happen not to be Daleks or Cybermen. It’s a very neat way of continuing without… It’s video only, it’s not broadcast.

Q: What about Nicola in the past five years?

NB: Um, what have I done?

CB: Well that’s enough about Nicola.

NB: Notice some things never change. The first thing I did after ‘Doctor Who’ was going to the West with a play with Patrick Macnee, called ‘Killing Jessica’, and it was originally a TV movie shown in the US called… (pause) I’ve forgotten, which is very clever of me. Anyway, so I did a West End show for about six months, then I went and did a season at Chester, a variety of roles, ‘Come on Jeeves’, upper-crust characters, a whole of things, then I did ‘Blackadder’, the Christmas special, then to the West End for a very political play about the Falklands, four characters stating their opinions about the war and none of them really budged on their opinoin, and the play didn’t fall on any particular side, so depending upon the politics of your audience on any particular night, you were either very popular or in a lot of trouble. I’ve done lots of other theatre, the most recent of which was a nine-month tour of ‘The Great Gatsby’, playing Daisy Buchanan, which was the first time that play had been done in England.

Q: How did you get the part in ‘Blackadder’?

NB: At the time I  auditioned, I was playing Honey in ‘Who’s Afraid of  Virginia Woolf?’, and Honey has a particularly odd laugh, she just laughs hysterically from one crisis to the next, and when I went to the audition Ben Elton wasn’t there but he’d left a message with Richard Curtis that he wanted someone who could do a funny laugh. A lot of it was improvised during rehearsal, it wasn’t in the script. So I said I was playing Honey and I gave them Honey’s laugh, and they liked that. Then in one rehearsal Ben Elton came in and said ‘I’ve decided it should be something like a machine gun’ that you can’t switch off, you just press the button and it starts. He wanted something that would get on your nerves. I kept going off to the ladies’ loo and coming back, saying ‘How’s this one?’ and eventually I came back with this high-pitched soprano machine gun that he thought was right for the character, and he started writing bits about the ornaments falling off the shelves and things like that. A lot of that was improvised.

Q: Both of you have done mostly theatre since ‘Doctor Who’, is that because you’re typecast?

CB: (laughs) It’s entirely because I’m typecast. Typecasting isn’t anything to do with audiences, really. Audience, I find, will accept anybody in anything, they quite like seeing people in other things. What happens is producers don’t want their new piece prejudiced by preconceptions about whoever’s playing that part, so if you’ve played something very high profile on television, it tends to be qutie some time before you get any more television. And my Doctor was very specific, he wasn’t a kind of, well you wouldn’t fail to notice him… so the end result is I don’t get offered much television. Also unless you’re under contract, television tends to be quite short, a week or two, whereas theatre is often six months. As I have a young family to support, I have to go with that. That’s the reason. If you ask me which I prefer, I much prefer television. I know that’s not what actors normally say, they like to get the buzz of the live audience, well I like the buzz of going home at night and seeing my family. I enjoy working in television studios, I enjoy working on a bit and getting it right, or as right as you can, then moving on to the next bit.

NB: I had a lot of offers for screaming American teenagers when I left ‘Doctor Who’. Every part that had a screaming American teenager landed on my door. And I was very lucky to get ‘Blackadder’, because a lot of casting directors think I’m American, and it goes the other way because they might want an American but they go ‘No, we don’t want her, we’ve found out she’s English’, so you can get caught between that sort of problem and the fact that ‘Doctor Who’ is a rather strange show, in that they think it’s a children’s show, yet it’s under drama, and if you’ve made yourself a large-size character (laughs) it’s very difficult to break that image. These casting directors most of the time won’t take the time to meet you and discover you can do many other things. As Colin says, it’s not the audience’s fault, and it’s not the same in America. In England it’s ‘Oh my goodness, we’ve seen them before’. It’s a different attitude. I do love doing theatre, but I like doing something different every time, not just the character but the medium.

Q: Has it caused any regrets, doing the part in ‘Doctor Who’?

NB: No.

CB: No, I wouldn’t be asked to do all these plays if I was ‘Doctor Who’. I mean it’s a two-edged sword, it’s slowed down my rate of… before I did ‘Doctor Who’, I used to do television all the time, but as soon as you become identified with something then you’re stuck for a while. But soon I’ll be an unknown face again, which will be quite useful.

Q: Tell us about John Nathan-Turner, because there are these right-wing fanzines that blame him for all the problems with ‘Doctor Who’.

CB: Well I have extremely strong opinions about that, I feel very very sympathetic towards John because what he’s done for the programme is ten times what anyone else has done for it. There’s a tiny, tiny coterie of fans who are very frustrated because they’ve never been producer of the programme, they’re mainly in Britain, but there are two or three that I could name but won’t, in the UK, who have made it their lifetime job to do everything they can to sabotage John Nathan-Turner, and I think it’s miserable, petty, ghastly behaviour and I think they’re worms that ought to be trodden into the ground. (laughs) Don’t mess around, Colin, tell them what you really think.

