Audio & Podcasts

Me & Him & WHO – Audio Drama Review

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. 2023 sees the triumphal return of Russell T. Davies, to once again take up the reins of Doctor Who. A truly larger than life character, someone who knows how to court publicity, having cast multiple Doctors in his time, and is steering the programme through a landmark anniversary.

Once upon a Time Lord, however, there just so happened to be somebody else who would have easily fit that exact same description. Step forward, John Nathan-Turner (or ‘JN-T’, as he was more commonly known), producer of Doctor Who for a decade. Master of the PR machine, he knew exactly how to chase column inches, wringing every last drop of attention out of the show with stunts and gimmicks which would get valuable press exposure. Big name guest stars were always good to get the limelight, with JN-T equating it to being like the celebs lining up to appear with Morecambe & Wise.

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In a classic bit of mischief, when Tom Baker came to depart from the series, the duo came up with the focus pulling idea that the next Doctor could be a woman, JN-T doing nothing to disabuse the assembled media hordes of that notion. For better or worse, Nathan-Turner also played to fandom, but it ultimately proved to be a fatal mistake, as the show began to bask in continuity, in a period when most old episodes were inaccessible and in a pre-Internet age. Pandering to the fans risked alienating the regular TV audience, and the move also backfired as fandom began to bite the hand that fed it.

Social media would have almost seemed like the very stuff of science fiction itself back in the mid-‘80s, yet even without it, vicious campaigns were still able to be waged against the beleaguered producer, with him having the blame for Doctor Who being put on an 18-month hiatus, for a reduced annual episode count, and – eventually – for the programme being axed altogether. Yes, John Nathan-Turner would go down in infamy as the man who killed Who. Sadly, he never got to see its rebirth under Russell T. Davies in 2005, as he passed away three years earlier, aged just 54.

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A new audio drama from AUK Studios studies the turbulent last few years of Nathan-Turner’s life, seeing his glory days behind him as he struggles to find gainful employment, as well as with the deteriorating health of both himself and his longtime partner, Gary Downie, who had worked under JN-T on the show as a production manager. Me & Him & WHO is a drama about the sad decline of a man who never really got his dues in life, having been cruelly spurned not only by the fanbase he sought to please, but also the organisation – the BBC – to whom he had devoted his professional life, only to find there was no place for him anymore.

Like Davies, Nathan-Turner was gay, but he felt his sexuality counted against him amongst the stuffed shirts on the Sixth Floor of Television Centre, along with his predilection to don loud, flamboyant Hawaiian shirts, rather than wearing more conventional business attire. The play focuses upon JN-T’s attempts to write his autobiography – his memoirs ended up being published in audio form, read by the man himself, and released by Big Finish. A biography by Richard Marson was later published, and the more salacious details were to ironically draw unwelcome press notices about the man who had once made the media dance to his tune.

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Me & Him & WHO is the work of Stephen Wyatt, a writer who had contributed two scripts during the latter part of JN-T’s era – the criminally underrated social satire on urban living, ‘Paradise Towers’, and spooky circus-based adventure ‘The Greatest Show In The Galaxy’. Wyatt came to know Nathan-Turner and Downie well, and would visit them after Doctor Who came to an end in 1989, so he has drawn upon his own personal experiences – as well as Marson’s biography – in putting together the audio’s script, which is a two-hander piece starring Christopher Guard as JN-T and Peter Noble as Downie.

Wyatt manages not to shy away from the more controversial aspects of the duo’s life together, touching upon their rather laissez-faire approach towards intimacy with other parties, including fans. However, this is not presented in a licentious manner, and is frank and matter-of-fact about it, without ever being sensationalist, or at risk of trivialising it. We get to see that this is just one aspect of a long-term co-dependent – and, maybe, rather less than healthy – relationship between the two, who have still stuck together through thick and thin over the years, and possess a deep-rooted affection for each other.

Director and producer Barnaby Eaton-Jones manages to get some sterling performances out of Guard and Noble, making sure JN-T and Downie feel real and credible. In the hands of lesser talent, it would have been easy to let them lapse into being just camp caricatures, rather more akin to the bitchy, outré turns of Derek Jacobi and Ian McKellen in ITV sitcom Vicious. Instead, we get a real sense of depth, making them feel fully fleshed out, and – for two characters known to be somewhat spiky in real life – some genuine moments both of empathy and sympathy, while managing not to turn this into either mawkishness or pity.

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As large chunks are of Nathan-Turner reading out extracts of his autobiography, there is also plenty of factual info here to ensure the listeners need not be hardcore aficionados, as all of the important detail is there for the ‘not-we’, making Me & Him & WHO perfectly accessible to everyone. In much the same way that Diana had once stated that there were three people in her relationship with the now-King Charles, there is a certain poignancy in realising that this was also the case with Nathan-Turner and Downie – here, however, the ‘third wheel’ happened to be a 900 year old time traveller with two hearts.

Me & Him & WHO does the near-impossible task of so neatly encapsulating the dynamic between the duo who had spent so much of their personal and professional lives together, to find themselves having to carve out new opportunities once the show which defined the two of them had dematerialised, seemingly for good. John Nathan-Turner is long overdue a reappraisal, and Me & Him & WHO admirably lays down so much of the groundwork for that. A running theme during the play is to ‘accentuate the positive’, and it manages to do just that, while also unflinchingly squaring up to some of the more difficult topics with real candour.

Long live John Nathan-Turner: The Greatest Showman In The Galaxy.

Me & Him & WHO is out now from AUK Studios.

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