Top 10 Doctor Who producers: Part Two
Our countdown of the best ten Doctor Who producers concludes: but who will take the top spot?
We counted down from ten to six yesterday. But who will be our choice of the finest Doctor Who producer of all time? Let the final countdown begin…
5. Innes Lloyd 1966-67
(The Celestial Toymaker – The Enemy Of The World (except Tomb Of The Cybermen))
Innes Lloyd was responsible for casting Patrick Troughton and taking the show forward after its first major change: the Hartnell/Troughton regeneration. Lloyd devised the idea with his Story Editor Gerry Davis.
It was Lloyd’s decision that Troughton should play the Doctor as an entirely new character rather than a watered-down version of the original. A crusty Sea Captain and even blacking up were suggested before (in consultation with creator Sydney Newman) the ‘Cosmic Hobo’ idea was born. Controversially, Lloyd decided to rest the Daleks after the 1967 classic Evil Of The Daleks.
Lloyd moved the show more in the direction of Lew Grade’s ITC with stories like The Faceless Ones. Perhaps his biggest disappointment was his inability to persuade Pauline Collins to continue as (potential companion) Samantha Briggs. Collins’ scenes in The Faceless Ones with Frazer Hines, where the decidedly ballsy, streetwise Samantha teases the unsophisticated, somewhat subservient, Jamie for his devotion to the Doctor are a real joy to watch and only hint at what might have been.
At the start of Season Five, Lloyd took a sabbatical to allow Peter Bryant to produce Tomb Of The Cybermen. He then completed three more stories before handing over the show to Bryant permanently.
Innes Lloyd went on to produce some of the BBC’s most prestigous dramas in the 1970s and 1980s including the Alan Bennett plays An Englishman Abroad, The Insurance Man and A Question Of Attribution. He produced Stephen Frears’ England My England and Michael Palin’s nostalgic Fifties holiday memoir East of Ipswich.
Innes Lloyd died aged 65, after a long illness, in 1991.
Greatest Achievement: The Tenth Planet
Don’t Mention: The Underwater Menace
4. Barry Letts 1969-74 (Doctor Who and the Silurians – Robot)
Barry Letts, who died in October aged 84, was responsible for overseeing Doctor Who‘s successful early colour seasons. Saddled with an Earth setting, an inactive TARDIS and UNIT, Barry Letts and Script Editor Terrance Dicks built a very successful show from a seemingly difficult premise.
Dicks, keen to prove Malcolm Hulke’s “limited storyline theory” wrong, devised the idea of the Silurians, a creature already inhabiting the Earth for whom man is the threat. Malcolm Hulke scripted a fine story, which to overcome its seven part structure featured a clever sub-plot about a deadly virus. Suddenly in the light of recent pandemics, The Silurians seems as relevant as ever. Inferno, meanwhile, pushed the boundaries with a trip to a parallel dimension.
The seventh season, essentially devised by Derrick Sherwin, is atypical of the Pertwee era. Letts and Dicks set about revamping the show to their template.
They introduced Jo Grant as the new assistant. Roger Delgado was cast as The Master, an evil Time Lord, almost the equal of the Doctor. Robert Holmes scripted Terror Of The Autons, which was genuinely scary for young children.
Doctor Who was now very firmly geared to a family audience with nearly 60% of viewers being adults. Letts received complaints from the Police about making policeman “unfriendly” and from worried mothers whose children refused to take plastic toys to bed, in case they came to life and attacked them.
Letts decided to give the show some variety and allowed the Doctor a trip in the TARDIS on a mission for the Time Lords (Colony In Space). The ninth season saw the return of the Daleks and the first appearance of the Sea Devils, but the most effective story was The Curse of Peladon, which saw the return of the Ice Warriors and introduced an array of alien delegates. Most notable was the hermaphrodite hexapod Alpha Centauri.
Season Ten was celebrated in style with The Three Doctors, an original idea revived every so often, usually with an anniversary pending.
Barry Letts was also a writer and director. He’d directed the Troughton tale The Enemy of The World. He wrote and directed The Daemons, which was Jon Pertwee’s favourite story.