But John was the producer for a very long time, and he’s responsible for it being over in the US and he came over and marketed it, he always cared about the fans, he always made sure people like myself and Nicola came to conventions when our first inclinations were that we weren’t too sure about it. He persuaded people like Pat Troughton, who never wanted to talk about the programme, who found out he loved it! And John kept the programme on the air in Britain, he was the only person fighting for it. Witness the fact that now he’s been ousted, there’s nobody in the BBC who’s waving the flag.

But those same people are still campaigning to get rid of the little bit that John’s still doing, he’s working on the videos and they’ve orchestrated a sort of hate campaign based on his choice of videos now! It’s so stupid, and it’s all jealousy, simple jealousy. I think the right-minded fan… it’s like all vocal minorities, they can swamp the majority, which covers a wide range of opinions, I’m not saying that everyone agrees with everything John’s done, of course he’s made mistakes, I’ve made mistakes, you’ve made mistakes. But they’ve said ‘Doctor Who has become a pantomime’. One article said that once. I don’t see men dressed up as women, that’s pantomime, I don’t see terrible jokes, apart from mine, and that’s my choice, not John’s. John is a friend and for a while he shrugged it off but now it’s beginning to get to him. If some people want to make someone unhappy, that’s up to them, but I think the rest of us should make sure that’s not allowed to continue. I rest my case.

Q: They seem to be unable to divorce personal opinions about the man from thoughts about the programme.

CB: Yes, and he’s set himself up, being involved with the programme for ten years, there’s an awful lot of stuff there to criticise, or to praise. Other producers came in for three years, didn’t give a hoot about the programme, and popped out again, and they’re kind of safe because they haven’t done anything controversial.

NB: He took all the risks.

CB: I think the fact that the BBC gets these very irritating letters from these fans less likely to bring the programme back rather than more likely.

Q: What do you think about this idea of them suing the BBC for not making ‘Doctor Who’?

CB: It’s ridiculous. You can’t sue an author for not writing a book you like, nor can you sue the BBC for not producing a programme you like. It’s a bizarre nonsense. It’s simply a matter of law, you can’t sue a company for not making a programme you like.

Q: Do you think the public stations in the US, and the Sci-Fi Channel and PBS and cable stations, could have any influence, by saying that the overseas sales are strong?

CB: No, sorry, I once had dinner with a nice man called Ray Kraft, alas no longer with us, who was president of Lionheart Films. He said to me, at the end, ‘Colin, when you go back to England could you tell Michael Grade we need more episodes? You’re making 22, we need at least 52’. I said ‘Hang on, I have no access to Michael Grade’. A lead actor in the US will probably know the guy in charge, that doesn’t work in the UK, actors are employees. I have no say with the top brass, and if I meet them it’s only for a nod at a cocktail party and they probably haven’t got a clue who I am.

If you bear in mind that the BBC is an organisation that annually has received more from ‘Doctor Who’ than it’s cost to make it, it’s got 28 years of product to sell, any other organisation would have a vested interest in keeping it going. But because the income doesn’t go back to the programme, it goes to the general BBC coffers and is spread very thinly, so the programme-making arm of the BBC has no incentive whatsoever to make more of it. You also have producers there who have projects, and if there are ten of them coming and saying ‘I want to make this’, and there’s no-one coming saying ‘I want to make Doctor Who’, then there’s no-one batting for it.

Q: Do you think the plans to make the Doctor a less likeable character might have been a mistake? And do you feel that during the hiatus, you were very vocal and you were ousted because of that?

CB: To be honest, I wasn’t that vocal, it’s one of those things that’s been perpetuated by fan magazines. I didn’t really speak out, maybe I should have done. Actually, I was quite careful not to criticise anyone for the simple reason that I didn’t want to be hampered with the baggage from that, so I don’t think that’s a reason. I think it’s more casual than that,  I don’t think any attitude towards me caused any of the decisions anyhow. I don’t think they were aware of my existence!

I thought it was quite exciting to have a character who was a little inaccessible, a little enigmatic. I don’t know if you have this experience in your life, but I have it in mine, the people who are my best friends are the ones I didn’t like much at first. Some of them I loathed at first. There’s a book called ‘Pride and Prejudice’, I don’t know if you’ve read it, there’s a character in that called Mr. Darcy who for the first two thirds everyone thinks is the villain, they think he’s a deeply selfish swine because he doesn’t go around wearing his virtues on his sleeve. And I think those characters are very interesting, and I wanted to play the Doctor like that.

Q: I think a lot of people liked that in the character. Your Doctor seemed more personally violent at times, and I didn’t have a problem with that, but some fanzines did.

CB: If the character was just slightly different all the time, but basically the same, if you have twelve versions of yourself, as we discovered with the Valeyard, who’s a kind of interface between two versions we discovered, there are going to be different qualities. It’s more interesting.

Q: Isn’t it true that every new Doctor has a period when they have to be accepted?

CB: Oh yes, I mean the hardest job was poor old Peter after seven years of Tom. Tom being such a strong and particular Doctor, I mean every interview I get with non-fans has ‘Where’s your scarf?’, but Tom was the only one who wore a scarf. But the scarf’s so associated with a lot of peoples’ idea of what ‘Doctor Who’ is about. So Peter has a tough job there, actually, which is why he chose to play it totally different. You have to overcome, in that case it was a generation of children. A young child will have seen as his Doctor only Tom Baker for about six years, and suddenly it changes. Nobody likes change.

Q: A lot of channels, when they start showing ‘Doctor Who’, they start with Tom Baker.

CB: Well I suppose they thought they couldn’t start with black and white. You can’t start a show in black and white. They had seven years of Tom Baker to get the show started.

Q: Do you know anything about the lost season, in particular the unknown story of ‘Penecasata’?

CB: All I know is that I read ‘The Nightmare Fair’ and thought it was a damn good story. I knew there was an Autons in Singapore story. And that’s all I know!

Q: They’ve been novelised, some of them. But not ‘Penecasata’.

CB: (‘The Nightmare Fair’) got as far as a full script. I read the ‘Nightmare Fair’ novelisation and I enjoyed it, having been very excitied when I read the script for it.

Q: There have been comments that one of the problems with ‘Trial of a Timeload’ was that it was confusing for the actors. Was that true?

NB: No, it’s not confusing for the actors because we film in bits anyway. One day we’re filming a sequence where you go into the TARDIS, and the next day you’re shooting a scene that relates to something you shot two weeks earlier. As an actor you’re always working in bits, and it’s up to you to keep a track of the story. I think the only problem of making it bitty was that as a programme you’d just get into a drama sequence, then you’d get thrown back out again into the trial. Whether that was the best thing, I don’t know, but it definitely wasn’t confusing for the actors.

CB: I was very confused by it, but I had a very different problem, especially in ‘Mindwarp’ because there was a point when I said to Eric Saward, the script editor, ‘When I’m tying Peri to this rock and threatening to torture her, am I doing it for some subtle reason of my own, because I think I’m being watched or whatever, or because I’ve been affected by the mind probe, or is the Matrix lying?’. Those were the three alternatives as I saw it. He said ‘I don’t know, you’d better ask Philip Martin’, so I got in touch and gave him those three alternatives, he said ‘I don’t know, Eric wrote the trial stuff, all the Matrix stuff was added after, by Eric, you’d better ask him’. So I went to John Nathan-Turner, he said ‘Oh, whichever you like’. This is the level of involvement at the time. Eric was going through his own problems at the time, disagreeing with John Nathan-Turner on all sorts of things. I felt that was all very sloppy, it was all cobbled together a bit. The stories were written independently, and the trial theme was put on top. I felt it was the Matrix lying, so I really was torturing Peri. But it was very difficult. You expect the writers to know what’s happening, but that’s not always the case.

NB: It’s like finding out later that suddenly I ended up being married to Yrcanos, when we were never playing that. You think ‘I might have played a couple of scenes slightly differently if I’d known that was what was happening’, and it’s not the way the script was written, it’s not the way either of us were playing it.

Q: You can tell it’s hacked on the end.

CB: That was my fault. I said ‘No mention is made of whether what happened to Peri is true or false’, and they said ‘Well what do you want?’, I said ‘I want to know your intentions’, they asked me! And I said ‘Well I’d like Peri to survive because I like her and she can come back’!

Q: You said the other night that the BBC probably won’t bring back ‘Doctor Who’, but they’ll probably bring back something to replace it. How would you feel if that something was ‘The Stranger’?

CB: I think there’d be absolutely no point the BBC bringing back ‘The Stranger’, because if they’re going to do that, they might as well bring back ‘Doctor Who’. Whatever fiction we all put together for the purposes of avoiding litigation, the similarities are so close that they might as well use the property they’ve got. I wasn’t the one who said they’d bring back something to replace it, I think they’ll bring back ‘Doctor Who’ or something totally different.

NB: It’s like the attempt at ‘Star Cops’.

CB: Every now and then the BBC have dabbed in sci-fi. They did a series called ‘Moonbase’, they did two or three series of it, I never see it shown now.

Q: It was destroyed, that’s why.

CB: Oh was it?

Q: The BBC wiped it all. Speaking of development of the Doctor, how did you get the part in ‘The Ultimate Adventure’?

