Take a glimpse behind-the-scenes of Doctor Who 40 years ago
Rare photographs of the 1980s BBC production team from the Radio Times Archive.
Back in 1983, when Radio Times published a Doctor Who 20th Anniversary Special, we sent writer Gay Search and photographer Don Smith to catch up with the creative personnel in various departments across the BBC, whose talent and artistry combined to put the sci-fi series on screen.
We’ve scoured the Radio Times Archive and found many alternative shots to those used in the original magazine.
Producer John Nathan-Turner
At the top of the tree was John Nathan-Turner. He’d been "production unit manager" on Doctor Who for three of Tom Baker’s seasons in the 1970s, before being promoted to producer for Tom's last series in 1980/81.
He told RT’s Gay Search in 1983, "I think they asked me because there was no one else as familiar with the programme as I was and, of course, they knew I desperately wanted to do it."
Don Smith photographed John, affectionately known as JN-T, among his souvenirs in the Doctor Who production office – which was not at Television Centre as many might imagine, but Room 204, Union House, an office block on Shepherd’s Bush Green.
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Costume designer Amy Roberts
Amy Roberts was credited on several Doctor Who stories with gorgeous costumes, including State of Decay, The Keeper of Traken and Mawdryn Undead. And she was pictured here with a rack of clothes including the radiation suits for the then unaired Peter Davison adventure, Warriors of the Deep (which she wasn’t credited on).
She said of Doctor Who in 1983: "It’s unlike anything else – you can go back in time and forward in time and design costumes for mythical and beautiful people as well as monsters. I love doing monsters because they’re a real challenge technically."
Amy Roberts is still working in the industry, has won BAFTAs and Emmy Awards, and was most recently the costume designer on The Crown.
Visual effects designers Mat Irvine and Peter Wragg
Don Smith photographed this pair at the BBC's Visual Effects Department in North Acton. Before them on their workshop bench were slight spoilers – the models for Sea Base Four and Sentinel Six security satellite from Warriors of the Deep, which wouldn’t be seen on screen until January 1984.
"It’s very hard to define exactly what we do," said Mat Irvine, "because we overlap with so many other departments, but generally whatever there’s a query about is ours!"
He was a familiar face after frequent appearances on children's television explaining the techniques of his craft. He worked on many Doctor Whos in the 1970s and early '80s, including The Curse of Peladon, The Stones of Blood and Warriors' Gate. He also worked on Blake's 7 and, decades later, came back to operate K•9 in School Reunion in 2006.
For the upcoming season 21 in 1984, he’d just been assigned to Resurrection of the Daleks. "I had to build Daleks of soft material because they have to explode in the studio, and it’s not a good idea to have solid Daleks exploding when there are actors around."
Visual effects designer Tony Harding
Also from their department was Tony Harding. He’d worked as an assistant on 1970s classics such as The Dæmons and Genesis of the Daleks, but his true claim to fame was designing the much-loved K•9, who debuted in The Invisible Enemy. "K•9 was originally described in the script as a 'mobile robot that vaguely resembles a dog'," Tony recalled.
In another spoiler, he was photographed with the creepy Malus from the forthcoming Peter Davison story, The Awakening (1984). "The Malus is a monster embedded in an old church," said Tony. "The design had to fit in with the style of the particular church they chose for filming. It had to look like a gargoyle and faintly resemble the Devil as people in that period saw him."
Model and props maker Richard Gregory
Through his own company Imagineering, Richard Gregory produced hi-tech props, spacesuits and monster suits including the new breed of Cybermen seen in Earthshock. He built the Malus prop designed by Tony Harding (above) for The Awakening.
In 1983, Richard told RT’s Gay Search: “Our workshop is in a small Oxfordshire village and we usually test the monster suits by walking about in them. The locals are used to it by now, and as they pass some hideous creature, they’ll say, ‘Morning, Richard!’”