In the tenth season he directed Robert Holmes’ Carnival Of Monsters, a show which became one of Letts’ favourites. The Green Death brought Letts’ Buddhist viewpoint to the fore and saw the departure of Katy Manning as Jo Grant in a scene heavy with emotion rarely seen in the classic series.
In 1973, whilst filming in Turkey, Roger Delgado was killed in a car crash. His death had a profound effect on Pertwee, Letts and Dicks. They decided they would leave the show at the end of the eleventh season.
As a parting shot, Letts cast a completely new TARDIS team. Elisabeth Sladen who became journalist Sarah Jane Smith was a recommendation from Z-Cars producer Ron Craddock, who highly rated the young actress having already cast her in two very different roles. Letts found casting a new Doctor more difficult, however, until a tip-off from his boss Bill Slater. An unemployed actor, then working on a building site, called Tom Baker had written to Slater asking for work. In, arguably, one of the best decisions ever made on Doctor Who, Letts cast Tom Baker as the fourth Doctor.
Barry Letts bowed out with Baker’s debut story Robot. Letts and Dicks moved to the BBC’s classic serials. Letts directed The Android Invasion and returned to Who one final time in 1980 as Executive Producer.
In more recent years Barry Letts supported Russell T Davies at the launch of the new series and shared his memories in several DVD documentaries and commentary sessions.
Barry Letts’ contribution to Doctor Who was huge. Without his input the show could well have ended in 1970. Terrance Dicks, Letts’ Script Editor and great friend, acknowledged this in his preface to Letts autobiography, Who and Me: “…It’s no exaggeration to say his arrival saved my job, and probably the show as well” His knowledge and love of the series made him a great ambassador for Who.
His charm and thoughtful insights will be much missed.
Greatest Achievement: Terror Of The Autons
Don’t Mention: The Mutants
3. Verity Lambert 1963-65 (An Unearthly Child – The Time Meddler)
Verity Lambert was the first producer of Doctor Who and until the appointment of Julie Gardner, its only female boss. Her energy and enthusiasm to demonstrate both her suitability and indeed, her capability in such a trailblazing position led to many “creative disagreements” with her superiors.
Most notable was Doctor Who creator, Sydney Newman’s rebuke over the Daleks. Newman had stipulated Who should be scientific, historical and educational with no BEMs (Bug Eyed Monsters!) and so was livid when he saw the Daleks, to him the epitome of BEMs!… Lambert was convinced she would be sacked yet Newman relented when he saw the viewing figures, acknowledging that eight million viewers couldn’t exactly harm the fortunes of the show…
Lambert cast William Hartnell as an anti-establishment, almost Victorian, Doctor. She’d seen him as the patrician “Dad” Johnson in Lindsay Anderson’s This Sporting Life. William Russell had been TV’s Sir Lancelot and came to the role of Ian after a supporting role on John Sturges’ famous wartime epic The Great Escape. Lambert cast her friend Jacqueline Hill as Barbara and after seeing a number of young actresses, (including Jackie Lane) eventually cast Carole Ann Ford as the Doctor’s granddaughter Susan.
Lambert produced some truly outstanding stories including An Unearthly Child, The Daleks, Marco Polo, The Aztecs, and The Reign Of Terror. After The Dalek Invasion Of Earth, Carole Ann Ford left and Maureen O’Brien was cast as Vicki. The Chase saw the departure of William Russell and Jacqueline Hill.
Having impressed cast and crew alike in a bit part in the same story, Peter Purves was recruited to play new companion Steven Taylor. Purves, later to find even bigger fame on Blue Peter, got on particularly well with William Hartnell. The Time Meddler, the last full story to be produced by Verity Lambert, saw the introduction of Peter Butterworth’s Meddling Monk (essentially a Time Lord in all but name) and the first time the Doctor met anyone else with a TARDIS.
Though credited to Lambert, the following story Galaxy 4 was virtually entirely the work of the new production team of John Wiles and Donald Tosh. Verity Lambert bowed out overseeing Mission to the Unknown, an unusual one-part prologue to the forthcoming 12-part The Dalek Masterplan.
Verity Lambert went on to launch and produce both The Newcomers and Adam Adamant for the BBC, before she moved to Thames TV, where she was responsible for The Naked Civil Servant. As Executive Producer of Euston Films, she oversaw the early years of Minder. She headed Thorn EMI in the 80s before founding her own production company: Cinema Verity. She worked with Alan Bleasdale on GBH and produced the much underrated Nigel Havers/Warren Clarke vehicle Sleepers.
In 1992 she produced the ill-fated, thrice-weekly soap Eldorado. From 1997-2006 she produced Jonathan Creek and was still working just weeks before her death on the comedy drama Love Soup. Verity Lambert died after a long illness aged 71 on November 22nd 2007. It was, poignantly, the day before the 44th anniversary of the programme she helped create and one that (recently resurrected) was going even stronger than ever…
Greatest Achievement: Marco Polo
Don’t Mention: The Sensorites
2. Russell T. Davies 2005-2010 (Rose – The End Of Time)
The idea that a modern generation of children would be able to connect with a 900 year old Time Lord from Gallifrey, who travels in time and space in an old Police phone box seemed unlikely. Until 7pm on Saturday, March 26th 2005, that is. Over 10 million people (many of them children, many just young at heart) were hooked on a reboot of one of BBC Television’s best loved shows… Doctor Who.
The modern era began 18 months before, when Controller of BBC1 Lorraine Heggessy, then best known perhaps for the “Richard Bacon took drugs” Blue Peter apology, announced on Radio 5 Live that Russell T. Davies was preparing a new series of Doctor Who to be transmitted in 2005.
Russell T. Davies was a lifelong Who fanboy who wrote scripts for Chucklevision and Why Don’t You? back in the 80s. By the 90s he was well known within Who fan circles and by the millennium, Queer as Folk, The Second Coming and Bob and Rose had cemented his standing as the writer with whom most actors wished to work.
Arguably, Davies had a lot of luck. The BBC, keen the venture should succeed, threw plenty of money at it. RTD’s vision for the show, perhaps more than any other producer, seemed to fall into place very much as (one presumes) he wanted. No strikes, dodgy CSO or major production headaches (the bus damaged in transit for Planet Of The Dead aside).
RTD’s biggest success as showrunner was undoubtedly two masterstrokes of casting. Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant, both brilliant actors, were both instantly the Doctor and both have raised the bar for the Doctors to be. They were ably supported by some great companions.
Former pop star Billie Piper was a revelation as Rose Tyler, aided and abetted by Camille Coduri as her dumb but lovable mum Jackie. Freema Aygeman grew in stature as Martha Jones, especially in Human Nature and Last Of The Time Lords. I was never a huge fan of Catherine Tate but she played Donna with such chutzpah you couldn’t help but feel sorry for the character’s ultimate fate. One can forgive the knowing “stunt casting” of Kylie Minogue in Voyage Of the Damned as the Christmas special drew an incredible 13.3 million viewers, the highest rated story of the RTD era and indeed of any era since 1979.
Series four (as it became known), to be honest, was a bit of a disappointment. Catherine Tate has a good range as an actress yet she made Donna a 40 year old version of her comic character Lauren at times. Also, she broke down in just about every episode. Emotional Who is fine… but every episode?
The Fires Of Pompeii, Silence In The Library and Midnight aside, little about the final full season really captured my imagination. RTD’s handling of finales had become notoriously uneven. All too often RTD scripts would cover a paucity of plot by cranking up emotional sentimentality.
The return of Davros was predictable, the multi-companion episodes enjoyable but just a bit too contrived. Witness the (almost comical) opening titles racing by whilst groaning with guest names.
After two decidedly lacklustre specials, The Waters Of Mars saw a return to dark, scary Who. Don’t get me wrong. I love the lightness of touch that counterbalances the scares but I’d sooner have a couple of Waters Of Mars type episodes than the likes of The Unicorn and The Wasp or The Shakespeare Code. Both of which suffered from far too many “too clever-by-half” references.
These ultimately became so distracting they undermined two potentially very good stories. Gareth Roberts has written some fine Who novels in his time, many display his great affection for the English historical but TV-wise his talents seem far better suited to the Sarah Jane Adventures.