CB: Well I got the part because when they decided to do it, they approached all the Doctors, a kind of blanket approach, and I think at the time two of them said ‘Yes’, that was Jon Pertwee and myself, and because Terrence Dicks who wrote it had worked with Pertwee he was keener to write for Pertwee, so they went down the Pertwee path, as it were. But just as it was beginning, Jon said that three months was his maximum, and they wanted to get six months out of it, so they asked if I wanted to do the rest of it. I said ‘Yes, I would’, so I met up with Terrence Dicks, who asked me what alterations I’d like, and it struck me there was no point making any, if he could trust me to change a few lines here and there that were hyper-Pertwee, as it were. Things like ‘reversing the polarity of the neutron flow’, and even then I just changed it to ‘reversing the linearity of the proton flow’ as a little homage.

The only change I made was that I had all the lines that Pertwee had written all over the set rubbed out, because I  could remember them. Sorry Jon. And I developed a different relationship with Zog, I think Jon felt that Zog was a little furry alien who was a companion, he was extremely cute, and I think Jon felt it was distracting from his charm as the Doctor so he tended to ignore it. But I thought there was potential for humour with Zog, so we built up a relationship.

Q: Nicola, as Peri you had a lot of screaming to do. How do you feel about Ms. Brown, is she more like the character you’d like to have been as Peri?

NB: When I first auditioned for Peri, the description was ‘tall, blonde, leggy Californian’, so I said ‘Yeah, I can play that!’ (laughs), but the character wasn’t very well formed and as the auditions went on over a few months I finally got to read the first draft of ‘Planet of Fire’. I thought she was obviously an intelligent young girl, extremely unhappy family background, young, naive, but a spunky little kid. So I thought there was a good chance of taking this somewhere, because (a) it was the beginning of her growth period mentally, and if she starts out as a courageous kid she’s obviously going to expand from that, and I liked the fact that in the very first story she was giving the Master what-for, and I thought ‘this is good’. And I expected the character to develop from that.

But by the time I got into my second season, they just harped on about the bickering between the two of us, and the language thing, and stories popped up like ‘Timelash’ and they seemed to forget where the character had come from. I was much happier with ‘Trial of a Timelord’ because at least they acknowledged that time had moved on and their relationship had changed, because if they’d gone on the way they were going they’d have killed each other, or she’d have said ‘for God’s sake, get me out of here’, or Colin would have said ‘get out’, because there was no reason for them to stay together. That seemed to get lost. But I would have taken her in a different direction if I’d been in the driving seat.

Q: And Ms. Brown in the Bill Baggs stories?

NB: Yes, it’s a little closer to what I would have done. Especially in the second story, she’s a little more intelligent, it’s not a case of… she’s dealing with situations herself and using the Doctor in a different capacity. And the story that we’re filming at the moment is extremely interesting, and I can’t reveal why, but it gives us a chance to form something new.

Q: You mentioned making script changes in stage productions. Did you have that power in ‘Doctor Who’?

CB & NB: No!

NB: I think I got about three words changed. I got ‘mincer’ changed to ‘meat grinder’, I remember that was a long saga, that took three weeks, I would say ‘I’m sorry but you don’t say mincer in the States, you say meat grinder’, and they said ‘no-one in England will know what a meat grinder is’, I said ‘Well cut the lines, I’ll say something else’, and it was like the whole thing about saying ‘cop’ when I’m American. And then there were times when we’d say ‘I can’t say this, because four stories ago we established that I never knew this’, so when he says ‘Shut the TARDIS door’, I can’t do it if I haven’t been shown. And most of the time they’d listen to you, but it was always ‘How annoying of you to remember that’.

CB: I remember once, at the beginning of ‘Trial of a Timelord’, being whipped into the court and I said to Eric Saward ‘last time we met the Timelords, the Doctor was the president of Gallifrey, wasn’t he?’, and he said ‘Was he?’, I said ‘Yes, I remember Peter being made president in The Five Doctors’. He said ‘So?’, I said ‘Well all he has to say is I’m the president of Gallifrey, sod off all of you’. So he said ‘We’ll put a line in if it makes you happy’, so they put a line in ‘You’ve been deposed’. But it happened by chance, I knew very little about the history of the programme, there should have been more thought going into it, I thought. I didn’t often get lines changed, but I got lines put in, most of them puns. It was agreed that my Doctor would be allowed to make awful puns.

NB: The only thing I got put in was something that came up in the BBC canteen at one point, we were talking about the budget and John Nathan-Turner said one of the things we got a lot of letters about was that it was very obvious that we built two corridors and ran between them. And I said ‘Well why don’t you stick a line in about it?’, and he said ‘Like what?’, I said ‘Well every time you go somewhere, the companion says All these corridors look the same to me’, and that way it was part of the story, that’s why they got lost!

Q: Did you also get very little input into your costumes?

CB: (laughs) No, Nicola chose hers.

