Reviews | Written by Paul Mount 26/09/2021

THE DOCTORS – THE WILLIAM HARTNELL YEARS : BEHIND THE SCENES

Reeltime’s latest 2-disc DVD release culled from their extensive classic Doctor Who interview archive takes us right back to the early days of the sci-fi sensation. This essential collection devotes its first disc to prime movers from the show’s formative years and, fittingly for a show with time travel at its core, the interviews leap across the decades as they bring us the thoughts and fascinating recollections of a string of creatives mostly no longer with us. Disc One presents an extensive 1996 interview conducted by an attentive Nicholas Briggs with the legendary Verity Lambert, the show’s dynamic first producer who recalls her early years in the TV industry and her various struggles in getting Doctor Who onto the screens. Lambert sadly passed away in November 2007 and this interview allows us to watch this calm, steely TV legend in her mellower later years reflecting on a long and hugely influential career. Next up is award-winning director Waris Hussein who helmed the very first Doctor Who serial and the later frustratingly-missing Marco Polo seven-parter. Interviewed in 2005, Hussein’s career accolades are numerous – at one point, he proudly displays his BAFTA and Emmy awards – but he speaks fondly of his time on Doctor Who, trying to make an intelligible drama from the show’s first prehistoric adventure and rightly bemoaning the loss of the opulent Marco Polo. It’s another engaging interview, the only distraction being interjections from Briggs who isn’t present but awkwardly phrases questions from a computer keyboard and a monitor replaying the footage. Disc One is rounded off by a lengthy 1999 chat with Donald Tosh who briefly - and, it appears, frustratingly - story edited the series alongside Lambert and latterly, John Wiles, who was entirely unsuited and largely disinterested in working on the show. Disc Two opens with convention footage from September 1986 which reunites Wiles, legendary scriptwriter Dennis Spooner and one-off writer Paul Erickson who contributed just one serial, The Ark, to the series in 1966, co-written by his then-wife Lesley Scott. This is a lively and chatty panel, especially poignant when the contributors are asked what they feel proudest of in their careers. Spooner, who carved out his name in the 1960s with Gerry Anderson and the classic ITC adventure series alongside Doctor Who, replies that he doesn’t think he’s yet written the thing he’s most proud of. He died from a heart attack about a fortnight later, aged just 53. Music composer Tristram Carey is interviewed at his home in Australia and the set is rounded off by chats with a handful of character actors who appears in the Hartnell era such as Edward De Souza, John Cater, and Fiona Walker. Fans of the early years of Doctor Who will be enthralled by this release featuring, yet again, familiar anecdotes and behind-the-scenes banter - with a smattering of stuff we might not have heard before – from the mouths of the people who were there at the time and who now aren’t around to remind us of the ground-breaking work they did, on a shoestring and often regarding it as “just another job”, on a series that eventually outlived them and will most likely outlive us all.