Doctor Who fans would probably exterminate their own grandmothers to have been in Don Smith’s shoes. Fifty years ago, on Saturday 22 October 1966, the Radio Times photographer went on set to shoot Patrick Troughton’s debut as the second Doctor. (The Power of the Daleks is a six-part classic now missing from the BBC archives, but has been reconstructed in animation.)
Two weeks earlier, Troughton had recorded the brief transformation from original Doctor William Hartnell at the climax of The Tenth Planet, but it was in episode one of Power that he unveiled his quirky new characterisation – a momentous chapter in television history.
It was the first time they’d changed the lead actor in Doctor Who, but if Troughton, then 46, suffered any first-night nerves, he hid them well. “He was at ease,” Don recalls. “There were no frustrations or tensions that I remember. Pat Troughton was more affable than William Hartnell. Far more. I got on all right with Hartnell, but he wasn’t a happy man about things in general.
“I’d photographed Pat many times before – in various BBC Dickens adaptations, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Finlay’s Casebook – so Doctor Who was kind of a continuation for us. He was a nice man. I got on with him very well. If I said to him, ‘Please Pat, would you lean on the Tardis?’ he was happy to do it. Nothing was too much trouble.”
The Power of the Daleks pitched the new Doctor and his companions Ben and Polly against his arch-foes on the planet Vulcan, a human colony in the future – and it was recorded at the BBC’s Riverside Studios in Hammersmith. “You surprise me,” says Don, “because I always think of the early Doctor Whos being at Lime Grove.” Indeed, most of the 1960s episodes were made at the BBC’s old studio base in Shepherd’s Bush, but many were allocated to Riverside or even BBC Television Centre, which had more modern facilities.
Don worked for Radio Times for some 40 years, having started in 1955, aged 23. He’s retained RT’s assignment ledgers from the 1950s and 60s, which provide a fascinating and invaluable record not only of when photographs were taken but also the dates that many famous TV and radio programmes were in production.
In the ledger (above) The Power of the Daleks is listed as “Dr Who – return of the Daleks”. Don explains: “The code RT 3700 stands for Radio Times and the number of that particular assignment, while 70 RF means I took 70 shots on a Rolleiflex camera. That’s six rolls of film – an unusually high number – so it was a proper photoshoot.” The long list of digits (4, 11, 15… up to 70) refers to individual images he selected and supplied as enlargements. These were all taken on 2¼-inch-square monochrome film, but he also spots that there’s a faint pencil note: “+ 10 colour”. “It was unusual in those days to shoot in colour because RT mainly used black-and-white shots.”
Sadly, few of these 80 images remain in the Radio Times Archive. They’ve been scattered throughout time and space. “In 1966, I was actually working for Radio Times from the Daily Mirror. The Mirror kept all the negatives and when RT wanted a print, they’d phone up and say, ‘Can we have a print of RT 3700 number 40?’ or whatever, then we could print the actual shot they wanted. In March 67, I left the Mirror to join the staff of Radio Times and because the negatives belonged to RT, they were all shipped up to our [former] offices at Marylebone High Street. Over time, various people went through the files for all sorts of programmes and said, ‘Well, we’ll never use those,’ and they were thrown away. Also loads went down to the BBC Picture Publicity department and never came back.”
Across the decades many of the RT photos from The Power of the Daleks have been published in books, annuals, other magazines and online. But perhaps it’s interesting to note what actually was – or was not – printed in RT in 1966. Patrick Troughton was already a well-respected actor on British TV and had featured on the RT cover before, but it was ultimately decided to keep his “look” as the scruffy new Doctor under wraps. So there would be no front-cover portrait and no picture of him inside to publicise his debut episode. Instead, a montage of Don Smith’s Dalek shots adorned the cover, while a small feature depicted the Doctor’s companions.
Gazing at his photos now, Don observes, “These were posed pictures. It looks a bit like they were taken on the run. All I can say is that I used to dive in when I could between scenes. When I think of the slowness of the film, the slowness of the cameras and negatives, the pictures are amazingly good quality. And I’m not saying that because I took them!”
The lighting is moodily atmospheric in some shots, but Don says there wasn’t any special set-up for RT. “No, that was just the studio lighting. Normally we only used their lighting. We couldn’t ask them to change anything.”
The image above looks shaded round the edges. Did he use some kind of mask on his camera lens? “I wouldn’t have done that intentionally,” he admits. “It looks a bit like I was standing in between two TV cameras and they’ve cast this blackness. I’d like to claim all kinds of things,” he laughs, “but I can’t.”
Two points to note about Patrick Troughton in these pictures. On the day of recording, it appears that the actor sustained an injury. In several photos, there’s a plaster on his right index finger; in others he’s keeping that hand out of sight. (His bandaged finger was also visible on screen when episode one was aired.)
Secondly, in various shots, Troughton has specks on his hair and shoulders. This isn’t an extreme case of dandruff. Similar specks are visible on his trousers in some photos. It’s likely the pictures were taken soon after he’d rehearsed a scene, halfway into the episode, where the Doctor is knocked to the ground in a mercury swamp, and the actor simply picked up sawdust or Jablite polystyrene strewn across the set floor.
Here’s a gallery of Don Smith’s surviving Radio Times photographs, culled from various archival sources and published together for the first time: