The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Believe In Humanity

RIP Barry Letts; amongst many other achievements, producer of Doctor Who during the first half of the 1970’s.

To be fair, that eras isn’t a favourite; I’ve never been that keen on Doctor Who stories where the Doctor is stuck on Earth, usually in a power station, working for the army. To be fair, though, Barry Letts wasn’t that keen on those sort of stories either. He only stuck with them of a sense of obligation to his predecessor; but after a couple of years, the Doctor was off exploring alien planets again and the army – well, the Brigadier, Captain and Sergeant who constituted ‘UNIT’ – would only turn up for a few weeks each year.

During his time with Jon Pertwee’s Doctor Who he transformed the show from a low-rating show which was under a hovering axe to a high-rating popular success. His most obvious contributions to the show were creating the characters of the Master and Sarah Jane and casting Tom Baker as the fourth Doctor Who. As well as producing, he directed and co-wrote a whole load of stories as well; the One With The Troll Doll Coming To Life; the One With The Daemons, the One With The Maggots, the One With The Spiders. All those fantastic, memorable stories – and The Time Monster as well.

But more important, perhaps, was the intelligence he brought to the show. During his time it was more sophisticated and contemporary in a way it wouldn’t really be again until Russellty took over. All those stories address topical issues; with a strong moral base, a pro-liberal pro-ecology pro-equality and pro-science outlook. And pro-humanity. That’s what comes across, loud and clear, in every episode. The humanity of the man.

After he left Doctor Who, he spent fifteen-odd years producing nearly every BBC Classic Serial; most of Dickens, Beau Geste, The Invisible Man, Gulliver In Lilliput, Alice In Wonderland. Anything which featured rouged cheeks and large amounts of facial hair.

I’m over my three hundred words, but sod it, one more thing to add. Being a fan of Doctor Who is about celebrating heroes. Barry Letts was a hero of television; the millions of people who watched his Doctor Whos, or his many Classic Serials, had their lives enriched by his talent and intelligence; but such is the way of the world, his contribution was never generally recognised or rewarded – it’s the actors who get the trophies - except by those of us who are geeky enough to read the end credits of programmes, who know how much great work he left behind; and who know that we’ll wish his memory well whenever we watch one of those shows again.

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