Books & Literature

Book Review: The Doctor Who Production Diary: The Hartnell Years, by David Brunt

NON-FICTION: In the first of a new series of books, noted Doctor Who historian David Brunt presents the most detailed and comprehensive day-by-day record ever published of the show’s production during the years 1963-1966 when William Hartnell played the Doctor.

A riveting fly-on-the-wall look at how "Doctor Who" was produced through its early years as told via archival paperwork.

Feature image credit: Telos Publishing

In a little suburb called Caversham in England is a place called the BBC Written Archives Centre. It contains documents from over 100 years of BBC history; correspondence, internal memorandums and contracts can be found for just about every major show the BBC has ever produced. This, of course, includes Doctor Who. David Brunt has spent a great deal of time pouring over the thousands of documents that make up the years 1963 to1966 to try and tell the behind-the-scenes story of the formative years of the program.

Starting with the initial pitches, through the pre-production setup, and continuing until the last meeting involving an episode related to William Hartnell’s tenure on the program, this engrossing volume captures a frantic pace of “fly by the seat of your pants” production. There is much flair in Brunt’s narrative and you soon become aware of certain plot threads that weave themselves through the course of several weeks or months. These include some startling communications that happen after William Hartnell hurts his back during a recording session for The Dalek Invasion of Earth. The flurry of letters between legal representatives are fast and furious until a settlement is quietly reached and the team move on. There was also the constant moaning in the early years about the lack of decent recording facilities for the first season of the program with many a director, producer, and actor complaining about Lime Grove’s outdated studios.

On the more pleasant side of things, initial producer Verity Lambert personally responded to fan requests quite frequently (as did original script editor David Whitaker) and we are treated to a number of wonderful letters from children, parents, and teachers alike. Towards the end of the book, we read how Innes Lloyd always wrote to cast members and production personnel to thank them for their efforts (and we are even treated to some of their replies). This is on top of reading script pitches that never made it (and when reading them, you are frequently forced to concede that the decision not to go ahead with them was the correct one).

These things are slotted in perfectly between bookings for rehearsal rooms, cars, effects, piano players, fire attendants and other daily minutiae that would be a typical day for the Doctor Who production office. We come to know many of the names we barely hear about otherwise except for names on a screen and the occasional interview.

Television, and the production of it, was a vastly different beast than what it is today. Brunt’s exceptional volume is the first in a projected series of volumes covering the so-called “classic years” of 1963 to 1989. It is beautifully published and written and while it may not be for everyone, it will certainly be a worthy addition to fans of classic Doctor Who and television history. 

Reviewed by Rodney Hrvatin
X: @Wagnerfan74

The views expressed in this review belong to the author and not Glam Adelaide, its affiliates, or employees.

Published by: Telos Publishing (available from Amazon)
Released: April 2024
RRP: $11.99 (e-book)

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