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 August 31, 1990, 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 the end of Season 17, