DWM and the Reluctant Producer

One of Doctor Who Magazine’s great strengths has always been it interviews – over its 500 issues the magazine has spoken to just about everyone it possibly could have who has been involved in the making of the show. And it has to be said that the most memorable conversations written up in the pages of our favourite magazine tend to be those where the interviewee gives a, shall we say, full and frank description of their experience making Doctor Who.

I’m thinking of production manager (and partner of John Nathan-Turner) Gary Downie giving it both barrels to just about anyone he felt had ever crossed him in an interview that made for uncomfortably gripping reading not too long before his death in 2006. Others which spring to mind, though far less vitriolic than that example, include Colin Baker arguably doing himself few favours by protesting at the kind of polls which tend to place his debut story, and indeed his Doctor, at the bottom of fans’ favourites lists. Last year good old Peter Purves certainly wasn’t in the mood for sugar-coating his comments when he described someone from his time on the show as ‘totally incompetent. He wasn’t a very nice man – I had no rapport with him, I didn’t respect him, I didn’t think he knew what he was doing. He was stupid.’

The Daleks' Master Plan 2

Phew! Tell it like it is, won’t you Peter? The person Purves was directing his ire at was producer John Wiles, who succeeded Verity Lambert in 1965 and oversaw just four stories: The Myth Makers, The Daleks’ Masterplan, The Massacre and The Ark. Wiles was a cerebral character, more at home with writing (his list of televison credits is considerable) and directing for the stage than producing a show in a genre he had little time for. Wiles spoke to DWM back in 1983 for that year’s Winter Special:

“I was never happy with the role of a producer. A producer is really a desk person, deriving pleasure and satisfaction from battles in the office. This was very frustrating for me as I am much more a writer and a director. I want to get down onto the floor and pull it together; to make it work with the actors and the crew.”

Wiles himself felt he was a poor fit for the job, though his task was surely made vastly harder by his difficult relationship with the show’s star. It’s fair to say that Wiles and William Hartnell didn’t exactly hit it off…

“He wasn’t as old as he thought he was. When he was with me he treated himself almost as a seventy-five year old. It may well have been that he was physically not in the best of health and so he could not learn his lines. Consequently, studio days could be absolute purgatory for everybody. If Bill was in an unhappy state then it put everyone into a terrible state.”

Oh dear… It’s worth stressing how unusual it was to read this kind of insider detail back in 1983, and indeed it may be that this edition of DWM was one of the first examples of someone who had worked on the show being quite to honest in describing their time in negative terms.

dwm winter 1983

Wiles’s recollection of the programme’s dressers walking out on strike in protest at Hartnell’s rudeness to one of their number encapsulates the image of an unhappy production and a spell in his career that Wiles, who walked away from his job (‘I’m one of the few producers ever to resign from the BBC’), preferred to forget. Interestingly, the antipathy Peter Purves felt for his producer wasn’t reciprocated, with Wiles saying:

“He was very supportive and helped as much as he could. I imagine it must have been very nerve-wracking for him in that he never knew, from one day to the next, what was coming from Bill.”

There are snippets of detail that give an indication of the direction Wiles would have taken Doctor Who if he had had the chance – increasingly adult-oriented, a more serious tone with stories that veered towards the kind of science-fiction Star Trek pursued. He had little time for the ‘fantasy romp’ of the mammoth Dalek serial he was left with by the previous production team, poetically describing it as ‘an enormous rock in the middle of a sea, and one on which any boat we were going to run would be submerged’.

John Wiles died in 1999 and would probably be uncomfortable at the thought that his best-remembered credit was for a period which had, in his words, left him ‘heading very rapidly for a nervous breakdown’. Being in charge of Doctor Who plainly isn’t a job that’s going to suit everyone, and you can sense the sigh of despair in Wiles’s closing thought:

“I do remember suggesting to Bill that we take the TARDIS to a planet where there is no gravity and no oxygen – where he would have had to wear a spacesuit. You never heard such an uproar in all your life…”

 

  • TimeChaser

    It’s interesting that Wiles was not happy with his time producing the show. This is probably reflected in the fact that his run of stories is one of the most nihilistic in terms of the narrative. The Myth Makers starts as a lighter comedy that devolves into unremitting violence in the final act, we have two companion deaths in a row, and then Steven nearly leaves the Doctor in disgust. The Doctor was just on a downward spiral where he could not win.

