Koch Media’s latest two-disc DVD compilation of archive Doctor Who interview material, culled from the popular Reeltime Pictures Myth Makers series which thrived in the dark days when there was no Doctor Who on the telly, is a rather sweet and charming cap-doff towards some of the show’s hardest working unsung heroes. Sweating under hot studio lights and sheathed in figure-hugging rubber costumes or covered in unyielding prosthetics, a little reparatory group of actors, their names unknown to all but the most determined credits-scouring fans, gave life to Doctor Who’s menageries of lumbering lizards, rattling robots and antagonistic androids across the classic show’s twenty-six year run. Where Koch’s previous collections have focussed on the front-of-camera talent from the original series, this new release is a fitfully interesting and sometimes poignant look behind the latex that allows fans to finally put faces to names they may have learned by heart over the years, many of who have sadly passed away in the decades since the interviews were originally conducted. Monsters! is a valuable time capsule, then, a celebration of an elite group of performers who all helped to contribute to the magic of Doctor Who.
There’s a wonderful enthusiastic naivety to these interviews and if some of the anecdotes its contributors wheel out seem familiar now, it’s important to remember than many of the performers had, at the time, never been afforded the opportunity to talk about their time on the show. Disc one contains I Was a Doctor Who Monster, a sixty-minute documentary from 1996 hosted by Sylvester McCoy (on the cusp of reprising the role for the ill-fated Fox TV movie) and features a host of Doctor Who’s monster men – the likes of Nick Evans, Sonny Caldinez, Gregory de Polnay, John Scott Martin, Rick Newby, Stephen Thorne and celebrated stunt performer Stuart Fell – warmly sharing their memories of their time playing Daleks, Ice Warriors, Robots of Death and even the cumbersome Krynoid from 1976’s Seeds of Doom. Nice as it is to see many of these hard-working individuals (all justifiably proud of their contributions to the series) the point is quickly (and repeatedly) made that their costumes were hot, uncomfortable, afforded restricted vision, made going to the loo a Herculean task and were occasionally dangerous. As if to offer some visual variety (and to make up for their fact that licensing actual clips from the series was a no-no), the feature is dotted with clunky ‘reconstructions’ which battle manfully to evoke the spirit of the early days of the series but now just come across as a little embarrassing. More interesting are the other individual interviews bundled into the package where the current show’s go-to monster-voicer Nicholas Briggs, quickly established as Reeltime’s interviewer of choice, speaks to Dalek designer Raymond Cusick (famously bitter about the lack of recognition he received for his work in creating the ‘look’ of the Daleks, Cusick is chatty enough but he never cracks a smile), 1980s Cyberleader actor David Banks (complete with mullet and trendy 1980s fashion sensibilities) and the late Michael Wisher who portrayed the original Davros in 1975’s Genesis of the Daleks. Most fascinating, however, is disc two’s chat with Jack Pitt who performed frequently during the William Hartnell era, becoming great friends with the notoriously-curmudgeonly actor; his tales of his experiences with Hartnell (they shared a house during their time working together) are a terrific insight into the private life of the actor whose crotchety charisma on and off screen has fascinated fans for over five decades.
Monsters! hails largely from the late 1980s so allowances need to be made for variable picture quality, some dodgy creative choices and the general air of enthusiastic amateurism which pervades much of its content. But Monsters! is not only a snapshot of a very particular time in Doctor Who’s history when its fans had to make their own entertainment to keep the name alive and an essential purchase for anyone with an enduring interest in a very specialised behind-the-scenes area of the classic series but a chance to hear horse’s mouth stories from too many talented individuals who just aren’t around today to share their unique memories.
Special Feature: Introduction by Keith Barnfather and Nick Briggs
THE DOCTORS – MONSTERS! / CERT: E / DIRECTOR: KEITH BARNFATHER / STARRING: SYLVESTER MCCOY, RAYMOND CUSICK,MICHAEL WISHER, DAVID BANKS, JACK PITT, CY TOWN, NICHOLAS BRIGGS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW