Doctor Who News Former BBC DG Sir Michael Grade

Published on May 2nd, 2012 | by Andrew Reynolds

Michael Grade: Dishing the Dirt on Who

Former BBC DG Sir Michael Grade

"Look! I can count. Ergo, I have the power of life and death over any TV show…"

Building on the old TV adage that if something is popular that means it must be good and vice versa Michael Grade – the man responsible for Doctor Who being put ‘on hold’ in 1986 and owner of the prestigious ’Horses Ass’ trophy (presented to him by American Doctor Who fans) – has been talking about the events leading up to its cancellation and eventual resurrection in 2005.

Doctor Who News has reported that Grade was speaking on BBC Radio 2 show, On the Box, in a section called Dishing the Dirt where he shared his own viewpoint on the event. The former Director General of the BBC also chatted with key players involved in the decisions such as then BBC Controller Jonathan Powell and eventual successor Lorraine Heggessey who held the role when the show returned to our screens, and shares some of the difficulties she face in bringing the Doctor back:

“I just remembered it as an iconic show. I wanted popular drama at the heart of Saturday night.”

Grade also talks to former showrunner Russell T. Davies, BBC executive Jane Tranter and former Executive Producer Mal Young, as well as Steven Moffat who talks about the plans for the fiftieth anniversary of the show:

“It is a concern to stamp the word 50 on a series because it should be brand new every few years. But its great as it does give you an excuse for a party and an excuse to take over television again.”

On the Box is available for the next seven days via the BBC iPlayer.

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About the Author

Everyone has a favourite Doctor and mine - just for his honesty, his fairness and his ability to not notice the Master's awful, awful disguises/anagrams (Sir Gilles Estram!?!) - has to be the Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison. The stories didn’t serve him as well as his acting served those stories.




6 Responses to Michael Grade: Dishing the Dirt on Who

  1. Castellan Spandrel says:

    Michael Grade is a c&*%.

  2. francis cave says:

    Just listened to it.

    Interesting though some of the Moff’s comments were a little unfortunate, especially comparing DW to the James Bond series in that you wouldn’t cancel the films because the lead actor in the role wasn’t up to scratch.

    Not exactly fair on Colin Baker and judging from a comment from him on Twitter he wasn’t exactly overjoyed when he heard it.

    Shame…

    • bessie's spare wheel says:

      Yeah, agreeing with Francis Cave’s comments. The decline of Dr Who in the 80s is rather complex and not something to be covered in a few crude soundbites from a cackling Grade and a suddenly inexplicably strangely ill informed and tactless Moffat.

      There’s a lot of reasons Who was vulnerable in 85. Chiefly whatever the quality of its scripts by 1985 its look was fatally dated owing to years of underfunding. Still shooting it three-wall multi-camera, complex effects and all against the clock that hadn’t significantly changed since 1963 was beyond bonkers in that post Lucas cinematic era. The show had been taken for granted by the BBC for years and it showed.

      The impact of Star Wars rendered Who dated overnight. In a world of Jedi, Alien films, Ghostbusters, Gremlins and glossy filmic TV Star Wars lite variants Who was still being shot theatrically. The show had needed the investment to become filmic years before.

      Yeah JNT made some bad decisions (as well as good ones), and at that time too many weaker scripts got through, but the show would still have looked stuck in a timewarp even with Harper directing every episode at full pelt. None of this has anything to do with Colin Baker.

      Doctor Who wasn’t valued by the BBC. I saw someone recently comparing the budgets for late 80s Who to ITV’s then Morse (I think it was Richard Bignell) and the money spent on Morse in comparison to Who was huge.

      So for Moffat to quip: “You don’t axe James Bond just cos there’s been a bad one” seems really unfair. Does Matt Smith have any influence on the brilliant scripts he gets? No! Did Colin Baker have any influence on the scripts and dialogue he got? No! What Matt Smith did have was huge input into his outfit and Doctor in a collaborative process. Poor Colin Baker was forced to wear something he never wanted which effectively upstaged his performance from the get-go.

      But whatever the production team did in 1985, whoever was playing the Doctor it wouldn’t have been good enough because for Powell and Grade it wasn’t Star Wars/ET level special effects. They didn’t get sci-fi never mind Doctor Who. Warriors of the Deep’s debacle was only a year earlier too. The viewing figures had been as low if not lower in the five years prior to 85 at various points. Poor old Colin Baker was just very unlucky to be there at the time when Grade and Powell came in.

      There’s still great stuff in that era, Varos, Revelation, Mindwarp (strangely delicious if flawed), Vervoids and Holmes part 13 are all very fine Who. But to hear what a truly great Doctor Colin is we only have to listen to the many BF plays where he has all the advantages he never got on tv especially in Holy Terror, One Doctor, Jubilee, and the India Fisher plays.

      Consistently better scripts and dialogue, the outfit Colin wanted to wear so as to make sense of the character and give him status on screen and he’d have had a longer run. But then still they’d have been stuck with a shooting style that made it hard for the audience to believe in it. The show had a lot of problems back then but poor old Colin Baker wasn’t one of them so, as Francis Cave said it’s a shame Moffat put it so simplistically when he of all people must know that wasn’t really the case. And Colin has been very effusive about Moffat’s work on Who over the years so what a pity for Moffat’s off the cuffness. Why people have to be so perpetually catty so many years after the event is beyond me.

      Also what is it with Grade? Both Moffat and RTD in the Writers Tale vol 2 go out of their way to tell him he was right! Is Grade really the Master with mind controlling powers?

      • Joe Montagne says:

        I tend to agree. The 1980-2000 era was a terrible time for low-budget science fiction. There was no way that DW could compete with Aliens, Ghostbusters, E.T., Star Wars, and of course the high-budget Star Trek movies and Next Generation series. Cheap computer animation changed all that. A particular effect that cost $1 million worth of specialized equipment in 1985 now can be done on a home computer. If there was one thing that brought back Doctor Who, it would have to be inexpensive effects.

        As did different attitudes. DW, especially the way it was in the 80s, was poison to yuppies such as Grade and Powell. “Let them eat cake.” The Grades and Powells live in their Dallas/Dynasty fantasy world ivory towers yet want everyone to believe they are so balanced, worldly, and connected to reality. They are the ones who needed to get a life.

  3. francis cave says:

    You know whats the most frustrating thing?

    Grade & Co decided the series needed a rest.

    Fine, perhaps it did for a short period while what wasnt working (and yes there were some things) were looked and and the series was “reimagined” shall we say.

    But what did they actually actions did they impliment during the hiatus?

    Increase the budget? – Nope
    Change the producer or get an executive producer in to help guide the series? – Nope
    Work with the script edition to create a new vision? – Nope

    They said basically something to the effect of “its not working, change it” then when pushed to explain what needed to change they said “cut down on the violence” and that appears to be it.

    With that little amount of guidance JNT & Eric Saward came up with the Trial series.

    At then end of that series the word from on high was “well that was pretty ok. You can make another series but we need to change something. Sack Colin.”.

    Since then I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen programmes featuring Who’s history which basically say, “it was all good up to Tom Baker. It was fairly ok with Davison then it went a bit rubbish” with perhaps a “it did get a little bit better at the end with McCoy” (I have to disagree but there you go) at the end.

    So Colin gets fired from a job he clearly enjoyed and which a good portion of fandom agree he would have been great at had he been given more time in the role and some good quality scripts.

    To add insult to injury he gets somehow labelled as “The Rubbish Doctor” by virtue of simply being in the right job at the wrong time.

    A few weeks ago Richard Herring in his regular article for the Metro referred to something being “like a bad Colin Baker episode of Doctor Who”.

    Again on Twitter Colin referred to reading this. How crap must that have made him feel.

    Now we even have the Moff and RTD agreeing with Grade!

    My only response to Grade re the cancellation would be “not a bad idea but sodding awful excecution”.

  4. Castellan Spandrel says:

    Grade and cronies accused DW of looking ‘cheap’ and used that as part excuse to try and bin it.

    The obvious riposte would have been: Well, who’s responsible for the budget? If it looks cheap, why not give it more money for better visuals? Bearing in mind the amount of DW merchandise sold, even back then, couldn’t some of that money have been reinvested in the show that made the money rather than another sodding episode of NeverEnders?

    To clarify why MG is a c&*%, for me it’s not the fact that he wanted to ditch a show that was past its best – though I have issues with that too (see above). It’s his whole demanour – the braces, the fat cigars, the arrogance of someone who clearly likes to see himself as a some kind of impressario – and the mockery he has directed at us fans over the years.

    But…. it was an ailing series, and one which, for the first time, I was beginning to feel acutely embarrassed watching with my family circa ‘Vervoids’. And that wasn’t down to Grade – that was down to poor choices by the production team, who had lost sight of how to make decent Dr Who stories.

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