19 January 2017

The Schism of Doctor Who

Re-watching The E-Space Trilogy of Doctor Who on DVD and watching it with the commentary on, you realize there was a lot of moving parts going on in season eighteen. Mostly there was a near complete revamping of the show in 1980 when John Nathan-Turner took over as showrunner, which alienated series star Tom Baker and costar Lalla Ward (and their romance troubles began to bleed into the show as well, which created even more tension). After six series with Baker in the lead the show was a crossroads. While Doctor Who remained popular, under the reign of the fourth Doctor, the show’s ratings grew in spite of (or because of) the vocal criticism of BBC executives and some viewers that felt the shows dark themes and Gothic horror meant the series was no longer an appropriate  kids show that it had started out as way back in 1963. Even as the series tried to scale back some of darkness during season 16 and 17, the scripts were considerably less interesting than the ones under showrunner Philip Hinchcliff, who ran the show for four years (though his first year he shared those duties with Barry Letts). For the 1978-79 and 1979-80 seasons, new showrunner Graham Williams was under orders to reduce the shows reliance on violence and horror. While season 16 had a unique theme –a season long arc called The Key to Time- the show began a slow devolve into parody by the start of season 17.  

But for his seventh and final year as the Doctor, it became clear that things were about to change. With the huge success of Doctor Who, Tom Baker’s ego grew exponentially as well, but as the 18th season started he found that he no longer had any control with the new regime running the show. A lot of what Nathan-Turner did to the show in his long-term as showrunner gives a perfect example of why it was cancelled in 1989 after 26 years. With the shows huge success here in America, it became clear that Nathan-Turner was appealing more to the American audience than the British ones. 

And both Baker and Ward hated almost everything that Nathan-Turner introduced, from new theme music, a new logo, to Baker’s change in costume (including the question mark motif that would remain with the series until its end) to stories that were a combination of the old style serials, mashed with some high concept storytelling that would become the TV norm (and motion pictures) ten to fifteen years later. 

It was also around this time that public learned that the Baker and Ward were in a romantic relationship –one that seemed doomed from the start. By the start of production on season eighteen, the two were barley speaking to one another (though they would be married before Baker bowed out of the show in early 1981) and that schism between them simmered behind the scenes and became obvious on screen as well. If you watch the serials of Ward’s last 20 episodes of that season (encompassing the serials The Leisure Hive, Meglos, Full Circle, State of Decay, and Warriors’ Gate) Tom Baker barley looks in the eyes of his co-star and future wife. It was also during this time that Baker had developed some sort of neurological disorder that greatly affected his weight and straightened his curly hair. So the strain of his relationship with Ward, his illness, and the changes to “his” show brought on by John Nathan-Turner (including the casting of Matthew Waterhouse as new companion Adric) were probably all the reasons Baker decided to quit the show after a record seven year run as the Doctor. 

But it’s shocking to realize, when you listen to the commentaries on both Full Circle and Warriors' Gate (which were recorded in 2007), how much Lalla Ward not only disliked the character of Adric but the actor who played him, Matthew Waterhouse, as well. You do get some hints on the DVDS as to why she continues to carry on this aversion for him, but it strikes me that whatever caused their division, you would think after some 35 years they could bury the hatchet?

I wonder why they haven’t.

No comments: