Baker - Nathan-Turner - Bidmead era

Talk about Doctor Who when Tom played the Doctor (1974 - 1981).

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Baker - Nathan-Turner - Bidmead era

Postby John on November 17th, 2009, 4:19 am

1980 was a year of significant change for Doctor Who. The previous three years had been some of the most turbulent of the shows history, with ever shrinking budgets, razor sharp deadlines and the all too real threat of industrial action having forced the cancellation of the final story of season seventeen. In a bid to alleviate some of his workload, producer Graham Williams had suggested to Head of Serials Graeme McDonald that it would be beneficial to create a new Associate Producers position, and that his Production Unit Manager John Nathan-Turner would be a prime candidate for the job. Ultimately nothing became of his suggestion, and when in 1979 Williams announced that season seventeen was to be his last, he once again put forward Nathan-Turner’s name as his possible successor.

McDonald’s first choice for the producers position was ex Production Unit Manager George Gallaccio who had previously worked on the show under Philip Hinchcliffe, and had gone on to produce the BBC supernatural drama series The Omega Factor. Gallaccio declined McDonalds offer and the job went to Nathan-Turner.

Following a merger of the Series and Serials departments, and his promotion to overall head of department, McDonald found himself with precious little time to devote to individual programmes, and mindful of Nathan-Turners inexperience, brought in Barry Letts in the capacity of Executive Producer. Letts job would be to offer advice and support on scripts and to approve major production decisions, formalising an arrangement previously discharged by the head of department.

Around the same time Script Editor Douglas Adams, who had struggled with the pressures of his other work commitments had also elected to leave. A number of potential candidates were considered including Johnny Byrne, who would go on to write The Keeper of Traken, The Arc of Infinity and Warriors of the Deep, but the job ultimately went to Christopher H Bidmead. Bidmead had been critical of the direction taken by the show in recent years, and had taken some persuasion to join the production team, but he was much heartened when he discovered that Nathan-Turner and Letts shared his views, and agreed with his vision of a show with stories based in science.

Another of the production team’s decisions was to tone down the jokiness that had become prevalent over the past three seasons, and to reign in their leading mans ad-libbing. Under Graham Williams, Tom Baker had enjoyed a greater than normal level of input into the shows production, and would often change his lines and insert new ones if he felt the scene merited it. This policy would prove unpopular with Tom, and early on into the production of season eighteen, the actor finally decided to relinquish the role at the end of his current contract.

Major competition for John Nathan-Turner’s first season came in the shape of glitzy American sci-fi import Buck Rogers, which had been slotted directly opposite Doctor Who in ITV’s Saturday evening schedule, and is most likely the main cause of season eighteens poor viewing figures. Meglos in particular was watched by a mere 4.7 million viewers, the lowest figure since 1966.
Last edited by John on November 17th, 2009, 6:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Baker - Nathan-Turner - Bidmead era

Postby Toothy Grin on November 17th, 2009, 12:07 pm

I think the only reason season 18 did badly in the ratings was the fact that the time slot was moved to the ridiculously early 5.10pm (or thereabouts) and ITV had put up stiff competition in the form of the glitzy Buck Rogers with it's lycra-clad women and flashy effects. The ratings actually improved as the series went on, and the last 3 stories of the season did pretty well.
season 18 was quite a groundbreaking one, with the most amount of changes since season 7, and for once the series doesn't look cheap or feel silly. I do think one or two of the changes were a bit misguided, such as Tom's remodified costume and the curtailing of most of the humour, but it's one of the classiest seasons of Dr Who and has bags of atmosphere. Yes, Tom is very subdued and restrained, but this is mainly due to the new production team, Tom's dis-satisfaction with many of the new changes and also the fact that he was quite ill for most of that season (and he looks it too). But the subdued 4th Doctor of this season works as it adds an extra dimension to the character and the wise-cracking, over-the-top Tom of season 17 wouldn't have fitted in the downbeat season 18.
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Re: Baker - Nathan-Turner - Bidmead era

Postby John on November 19th, 2009, 7:00 am

Season eighteen is a funny mixture of stories. Meglos is a Williams/Adams story if ever I saw one, while State of Decay is practically a throwback to the Hinchcliffe/Holmes horror genre.

