Although other actors have seen a longer span between first taking up the role of the Doctor and their eventual departure from the show, Tom Baker’s unbroken seven-year run as the lead in Doctor Who is especially noteworthy, with his prolific tenure seeing several different production teams taking the reins, each of whom gave the series very distinctive creative directions.
The work of some of the backroom boys and girls during this septennial span has been showcased in the first volume of Reeltime Pictures’ look behind the curtain at Baker’s time as the Time Lord, but with such a lengthy duration as our hero, there were plenty more tales yet to be told. Nearly a year on now from The Doctors: The Tom Baker Years – Behind The Scenes Vol. 1, we have another two-disc DVD set, featuring more of the crew who helped to bring the programme to the nation’s screens between 1974 and 1981.
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First up, we have producer Philip Hinchcliffe, who took over just after the very beginning of Baker’s reign, and alongside script editor Robert Holmes, he managed help give the show a more adult, gothic sensibility. The Hinchcliffe era has been widely regarded as being one of the best during the original run of Doctor Who, so hearing him speaking about his time at the helm is definitely welcome. The passing of the years has helped to give him new perspective about his work, and how it all fits into a much broader career working within the industry.
Coming at the other end of Baker’s residency, script editor Christopher H. Bidmead arrived at a point when the series had started to take itself a little less than seriously, as the previous script editor – Douglas Adams – had infused the show with a flippancy and irreverence which some found to be unpalatable. Bidmead’s absolute candour is absolutely noteworthy and refreshing, especially when he admits the little regard in which he held Who at the time, and he pulls no punches when it comes to discussing the problems that were going on backstage.
John Black’s contributions to Doctor Who may be relatively slight compared to some of his colleagues in the director’s chair, but he certainly has plenty of stories to tell, especially in relation to his time heading up the show’s first proposed spin-off – K-9 and Company – which only got as far as just a pilot, but was hobbled by internal BBC politics. Like many of his fellow interviewees in this range, Black’s anecdotes of his life beyond Who are actually some of the most engaging and fascinating, and it really is interesting to hear about the career he had after giving up directing.
The second disc kicks into gear with Mat Irvine, one of the BBC Visual Effects team who helped to realise some of the models and props seen on screen, with his work including having constructed the original K-9 for the robot dog’s first appearance way back in 1977. Irvine really is the archetypal boffin, and never seems happier than when speaking about his days of kitbashing for Auntie Beeb, with boxes of Heath Robinson-esque creations being plundered and rummaged in, so that he can enthusiastically show off his wares to the camera, and his passion is truly infectious.
The final two entries of the set consist of vintage recordings of guest panels at two conventions which were held back in the 1980s by the Doctor Who Appreciation Society, and the first of these focuses upon members of the costume design team. A common theme across all the interviews tends to be how budgetarily constrained the series used to be, a fact that gets thrown even more into sharp relief with tales that Ncuti Gatwa’s first series as the Doctor might see as much as $10 million per episode being spent, thanks to a partnership with Disney+. It makes you far more appreciative of just what the costume designers managed to rustle up on far less.
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The second panel is centred around music and sound, with composer Dudley Simpson sharing the stage with Dick Mills of the Radiophonic Workshop. Simpson has been featured by himself on The Doctors: The Jon Pertwee Years – Behind The Scenes Vol. 1, where he is able to offer a more rounded and personal overview of his life and career, but he still gives great value here. Mills was pretty much responsible for the soundscape of Doctor Who between 1972 and 1989, which means that he has plenty to talk about, and he clearly had a great rapport with the late Simpson, with the duo certainly working well together during the panel.
In all, The Tom Baker Years – Behind The Scenes Vol. 2 is quite the ideal companion piece to the original set, with the range of subjects complementing those as featured in the first volume. This is most definitely five-and-a-half hours‘ worth of any fan’s time well spent, and a worthy addition to their collection.
The Tom Baker Years – Behind The Scenes Vol. 2 is out now on DVD from Reeltime Pictures.