Doctor Who 1970 – how Radio Times went behind the scenes 50 years ago
Rare photos from the archives of the people who made Jon Pertwee's classic adventures
“Doctor Who wouldn’t be so remarkable without the enemies,” wrote Radio Times reporter Deirdre MacDonald in 1970, “and the enemies wouldn’t be so spectacular without the people who stitch up and dab on the horror.”
Half a century later and not much has changed – although of course today the programme has considerably more money and technical wizardry at its disposal. But 1970 signalled a fresh decade with a dazzling new Doctor in Jon Pertwee and a run of hard-hitting stories. Then in its seventh season, Doctor Who was on the up.
RT deemed it an ideal opportunity to go behind the scenes at the BBC in London to meet the talented people bringing the Time Lord’s adventures to life. We commissioned several photoshoots in the spring of 1970 – but only a handful of those pictures could be printed in the magazine or have seen the light of day since. They were taken during the latter stages of Pertwee’s third serial The Ambassadors of Death and during preparations for Inferno, the exciting seven-parter that concluded the season.
IN MAKE-UP AND WARDROBE
First stop: a trip to a make-up/wardrobe room at BBC Television Centre in March 1970. In these rare images from the Radio Times Archive we can see Doctor Who’s costume supervisor Christine Rawlins (wearing a patterned dress) and make-up supervisor Marion Richards (in the striped overall) at work on The Ambassadors of Death.
After the 1969 Moon landing, astronauts were very much in the public consciousness, and Doctor Who turned that image into spooky alien “ambassadors”, creatures from an unnamed race, concealed inside astronaut spacesuits.
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Actors Steve Peters and Neville Simons played both the aliens and the British astronauts Joe Lefee and Frank Michaels. They only appeared in human form in Episode Six so it’s likely these shots were taken on 20 March 1970 in the make-up/wardrobe room adjoining Studio Four.
Christine Rawlins was assigned to all four stories (ie 25 episodes) of Doctor Who’s seventh season. Working closely with the visual effects department who made the monsters’ masks, she had already designed costumes for the Autons and Silurians – both making their debut that year. Designing the astronauts was a relatively straightforward job: “Because the story was set late in the 70s, I designed a simplified version of the sort of spacesuit we know today,” she told RT.
Marion Richards created the disturbing make-up of the aliens that were eventually revealed. She explained how she built up the actor’s face “with very fine latex rubber, with blue make-up foundation underneath, to make the face appear irradiated when the special electronic colour overlay process was used. On some parts of his face we used tissue and wet latex. Only the human eyes remained recognisable.”
These alien test shots (below), published in the Radio Times Doctor Who tenth anniversary special in 1973, were not actually used in the finished programme.
The make-up was uncomfortable for the actor, but Richards tried to leave it to the last minute before he was due to go on – “so that he wouldn’t have to suffer too long”. Removing the make-up/mask was less complicated: “It all comes off very quickly with a special solvent.”
Also in the make-up room was Caroline John, who was co-starring as Dr Elizabeth Shaw. A highly qualified scientist, Liz became the Doctor’s assistant and friend at the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (Unit). For this story and Inferno, the actress was required to wear a blonde wig.
THE VISUAL EFFECTS DEPARTMENT
RT’s Deirdre MacDonald also met the BBC’s team of visual effects designers. She wrote: “Rockets, computers, explosions, Silurian heads, space helmets – all these and other oddities pour out of their workshop at the back of Television Centre. Tools of their trade range from pots of glue to buckets of dry ice. Says boss Jack Kine, ‘Our motto is: anything that can be imagined can be made. It has to be! This place may look like a schoolboy’s dream, but it can be very hairy and hysterical.’ ”
Pictured below are three of the effects team with model spaceships from The Ambassadors of Death. Rhys Jones and Brian Marsh are holding the Recovery 7 and Mars Probe 7 capsules seen throughout the story, and in the background is Peter Day, who was responsible for the rocket that Pertwee’s Doctor piloted into space in Episode Five. RT reported that it was made of “corrugated cardboard, lots of silver paint, and dry ice to puff launching steam from below”.
