Doctor Who at 60: When the Time Lords assembled for Radio Times
Ever since 1972, Radio Times has been bringing together the stars of Doctor Who for special photoshoots.
Across all of time and space, many of the most striking and abiding images for Doctor Who fans have been special Radio Times photoshoots, organised to celebrate the major anniversaries – usually calling for a time-bending gathering of the actors who’ve inhabited the title role.
1972 – Season 10
The first shoot took place in October 1972 and was one of the most remarkable and timely – uniting the first three incarnations: William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee. Prior to the BBC’s launch of The Three Doctors for the tenth season of Doctor Who in 1972, this RT photoshoot was actually the very first time all three stars had come together as a trio. They were photographed by RT regular Ray Rathborne at a studio in Battersea.
Fifty-one years later, RT’s art editor at that time, David Driver, recalls that day clearly. “I directed the Hartnell, Troughton and Pertwee cover myself. I was a great enthusiast for Doctor Who and managed good coverage for this classic programme. Both Troughton and Pertwee were charming in the manner they cared for a fragile Hartnell. It was a delightful session and all three actors had love and affection for the programme and recognised its special role in the Saturday schedule.”
1983 – the 20th anniversary
The Five Doctors in 1983 was a joyful celebration of two decades of Doctor Who – but also an odd one. William Hartnell had died in 1975, so the “original” Doctor was recast as Richard Hurndall, who bore only a passing resemblance to Hartnell. Although other past Doctors Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee readily signed up to star alongside current star Peter Davison, the fourth incarnation Tom Baker declined to appear. Instead, he allowed clips from his unfinished 1979/80 story Shada to be used, while for a publicity shoot his Madame Tussauds waxwork was pressed into service.
A general press call for Doctors, companions and the waxwork was held on 17th March 1983 at a house in Denham (the location for Unit HQ), with photographer Steve Benbow taking pictures for Radio Times. The line-up included Nicholas Courtney (the Brigadier), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith) and Carole Ann Ford (Susan).
The RT cover itself in November 1983 was an illustration by Andrew Skilleter.
1993 – the 30th anniversary
By 1993, Doctor Who was very much a programme of the past, having been cancelled by the BBC nearly four years previously. Nevertheless, its 30th anniversary was still celebrated by a BBC1 documentary, 30 Years in the Tardis, and a Children in Need special in which the Time Lord crossed over with EastEnders.
With art director Mike Clowes supervising, Radio Times pulled together the five living Doctors (Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy) for a special photoshoot – or rather a series of shoots, because not all could attend at the same time. Thus, the special 1993 cover was a composite of pictures, photographed by RT regular Mark Harrison.
2003 – the 40th anniversary
By 2003, excitement was in the air for fans because it was known that Doctor Who would be returning as a series on BBC One. The Radio Times art editor at that time, Paul Smith, was geared up for the occasion. “I’ve always had a fondness for Doctor Who,” he says in 2023. “It was part of my childhood. Troughton and Pertwee were very much my Doctors.” In 1996, he’d relished designing a 16-page RT special to mark the Paul McGann TV Movie. “That definitely reignited my love of Doctor Who so I was massively keen to art-direct the 40th anniversary in 2003, my first Who covers – and what better way than to get the four surviving Doctors together for one special photoshoot!”
With the first three Doctors dead, that meant Davison, McCoy and the two Bakers. At the time, McGann’s Doctor was perhaps considered to stand apart from the original canon. But marshalling those four Time Lords proved a logistical nightmare.
“It had seemed like a good idea at the time!” laughs Paul. “But they all had to be photographed at different times in several different studios. I wasn’t even sure we were going to get all four Doctors so had to plan for only two or three. Although Sylvester McCoy and Colin Baker had agreed to our first shoot at Westway Studios in west London, Tom Baker was then living in France, and Peter Davison was busy with other commitments. But we secured Tom next, then at the 11th hour Peter made it a foursome to complete the set. It turned into a big production, shot over a number of weeks in three studios. Patricia Taylor, who was the RT picture editor, played a blinder pulling everything together.”