NB: Madonna copied me years later. I was very happy in my first costume, it was very sensible. I was in cotton clothing, but the press made such a big to-do about me being in a bikini, big centre-spread in the ‘Daily Star’, and the ratings shot up and I think John Nathan-Turner thought he’d found a good thing so I didn’t get dressed again, really in ‘The Caves of Androzani’, which was ludicrous because there we were filming in Lanzarote in October, and then in November we’re filming the next series and it’s minus two or three, Peter’s in two layers of thermals and I caught pneumonia and got  frost-bite. And I wasn’t happy running around in shorts all the time, because that had nothing to do with the character that I started out with. I imagined sneakers and jeans and sweatshirts and T-shirts, you know.

Q: Sophie seemed to do pretty well.

NB: Yeah, well I think we went through a sudden fashion change as well. Suddenly we went in for this much more masculine dressing for women. A whole change of fashion happened, so I think it was much easier to choose another young person and let her make a fashion statement. If the press had just ignored it, I think I would have gone into jeans and T-shirt. When I auditioned, that’s what I wore. Then when it came to the press release, John Nathan-Turner said ‘Wear something clingy and short’, I said ‘I don’t have anything like that’, and he said ‘Don’t you have anything that clings to you?’, I said ‘I’ve got a leotard’, he said ‘Wear that’! It was the only thing I had. So I wore that for the press release, and John very kindly handed me this bag as I went to get changed, it was cotton wool. He’d brought me a load of cotton wool to pad my bra out because he thought there was nothing there. Which was rather funny when I put the leotard on, gave him a surprise.

CB: I was asked what I’d like to wear, and I said I’d like something black, a bit austere, ruffled sleeves, long black coat, black trousers. They said ‘That’s the Master, really’. So then John said ‘I think it should be really tasteless’, and he kept coming up with these designs and it’s quite trick for a designe, because you want to do things that are tasteful. Poor Pat Godfrey kept coming up with design after design, and in the end this collection of clashing materials came together and that was chosen. I never cared for it very much, but I was on the inside looking out, I didn’t have to look at it, you did.

Louise Jameson (2006)

August 18, 2009

This is the ‘Doctor Who’ part from a great and quite lengty interview with Louise Jameson, in which she discusses her feelings about Leela, about acting in general, about the various writers who she feels were best at writing for Leela, and about the time John Nathan-Turner asked her to return to the show for a season.

Q: What were your preparations for Leela? I know you had a story that you watched your dog, or something?

A: Although Leela was uneducated, I didn’t want to make her stupid so I looked around for creatures that were uneducated but intelligent. One was my dog, who’s sadly no longer with us, and one was the little girl who lived upstairs, Sally, highly intelligent but of course hadn’t gone through any education, so there were my role models. I only used little things, like a twist of the head when I heard something, holding the breath, animal instinctive qualities. I also wanted her to not have an accent but to have slightly careful speech, and I took out all the apostrophes so instead of wasn’t, was not, instead of couldn’t, could not, just slightly studied, slightly archaic.

Q: And I know people say Tom Baker was difficult to work with, and he didn’t like Leela at first, but you’ve said you admired his professionalism and the fact that both Tom and you are are top of things, playing it totally straight.

A: It’s a very Stanislavsky approach I have to all my work, be it Shakespeare or Noel Coward or indeed ‘Doctor Who’, it’s something that… what would this character want out of this moment, what is my objective? It’s like life, you always want something. Like I want to talk to you, but there’s an obstacle, perhaps I’m not explaining myself very well so I try to do it very clearly. There’s a very direct desire in everything you do, and Leela’s desire was for knowledge, she was like a sponge, like a piece of blotting paper, she was thirty for knowledge, and I think one of the exciting things, when the writer had that in mind, like Bob Holmes was my favourite, when he had that knowledge that’s what Leela wanted, and that desire was fed into the adventure, that was terrific. When I was just written as ‘an assistant’, when the speeches become interchangeable…

Q: That’s something they often do in ‘Doctor Who’. The motivation for Leela really made sense, she was used to mystical concepts, things weren’t so mind-blowing for her.

A: That’s a lovely scene, where he tries to explain it, takes it away, it’s perspective. I wish there’d been more of that.

Q: Even the bit where you’re playing with the yo-yo is great too. How much of the character did you have input into?

A: Well it depended very much on the director. Because my knowledge of Leela was greater than anyone else’s, usually what I said went. But as an assistant you had to be pretty accommodating, it’s not like you were the driving force, making the decisions.

Q: On shows like ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’, people like Michael Dorn have said they had input and they’d be doing things they didn’t think the character would do and they’d not be listened to and they’d give up and let it go.

A: It was a pretty lengthy process if you wanted a line change. You told the director, who told the producer, who’d get the executive producer, who’d phone the writer, who’d phone back…

Q: It wasn’t just the director?

A: Not really. You kind of learned to play the system, so you might go in one day and say ‘I’ve just had a thought about this line’, sidestep the paraphernalia. If it was a request that you thought might be rejected, you just had to be careful who you asked.

