23 March 2016

The Making of Doctor Who 1972

A look back at one of the best ever Doctor Who non fiction books.


For the first eight years of Doctor Who there was precious little in the way of behind the scenes information beyond whatever appeared in Radio Times. Then in 1972 a book appeared that changed all that and really started the momentum of the series moving from popular to iconic. The Making of Doctor Who was published by the Piccolo range of Pan Books, penned by Malcolm Hulke and Terrance Dicks and sold at the princely price of 25p! The cover features a rather odd photo from `The Sea Devils` of the moment where the Doctor is a prisoner of the titular creatures. Hardly the heroic posed stance you might expect it has the Doctor looking rather worried and sharing the cover with a Sea Devil rather than Jo Grant. Nonetheless the red on Jon Pertwee’s cape matches that of the series logo above it and the end result is a charismatic photo that was also rare at the time.
Considering the joint author’s pedigree on the series the text at the start of this book is somewhat less loquacious than you might imagine. Obviously written with a younger reader in mind it nonetheless sometimes resembles something translated from another language. The content may seem basic to the modern eye yet bear in mind that in 1972 nobody outside of a few primitive fanzines had undertaken any archiving of the series nor detailed the production process. In 2016 even Mrs Putey in the corner ship is aware of arc stories, CGI and the like but in the Seventies people just watched telly, enjoyed it, chatted about it and that’s all. A book which offered a window into the way the programme is made was a rare treat and a half. If the prose early on is sometimes awkward, the authors go on to achieve a nimble mixture of fact and fiction presenting some of the history of the series in the form of supposed found documents produced by the Time Lords or UNIT.
It kicks off with a potted history of the show’s genesis, something very few people would know much about. Hulke and Dicks open by placing the show’s popularity at the centre of things- they talk of an American airline which lists shows to watch out for on British television and how Doctor Who is top of the list (was this even true I wonder?). They tell the story Jon Pertwee himself would often relate of how when he was on holiday in Morocco he was pulled over by a policeman who simply knew “It is the Doctor Who is it not?”. They also mention the series audience and how it far exceeds the children for whom the show is ostensibly produced. 

Then they run through a simplified version of Sydney Newman’s grand vision and how it was put together though unsurprisingly there are no references to “piss and vinegar”! We do get “crochety old man” though. While this account is necessarily truncated and simplified it doesn’t contradict the more detailed work later researchers would come up with and frankly is easier to read than pages and pages of who did what on 15 May or whenever.  This feels like the work of Terrance Dicks, a master at simplification and clarity. You have to remember too that all of this was new to most fans- indeed many fanzines would later quote from this book generously when offering their own history of the show. 
The next chapter deals with monsters though still at a time when Terry Nation’s wheeze about getting the name from an encylopedia was thought to be true. The text though does include a sentence that kind of explains everything about the metal meanies: “They hate every living thing which still has its own body.” This is quite a chilling conclusion especially as the piece makes their somewhat tragic origins clear. The following chapter `Who is Doctor Who?` explains the character by way of an overview of his adventures. Taken as a narrative without recourse to seasons or `real life` information this is a really well written snapshot of how the series seemed back then. It really gets under the skin of the first Doctor in particular declaring of the many victims he came across; “he might help them and be good to them but he didn’t really like them.” It describes regeneration as being like a snake shedding it’s skin. For anyone in 1972 coming new to the show it’s a perfectly written `Previously…` note.

There are biographies of the then current cast as well as the William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton. These are followed by a section entitled `The Trial of Doctor Who`. Using what are supposed to be secret files of the Time Lords, these are a clever way of delving a little deeper into the actual details of the adventures. As well as the charges of intervention the Doctor faced at the end of `The War Games` the main part of the section runs through his travels including every story up to that point. However it is written as a continuous account and was probably the only reference source for younger fans of the Sixties period at least until the Radio Times Special the following year. Interestingly the book chooses to reveal the Doctor’s real name as being that of a mathematical equation. This is something that was never mentioned in the show which has gone out of its way across all eras to avoid the answer to the question. Hopefully we will never know. The equation itself is a bit of a silly idea that looks OK on paper but try including it in a dialogue scene in the show itself and it wouldn’t work.

There is a great photo section in the centre of the book which was probably one of the main attractions in 1972. Even now some of these photos are not used that often; back then they were gold dust. William Hartnell’s Doctor portrait in particular captures all of the aspects and strangeness of his character. There’s a photo of two Sensorites which at the time I thought looked amazing and which were the source for my first ever creative thing involving the series. I drew a picture of them and sent it to the Doctor Who Fan Club who printed it in one of their newsletters. It was also the last time I drew a picture of anything because quite clearly I cannot draw (if you really want to see it- believe me you don’t- go to the Whoodles tab above).
The book's Patrick Troughton photo is a weird one too; he seems to be wandering about reading his 500 Year Old Diary wearing a top hat. Is this a publicity shot? The photo section even included a couple of behind the scenes snaps- one from `The Invasion` of a couple of Cybermen actors about to clamber into their suits and looking rather bewildered. The other was from `The Sea Devils` depicting cast members and crew including Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning on a boat on the way to filming. Perfectly printed on glossy paper these photos really were a treasure trove. 


Next up is a listing of all broadcast stories to that point that completely avoids the title controversy by not giving titles at all yet it does tell us the production codes. I love the note about each villain in this which has "an insane warmonger" next to CCC better known to us as `The Ambassadors of Death`. There is also a helpful space at the foot of the page for us to fill in at least another seasons worth.
The second half of the book moves from the fictional facts to real life ones and takes us inside the production process. Having the writer of the story used as an example- `The Sea Devils`- as the book’s co-author is a clear advantage. The text takes us through the whole procedure from what a television studio is like, who works there and what they do through the diary of a production. The sub headings give you a flavour of the journey - `It all starts with the script`, `The director takes over`, `Endless Meetings`.

At the time this was probably most fans’ first ever insight into the behind the scenes process and there are some interesting little facts that turn up for example the original script included a helicopter but this would be a problem for the Navy. There were cuts made to the amount of location footage which is incredible when you think how much was left in. Filming which took place in October 1971 visited the Fraser Gunnery Range outside Portsmouth, the ship HMS Reclaim, Lorris Castle near Cowes, a yacht club and Whitecliff Bay on the Isle of Wight. There were two weeks of rehearsal for the studio scenes and they shot two episodes at a time. This interesting chapter ends by summing up the span of time for a story. By the time `The Sea Devils` was shown it was a year since the idea had been thought of. There then follow a series of copies of scripts and call sheets for scenes in the story, again something people would never have seen before.

The next chapter looks at the special effects (`Bang!` is one sub heading) though this does soon morph into a cheeky plug for Bernard Wilkie’s book available for £3.50. How could we afford that in `72?! In the Seventies there was always an attempt to push some real science at Doctor Who fans; witness those serious features that would pop in the Annuals. The book concludes with a couple of these; one chapter tries to answer whether time travel could be possible, could something be bigger on the inside than the outside and whether there is life on other planets. As you may have guessed none of these questions are answered definitively! As if all this heavy stuff at the end were not enough the last piece brings in a Chaplain to try and give a religious angle on the series. I bet nobody read this then and I’m not going to read it now!

The Making of Doctor Who was and is fantastic and really set the bar high when it comes to reference and behind the scenes works about the show. Of course there have been more detailed and glossier works covering the same ground but in a way all you need to know as a primer for the first eight years of Doctor Who is in this very book. And it only costs 25p. Well, actually it costs a lot more today but there are a surprising number of copies available online. So if you’ve never seen it or like me lost it down the back of a cup of coffee, it is well worth buying. 




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