Sylvester McCoy and Colin Baker wore pretty much their original Who costumes. Peter Davison was given a new light-coloured suit by Savile Row tailor Gary Anderson and a striped Paul Smith shirt.
Whereas Tom Baker was reunited with his old friend June Hudson, a former BBC costume designer and Doctor Who legend, who created a whole new, lustrous outfit for him.
When it came to the shoot, two Radio Times staff were drafted in for additional duties – to play monsters. The first being the picture desk’s Roger Dixon, who dressed up as a Sea Devil.
Secondly, RT writer and lifelong fan Mark Braxton found himself on set in multiple roles. “They needed someone to ‘play’ a Cyberman,” says Mark. “I stepped in, as I was there to do interviews anyway.” It wasn’t the most comfortable assignment. “It was incredibly hot under the lights, but it enabled me to have some fun chats with Sylvester McCoy, who was patient, kind and friendly for the duration. Because my eyesight was restricted behind the mask, he helped me on and off the ‘boulder’-strewn set, the way someone would help an elderly relative with mobility issues.”
With various monsters, K•9 and the police box on hand, Paul Smith cleverly planned four collectable covers that could be laid side by side to form one continuous image. “They were shot in a way that they would work in different combinations, but always make a panorama. Working with photographer Andy Earl was a joy. He’d worked on big, complicated shoots for the likes of Pink Floyd and Duran Duran, so was the epitome of calm.
“The Doctors were all perfect gents,” continues Paul. “When we asked Sylvester to whack a Cyberman [Mark] with his brolly, he gently told us the Doctor didn’t like violence and would use his mind to outwit his foe. Wrists slapped! I do remember him walking off a happy man with one of the six-inch Daleks we had there.”
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For Paul, it was another important step in RT’s long association with Doctor Who, honouring the efforts of David Driver 30 years earlier but also looking to the future. “RT has always had a strong relationship with the programme, and we’ve always endeavoured to go that extra mile to come up with imaginative and innovative covers. We don’t just put out a publicity shot with no real in-depth content inside. The covers were well supported with a 16-page pull-out collectors’ supplement.
“The 30th anniversary issue was a huge success, the biggest selling of the year, putting on well over 50,000 extra sales.”
2013 – the 50th anniversary
For Doctor Who’s half-century, timed with The Day of the Doctor, there would be no fresh photoshoot. Nevertheless, Paul Smith took on the extraordinary challenge of creating 12 collectable covers, one for each Doctor – including the mysterious War Doctor played by John Hurt. “The idea to make individual covers that formed one panoramic picture when put together was a theme I returned to for the 50th anniversary, but on an even bigger scale.”
Many of these were comprised of images from the Radio Times Archive stretching back across the decades, depicting all 12 Doctors backed by an assortment of their most fearsome foes. Again, this set was highly collectable – with some covers proving harder to find than others in shops around the UK.
For the curious and completist, the William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton portraits hailed from 1972; Jon Pertwee from 1969; Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy all from 1993; Paul McGann from 1996; Christopher Eccleston from 2005; David Tennant from 2008; Matt Smith and John Hurt from 2013.
2023 – the 60th anniversary
For this year’s huge anniversary, expect no new multi-Doctor extravaganza. Radio Times magazine and RadioTimes.com have found fabulous new ways to celebrate the on-going legend...
- Doctor Who's 10th anniversary photoshoots – classic companions look back
- The 1970s Doctor Who companions pictured in their own homes
- Doctor Who's Jon Pertwee in a long-lost photoshoot from 1970
- The secrets of 1970s Doctor Who revealed in newly discovered photos
- The stars of Patrick Troughton's Doctor Who – just before they joined the show
- See the earliest surviving Doctor Who photographs
Doctor Who's first 60th anniversary special The Star Beast airs at 6:30pm on Saturday 25th November on BBC One and BBC iPlayer. Classic episodes are available on BritBox – you can sign up for a 7-day free trial here.
Try Radio Times magazine today and get 10 issues for only £10 – subscribe now and celebrate the 60th anniversary of Doctor Who with a special issue of Radio Times. For more from the biggest stars in TV, listen to The Radio Times Podcast.