John "JNT" Nathan-Turner (born John Turner, 12 August 1947 1 May 2002) was the longest-running producer of Doctor Who, lasting from August 1980 to the end of the original series run in December 1989, overseeing the last season of Tom Baker and the entire tenures of Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy.
Nathan-Turner started working at the BBC as a television floor assistant, working on shows like The Pallisers, How Green Was My Valley, Angels, and All Creatures Great and Small. He got his start on Doctor Who in 1969 as part of the floor crew. The first serial he worked on was the Patrick Troughton story The Space Pirates. He was promoted to production unit manager under Graham Williams in the late 1970s (he was in charge of the budget).
At just 33 years old, Nathan-Turner was promoted to the role of producer of Doctor Who. In his first season, which was just the last season of Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor, Nathan-Turner collaborated with former producer Barry Letts as executive producer, and Christopher H. Bidmead as the script editor. Nathan-Turner immediately made a series of drastic changes: a new opening, a new version of the theme song, and an insistence on not working with previous directors and writers of the series (with rare exceptions like Pennant Roberts, Terrance Dicks and Robert Holmes). Nathan-Turner believed that Doctor Who had become a parody of itself in the last years of the Tom Baker era, and he wanted to re-emphasize the more sci-fi aspect of the series. He also brought back the Master, an iconic villain from the Third Doctor era who had only appeared once in the Fourth Doctor era. Under Nathan-Turner's command, the Master would again have more recurring appearances.
At the end of Nathan-Turner's first season, both Bidmead and Letts left their posts on the series along with Tom Baker, and Lalla Ward, who had played companion Romana. Peter Davison was hired as the Fifth Doctor, with a new trio of companions, the earthling Tegan and the aliens Adric and Nyssa. Eric Saward became the new script editor, and he stayed in the series from 1982 to 1986.
It wasn't long before the Nathan-Turner era started to become controversial among the fandom, something that peaked in the era of the Sixth and the first season of the Seventh Doctor. He was criticized for using too much of Continuity Porn, which resulted in stories that suffered from Continuity Lockout (especially in era before home video or steaming), and even making references to missing serials that had been lost for decades. During the Fifth Doctor era, Nathan-Turner brought back several villains or recurring characters from the past. This era had the return of the Cybermen (after an absence of seven years), Omega, the Mara, the Black and White Guardians (from "The Key to Time" season), Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, the Daleks and Davros. Another reason for criticism was his preference for Stunt Casting. His choice of guest stars was often criticized as they were often light entertainers miscast in their rolesnote .
Nathan-Turner is also controversial for his Doctors Limited Wardrobes of Impossibly Tacky Clothes, often as part of an effort to "brand" the programme and ensconce it within the BBC's "light entertainment" tradition. He insisted upon a question mark motif being integrated onto the Doctor's wardrobe, which none of the actors playing the part were happy about. It didn't help the fact that Nathan-Turner was also promoting himself as the "face" of the programme as much as the lead actors, especially in the US, where it was undergoing its first popularity boom via PBS. Even former producers or script editors like Verity Lambert, Terrance Dicks, Barry Letts and Philip Hinchcliffe have publicly criticized the John Nathan-Turner era. In contrast, Steven Moffat highly praises the Fifth Doctor era and says he admires some concepts and serials from the Sixth and Seventh Doctor era.
In 1985, after Colin Baker's controversial first season as the Sixth Doctor (with criticisms focused especially on excessive violence, the quality of the scripts and the characterization of the Sixth Doctor), BBC controller Michael Grade (who made no attempt to hide his disdain for Doctor Who) imposed an eighteen-month hiatus on the series. The series returned in 1986 with a reduced number of episodes per season. At that point, Eric Saward, who had a bad relationship with Nathan-Turner and disapproved of Colin Baker's casting, finally gave up and left the series at the end of season 23, publicly criticizing Nathan-Turner in interviews. At the end of season 23, Colin Baker was fired by the BBC.
At that point, Nathan-Turner also wanted to leave Doctor Who, but BBC forced him to stay on the show. Andrew Cartmel became the new script editor for the series, and in a way, the main creative force of the Seventh Doctor era. Doctor Who would last another three years before it was finally unceremoniously canceled in 1989.
In later years, Nathan-Turner co-wrote the 1993 charity special Dimensions in Time for the show's 30th Anniversary. He was responsible for the direction of the home-video releases of Doctor Who, and produced some of the earliest of the show's bonus features in the form of short documentaries on specific Doctors and villains. A long term drinker and smoker, this ultimately developed into full-blown alcoholism, leading to his health failing in his waning years; he died of an infection at the age of 54 in 2002, just a year before the announcement that Doctor Who had been revived.
Nathan-Turner was the first openly gay creative director for the series; his partner, Gary Downie, was a fellow co-worker at the BBC and ultimately became BBC Television's production manager. Doctor Who wouldn't have another heterosexual creative director until Steven Moffat took on the position in 2010, thirty years after Nathan-Turner was first given the reins.
Accusations emerged in the mid-2010s, in a book by former Blue Peter producer Richard Marson, that Downie was a serial sexual predator who used JNT's position to groom and assault young men (the age of consent for gay men in the UK was 21 at the time). According to the book, Marson himself was one of his victims, claiming that Nathan-Turner was also known to make inappropriate advances to young men and turned a blind eye to his partner's abuses.