3 October 2016

The Making of a TV Series book 1983

In many ways this is the continuation of the two versions of `The Making of Doctor Who` which had appeared in 1972 and again re-edited with additions in 1976. Published by Puffin and credited to Alan Road with photographs by Richard Farley, the book has the dimensions of a magazine and in 1983 sold for the princely sum of £1.95. While undoubtedly a more detailed analysis of the component parts that go into making a Doctor Who story its value is also that it is now a historical account of what television production was like in another time. Generously illustrated with official and behind the scenes photos- some in colour- it is a visual treat. Just like the previous Making of books it uses one story as an example so following `The Sea Devils` and `Robot`, under the microscope here is `The Visitation`. 

An early double page photo of the studio lights over the TARDIS set serves notice that this is to be an altogether more fact based account though. There are no fanciful Time Lord Files here. While this approach can occasionally make the book seem a tad dry, this is more than made up for by the way it illuminates the different production stages. Peter Davison provides an introduction where he declares “practically everyone involved knows more about what is going on than the actor.” 

The book starts as you might expect with a potted history of the show. The entire twenty years is compressed into two pages which tell you all you need to know – or in the case of most people who brought this probably what they already knew. The descriptions of the Doctors in these kind of books are always interesting. Here William Hartnell was “a rather crusty old gentlemen” while Patrick Troughton was “an ageing Beatle, if a little more whimsical”.  Jon Pertwee “brought a touch of elegance” while Tom Baker “looked like a fugitive from The Marx Brothers”.
After this we have a biog of the Producer John Nathan Turner complete with his office board of the progress of each story in production.  He outlines some of the do's and dont's for the show notably when it comes to violence, “The moment the Doctor stepped on that man’s chest I felt uneasy,” he says though presumably not as uneasy as the man himself!  As well as his overview of everything, JNT is also described as “the high priest of the Doctor Who legend” when it comes to the series’ established continuity. Next up is the Star, Peter Davison who seems to have been somewhat surprised ever to have been asked to play the Doctor though interestingly suggests his tenure will be lengthy; “You have to do it for a fair length of time to get the best out of it.”
Then we meet the director of `The Visitation`, Peter Moffat who opens with the oft repeated declaration, “I am a camera.” This is to describe his style of directing where during rehearsals he always stands where the camera will be (which actually sounds quite a hectic routine to keep up). Indeed unlike some directors he says he does the camera script before the first readthrough with the actors. He even mentions that in All Creatures Great and Small he used to sketch the position of cows on drawings of the sets! Mmm, perhaps he is a camera after all! Moffat talks about how the director’s original vision will often be watered down. Having started out as an actor himself he feels he has an empathy with performers, however that doesn’t seem to stop him remaining in the gallery during filming, whereas by the 1980s most directors would be on the studio floor. The article includes some interesting stats from this story- for example 25 spools of videotape each running for 90 minutes was what he has to fashion the final story from. Oh and he doesn’t much care for incidental music, so he was out of luck with that one!
Along with a couple of photos of the actual scripts, we then meet The Script Writer, former schoolteacher Eric Saward who apparently had the idea for the story when his girlfriend mentioned how the black rat became extinct in England after the great Fire of London. An odd thing to mention over a nice meal you’d think! Anyway this is what kickstarted `The Visitation` after he’d already been approached to write for the show.  We also meet the Companions which includes a not very subtle hint that Adric may soon be leaving. The Designer is Ken Starkey who had just one day’s shooting in Ealing Film Studios to stage the Great Fire of London until he mentioned to the director that might be impossible. He estimates the sets for `The Visitation` cost £37,000.
The next part of the book takes us on location with cast and crew to somewhere near Heathrow Airport. The account of the day is accompanied by a variety of photos of the process. This section goes into considerable detail about different aspects of the work and is packed with odd facts such as the one that according to union rules the BBC has to provide the crew with a proper meal every five hours. I don’t think I’ve seen such casual snaps of the original series’ production released officially including Michael Robbins in period garb smoking a cigarette, crew members sitting on the kerb having lunch and the actors chatting as they prepare to shoot. A section on Monsters introduces the Terileptils whom Eric Saward named as a near anagram of reptile. His original description of them was “about seven feet tall.. with a life expectancy of 350 years”. In the middle of this feature is an alarmingly loudly illustrated `Monster Menagerie` photo collection of enemies.
The book continues through Make Up and Special Effects (including some great shots of the Android’s destruction) before we go to Rehearsals. Again there’s some interesting photos of the cast out of costume and an account of a rehearsal in Room 201 of the North Acton block. The suspension of disbelief is required for the actors as the room consists of white tape stuck to the floor to represent sets and some of the spaceship depicted by cardboard boxes. Recording takes us through the process in Studio 3 which measures 100 feet long by 75 feet wide while over 200 lights hang from the ceiling. The descriptions of the recording are again quite detailed and a lot is packed in before the mandatory 10pm finish.  
We subsequently meet Costume designers (two thirds of the budgets went on the 3 Terileptils and the android), Production associate, Production manager, Production Assistant and finally Fans. “It could take over,” says Doctor Who Appreciation Society co-ordinator David Saunders. I think he means running the DWAS. This book is 60 pages of very well composed material that fans then and now can cherish as a detailed look at the production of the show. 

1 comment:

  1. Nice write-up. Just to note, though, the book was first published in hardback by Andre Deutsch in 1982 (£4.95).