Philip Hinchcliffe is often hailed by Doctor Who fans as one of the show’s very best producers, having been at the helm of the series during the early Tom Baker era from 1974-77.
Introducing Baker’s Fourth Doctor, taking the Time Lord back out into the stars and introducing a new style of stories inspired by classic horror, Hinchcliffe’s era was composed mostly of four- and six-part stories.
“So the whole idea was that every week, there’s an episode with a cliffhanger, and the audience talked about it during the week, and then they came back. Four half-hours, or four 25 minutes, is pretty much the length of a movie. And so that that was the ideal story arc, over four half-hours.
“[Doctor Who showrunner] Chris Chibnall and I talked about this when I met him a couple years ago – we had our natural cliffhangers. He said that he’s trying to construct within his story structures to have ‘cliffhanger moments’, if you know what I mean, going through. But it all happens much faster, at a much faster pace.”
Asked if working in the modern show’s format of single episodes, running to 45 minutes each, would appeal to him, Hinchcliffe replied: “I don’t think it would. I don’t think that the 45 or 50 minutes story is as satisfying in some ways, because you don’t get to know the characters much, or as well as in my stories.
“You need to invest something in the characters and care about what’s going to happen. And that’s not always just the Doctor and the companion, it’s the other people in the stories.”
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He voiced a preference instead for the modern show’s two-part stories, suggesting that these “often work really well.”
“Because again, they’re movie-length,” he said. “And I think there is always a danger [with the single episodes] that, you know, if the Doctor has to solve the whole thing, you have to have shortcuts, [in terms of] the way he manages to defeat everybody.
“I always remember when I first started, Barry Letts [Hinchcliffe’s predecessor as Doctor Who producer] and Terrance Dicks [Doctor Who script editor from 1968 to 1974] said to me, ‘We’ve got this thing called the sonic screwdriver, but we ration how much we use it, otherwise it’s one bound, and the Doctor’s free.’ And I think that’s a danger with modern storytelling.
“I mean, I’m not actually thinking of any particular story recently, because I haven’t watched a lot of them. But I think that is a danger when you’re trying to set up a mystery, the danger, defeat the enemy…. you know, and get back for tea-time!”
Despite his reservations about the single episode structure, Hinchcliffe called the revived version of Doctor Who “a fabulous success”, praising it for having “reinvented the show but keeping the core values.”
“I went down a couple of years ago when Chris Chibnall took over – they were marvellous, showed me everything that was going on,” he said. “And I’ve met a few of the modern directors when I’ve been at conventions and things like that. So I’ve talked in some detail to them about how it’s been made since it came back.
“I thought Russell T Davies, and then Steven Moffat, have done a fantastic job. And that’s, I think, why there’s still fans discovering my era. Without the programme having come back in such a successful form, I think that my era and the previous ones would have kind of just dwindled… but somehow there’s a new focus on them. So that’s terrific, it’s great.”
Doctor Who: Philip Hinchcliffe Presents Volume 04: The God of Phantoms is available now from bigfinish.com.