Reeltime’s latest 2-disc release of classic Doctor Who behind-the-scenes interviews (refreshingly this time including an all-new piece) focuses on the Peter Davison years – but in truth, the connection between most of these interviewees and the Fifth Doctor is pretty tenuous and gets little more than a passing mention. Much of the talent interviewed here worked on the series across a number of years and inevitably they had some involvement with the Davison era albeit often on a one-story basis. This is more of an observation than a criticism though; as usual, Reeltime has assembled a fascinating collection of thorough and well-considered interviews that spend as much time chronicling the lives and careers of its subjects and the changing face of British TV production as it does concentrate on Doctor Who, behind the scenes or otherwise.
Disc One kicks off in fine style with a terrific 2007 interview with sci-fi writer Stephen Gallagher, a name in the genre ascendance when he contributed the first of his two Doctor Who serials way back in 1980. A fairly deadpan character, Gallagher speaks with passion about the highs and lows of his writing career, his moments in the sun and the periods when he couldn’t get a written word published. He’s remarkably stoic about his achievements and he speaks of his first TV writing gig, 1980’s Warriors' Gate, a troubled and challenging Doctor Who production for Tom Baker’s last season and his 1983 contribution, Terminus (which provides the Davison connection), which was a smoother experience although it’s generally regarded as the inferior show. Genre TV fans will enjoy his recollections of his early fantasy shows such as the under-appreciated Oktober, which he directed and wrote) and the BBC’s Chimera. Gallagher may not be a barrel of laughs but his insights into the life of the struggling professional writer whose preferred genres drift in and out of fashion are as salutary today as they were 15 years ago.
Equally fascinating is a chat with veteran actor/writer Barbara Clegg, whose sole contribution to Doctor Who (despite several subsequent pitches) was the imaginative 1983 Davison serial Enlightenment. Interviewed in 2009 Barbara was suffering from ill health at the time and was recovering from a stroke and whilst her memories are sometimes elusive she often speaks with fondess of her long career – she was a popular regular on 1960s hospital drama Emergency Ward 10 – and the creation of her Doctor Who serial. Happily thirteen years on Barbara is still with us.
Sadly the same cannot be said for writer/director Peter Grimwade, interviewed here at his home by Nicholas Briggs in 1987, three years before his tragically early death in 1990. Best known for his work in the Davison era (he directed the first-season Davison classic Earthshock that returned the Cybermen to the series for the first time in five years) Grimwade presents as a slightly reticent interviewee, mannered and defensive and referring to himself, in that peculiarly English way, as 'one'. But he soon opens up and reveals more about his working techniques; perhaps the best moment in the set is the scene where Grimwade takes Briggs up to his attic office to display the magic of his massive word processor and Briggs marvels at its ability to “delete and move” text.
Over on Disc Two, we spend time with lively director Graeme Harper, famed for his “pace and energy” on set when he directed Caves of Androzani (Davison’s swansong) and Revelation of the Daleks in the 1980s. Always good value Harper, in an interview hailing from 2000, is full of anecdotes about his time progressing through the old BBC ranks. Harper would return to the rebooted show in the 21st century, of course, helming many of its new classics but it’s a shame that his ambitions to move into feature films were never realised. The new interview here features Margot Hayhoe, retired Assistant Floor Manager/Floor Manager on many classic series episodes. Interviewer Robert Dick adopts a chattier style: “You also worked with… what was that like?” is an approach that can backfire if the subject isn’t as warm and open as Hayhoe, whose memories involve working on many ambitious BBC period dramas alongside the likes of Sir Anthony Hopkins. The release is rounded off with an hour-long retrospective chat with sound engineer Dick Mills in retirement in 2006, where he discusses his long career at the BBC, his involvement with the creation of the famous Doctor Who themes and his proud record of working on Doctor Who from 1971 until its expiration in 1989.
All in all, despite its sometimes only tangential connection to its apparent subject matter, it’s another winner from Reeltime, a fine addition to its growing invaluable archive in this series of unfussy, direct, and often surprisingly probing and insightful interviews with the people who brought Doctor Who to the screen against sometimes impossible odds.