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Doctor Who then and now

The Stage, May 15 2008 (with Doctor Who feature)

In this week’s print edition of The Stage, former Doctor Who producer Philip Hinchcliffe, who was in charge of the show between 1974 and 1977, compares the modern day Saturday night hit drama with the shows from his own era.

Hinchcliffe talks Stage readers through his thoughts upon watching the third episode of the current series, Planet of the Ood. Covering subjects as diverse as the move to 45-minute episodes, comparing the quality of monster designs and the level of violence and fear that a family-oriented show can include.

Read on for a preview of the feature.

In this segment of the feature, Hinchcliffe talks about how Doctor Who’s episode structure has changed since his time at the helm. When he was producer, stories tended to be told in four to six weekly episodes of 25 minutes in length. The current series’ tales are told as either one or two 45-minute episodes.

“The structure of these single episode stories is interesting,” Hinchcliffe comments, pausing the DVD for a moment. “It’s flipping the familiar sci-fi idea of a people enslaved. Here the humans are the masters and the aliens, the slaves. It’s a good, clear concept. Obviously it’s been concertinaed and compressed to fit 45 minutes, but it’s still a powerful central story.

“Some of these stories have a wonderful story development. Two-parters like the gas mask one Steven Moffat wrote, have had wonderful space in them for atmosphere — room for the story to breathe. Sometimes in the 45-minute episodes there’s not quite the time to breathe, but that’s not the case here.”

He also passes comment on the role of the companion, played in the current series by Catherine Tate:

“There’s a real emotional depth to the relationship between the Doctor and his assistants. The Billie Piper stories particularly struck me. It’s given it a modern feel — a different level to the dramatic experience. There’s an emotional edge. It makes the series accessible not only to the target audience of younger children, but also to the slightly older viewers. I think that’s a great achievement, really.”

[…]

Donna wanders over to question an Ood. “Catherine Tate makes it very accessible,” he continues. “She’s a celebrity and I think that the new series has tapped into this — the world of young people, where celebrity-hood is now taken for granted. Pop Idol, I’d Do AnythingDoctor Who is a part of that landscape of light entertainment now.

“It doesn’t seem at all odd that Catherine Tate should have a role. She somehow belongs there. It all seems to blend in.

“The series is performing the same function as we did in the early seventies, kicking off Saturday night viewing before the heavyweight shows come on. In our day it was The Generation Game. Now it’s I’d Do Anything.”

You can read the full feature in the May 15 edition of The Stage, available from most high street branches of WH Smith and many other newsagents, price £1.30.

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