The three seasons over which Graham Williams presided have been much maligned by fandom, and rarely receive the recognition they deserve. Williams took over the reigns of producer in 1977 following Philip Hinchcliffe’s reassignment to the hard hitting police drama Target. Under Hinchcliffe, Doctor Who had enjoyed some of the highest audience viewing figures since the shows inception, but had regularly come under fire from the National Viewers and Listeners Association’s spokesman, Mary Whitehouse. Whitehouse objected to what she regarded as unacceptable levels of violence and the use of frightening imagery, and in spite of the BBC having publicly defended the show, it was decided that Hinchcliffe’s talents would be better served elsewhere.
BBC Head of Serials Bill Slater -- sensitive to the support Whitehouse was receiving -- instructed Williams to tone down the violence, decreeing that Doctor Who should instead adopt a more humorous family orientated approach. This policy found favour with the shows leading man, who had previously voiced his concerns over a scene in The Face of Evil, as well as the violent nature of new companion Leela.
Joining Williams in the production office was script editor Anthony Read, an experienced drama producer who had been enticed back to the BBC by newly promoted Head of Series and Serials Graeme McDonald. Williams and Read set about defining a new ethos for Doctor Who, one based upon science fantasy; just as the Hinchcliffe / Holmes era had been defined by Hollywood films, so the Williams / Read era would become synonymous with myths and legends.
Following the controversy surrounding episode three of The Deadly Assassin, McDonald kept a close watch over the programme, rejecting anything he felt was inappropriate, and although much of the graphic violence had been excised, the more horrific subject matter of previous seasons would ultimately prevail.
Anthony Read remained on the show for two seasons, after which he was replaced by Douglas Adams. Adams had contributed the second story of the Key to Time season The Pirate Planet and would go on to write The City of Death, one of Tom Baker’s best loved stories. Under Adams guidance, Doctor Who would adopt a distinctly slapstick approach, and although this policy was much to the delight of Tom Baker, others including Graeme McDonald were far from satisfied with the results.
Unfortunately, the greatest challenges of the Williams era proved to be something over which the production team had little or no control. Throughout the late seventies, Doctor Who had been crippled by severe budgetary constraints brought on by an unbridled period of inflation, the story most notably affected by this being Underworld. But it wasn’t merely a lack of money which was blighting television around that time. Increased pressure from trade unions, and the all too real threat of industrial action hung in the air. Studio recording of The Invasion of Time and The Armageddon Factor had both been severely hampered by strike action, but the greatest tragedy would come in 1979, when a continuing demarcation dispute forced the cancellation of the season seventeen finale Shada.
Yet in spite of the enormous uphill struggle he faced, Doctor Who under Graham Williams succeeded in drawing in audiences of between eight and nine million; what’s more he was responsible for creating of one of the shows most popular companions, the Key to Time season, and for recognizing the potential of K9.