TARDIS Index File

Donald Baverstock

RealWorld

Donald Baverstock was the Controller of BBC One who ordered Sydney Newman to create the Saturday tea time show that became Doctor Who. Much is known about Baverstock's involvement with the creation of Doctor Who because of the sheer volume of memos and minutes that were archived.

Newman once summed up Baverstock's attitude towards Doctor Who as being "very keen" but "worried about money". (REF: The First Doctor Handbook)


History with Doctor Who edit

Baverstock was actively engaged in the creation of the programme. He had several well-documented meetings and written exchanges with Sydney Newman, Donald Wilson and Verity Lambert throughout his tenure as BBC One Controller, and had a profound impact on the finances, production resources, scheduling and even the content of early Doctor Who.

Money man edit

Ultimately, Baverstock was Doctor Who's commissioning executive, the person who decided the final budgets for the programme and whether it would even get aired. He had to be satisfied that things were progressing satisfactorily. At first green lighting only a four episode commitment, he extended it to thirteen on the strength of what eventually became known as "The Pilot Episode". He almost immediately reversed his decision, however, after he started looking at the numbers harder.

Within days of giving the go-ahead to the 13-week commitment, he fired off a memo to Donald Wilson that nearly cancelled Doctor Who before it had remounted "An Unearthly Child". He claimed to have been deceived about the cost per episode and flatly said that he could not justify the apparent "true" expenses of Serial A.

Last week I agreed to an additional £200 to your budget of £2,400 for the first four episodes. This figure is now revealed to be totally unrealistic. The costs of these four will be more than £4,000 each ... Such a costly serial is not one that I can afford for this space in this financial year. You should not therefore proceed any further with the production of more than four episodes.Donald Baverstock 18 October 1963

This forced a week-long "crisis" in which all manner of BBC executives, along with Verity Lambert and Donald Wilson seriously re-examined the financial assumptions of the show. Baverstock re-instated his 13-week commitment after Lambert and Wilson demonstrated that they could produce the show at a lower cost. The major sacrifice was that Doctor Who was not able to avail themselves of the BBC Visual Effects department on a regular basis. This forced visual effects to be sub-contracted. Thus Baverstock was somewhat directly responsible for the Daleks and other significant props being created by Shawcraft Models rather than the BBC itself.

Having now satisfied Baverstock as to the seriousness of their financial intent, Wilson and Lambert successfully pressed for extensions to their commission. Wilson received a thirteen-week extension on 22 November 1963, in which Baverstock signalled that he'd probably give an additional thirteen weeks in early 1964. In the event, though — and almost certainly influenced by the December success of The Daleks, he extended Doctor Who again on 31 December 1963, and yet again in February 1964. By April, he was ready to renegotiate contracts with the regulars and move into a second production block.

Baverstock ordered that Lambert could not give the regulars a rise in their new contract without going through him, personally. Jacqueline Hill, William Russell and William Hartnell all refused Lambert's initial offer of a new contract at the same rate, largely because Baverstock refused to reveal his own commitment to the programme's renewal. Consequently, she could not tell her stars how long their services would be required. For all they knew, they were being ask to agree to work for a few more weeks, at the same pay as before, in order to bring the series to a swift conclusion.

With Lambert unable to secure her artists' services, Baverstock became directly involved in proceedings. Briefly, he tied the whole future of Doctor Who to whether the artists would re-sign on meagre rises. However, he quickly sensed that he would likely be perceived as having a conflict of interest, and sent Lambert to another BBC executive for negotiation assistance. They agreed to Hartnell's demands and came to a successful conclusion with the other two, whereupon Baverstock finally gave a long term commitment to Doctor Who that would last for a firm six months — almost up to the end of season 2.

Other challenges edit

Though his defence of the budget was clearly a significant event, he used his office in other ways that affected the early production of Doctor Who.

Hiring and firing edit

Obviously, Baverstock's most important staffing decision as it related to Doctor Who was in bringing Sydney Newman over to the BBC, and in allowing Newman a relatively free hand to recreate the production wing of the BBC. It was Newman who then had the more direct impact on the staffing of Doctor Who.

