Tuesday, October 13, 2009

RIP - Barry Letts

Some sad news over the weekend, with the news that former Doctor Who producer Barry Letts has passed away at the age of 84. Letts shepherded the series through a period of great success from 1970-1974, overseeing numerous milestones for the program and acting as a sort of elder statesman for the series, including involvement as a consultant on the show in the early 1980s.

Barry Letts was born in 1925, and following service in the Royal Navy during the second World War, he became a successful actor working mainly in repertory theatre. He would gain some minor fame with supporting roles in films, notably in Ealing Studios 1948 film Scott of the Antarctic. In the 1950s and 60s he turned to television, appearing in such shows as The Avengers before turning to writing teleplays and enrolling in the BBC's director program.

After directing several projects, he was hired to direct a serial for Doctor Who in 1967 called Enemy of the World. In 1969, he took over as producer for the series during a period of great change for the show. The show had just become a colour program, and the format had changed from having the Doctor wander through time and space to having the Doctor exiled on modern-day Earth.

With Jon Pertwee cast as the new Doctor, and an entirely new supporting cast built around the UNIT organization, Letts made great changes to show's tone, making it less of a children's science fiction series and more of a sophisticated action-adventure series with sci-fi overtones. As such, the show's popularity soared during his time on the series.

Among the long-standing contributions to the series made during his tenure were the introduction of The Master, a focus on ecological concerns, and the inclusion of more overt political and philosophical overtones. In one of his final (and arguably most important) acts as producer, he cast Pertwee's replacement; a largely unknown actor named Tom Baker. Baker would take on the role for seven years during the height of the show's popularity.

After leaving the series, he directed and produced numerous shows for the BBC, including an eight year stint producing Sunday Classics, a series serializing great works of literature. In 1980, he returned to the series as a consultant to help new producer John Nathan Turner transition into the role, with Letts credited as Executive Producer.

Letts had also directed several serials for Doctor Who, both during his time as producer and after he left, in addition to contributing scripts (although, during his producer tenure, these scripts were attributed to a pseudonym). He would also adapt Doctor Who stories for novelisation, as well as writing two Doctor Who radio plays and their subsequent novelisations.

In his later years, he directed the soap opera EastEnders, as well as teaching direction for the BBC. His wife passed away earlier this year, but he is survived by his two sons, both of whom are actors, and his daughter.

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