Barry Letts has died.
Those of you who are Doctor Who fans will know how terrible this is – those who aren’t won’t. But Letts was, as much as anyone, responsible for the programme as it is thought of by most people today.
Letts was the show’s second-longest serving producer, starting during Jon Pertwee’s first series in 1969 and staying until Tom Baker’s first story in 1974. He cast Baker as the Doctor, as well as casting Lis Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, and had a lot to do with creating the format of the show in the early 1970s.
Some of the very best moments during the Pertwee years were Letts’ contributions – he took over the direction of Inferno from Douglas Camfield after Camfield had a heart attack, and managed to keep the feel of Camfield’s work while not having quite the militaristic feel that Camfield had.
He was also, by all accounts, a deeply moral man, and he often tried to incorporate elements of his Buddhist faith into the stories – most notably in Planet Of The Spiders, Pertwee’s last story, but throughout his work on the series. It was he, for example, who argued that in Doctor Who And The Silurians the Doctor should argue against the genocide of the reptile-people not out of pure scientific curiosity (as in Malcolm Hulke’s original script) but out of basic moral decency.
Letts also worked as executive producer on the show during Tom Baker’s last year, the first with John Nathan-Turner as producer. He worked with script editor Christopher Bidmead to turn the show in a unique direction (if not always a successful one) which unfortunately it lost as soon as Bidmead and Letts left.
Letts’ period on the show is not a favourite of mine, and he was also responsible for some of the show’s excesses (he had far too great a belief in the quality of the special effects attainable by CSO), but he clearly had a passion for the show, and made a far greater impact on it than almost anyone else. This passion was noticeable in the DVD commentaries he recorded up until a very short time ago. I was actually very surprised to discover he was 84 when he died – I would have guessed from these that he was at least 20 years younger.
While I’m not a fan of the Welsh series, I do hope they dedicate the next episode to Letts. He deserves it.