However, Baverstock's oversight of Doctor Who did in at least one case result in the hiring of a particular actor. Because Baverstock decided to intervene in the salary negotiations for those regulars returning after the end of the first production block — that is, Hartnell, Hill and Russell — Lambert's plans for the replacement of Carole Ann Ford were flummoxed. Lambert had originally wanted to hire Pamela Franklin for the role of Jenny, and then have Jenny leave with the Doctor at the end of the The Dalek Invasion of Earth. Indeed, Lambert had actually sent contracts to Franklin's agents on 17 August 1964.

However, on 19 August, Baverstock ordered her not to do this and intimated for a few days that Doctor Who might not continue past the end of Dalek Invasion. He even went so far as to suggest that the entire cast might have to be changed — the first time that anyone at the BBC had suggested that the show might somehow survive the departure of William Hartnell.

The part of Jenny was swiftly re-written to be that of a secondary guest, Franklin dropped out of the running, and the new companion was deferred to the next serial. In essence, Baverstock's tough negotiating stance had directly led to the invention of a new regular character. In a real sense, Maureen O'Brien owed the possibility that she would be cast as a regular to Baverstock.

Scheduling and facilities management edit

As Controller of BBC One, Baverstock also made decisions that affected the transmission details of the programme. One key determination was episode length — a particularly contentious issue that divided members of his staff for a few months. After much internal discussion over the course of several months, he had to weigh in personally. On 5 July 1963, he decreed that Doctor Who episodes would be 25 minutes long, as they would remain until 1989.

Baverstock was also personally responsible for the punishing but prolific recording schedule that made Hartnell the hardest-working of all the actors who played the Doctor. Although Sydney Newman had lobbied for a longer break between production blocks, Baverstock himself was the one who established that there be only four weeks between seasons in those early years of Doctor Who.

He was also ultimately in charge of rationalising the use of production facilities. Thus, he was a key figure in the long-running dispute over whether the show could move from what Donald Wilson and later Verity Lambert considered the wholly inappropriate Lime Grove Studio D. In June 1963, he denied a request to move Doctor Who's specialised recording equipment to Riverside Studios so that his own pet project, That Was the Week That Was, could enjoy the superior facility. He was involved in several other meetings with various BBC executives and department heads about the headaches caused by Lime Grove's inadequate facilities. Throughout his tenure as Controller, Doctor Who largely remained at Lime Grove — though it did record at Television Centre on rare occasion.

Content edit

Baverstock was demonstrably interested in the quality of the drama itself. On or about 20 May 1963 he personally signed off on the format document prepared by Newman, Donald Wilson and C. E. Webber, saying that series was "looking great".

Later, when extending the commission of the series on 31 December 1963, he advised Donald Wilson to make sure that the internal logic of episodes was improved.

I hope ... that you will brighten up the logic and inventiveness of the scripts ... I suggest that you should make efforts in future episodes to reduce the amount of slow prosaic dialogue and to centre the dramatic movements much more on historical and scientific hokum.Baverstock to Donald Wilson, 31 December 1963
He found it problematic that the Doctor and Susan seemed smart while they were in the TARDIS, but then rather dull when they left the Ship and began to explore. He strongly felt that both the TARDIS team and the people that they met would overall behave differently than had been portrayed in An Unearthly Child and the early episodes of The Daleks. People from the past, he reasoned, should exhibit "lost simple knowledge", while those from the future should have "credible skills and capacities that can be conceived likely in the future".

Publicity edit

Donald Wilson and he clashed after Baverstock withdrew a commitment for Unearthly to be featured on the cover of Radio Times in November 1963. (DWMS Summer 1994)

After the BBC edit

When Hugh Greene, Director-General of the BBC, decided to make Baverstock switch places with his BBC2 counterpart in early 1965, Baverstock saw it as a demotion and resigned from the BBC. In accordance with half of Greene's original plan, he was replaced by Michael Peacock.

He then went on to Yorkshire Television where he helped to create, amongst other programmes, Emmerdale Farm, the soap opera that would long employ Doctor Who actors from Frazer Hines to Jenna-Louise Coleman.

Fictional portrayals edit

A caricature of him, called "Mr Borusa", was played by Mark Gatiss in The Pitch of Fear, a broad fictionalisation of Newman's pitch meeting for Doctor Who.

He was played by Mark Eden in An Adventure in Space and Time.

External link edit