I'm not sure what to make of The Leisure Hive. I kind of like it even though I probably shouldn't, it's not a remarkable story by any stretch of the imagination, perhaps it would have worked better in the previous season with a bit of humour injected into it.

Full Circle isn't bad, it's an interesting idea, but I found the characters a little boring and there weren't really any memorable performances.

Warriors Gate is my favorite of the season. It's unlike anything in the shows history and has some stunning visuals and a very eerie ambience.

The Keeper of Traken again was rather boring with no really strong performances. It was a good looking production though.

Another gripe I have with season eighteen is the incidental music. I was very fond of Dudley Simpson's work, and I just couldn't get on with the radiophonic workshops sickly sweet melodies.

And to prove that I'm not totally adversed to change, I loved Sid Sutton's updated title sequence and Peter Howell's new 'stinging' theme music.
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Re: Baker - Nathan-Turner - Bidmead era

Postby Captain Rum on November 19th, 2009, 5:57 pm

Personally I think the 1980-81 period of Doctor Who is very under-rated, yes there were one or two weaker stories but the last few stories to me were very strong and produced some of Tom's best acting. Considering all the in and outs that were going on in that timeframe I'm impressed with season 18.
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Re: Baker - Nathan-Turner - Bidmead era

Postby merlinsseer on November 22nd, 2009, 5:17 am

Poor Nathan-Turner , turned down twice ? That must have stung just a bit.
Season 18, please keep in mind that I have not watched all of it yet , I jumped way ahead in my catching up phase to watch ' Logopolis '. and have watched other episodes here and there purely out of curiosity .....and lust of the coat.
In my humble opinion , the changes made to the show were the culprits behind the ratings drop. They were simply too much, too quickly and far too dramatic for the average long time viewer to digest with any level of comfort. Sort of a " shock to the system" .
. Most of us are creatures of habit, especially when it comes to our television programs and we all have different reasons for watching them. If we watch a program long enough we become attached to certain aspects of it and return time and again because we liked the comfortable feeling we got from the familiar.
Doctor Who has had many, many changes to the program over it's long history , but usually those changes were handled with great care and concern for the well being of the show and the idea in mind that the fans watching the show were a huge factor in its well being. If a big change was unavoidable, like the exit of a well loved companion or ( gasp ) the Doctor himself , certain things remained the same to help the fans through the transition .
Season 18 seemed determined to force needless changes and alienate as many faithful viewers as possible from the word go..
The new music and new opening titles smack of the need to jump on the sci-fi bandwagon craze that the late 70's and early 80's suffered from. Maybe I'm old fashioned but I liked the old titles and music much better than the new techno-pop , dance club, sounding theme. The new music lacks the depth and haunting under tones that made the old theme stick in your head. The new star Field background only makes me think that at any moment Captain Kirk and Darth Vader will jump out and tell me that space is the final frontier in a galaxy far, far away. The new logo is off balance and the only place that neon signs belong is in liquor store windows - NOT in the opening titles of Doctor Who. The lettering has Star Wars influence all over it. They could have tried to keep something from the old opening - even some of the coloring would have been nice .
Where this need to control Mr. Baker and how he played the Doctor came from , I won't even begin to guess at - but it was just plain S T U P I D., not to mention insulting and rude.
Mr. Baker had been the Doctor for 6 years, 6 VERY successful years and the growing fan base across the globe because of HIS Doctor merited more respect and an even broader influence in the creative aspects of the show. If anyone knew the fourth Doctor and what he would do or say in any given situation , it would be the man who give him life. I doubt very much that a cluster of wanna-be Niven / Pournelle script writers could even begin to come close to understanding or writing the character's lines. They were far too busy scratching out scientific techno babble to worry about being true to the character . As much as i do love the season 18 costume ( drool drool ) it is shocking to see our much loved jesting man-child so verbally and physically restrained. Mr. Baker must have felt like he was gagged, bound and strapped into a straight jacket that last season.
Buck Rogers was glitzy ? Cheesy is more like it. That show was nothing more than total fluff. A big , shiny pile of pooh with sprinkles on top. On this side of the pond, to admit that you watched and liked it was asking to be shunned by even the lowest ranked nerds. You just didn't do it. I cannot see this program having any lasting effect on the ratings. It only took about three episodes to realize how bad it truly was and the sight of Gil Gerard in shiny white Lycra was enough to make any self respecting woman's bowels curdle - in fact I feel mine doing that right now just from the memory. Somebody find me something sharp so I can poke my minds eye out.

