Colin Baker might have had quite a rude awakening this morning. With his face splashed on the front page of the Daily Mirror, next to John Nathan-Turner in front of the TARDIS and the 100-point full-caps header DOCTOR WHO SEX SCANDAL, the Sixth Doc might have had reason to pick up the phone to his solicitors immediately (I suspect on balance that he would not win an action, but I wouldn’t be totally sure – the obvious and reasonable conclusion to draw from it is that Baker has been implicated in a Savile-style scandal, even if the context clearly absolves him of guilt). A tiny caption points out that Baker is not connected with the sex rumours that have broken into the mainstream since Richard Marson’s book on JN-T hit the desks of bloggers and Doctor Who fan journos over the last fortnight.
To recap, Marson’s book alleges a number of sexual misdemeanors on the part of JN-T and his partner Gary Downie while they essentially ran Doctor Who in the 1980s. I’ve not read the book, but from interviews and reviews Marson seems to take a rather blase attitude to Nathan-Turner and even Downie to some extent; he apparently describes a visit to the Doctor Who production office where he ended up hiding under a desk in order to avoid a buggery from Downie, but seems to hand-wave it away as One Of Those Things. Nathan_Turner also makes a pass at the 17-year-old Marson and, when rebuffed, chides him for his provincial mindset. What larks.
Of particular interest to the tabloids, of course, is the suggestion that Downie and Nathan-Turner would scour the conventions for young men to have sex with and, while Marson doesn’t seem to be of the impression that anything like the abuse that’s come to light with the Savile probes was committed, the implication is that men who were under the then age of homosexual consent – identified with the gruesome term ‘Doable Barkers’ by Downie and Nathan-Turner – may have had a close encounter with the production duo’s fluid links. At a time of Savile and BBC hysteria – and in the 50th anniversary year – it’s all meat and drink to newspapers.
None of the revelations have come as much surprise to seasoned Who fans – and many will be aware of various additional rumours that have done the rounds for years about what went on at conventions, casting room couches, dressing rooms and more besides back in the day. There’s a lot of nasty stuff floating around fandom from the 80s – and I’m not just talking about Time And The Rani or that picture of Ian Levine in his gym sweats.
Many fellow fans have been dreading the publication of the Nathan-Turner book as the threat to Doctor Who in the anniversary year is obvious. Marson seems to have reacted to the interest of the papers in the more prurient stories culled from the book – by all accounts the more grimy stuff does not account for a vast majority of the book – with a mixture of bemusement and irritation, but this is surely naivety on a grand scale or simple disingenuousness. The idea that this was not seen coming is too far-fetched to really believe; a charitable view is that Marson’s book has unfortunately dovetailed with an elevated media interest in the BBC and its employees of yore – and the higher profile the anniversary year has afforded the programme.
But to me this is the inevitable result of a lot of scab-picking that fandom has indulged in over the last dozen or so years. In his rather good Guardian review of the book, Mathew Sweet asserts that the Who is the most documented TV programme of all time. I don’t doubt it – I write a blog on the programme and my brother has contributed a chapter on religion in Big Finish plays to an academic tract, just two minor examples among dozens.
However, barring the discovery of another batch of missing episodes – or another long-lost interview like the Pertwee articles in recent DWMs – we’re nearing saturation point on what else there is to say about Doctor Who, the classic series at any rate. This year we’ll see Mark Gatiss’ An Adventure In Time And Space (and very welcome too), a programme on the origins of the series, and scarcely a week seems to go by without someone flagging up another cod-academic blog or Mad Norwegian on Who. Lawrence Miles, Tat Wood and Lance Parkin – among others – are contributing interesting, weighty tracts on the show; the documenters such as Andrew Pixley, Richard Bignell, David J Howe, Ed Stradling and Mark Ayres are carefully cataloguing everything there is to know about the facts and figures of Doctor Who. It’s been clear for some years that everyone has run of stock photos to use on the covers and the very close end of the initial run of DVDs means there’s some sort of original documentary material on virtually every complete story.
Simply put, where the original series is concerned, there’s nothing left to know. And so Doctor Who has started to eat itself. It’s not enough to know about where The Hand Of Fear was filmed, that Sylv saved Sophie’s life during the recording of Battlefield, the real identity of Robin Bland or that the noise of a Yeti’s roar is a slowed-down toilet flush. Having devoured these factoids for decades we’ve turned our hungry gaze to the show’s cast and crew. The internet has drip-fed us whispered anecdotes for years but – in the way that mainstream media often adopts the more populist tactics of new media and blogs – we’ve started to see more and more of this prurient material finding its way into recognised organs or mainstream books.
To read Doctor Who Magazine in the last few years has allowed us to glean hints about Patrick Troughton’s extra-marital activities, how Tom thought Pertwee was tight, Nick Courtney’s last hours and how Sylvester spent most of his time as part of Ken Campbell”s troupe shagging his way around London. Even the (otherwise excellent) recent Pertwee interview described a broken-hearted septuagenarian Pertwee uncontrollably sobbing because he’d recently lost a treasured stuffed toy. It was depressing as Hell, though the introductions did suggest that the material had, rightly, been edited to remove some of the more unsavoury stuff.
Elsewhere we now know about Hartnell’s supposed racism (still a matter of some significant dispute, despite Sweet’s assertion in the Guardian), Nick Courtney’s crippling depression, Tom’s womanising and boozing, Mathew Waterhouse’s sexual awakenings while at the Beeb, the alcoholism of certain guest stars and which companion has supposedly slept with three Doctors – the latter, rightly, earning Gary Gillatt a stern rebuke from Colin Baker. Some of these have been rather nuanced and suited the idiom in which they were revealed. Tom’s autobiography, for example, is a riotous joy and comes as little surprise, while Waterhouse’s rather lovely Blue Box Boy is shot through with whimsy, irony and affection.
But most of this gossip is simply rather dismaying. I don’t want to know about the sexual incontinence of my television heroes; I don’t want to know that some Doctors dislike others, nor that JN-T was fellated by a willing Barker while on the phone to Biddy Baxter. I don’t want to know that Troughton allegedly had a habit of whipping out his knob while I’m watching his “some corners of the universe” speech in Tomb Of The Cybermen, nor that Pertwee and Ainley hated one another while I’m watching them face off in The Five Doctors.
Our appetite for these forbidden nuggets is understandable – in a similar fashion, the internet “dirt sheets” about who htaes who backstage in the world of professional wrestling has opened up a whole new industry as people who grew up cheering Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold and The Rock now search for stories about steroid abuse, sexual liaisons and professional jealousy. Yet it only serves to cheapen the thing we love. To paraphrase Ecclestone’s Doctor in Dalek, we haul something down from the stars and bury it in morbid, sad, everyday human frailties.
I don’t dispute that the material of JN-T and Downie – some of it anyway – is fair game, nor am I suggesting that we should hush up tales of impropriety simply because it sullies our memories of a TV show. Doctor Who isn’t just our progamme, it’s one of the most famous series in television history. But we’re continuing to unearth what often amounts to hearsay and conjecture about people who may have been dead for decades because of our hunger to know more and more about Doctor Who. Barry Letts might have had a thing or two to say about where our selfish pursuit for knowledge may lead us.
In today’s front page it reached its apotheosis. In our 50th anniversary year, where we might have looked forward to the sort of treats one would associate with a childhood birthday, we’re dreading Doctor Who being dissected in a media gaze that doesn’t care about ruining the reputations of our show and its family. We only have ourselves to blame.