Reeltime Pictures’ latest 2-DVD presentation of archive Doctor Who material from their previously-on-VHS series takes us to one of the most interesting, exciting and enduring eras in the show’s long history. With the series skirting close to cancellation at the end of the black and white 1960s era, it fell to incoming producer Barry Letts and his script editor Terrance Dicks to refashion the show’s format as it relaunched in colour with Jon Pertwee taking over from Patrick Troughton in the lead role. Doctor Who’s long-term prospects were far from guaranteed and Pertwee’s first season in 1970 could well have been his only run and the show’s final roll of the dice if the audience hadn’t taken to the new Earthbound format imposed upon by Letts and Dicks by both the BBC are their production office predecessors. To this extent then, Letts and Dicks and probably the most important creatives ever to have left their mark upon the show (original producer Verity Lambert and relaunch supremo Russell T Davies notwithstanding) because of their terrific five years on the show and their dedication to making Doctor Who the best it could possibly be pretty much guaranteed the show’s place in TV’s history books.
Disc One of this new archive release is devoted to two long interviews with the pair, conducted by a young Nicholas Briggs and it's fascinating, charming stuff. Letts and Dicks are no longer with us, of course, so this opportunity to spend time with them in their post-Who pomp as they wander amiably down memory lane, gently guided by Briggs, is an absolute delight. They briefly recall their own early days and careers before starting their chronological journey through their Doctor Who years, reminding one another of some forgotten anecdote or other, correcting one another when the memory has cheated and generally glorying in their years reinventing and refining Doctor Who for the 1970s. Long-time fans are unlikely to find too much really new here – many of these anecdotes are familiar territory for the hardcore – but there’s unbridled joy in watching these titans of Doctor Who telling these stories in their own words and the strength and depth of their friendship and admiration for one another shines out from every fascinating frame.
Disc Two is no less interesting even if it ventures from ‘behind the scenes’ to ‘in front of the camera’ in places. Vintage convention footage sees Letts and Dicks (with some stories we’ve enjoyed on Disc One) joined on stage by 1970s writer Bob Baker and a rare appearance from writer Don Houghton who crafted 1970’s seven-part serial ‘Inferno’ widely championed as one of the very best Doctor Who serials from the classic era. Volume 1 of ‘the Directors’ sees Christopher Barry and Paul Bernard, both no longer with us, talk fondly about their extensive work on the series. A timely inclusion sees Damaris Hayman, who passed away only recently, discussing her iconic role as local white witch Olive Hawthorne in 1971’s acclaimed serial The Daemons, ‘Day of the Daleks’ actors Anna Barry and Valentine Palmer recall their time on the 1972 serial, which saw the Daleks return after a five-year absence and Terence Lodge remembers his trio of Doctor Who appearances in the 1960s and 1970s.
These Reeltime releases remain an important resource for anyone interested in the history of Doctor Who, offering the opportunity to see and hear the people who were there talking about how and why it all happened and how a low budget family sci-fi series became a national institution. As the passage of time distances us evermore from the show’s roots and its original glory days and with so few of its 1960s and 1970s behind-the-scenes talents still around to tell their stories, Reeltime’s archive - hopefully Vol 2 of this Pertwee-era series isn't too far away - is invaluable and essential, a form of time travel that the Doctor him/herself would surely approve of.