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Re: Baker - Nathan-Turner - Bidmead era

Postby Tanlee on April 26th, 2010, 1:31 am

It was the beginning of the end for sure.
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Re: Baker - Nathan-Turner - Bidmead era

Postby Graham Sutton on May 1st, 2010, 10:57 pm

Sorry but I think that when Phillip Hinchcliffe left the series lost something. PH really understood the programme and the relationship it had with its audience (as had Verity Lambert, Innes Lloyd, Derek Sherwin and Barry Letts). Unhappily the producers who came after - Graham Williams and John Nathan Turner particularly - didn't, and tried to change the winning format which had the effect of destroying the programme. Even with Tom still there, most of what came along after 'Talons of Weng Chiang' was a let down (ok maybe not all but most). I remember being really disappointed by the appalling new opening titles (and disco beat version of the music) and thinking that those responsible hadn't learnt the old adage 'if it isn't broken don't try to fix it'. This is proved by the fact that the new series has reverted to the more traditional version of Ron Grainer's theme and opening titles reminiscent of those created by Bernard Lodge. In my humble opinion the great Tom Baker (who we all love as we all should as he is a national treasure) was best as the Doctor during the Phillip Hinchcliffe era.
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Re: Baker - Nathan-Turner - Bidmead era

Postby John on May 2nd, 2010, 8:03 pm

Graham Sutton wrote:Sorry but I think that when Phillip Hinchcliffe left the series lost something. PH really understood the programme and the relationship it had with its audience (as had Verity Lambert, Innes Lloyd, Derek Sherwin and Barry Letts). Unhappily the producers who came after - Graham Williams and John Nathan Turner particularly - didn't, and tried to change the winning format which had the effect of destroying the programme.

To be fair, the 'humourous' direction Doctor Who took from season Fifteen was imposed upon Graham Williams by Bill Slater in reaction to complaints in the media. If Williams had been given free reign, the three seasons he produced may well have taken a very different direction.
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Re: Baker - Nathan-Turner - Bidmead era

Postby Doctor John Smith on July 14th, 2010, 4:19 pm

This season is a grower - personally I was horrified at the changes when I saw them on original transmission - nearly 30 years ago now (gosh - that takes me back!!!!), but over the years it has to be said the stories aren't too shabby. So - my personal view as follows:-

The Leisure Hive

This had to pull the changes off and successfully otherwise JN-T would be down the chute. Fortunately it did, and still does. High Spot - "Arrest the Scarf!" Low Spot - the "Unfrocking" of Brock - not very coninvincing.


For all it's detractors, Meglos is a cracking little story. Tom does look very poorly in this one though, which may be why it's not to fondly remembered. Edward Underdown also looks moderately bemused by it all, and dear Jackie Hill's death scene was a little rushed. That saying though Tom is excellent, Freddy Treves and Bill Fraser sinisterly comic, and an evocative score by Paddy Kingsland and Peter Howell. High Spot "I AM MEGLOS!!!!" Low Spot - JH's death scene as discussed.