Q: Or you might ask for ten different things, and the one thing you wanted the most…

A: I was very emphatic, I really didn’t want to scream.

Q: David Jansen, who starred in ‘The Fugitive’, said ask for everything you can think of, and you’ll get half.

A: Did he? I thought he was a wonderful actor.

Q: Writers from your era like Bob Holmes and Chris Boucher did the best for your character. She had witty comebacks and so on, like in ‘The Robots of Death’ kicking Uvanov. In their stories, there was more focus on the actual character of Leela, someone who just used straight head-on logic.

A: No manipulation, just who she was. I really liked that. I loved being her, and I loved Blanche in ‘Tenko’ and Rosa Di Marco in ‘Eastenders’ for the same reasons.

Q: How did you feel about the way she was written out?

A: It was a way of getting rid of a woman, have her fall in love. I had taken a very deliberate career decision to leave the series, I didn’t want to stay in it too long, and I’d been offered ‘The Merchant of Venice’ at Bristol Old Vic, which was a marvellous opportunity that I grabbed with both hands, with very little experience. I think in retrospect John Nathan-Turner asked me to go back in for a season and I said that I’d go back for maybe two or three stories but I didn’t want to do a whole season, and I think in retrospect that was a mistake.

Richard Briers (2009)

August 16, 2009

This is a collection of quotes from Richard Briers, taken as a trascript from his appearance at a ‘Doctor Who’ convention in 2009.

On ‘Torchwood’:

“I’ve only seen ‘Torchwood’ once and I didn’t realise what an incredibly successful show it was. I was at a party and someone said ‘Oh my son thinks the world of you’ and I said ‘Thank you very much’, thinking he meant ‘The Good Life’, you know, and he said ‘No, no, Torchwood’ and I thought ‘Blimey, I’ve done it again, I’m famous again’. That was very impressive, that ‘Torchwood’… but I find that at my age now, I’m seventy-five, in one year I had three parts, one was in intensive care, one where I was dying, and then one where I played a ghost, I was dead! So I thought ‘Someone’s trying to tell me something, I’m too bloody old’. All my parts are lying down and dying.”

On the rehearsals for ‘Paradise Towers’:


“(John Nathan-Turner) was looking at me in a funny old-fashioned way, we were rehearsing it, and I thought this guy I was playing wanted to rule the world and is completely mad. So that’s the way I was playing it. And he (JNT) was looking at me and looking at me, and I thought ‘He doesn’t seem to like me very much’. In the end the director, who’d had a chat with him, came to me and said ‘He’s very worried about you’, I said ‘I know, I got the vibes. What’s wrong?’, and he said ‘He thinks you’re over-playing it’. I said ‘Oh, I thought it was that kind of a part. I don’t see how you can underplay Adolf Hitler, if you want to rule the world you can’t be very subtle about it’. He said ‘No, he’s very worried about it’. But my sidekick said ‘Never mind what he says, you do it your way, it’s very funny’ and I said ‘Okay’ and in fact you know I think I nearly lost the job. I think he thought I was sending it up, but I was just simply over-acting.”

On Sylvester McCoy, David Tennant and the new series:

“He (McCoy) had just started, he was another new one. They were all middle-aged, and he was a younger one, wasn’t he? And then they got the child on board about two years ago (Tennant), and I thought ‘Well, I don’t know whether I like this guy’, I like my Dr. Who to be a mad professor, middle-aged or an old boy, or potty like Tom Baker. And here was this very pretty guy, I thought, but he’s so talented, he was brilliant. I mean it’s a different thing now, isn’t it? The special effects are so amazing, it’s very gripping. It’s brilliant. The production’s wonderful now.”

Sylvester McCoy & John Nathan-Turner (1987)

August 7, 2009

This is a transcript from a live PBS television interview with Sylvester McCoy and John Nathan-Turner.

Q: We are here tonight to tell people why it is that ‘Doctor Who’ is the great institution that it is, but most particularly on this special night to tell people how it is that you came to be Doctor number seven.

SM: Yes.

Q: How in particular did you come to be Doctor number seven?

SM: Oh yes, I’m sorry, I thought you were going to tell them. How did I become Doctor number seven? Well I heard on the news that Doctor number six was leaving and I asked my agent to get in touch with the BBC and just in case the lady who interviewed me this afternoon from NBC is here, that means the British Broadcasting Corporation. Because a lady interviewed me this afternoon from a television station here and she’d never heard of the BBC, so… I was floored. Anyway, I heard that they were looking for a new Dr. Who, my agent got in touch, I then went to several interviews and I did a screen test and they still asked me to do it.

Q: Now John Nathan-Turner, if we can swing over to you, what is it as a producer that you’re looking for in casting a new Dr. Who, and what was it about Sylvester’s qualities as an actor that caused you to make that decision?

