Review: Doctor Who: Books: A Peculiar Effect on the BBC

wilkie_cover-400x600By Bernard Wilkie

Miwk Books, out now

Bernard Wilkie’s memories of the pioneering work he and Jack Kine did at the BBC…

For convenience of cataloguing, this book may be filed with the Doctor Who literature, but there’s so much more to Bernard Wilkie’s account than just working on the original Daleks, worrying about John Scott Martin’s safety on the brink of a cliff, or rescuing a Dalek from the back of a dustcart as it was about to go to the tip… This is a fascinating look at the early days of the TV effects industry, where everything was starting from scratch, and radical solutions had to be found – even if it meant explosions and general mayhem! Doctor Who doesn’t really get a look-in until page 265.

There are plenty of anecdotes that show a rather different side to some of the classics of British science fiction – the gay rats on Nineteen Eighty-Four, the Quatermass II rocket that tried to catch the tube at White City or the importance of cocoa and golden syrup to alien invasions. There’s also a vivid insight into life at the BBC at the time, working with comedians such as Morecambe and Wise, Michael Bentine, Michael Crawford and Dave Allen (with the secrets of one of my favourite gags explained), and becoming friends with people like David Attenborough. And of course there are plenty of revelations about the different effects and their genesis.

Wilkie passed away in 2002, which has meant that the manuscript couldn’t be rewritten in places where his memory had faded about the specifics of certain stories, but this should not affect the reader’s enjoyment – the Miwk editors have added in explanatory notes where required to remove the confusion of say Colony in Space and Frontier in Space.

Verdict: An absolutely fascinating volume that joins Richard Marson’s biography of Verity Lambert in contributing to our understanding of that incredibly creative and inventive era. Highly recommended. 10/10

Paul Simpson

 

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