Full Circle

The return of the Boots! I'd love a pair of them!! And they complimented the costume so nicely. Amazed this was written by (at the time) teenager - a natty tale of procrastination and evolution - not easy bedfellows really. Do we think the starliner ever got any where, or did Inspector Wexford have second thoughts??!! High Spot "I usually get on well with Children" Low Spot - These Deciders aren't made of very much are they? Both Draith and Neefrid didn't take much seeing off did they?

State of Decay

Terrance Dicks - you gotta love this man - fitting as he did Tom's first story that he contributed here. This is surely TD's darkest story - very influenced by the Hammer Films. My third favourite story of this season, despite the return of the socks. Tom looks a little better here, although still not as well as in LH. Splendid execution of story and atmosphere. High Spot - The Doctor telling Ghost Stories to Romana - doesn't work transcribed! Low Spot - The Great Vampire's Realisation - could have been better.

Warriors Gate

Love or loathe it WG is ground breaking, thought provoking and utterly confusing in equal measures. I think I get it now, but I'm not going to make an **** of myself here with my theories - watch it yourself! High Spot - see the quote on my signature! And the Boots are Back!!! Low spot - some of the CSO didn't really work....

The Keeper Of Traken

Once more back in the Real Universe, the penultimate TB Who see Tom back in good health. It's remarkably effective for a studio based drama. My second favourite story of the season. High Spot - "A New Body...." Low Spot - How can a TARDIS walk?


Entropy - Decay - Thermodynamics - whatever you call it is predominant in TB's finale. With a foe worthy of him in hot persuit (Hmmmm - sounds familiar - does anyone think L influenced End of Time at all - the ingredients are all there - Universe under threat from renegade Time Lord Recently Resurrected, A mighty fall, the end of a very popular stint as the Doctor - possible? I think so!)and the odds considerably stacked against him, the Doctor has - despite TB's own feelings about it - a heroic end. And he "dies" with the boots on too! Hooray! (Interesting to note that the socks returned for Castrovalva...)High spot "Not while that cable holds" - Low spot "It's the end - but the moment has been prepared for" *sniff*

So there you have it - Season 18 - Peter Howell, Burgundy and Purple, Continuity, Question Marks - I love it!!! :D


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Re: Baker - Nathan-Turner - Bidmead era

Postby hackenbush on July 14th, 2010, 9:20 pm

Season 18's a difficult one for me - it's amongst my earliest memories of Doctor Who and there's a lot in there that I love and helped make me a fan (so there's something to blame it for almost straight away...). I have always liked the audacity of "Warriors' Gate" and the very few concessions it makes to audience understanding. While I think the story is rather poor and the Master's plan is amongst the silliest things ever committed to film or tape by anyone (and Bidmead has the cheek to accuse Douglas Adams of being "silly"...?!), "Logopolis" still gets me "right there"..but then we are talking about the end of possibly the best Doctor of all... Who could watch that without feeling even slightly moved...? But, even though I came to the majority of the earlier Tom Baker series when the video releases started (excruciatingly slowly...) appearing, I have to say that stories like "Talons" and "Pyramids" very quickly overshadowed the John Nathan-Turner era. The memory doesn't cheat, as the producer himself often said; it can't possibly be cheating when you're seeing things for the first time and they're over-powering even fond, nostalgic feelings.

Too much of season 18 is slow ("Leisure Hive"), silly ("Meglos") or just very, very, very boring ("Traken") for it to truly challenge the height of the Hinchcliffe and Holmes era. Scripts meander, performances are sometimes rather "off" (particularly from certain young members of the cast...even the regular cast) and, as has been pointed out by Romana herself on a number of commentaries, the intended audience had seemingly moved from children and families to anorak-wearing spotty Herberts. I love the burgandy costume, Tom's performance is up there with anything from the previous six series and I even have a soft spot for the Sid Sutton titles and Peter Howell theme (although they can never, ever match the time tunnel sequence...) but season 18 changed way too much from what had come before and simply wasn't consistently good enough to make up for the shock of the new. I'm sorry to say that, despite all that John Nathan-Turner did bring to the programme, too much was thrown away in 1980 and the casual audience was fatally damaged at that point.
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