JNT: Well I think each of the Doctors who’ve played the role to date, including Jon who’s sitting on your left, contributed a massive amount of their own personality to the part. I mean, we don’t know an awful lot about the central character of our show, and they have all fleshed out the role in their own inimitable way. So one’s looking for a kind of personality figure combined with a superb actor obviously, and I wanted to heighten the humour in the new seasons so I was looking for a kind of zany eccentric, and I think I found him.

Q: We were interested in particular in your interest in the part, you mentioned you put your agent onto the case when you found out that the role was open.

SM: I didn’t realise you were talking to me, I thought you were asking… Can you ask me that again?

Q: What was it about the part of Dr. Who that caused you to tell your agent this is a part you want to play?

SM: Well I’d been a great fan of ‘Doctor Who’ for years and like any great fan, you know, I’m sure they’d like to play a part and I wanted to. And also when I became an actor a lot of people said to me “You’d make a really good Dr. Who” so adding all that up I decided that’s why I’d like to be Dr. Who.

Q: Now you bring very particular stage experience and television experience to the part. Can you tell people what it is you’ve been doing in the past and you’ve enjoyed doing and you’ll hopefully continue doing in your role as the Doctor?

SM: Well yes I’ve done all sorts but like most British actors, I know in America the actors tend to become too specialised, but in Britain we tend to work a lot in television, and in the theatre and on film. I’ve done quite a lot of Shakespeare, especially the clown roles in Shakespeare, and I’ve done musicals, I’ve been in an opera, I’ve done quite a lot of television as well and a few films, and I think that’s good experience, as well as working in the box office of a theatre, I think that’s very good experience for being an actor.

Q: Now there’s a cute story about how you were discovered when you were working in the box office at the theatre, can you relate that?

SM: Yes, I was working in the Roundhouse theatre in London, collecting tickets, and there was an actor called Brian Murphy, who was in ‘George and Mildred’, ‘Man About the House’, I don’t know if you get that here, he was going through a sticky period in his career, and he was collecting the tickets I was selling and one day a director came in who was starting up a fringe group and he said he wanted someone really mad and Brian said “Well ask the guy in the box office, he’s completely out of his head”, and he came up and asked me, he said “Do you want to join this show?” and I said “Yes, but I’m not an actor”, he said “Well do you want to become an actor”, I said “Well okay” and I went off and joined it. It was quite an illustrious cast, because one of the other founder members was Bob Hoskins, who’s now up for an Oscar, and we worked together on that for about a year before he went off to do greater things. And now I’m here doing great things.

Eric Saward (1986)

August 6, 2009

This is probably one of the most notorious interviews in the history of ‘Doctor Who’. Former script editor lets  John Nathan Turner have it with both barrels in a scabarous encounter first published in issue 97 of ‘Starburst’.

Q: Let’s start with the most immediate thing – you’ve recently left Doctor Who.

A: Well…I was getting very fed up with the way Doctor Who was being run, largely by John Nathan-Turner – his attitude and his lack of insight into what makes a television series like Doctor Who work. This had been going on for a couple of years and after being cancelled and coming back almost in the same manner as we were before…the same sort of pantomime-ish aspects that I so despised about the show. I just think it isn’t worth it.

Q: So, what exactly was the effect of the cancellation?

A: We were rather stunned. We didn’t know what was going on. I don’t think anyone’s really got to the bottom of why it was cancelled. I don’t honestly think that. Michael Grade can correct me, we were simply taken off because they thought we were awful. If we were really that bad I can’t believe he would have kept the same team. Grade did criticise us, and when he talks about the production team he’s basically speaking about the Producer and the Script Editor who are the team that are always there. I don’t whether he was just referring to us.

Q: What was the first thing you knew about the cancellation?

A: John had been told on the Monday that we were being cancelled, and he told me and Anji-Smith, the Production Associate on the following day. He wanted us to know before it was made public, but as it transpired the whole department knew anyway.

Q: There were no reasons given?

A: Other than it was thought the show needed resting, re-thinking. We were told we were going back to 25 minutes, which was Michael Grade’s decision, and that more comedy was wanted. I must admit that I didn’t understand Grade’s not about comedy, last season we had three very comic stories (‘Vengeance on Varos’, ‘Two Doctors’, ‘Revelation of the Daleks”). It was a pity that two out of the three stories were poorly directed.

Q: There’s a certain something, a sparkle, missing from the direction.

A: Most of the directors on Who haven’t got the lightness of touch necessary. And if they’ve got it they don’t hang around Who for very long because of the budget restrictions, working atmosphere, quality of the scripts and so on. The show isn’t that enticing to a rising director.

Q: What do you mean by working atmosphere?

A: Well, the constant thing of having to do everything for tuppence. Interference does go on. John can become so unpleasant to someone he’s employed, such as his director. The likes of Graeme Harper will not come back to Doctor Who if they’ve got something else to do. People like Peter Grimwade, who I suppose is the only other director of any note who has come out of Who since John has been producer, says he wouldn’t work with John Nathan-Turner any more – and I don’t think Nathan-Turner would employ him.

