Doctor Who‘s first ever director, the prolific Waris Hussein, has spoken candidly about his time on the show in an interview with the Radio Times.
Back in 1963, having only just graduated from Cambridge, the young director discovered he had his work cut out for him when he was presented with a bizarre set of scripts about cavemen. With no real budget to speak of, and lacking support from the higher echelons of the BBC, there was no guarantee of success for this new Saturday tea-time show.
And even when the programme’s producer, Verity Lambert, struck on the idea of casting the respected British actor William Hartnell in the title role, their troubles were far from over.
As Hussein explains:
When we approached him, he didn’t want to do it because he was doing well in films. Why would he want to commit to a series? … When we met him he was not only reluctant but had to be persuaded after two very expensive lunches and he was bewildered by having a woman producer. He was dyed-in-the-wool Conservative British. So when you think he was being produced by a woman, directed by an Indian and the idea came from a Canadian [BBC drama head Sydney Newman] … Talk about three aliens. I said, ‘This is Doctor Who versus the aliens.’
Fortunately, it did not take Waris Hussein long to form a healthy working relationship with the First Doctor.
There was a wonderful moment when we were rehearsing in a hall somewhere and the outline of the sets had been marked on the floor in yellow tape. He watched me setting it up. I said, ‘I’d like you to move here and there,’ and he said, ‘What will happen if I move over there? I think I’d like to move over there.’ I said, ‘Oh, interesting, Bill… Because there’s no set there and I won’t be able to see you, but you’re welcome to move there if you want.’ I had to counteract him patiently. Gradually, despite his irritable external self, he came round to liking me a lot.
Hussein’s anecdotes are both frank and fascinating, and provide a real insight into the early days of a children’s science fiction show that has gone on to become a cultural phenomenon. The events he describes, and many more, have been dramatised by writer Mark Gatiss in An Adventure in Space and Time, which is due to transmit in November.
Should be good!
(Via Radio Times.)