The phenomenon of the ‘sophomore slump’ – also known as the ‘difficult second album’ syndrome – has been the bane of many an artistic endeavour. Perhaps one of the biggest risks of this occurring came in 1966, when Patrick Troughton was cast as the lead in Doctor Who, taking over the reins from an ailing William Hartnell, whose health had sadly deteriorated, and which led to him leaving the show.
Nowadays, TV audiences are used to the notion of recasting parts, usually without having any form of acknowledgement or explanation of the change; look at when Dallas’ Miss Ellie changed faces for a year, with Barbara Bel Geddes replaced by Donna Reed, only to swap back the following season. The switching of actors has also happened in such programmes as Bewitched, Roseanne, and a number of British soaps. For a lead to leave and then be replaced by someone altogether different, however, was something new.
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In order to ensure the show’s longevity, the production team devised the notion that as the Doctor was an alien, he could have the ability to renew himself whenever his body became worn out, leading to him totally changing his appearance as well as personality, and giving the scope for someone new to take over, without having to try and copy their predecessor. This was an untried concept, and the continuation of Doctor Who would live or die on how well the public warmed to this new incarnation.
Luckily, Troughton managed to win viewers over, and he was to continue in the part until the decade’s end. His time as the Doctor happened to be bookended by two radical changes for the show – at the beginning, the idea of regeneration; and at the very end, the mystery of where the Doctor actually came from was finally revealed, with the introduction of the Time Lords and his home world (well, until Chris Chibnall went on to upend everything we thought we knew about the Doctor’s origins in the last couple of years, anyway).
It was down to the production team – which itself changed more than once during this period – to try and navigate the show through these turbulent upheavals, making sure that Doctor Who would be able to continue through to the 1970s and beyond. The latest release in The Doctors range of DVDs from Reeltime Pictures, featuring interviews with cast and crew members from different eras of the series, focuses on that transitional period for Doctor Who, and takes us behind the scenes for a look at what went into its making.
While Shaun Sutton was not directly involved in the making of Doctor Who, he still played a key role during this time, as he was Head of Serials at the BBC, and later Head of Drama, which meant he effectively oversaw the show, and he had a part in the selection of Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker. Sutton’s part in the overall story has not always been given the recognition it truly warrants, so to hear him recount his input here – including his breadth of experience during a classic age of British TV – is more than welcome.
Victor Pemberton’s involvement on Who was comparatively brief, as he wrote one story for Troughton, as well as acting as a script editor temporarily, before later penning an audio tale for Tom Baker which was released on an LP. Pemberton‘s career is far more extensive than that, and – as with many of the other interviewees on this set – hearing him talk at some length about his other work is actually the most fascinating part, especially his collaboration with Jim Henson on several projects, like Fraggle Rock.
The final producer during Troughton’s tenure in the part was Derrick Sherwin, who was involved in the biggest overhaul of the format since the show first started – he had devised the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT), and decided to exile the Doctor to Earth, having him in the role of Scientific Advisor for UNIT. Sherwin has got some genuinely new and surprising anecdotes to tell, including offering something of a startling insight into why Troughton left the role, as well as revealing something of the man who was behind the ‘Cosmic Hobo’ persona that he portrayed on screen.
So many of the team who worked on Doctor Who throughout this period are sadly no longer with us, so fans are very lucky to have all these interviews to be able to hear from a range of contributors who have since departed. Perhaps the highlight of the set is a recording of a 1986 convention panel, bringing together producers Innes Lloyd and Peter Bryant, along with Victor Pemberton once again, and actor Michael Craze, who played companion Ben Jackson, and was present for the very first regeneration, which was a pivotal moment.
The rarity value of the footage and interviewees more than makes up for the slight dip in picture and sound quality, and hearing them speak with such affection for the programme, even some twenty-or-so years having passed at that point since their time working on it, is genuinely touching. If only there had been some more probing enquiries asked of them at the time, as when the floor is opened up for a Q&A for the fans to ask the panel questions, it tends to fall onto the same kind of undemanding and unchallenging territory known by anyone who has ever attended conventions.
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The final two compilations rounding out The Doctors: The Pat Troughton Years – Behind The Scenes Vol. 1 are a set of interviews with supporting artistes whose association with the programme has continued for decades, leading to them being invited to conventions to talk about their experiences of working on Doctor Who, even though their roles may have only been relatively minor. There are some genuine treats to be found here, with some of the best material coming from their wider careers; however, one subject’s story involving a tap-dancing William Hartnell is wholly worth the price of the set.
Reeltime Pictures definitely continue to impress with their continuing range of The Doctors releases, and if a mooted second Troughton-centric volume should materialise in due course, it should hopefully uncover more delights from this part of the show’s history, as it feels there is even more yet to be revealed.
The Doctors: The Pat Troughton Years – Behind The Scenes Vol. 1 is out now on DVD from Reeltime Pictures.