BooksDoctor Who

Doctor Who: The Early Years by Jeremy Bentham (book review).

I recently stumbled upon a reference to ‘Doctor Who: The Early Years’ by Jeremy Bentham, specifically regarding Ray Cusick’s art for the series. I had never bought this book when it was first published, but I figured it was high time to explore it. If you’re into scoring older books at reasonable prices, this one certainly fits the bill. Bentham recognises Lime Grove as the studio where much of the early Doctor Who episodes were filmed and subtly alludes to Tom Baker, though without naming him.

The author’s historical account of BBC and ITV’s engagement with SF is intriguing. Back in 1986, ‘Pathfinders in Space’ (1960-61) had yet to be released on DVD or video, and its groundbreaking significance had somehow escaped me. The unifying element in all this was Canadian producer Sydney Newman, who introduced a dose of Science Fiction to both ITV and BBC’s programming. This highlights the ongoing need for producers with an affinity for SF across these channels, not just for ‘Doctor Who’. Since the series’ revival, there have only been three showrunners. The BBC should nurture more SF-oriented showrunners, not just for ‘Doctor Who’.

The book leans less towards plot details and more towards the people involved, such as script-editor/writer David Whitaker. There’s certainly much more to explore regarding the BBC policy, which denies creators the benefits from their shows’ success, particularly in the case of ‘Doctor Who’, which was a massive hit at the time.

The book doesn’t cover all the stories from the first three seasons, likely due to the pre-video release period of many of them. However, the behind-the-scenes sections more than compensate for this omission. Ray Cusick’s blueprints are featured extensively, with the Dalek design history being a standout. Given its insightful exploration of early ‘Doctor Who’, this book merits a spot on your shelf. Any current books on any subject rely on their authors’ familiarity with earlier source materials. The same should apply to discerning readers.

Surprisingly, I hadn’t realised that associate producer Mervyn Pinfield was the inventor of what eventually became the autocue, a device now widely used on TV.

Even if you’re familiar with the early series’ history, this book provides valuable reminders and insights, often from the people directly involved. I can’t help but wonder if Carole Ann Ford might have stayed on had her role as Susan Foreman lived up to the initial portrayal she was sold. I also found a photo of Ford and another of the Sensorites (minus their heads) particularly engaging.

This book stands the test of time, providing insights into production and design closer to the actual events than retrospectives written today. Devoted ‘Who’ fans likely own a copy. For those looking to expand their ‘Who’ collection, this book is a worthy consideration.

GF Willmetts

May 2023

(pub: WH Allen, 1986. 224 page illustrated large hardback. Price:  ISBN: 0-491-03612-4)


Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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