Gareth Negus reviews the new biography of Doctor Who producer, John Nathan-Turner
Becoming, and more particularly remaining, a Doctor Who fan in the 1980s was – with hindsight – an odd and sometimes uncomfortable experience. Of course, some might say being a Doctor Who fan at any time was rather odd, but the 80s were the decade during which the programme fell from public favour and was regarded as an embarrassment by the BBC.
A biography of John Nathan-Turner, the man who produced the series throughout that decade, would seem to be about as niche as niche publications get. It’s easy to imagine a book on Russell T Davies or Steven Moffat on the Waterstones shelves, but Nathan-Turner was known for producing Who and pretty much nothing else. BBC lifers – of the sort which Nathan-Turner had apparently thought he would be – might enjoy the gossipy anecdotes and tales of the inner workings of Television Centre in decades past, but that’s probably not a large enough group to make a bestseller.
Yet Richard Marson’s new book, JN-T: The Life & Scandalous Times of John Nathan-Turner has had a fair bit of press coverage. Unfortunately, that’s largely thanks to the chapters detailing the sexual exploits of Nathan-Turner and his partner, Gary Downie, which – though not, by any stretch of the imagination, in the Saville league – occasionally sound dodgy enough that you think people should have been disciplined, if not fired. The pair regularly propositioned Doctor Who fans for sex, including many who were under the then age of consent for homosexuals (though they would be legal under today’s laws). One incident, described on page 194 of the book, is a clear case of sexual assault experienced by the author himself.