In this shot (below), Rhys Jones is showing the isotope canister used to “feed” and revive the radioactive aliens, while Peter Day is holding the Mars Probe capsule.
Below: a shot of the whole visual effects team in 1970, and (below that) a handy Who’s Who. The squid-like creature depicted was not a monster featured in Doctor Who.
THE DOCTOR WHO PRODUCTION OFFICE
The masterminds behind almost all of Jon Pertwee’s tenure – joint showrunners of their day – were producer Barry Letts (said to be “keeping a fatherly eye on what’s going on”) and script editor Terrance Dicks. RT photographed them in the Doctor Who Production Office, alongside production secretary Sandra Brenholz.
The office was not, as many might assume, at Television Centre, but a short walk down Wood Lane to Shepherd’s Bush Green in a block leased by the BBC called Union House. Letts’s office was Room 505.
As well as the first Radio Times edition of the 70s, they’re posing with various serious science journals. Later that year Letts told RT: “Like most of the cast, I’m an avid science fiction man. I mean science fiction rather than science fantasy. And that means making sure it’s believable.”
Letts and Dicks would supervise Doctor Who for five years. Along the way, they created the Master (Roger Delgado), much-loved companions Jo Grant (Katy Manning) and Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen), and then in 1974 they cast Tom Baker as Pertwee’s successor. They continued their association with Doctor Who long after they moved on to other projects.
Also in 505 Union House, RT photographed the writer Don Houghton (below). A newcomer to Doctor Who, he had written Inferno, currently in production, and would be asked back to write The Mind of Evil for Pertwee’s 1971 season.
UP IN THE PRODUCTION GALLERY
We’re back at TV Centre in one of the production galleries, probably overlooking Studio Three. There are several Doctor Who legends in one room here. As well as Barry Letts (foreground) and Terrance Dicks (with a pipe in the background), the bearded man holding a script is Douglas Camfield, one of the most accomplished directors of Doctor Who. In the 1960s, he’d directed many of the classics including 12-part epic The Daleks’ Master Plan, The Web of Fear and The Invasion – as well as a fair bit of Inferno before he suddenly fell ill and Letts had to take the helm.
In 1971, Camfield told RT: “In my opinion this is technically the most difficult show in British television.” He had worked on the very first Doctor Who episodes in 1963 as production assistant to Waris Hussein, and by the time he bowed out in 1976 with the Tom Baker story The Seeds of Doom, he had more than 60 episodes on his CV.
[The photographers credited for these various shoots were Tony Evans, John Perkins and David Magnus]
ON THE STUDIO FLOOR
On 24 April 1970, Radio Times staff photographer Don Smith was on the floor in Studio Three at TV Centre to capture moments from the first two episodes of Inferno. Evidently, Don attended the camera rehearsals, not the recording, because Jon Pertwee isn’t in full costume. Under the Doctor’s cloak and jacket, he’s wearing a casual shirt and red corduroys, not the Time Lord’s black trousers, frilly shirt and cravat.
In the storyline, Unit was providing security at the Inferno Project, which was drilling through the Earth’s crust to find a new source of energy. That could only lead to disaster of course. Meanwhile, the Doctor had moved the Tardis control console and his old-fashioned car Bessie to a hut/garage in the Inferno compound, in his continuing attempts to escape his exile on Earth.
Inferno was Caroline John’s last Doctor Who adventure as Liz Shaw, until a cameo appearance 13 years later in The Five Doctors.
Season seven was the first made in colour – so surely there were a few more colour photographs…? We’re pretty sure these rare colour shots were taken by RT’s Don Smith too.
Radio Times would like to thank Derek Handley for unearthing many of these behind-the-scenes images; Jan Vincent-Rudzki for some rare colour photos; and Richard Bignell for identifying many of the BBC personnel in the group shots.
The Ambassadors of Death and Inferno are two excellent, sprawling seven-part Doctor Who serials from 1970, showing the BBC at the peak of its ambition 50 years ago. If you haven’t watched them before, try to catch them on BritBox.