Keith Barnfather (director)
Reeltime Pictured (studio)
330 min (length)
22 September 2021 (released)
22 September 2021
This long awaited 2-Disc DVD set complements the recent release of The Jon Pertwee Years and for all fans of the first Doctor William Hartnell this latest offering is simply a ‘Must’.
It might be worthwhile to point out that you really do need to be a die-hard Dr. WHO aficionado to fully appreciate what is on offer here; it really is a set for the specialist. Quite frankly what you will further discover about your favourite TV series beggars belief and this really does represent some considerable voyage of discovery. Once again we have the estimable Nicholas Briggs to thank for this amazing compilation. If you don't know who he is then read no further.
Disc 1 kicks off with a lengthy interview (nearly an hour) with Verity Lambert - the first Dr. Who producer (she was in her early 20's at that time). Lambeert explains that it was through the near infamous Canadian film producer Sydney Newman that she herself got her big break as a producer and what a break it was! It was Lambert who had the idea of casting William Hartnell as the first Doctor after seeing him in the then mega-popular sit-com 'The Army Game' and Lindsay Anderson's 'This Sporting Life'. She made a good initial choice with the veteran Hartnell (in his 55th year at the time but appearing older) although her superiors had wanted a younger man made up to look older but Lambert (wise beyond her years) held out for Hartnell. The Tardis (an old style police box) which was and still is totally synonymous with our time travelling hero was actually supposed to change its appearance to blend in with the environment of the stories – sadly the appalling lack of budget prevented this. She explains this was the first BBC show to get into the ratings - hitherto ATV had held total sway. Overall big boss Donald Wilson hated the dreaded Daleks. As Dennis Spooner later remarked had it not been for these mechanical menaces Dr. Who may not have survived this long. Lambert went on to to produce many brilliant shows explaining that she only ever produced shows she would want to see herself.
Next up is top TV and film director Waris Hussein. Surprisingly the very first Dr. Who episode 'An Unearthly Child' actually marked Waris's debut as a TV director; he was also the first Asian BBC director (like Lambert he was but a youngster in his early 20's - having come down from Cambridge and getting a job at the BBC just a couple of years before). Despite his reservations about directing 'men in fur skins' he had no need to worry as this was, in fact, the beginning of a legend. Not that the young Waris could have realised this back in '63. Waris explains that the BBC really didn't believe that this series would take off and he was given Studio D (the old Gainsborough Pictures Studio) together with positively antediluvian technical equipment. The budget was £2000 per episode. The last third of the interview is mainly about Waris's later career - he made a bold leap in getting out of his BBC contract and in his case it paid off.
Last interview on Disc 1 is with an animated Donald Tosh. He was the script editor for second Dr. Who producer John Wiles for nine month in '65 and Tosh has a lot to tell us about his tenure. He is in fact the only interviewee who talks at any length about William Hartnell. From what most of the other interviewee's say the impression we get of Hartnell is not overly favourable. Tosh puts this much more into perspective and attributes Hartnell’s behaviour down to an unfortunate fall on set. Tosh resigned after a mega fallout over his re-writing of Brian Hayles 'Celestial Toymaker' - this was in turn re-written again by Gerry Davis with whom Tosh clearly did not see eye to eye. We could do with more interviews like this as it isn't the usual shallow ‘lovey lovey’ stuff.
Disc 2 starts with the 1986 Panopticon including guests John Wiles, Dennis Spooner and Paul Erickson. It is introduced by Nicholas Briggs who informs us that he had attended the event. Briggs himself is an actor much involved with debatably the best TV series ever (he is also one of the leading Dr Who experts in the country). Wiles, as mentioned earlier, was Verity Lambert's successor. He wasn't on board for long and after watching this you will find out why. One gets the idea that Wiles may have been a pretty hard taskmaster. He really wanted to get rid of Hartnell who, from what we hear, was no longer up to the job. In this he was overruled by then head honcho Gerald Savory. Wiles also has some interesting remarks regarding the cataclysmic Sydney Newman who DID believe in the show's worth. Dennis Spooner (who died of a heart attack a couple of weeks after this Panopticon) was one of the most prolific TV scriptwriters of the 1960's and wrote for all of the top shows as well as creating 'The Champions' and 'Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased)’. The never less than entertaining Spooner monopolises here and there are no complaints as he has a great deal to tell. Describing TV as a frivolous medium he points out that Shakespeare and Dickens would have been writing TV serials (which makes sense). Dennis's main contribution was the mega 12-part 'Daleks Master Plan' written in collaboration (actually a tandem experiment) with Dalek creator Terry Nation. A great pity that so few of these epic episodes still exist. Cardiff-born screenwriter Paul Erickson's solo contribution was the highly regarded 'The Ark' written in collaboration with his then wife Lesley Scott set 10 million years in the far future which he later adapted as a novel. Next up is Tristram Cary who was a composer who deserves to be better known, mainly specialising in electronic music. Last up is 'Flight Through Eternity' Vol 1. This is a series of relatively brief backstage interviews taken at a 2008 Convention with actors Edward De Souza (‘Mission to the Unknown’) who is really quite funny, Lynn Ashley and Susannah Carroll – both were Drahvin warriors in 'Galaxy 4'. Then we have Fiona Walker (‘The Keys of Marinus’) who has some good advice for would-be actors and had little to do with 'The Doctor' and John Cater (‘The War Machines’) - the latter mentions he was yet another one to whom Mr. Hartnell didn't warm. There isn't space enough here to write more - but which actor doesn't have a wealth of anecdotes? This, like The Jon Pertwee Years, is quite an indispensible addition to your Dr. WHO collection.