  • Dr. Moo

    He may not have enjoyed it but since he’s the man who gave us The Daleks’ Master Plan and The Massacre of Saint Bartholemew’s Eve he certainly left a great legacy. These are the two greatest individual 1st Doctor stories of them all!

    • TimeChaser

      Although, if you look at Daleks’ Master Plan, it’s really two stories, one inside the other. There’s the overall plot about the Daleks, Mavic Chen and the Time Destructor, and then set inside it are a strange few episodes that play like “The Chase: Redux”.

      • Dr. Moo

        I assume you mean the bits with The Monk and the runaround in the pyramids? I love those bits, exactly the sort of thing the show did so well back in the 60s, and so much fun! Hartnell is a brilliant actor and can d both serious and comedy and with those episodes he gets to do both at the same time. I really can’t fault The Daleks’ Master Plan in any way, it’s everything that I want from a top quality Dalek adventure.
        (just don’t mention the christmas episode)

  • bar

    I’m interested in the difference social media has made: DWM published a most unusual frankness and negativity (Peter Purves always seems most courteous and warm; must have been an off day), yet most of us knew nothing about it. These days Christopher Eccleston’s differences with the ethos and reasons why he left are ENDLESSLY regurgitated. Despite the fact that he is very careful what he says, and leaves no soundbites to fortune. Makes him extremely savvy as well as careful of the show.

  • Ranger

    Sad that he had such a hard time on the show. I knew Hartnell could be difficult, but it really does sound like he was a pig at times.

    You know, it’s been years since I watched any Hartnell. I think I need to start downloading from BBC Store.

    • bar

      careful Ranger; you’ll end up like me falling in love with Ian and Barbara all over again, and grumbling that the show isn’t as good as it used to be!
      Can I recommend you watch the old ones in the company of Toby Hadoke and Rob Shearman via ‘Running through Corridors.’
      Or, for a laugh, with Neil and Sue Perryman on ‘Wife in Space.’ You’ll never be the same again 🙂 http://wifeinspace.com/2011/01/introduction/

      • Ranger

        Wife in Space is a real favourite of mine, Sue has just a great way of appreciating good carpentry! Oh, and DW as well 🙂

        Running through Corridors is new to me – thanks for the heads up, Bar.

        • bar

          I’m sure they’ll always be grateful for a parent with priorities! Actually one of our favourite quotes from an old TV series called The Beiderbecke Conspiracy is: ‘if we don’t share our passions with our children, how will they learn to be passionate?’

          • TheLazyWomble

            Oh I am going to sound SO pedantic now. It’s “The Beiderbecke Connection”, Bar.

          • bar

            Of course it is! how could I get that wrong? I will never live down the shame, given I painted this for my hubby
            http://nash-williams.name/gallery/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/IMG_4630-1024×768.jpg
            Starring Barbara Flynn – Skull of Sobek; and James Bolam – The Spectre of Lanyon Moor, amongst other things!
            As a pennance, maybe I should watch all three again 🙂

          • TheLazyWomble

            I love the Beiderbecke series. Also Mysterioso and Oliver’s Travels. Now Alan Plater really was a genius.

          • bar

            True. Have you seen Last of the Blonde Bombshells?

          • TheLazyWomble

            I must confess that I haven’t

          • TheLazyWomble

            I don’t suppose you know the quote that goes something like You are very talented, very gracious, very beautiful and I want you to know that I do love you madly? It’s in Tapes and Connection I believe.

          • bar

            Thank you! (that quote is just to the left of average-sized Jill Swinburn on the pic)

          • Ranger

            That is is so beautiful Bar. I am in awe of your talent!

          • Philip

            Crikey bar! I’ve actually never seen The Beiderbecke Connection, but I gotta say, that art is brilliant! Very talented.

          • bar

            thank you Philip, it was a labour of love for my hubby, not my usual style. you may recognise some of these – my more usual portrait style
            http://nash-williams.name/gallery/portraits

          • Philip

            You’ve serious talent. Do you work professionally? Nice to see you breaking from your usual style too, though – the intricacy of the above Connection piece is great.

          • bar

            Not professionally no, I just like to draw. and I like people, especially the character inside, so portraits are the obvious focus of much of my doodling.
            I really appreciate your encouragement though – I’ve not been doing enough recently.