Review: Doctor Who: Books: Drama and Delight

Drama andBy Richard Marson

Miwk Books, out now

The first full biography of a key player in British TV…

Following his biography of Doctor Who’s last classic producer, John Nathan-Turner, Richard Marson has turned his attentions to the show’s first, Verity Lambert, and has crafted an eminently readable and often surprising account of Lambert’s life. Even the sections which you may believe you know inside out – after all, how much more can there be to say about the creation of Doctor Who? – contain insights and theories that will give you a different perspective on events: for instance, the potential identity of the real director of an episode of The Reign of Terror, always attributed to John Gorrie…

But there is so much more to Lambert than Doctor Who, even if the show was something that followed her throughout her career. Marson covers every detail, from her upbringing and education (and the way she was sometimes economical with the truth over parts of that) through her periods at the BBC and Thames, to Euston, her time in the movie business (“the unhappiest of my life”), Cinema Verity and Eldorado (the chapter aptly titled Sunburnt!), to Jonathan Creek and then her final battle with cancer.

Her personal life is discussed, but not in a salacious way: whereas I sometimes felt with the JNT book that there was a conscious effort to find the less salubrious aspects, here things are more balanced (as demonstrated by the respective books’ subtitles!), and aspects such as her reputed lesbian tendencies are discussed (and, in that case, set aside). Lambert had her faults, and clearly could rub people up the wrong way. Marson doesn’t hesitate to quote from those who saw her darker side, ensuring that this doesn’t become an encomium to Saint Verity, and where there are differing opinions on her actions, presents both fairly. (Equally, the comments on An Adventure in Space and Time are rather harsh!)

Verity Lambert made mistakes during her career – not just Eldorado – but she also had some amazing triumphs: just look at the slate of material from Euston, for a start! I had the pleasure of interviewing her for DreamWatch not long before Doctor Who returned, and broached the subject of a biography with her; her reply was that she didn’t think anyone would be interested! As Richard Marson has proved with this excellent work, she underestimated herself…

Verdict: A fascinating portrait not just of Lambert, but of the British television scene in the second half of the 20th century. Recommended. 9/10

Paul Simpson


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