Make-up artist Dorka Nieradzik
In a long and wide-ranging career that secured her two BAFTAs, Dorka Nieradzik made notable contributions to 1980s Doctor Who, from the mysterious Watcher in Logopolis to the Liquorice Allsorts-esque Kandyman in The Happiness Patrol.
In 1983, Don Smith photographed her in the make-up department, painting an alien lizard foot.
On a stand nearby was an Argolin headpiece from The Leisure Hive. She recalled her challenge on that 1980 story: "I had to turn Tom Baker into a lovable old man, a cross between your favourite grandfather and Santa Claus, so that children wouldn’t be frightened of him, but the hardest part was trying to hide Tom's thick, curly hair under a false bald head."
Set designer Tony Burrough
In 1983, Don Smith photographed Tony Burrough in the scenery runway and storage bay areas of the perimeter of the TV Centre studios. The disassembled police box is in one trolley and the TARDIS doors section in another.
He told RT: "I looked at a lot of pictures of the interiors of submarines, nuclear power stations and NASA headquarters in America because this station has to be bristling with technology. But the pictures were only a starting point because the story was set in the future and everything would have changed. I must say I enjoy futuristic space sets most of all."
Tony went on to win a BAFTA for the 1995 film Richard III.
Graphics designer Sid Sutton
The look of 1980s Doctor Who was largely set by Sid Sutton, who created the neon-style logo and starfield title sequences used on every episode from The Leisure Hive in 1980 to The Trial of a Time Lord in 1986.
Holding up his specially posed shots of Tom Baker and Peter Davison used in the titles, Sid explained, "I came up with the idea of a moving galaxy which formed the face of the Doctor. It was a tricky sequence because it involves shooting on the same piece of film over 40 times."
Video effects supervisor Dave Chapman
From late 1970s Tom Baker right through to the end of Sylvester McCoy’s time in 1989, Dave Chapman generated the video effects that appeared on screen.
"I’m responsible for the rays from ray guns, for giving people an aura (like the one Kameleon has before he’s transformed into someone else), for shrinking them and making them disappear." [Kamelion was a short-lived, shape-shifting robot companion to Davison’s Doctor.]
Sound engineer Dick Mills
Dick Mills was one of the most prolific contributors to Doctor Who. At the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, he assisted Delia Derbyshire when she created and assembled the weird sounds of the original theme tune in 1963. Later, he provided the special sound effects for almost every episode between 1973 to 1989.
Don Smith pictured Dick at work in 1983 with his script and cue sheets for Warriors of the Deep. He told Gay Search, "Machinery noises – crash-bang-scraping noises – are relatively easy, but something like a slimy monster crawling out of a swamp is a bit of a challenge.
"A handful of grease removing compounds squeezed between your fingers makes a very convincing squelching sound."
Composer Peter Howell
Peter Howell reinvented the soundscape of Doctor Who for the 1980s, when he created a completely new synthesized arrangement of Ron Grainer’s theme. At the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Peter also conjured up a series of striking scores for stories such as The Leisure Hive, Warriors' Gate and Kinda.
He'd composed the music for the imminent special, The Five Doctors. He told RT in 1983, "There isn't time to establish themes for every character, but I do try to give everyone a different instrumental sound. The Cybermen, for instance, have a very metallic sound, which I did with the lids of film cans fed into our computer and played back, three octaves lower.
"Sounds marvellous – like volcanoes erupting."
Stars Peter Davison as the Doctor, Janet Fielding as Tegan and Mark Strickson as Turlough
Finally, we’ve dug out a gorgeous photoshoot that Don Smith arranged with the stars of 1983 Doctor Who – Peter Davison as the Doctor, Janet Fielding as Tegan and Mark Strickson as Turlough – for a large-scale poster available in the 20th Anniversary Special. Here’s a selection from that shoot.
Our thanks to all the contributors above, as well as Gay Search, the late Don Smith, Radio Times Head of Heritage Ralph Montagu and photo archivist David Carlisle.
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