Russell T. Davies would be the first to acknowledge his successful stewardship of the show couldn’t have been possible without the invaluable contributions of Julie Gardner, Phil Collinson, Susie Liggat and Tracie Simpson.
RTD has encouraged a whole new breed of writer in the last few years. Mark Gatiss, Paul Cornell, Robert Shearman and Steven Moffat are perhaps the most suited to the modern show. Russell T Davies oversaw some great stories: Blink, Water Of Mars, The Empty Child/ The Doctor Dances, Human Nature/Family Of Blood, Rose, Utopia, The Unquiet Dead, Gridlock… Just to have regular Doctor Who on TV is a real joy. When the Christopher Eccleston series out-rated Celebrity Wrestling by eight to one, it was clear something had gone (very) right!
Perhaps the best accolade to the Russell T Davies era is the fact on New Years Day, David Tennant’s regeneration into Matt Smith was watched by over two million more people than Coronation Street in the same slot. How unthinkable was that back in 1989?!…
Greatest Achievement: Blink
Don’t Mention: Fear Her, the Slitheen and Peter Kay’s Absorboloff.
(unless you are 9 years old. of course!)
1. Philip Hinchcliffe 1974-77 (The Ark In Space – The Talons Of Weng Chiang)
This era of Doctor Who remains a golden age with, in my opinion, the most consistent run of excellent stories: The Ark In Space, Genesis Of The Daleks, Terror Of The Zygons, The Pyramids Of Mars, The Brain Of Morbius, The Seeds Of Doom, The Masque Of Mandragora, The Hand Of Fear, The Deadly Assassin, The Robots Of Death, The Talons Of Weng Chiang...
What’s not to like? A wonderfully eccentric Doctor at the peak of his powers. disarming villains and monsters with a witty phrase, a toothy grin and a bag of jelly babies. Baker and Sladen, the best TARDIS team, only recently challenged by Tennant and Piper. Quite simply three seasons of the show as fondly thought of today as when they were first broadcast.
Perhaps more by luck than design, Robert Holmes, who wasn’t a big fan of returning monsters, got the Daleks, Sontarans and Cybermen out of the way in Hinchcliffe’s first season. Hinchcliffe and Holmes then moulded the series into their own vision. Okay so they plundered some literary and sci-fi classics along the way but importantly they made them their own.
Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes were keen to move the show away from the Earth-based UNIT family stories of the Barry Letts era. Both had a love for the macabre and shaped a series more in common with Hammer horror films. Holmes famously told a reporter that he liked nothing better than “scaring the little buggers to death”.
Often Holmes would perform what Hinchcliffe calls “page one re-writes” on many stories, most notably on Pyramids of Mars and The Brain of Morbius. Terrance Dicks was so upset with Holmes’ changes to the latter, he asked for his writer credit to be removed. Asked what he wanted to replace it, Dicks suggested “some bland pseudonym”. Dicks was the first to appreciate Holmes’ witty sense of humour when the episode was billed in Radio Times credited to Robin Bland!
Philip Hinchcliffe left Doctor Who in 1977. The show was even more successful than the one he’d inherited. Often the (perceived) violence and gothic storytelling would prove too much for moral guardian Mary Whitehouse. Her complaints, in turn, adding yet more viewers to the already healthy figures.
It has to be stated that the show was a part of a very successful Saturday night line-up devised by then BBC1 controller Paul Fox, which locked the audience early with Basil Brush then after Doctor Who continued to entertain with Bruce Forsyth and The Generation Game, The Two Ronnies and later Match of the Day and Parkinson. These days viewers seem to actively seek out Doctor Who then go away again afterwards.
Phillip Hinchcliffe swapped roles with his successor Graham Williams, thus becoming Producer of the hard hitting Police series Target. In the 80s he produced the fondly remembered Michael Elphick vehicle Private Schultz for the BBC and The Charmer, about a dashing 30s conman played by the ever-suave Nigel Havers, for ITV.
Philip Hinchcliffe has made several welcome contributions to the BBC Doctor Who DVD range. His knowledge and love of the show coupled with incisive and often candid remarks have enlivened many a DVD commentary.
Greatest Achievement: The Talons Of Weng Chiang
Don’t Mention: Revenge Of The Cybermen