Q: There was some row, wasn’t there?

A: It was a lunatic situation…Grimwade directed a script I had written called “Earthshock”. He made the story work well, so John decided he could direct ‘Resurrection of the Daleks’ (in my opinion the worst Doctor Who story ever written. (As an author I am entitled to say that!) Peter had been booked and then there was a strike. So the story was cancelled. Grimwade said “Fine, well obviously we can’t do anything about that. If I’ve not got anything to do I’m going to have lunch and go home”. So he took me, remember I was an author as well as the script editor on the show, and his Production Manager and one or two other members on the team. I think there were about six of us. We went to the Television Centre for lunch – I mean so exciting, it’s unbelievable – only to find when we got back that John Nathan-Turner had been shouting and screaming all over the building “How dare they all go off to lunch together,
and not invite me”.

Q: Oh, no!

A: It’s true! Yes he was furious and it was so silly. “How dare they? I am the one who does the hiring and firing around here – how dare he take…” He took exception to my going because he said “How dare he take my Script Editor to lunch, and not me”. He took that absolutely as an out and out insult, and that was a contributing factor to why Peter was never invited back.

Q: No!

A: Pathetic isn’t it? It’s mind-numbing. One of the two half decent directors he’s had on the show he will not use because of a silly, stupid incident like that. I think he’s a very paranoid individual. He probably feels that I’ve been slagging him off all over the place since left…which is not true. There were lots of silly events before I did leave. When I left, I was
writing the last episode. We had talked about this ending of the season and he had agreed, in principle, to what was wanted – a hard cliff-hanging thing. I was surprised he had agreed, knowing he does go for these pappy pantomime sort of endings. I went ahead and wrote the last episode as I had discussed it with Bob Holmes and as I had with John, but the episode went in and, and John said “Yes, that’s all fine, fine. What about the end? I don’t like the end, we can’t go out on that end”. He reneged on but he had agreed. He wanted the “walk-down”, happy pantomime ending. I couldn’t believe it. But that’s the man. He knows so much, he has the show cancelled and is openly criticised by the Controller of BBC 1 television.

Q: A lot of fans criticise John for his America fixation. How much do you think
that going off to conventions affected the time he had available?

A: When he goes to these Conventions he has to get permission from the head of department to do so. I gather that usually goes through on the nod. At first, it didn’t encroach upon his work in that way. He started going to more and more of them. A lot of them would be at weekends. What did become apparent though, if he’d gone off for a weekend Convention to America, he would come into work on Monday straight from the ‘plane. It was as though he wanted to go to the Conventions, but wanted to show everyone that nothing was distracting him from his duties as producer, so he would do the lunatic thing of coming back Sunday/Monday morning, coming into the office, and just shutting the door and going to sleep. He is obsessed with the American fans. I gather that he sanctions who can go to America and who can’t. It’s very difficult obviously to control actors who are no longer working on the show, and obviously the fan Conventions want the leading actors and the companions. But you’ll find that writers were never invited. I mean someone like Robert Holmes who’s written God knows how many stories, has been involved in it since Patrick Troughton’s days, edited the show for three years, a man very experienced in writing for television who would have had a great deal to offer any audience who would bear to listen. Men like him were never invited. Only two directors ever went that I was aware of.

Q: When John originally started he said he was only going to do it for a short
time anyway. He would only do it for three years or so.

A: I think the main draw for him apart from the fact that he has got his fingers in so many pies is the income from the Conventions in America, which I think is quite a lot of money. I think that is something he is reluctant to give up.

Q: It has also been said that he doesn’t like any of the fans working for the
BBC.
A: Well, he’s obsessed about keeping everything secret. But the one thing that again aggravates when someone takes a 2.5-3 hour lunch break every day is that you know that you’re not going to be able to speak to him between that time. There’s no two ways about it. He will come back if something has come up, but it’s a ritual. He trots out at 12:30 and comes back after closing time…

Q: I believe there have been times when you’ve urgently wanted to speak to him
and he’s been on the ‘phone?

A: Oh, yes…that got rather silly and unpleasant. He went through a phase a couple of years ago of spending a lot of time on the ‘phone I think to America, certainly to the various Convention organisers – most of them are in America – and we had the lunatic situation one day. I was standing outside the office, I needed to see him and two of his directors needed to see him, and he’d been there chatting on the ‘phone, as far as the Secretary was concerned,
for at least an hour. It just wasn’t once, it was often, and with people waiting to see him – waiting to make the g*dd*mn show he was supposed to be the producer of. It was anything that would come up – I mean he’d rather read a manuscript from W.H. Allen, or spend hours ‘piddling’ about with some crappy piece of merchandising from Enterprises than willingly become involved in talking about what we were doing. I can’t understand it.