Story: Doctor Who producer John Nathan-Turner (1980-1990) relates the story of his tenure as the longest-serving producer of the series, virtually guiding it through the entirety of the 1980s until the BBC quietly cancelled it. In this volumes, he takes listeners, episode-by-episode, through his work on the show, starting halfway through 1986’s Trial Of A Time Lord, and then covering the tumultous unseating of leading man Colin Baker, the casting of his successor Sylvester McCoy, and the making of McCoy’s three seasons as the Doctor. Nathan-Turner’s continuing association with Doctor Who, even after the show was no longer being made, is covered, as are his thoughts on the show’s future (a few years before Russell T. Davies’ new series was announced) and some of its more vocal fans.
Review: A bit closer to what I was hoping to hear from The John Nathan-Turner Memoirs, the second volume of the former Doctor Who producer’s audio memoirs still comes in for a landing wide of the mark. Like the first volume, this one concentrates too much on story-by-story anecdotes in a way that doesn’t pause for breath and doesn’t allow for a more elaborate exploration of JN-T’s opinions of any particular event. I was bowled over that the show’s cancellation was basically glossed over here. I know that JN-T promises that his memoir won’t be one in which deep, dark dirt is dished. But I want to hear about the phone call or meeting where he discovered that the show was gone, and so was he: that’s not dirt, that’s cold hard facts, and their omission is a huge gap in the story of his involvement with Doctor Who.
Similarly glossed over is the sacking of Colin Baker following season 23. This was a huge event in the history of Doctor Who, and JN-T almost skates around it – he says he thought it was a bad decision. At the risk of sounding like I’m channeling Baker’s on-screen persona: a bad decision!? Nothing is said about what Nathan-Turner did to argue for the extension of Baker’s tenure. Again, would it really be dirt to talk about this stuff? And when the man huffs and blows so much about every abortive attempt to vacate his post to produce another show or to simply seek other work – attempts stymied every time by the BBC brass (though he doesn’t really say quite how) – there’s obviously a story there, one which simply isn’t elaborated upon. Also file his clashes with, in his words, the “fan glitterati” (meaning, in all likelihood, over-sensationalistic fanzine editors like Doctor Who Bulletin editor Gary Levy), under the “barely-mentioned issue” category. Unusually, though, the departure of script editor Eric Saward is covered in quite a bit more depth – this is the kind of depth in which I would’ve liked to see these other behind-the-scenes issues covered.
I found the story of the almost-cancelled Greatest Show In The Galaxy fascinating – much more so than, for example, the missing jewelry of an actress putting in a cameo on Silver Nemesis. JN-T has high praise for Saward’s successor, Andrew Cartmel – in fact, he really lays full credit for Doctor Who’s eleventh-hour revitalization at Cartmel’s feet. He also admits – and I’ve always suspected this – that his own enthusiasm for the series was bolstered by Cartmel’s iconoclastic approach to running the creative end of the show.
Again, though it’s slightly meatier than the first volume, the second half of The John Nathan-Turner Memoirs is in such a rush to chronicle every single serial that the man produced that it still cheats us out of much insight into the man himself.
Author: John Nathan-Turner
Publisher: Big Finish Productions
Total running time: 2:06:43