Tuesday, April 16, 2013
My recent extended hiatus during the progress of this blog allowed for enough time for Richard Marson to research, write, and publish his excellent biography on producer John Nathan-Turner. (As I type this, the first batch of copies of this are being sent out to people who pre-ordered the book; I strongly recommend picking it up, and you can place an order here: http://www.miwkpublishing.com/store/index.php?_a=product&product_id=30). To say that the book has altered my perception of the John Nathan-Turner era is an understatement. It hasn't changed the way I enjoy the episodes in a superficial fashion, but knowing what was going on behind the scenes at the time brings some verisimilitude to onscreen events.
The character of Whizzkid had a more prominent role in an earlier draft of The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, but various script changes ended up making the character somewhat redundant. Whizzkid lived on, although he was now transformed from a boy genius looking to impress the crowd at the Psychic Circus, into a thinly drawn parody of a typical obsessive Doctor Who fan. For years, I thought this was a harmless little joke. However, knowing that Nathan-Turner and his partner Gary Downie used to thrive on going to Doctor Who conventions in the United States in the 1980s (and partake in some fairly rambunctious activities, as outlined in Marson's book), sometimes at the expense of helming the very show they were producing, makes me think that the satire was directed towards fandom with a little more acidic approach than initially thought.
Gian Sammarco, who plays Whizzkid, was 18 at the time this story was being made. (His costume is actually prescient: the pullover could be seen as an homage to Sylvester McCoy's own garment, but the bowtie, shirt, and glasses wouldn't look out of place on a current day Eleventh Doctor cosplayer). He may or may not have been viewed as a "doable barker" by JNT and Downie, but Sammarco is handsome looking enough. I am not for one second implying that Sammarco was cast for clandestine reasons (he was a talented actor at the time, having just come off a successful stint as the lead role in The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole), but his appearance as Whizzkid seems to sum up both aspects of fandom that JNT and Gary Downie would have encountered at the many Doctor Who conventions they attended at the time.
I used to think that JNT unequivocally cared about the fans at the time. He may well have indeed, but his suggestion of the Whizzkid character smacks of a blatant disrespect to the fanbase that had elevated Nathan-Turner to near superstar status. Never before had the show's producer have as much of, if not more so, a public profile than the lead actor playing The Doctor himself. Whizzkid may also be a reaction to the treatment that those same fans were now giving Nathan-Turner at the time as the pages of Doctor Who Magazine and, especially, DreamWatch Bulletin, were filled with angry letters demanding his resignation for supposedly ruining their favourite show. Whatever the reason, the character of Whizzkid represented a troubling time for both the state of Doctor Who, and the status and mindset of its longest serving producer.
Posted by Steven at 3:37 PM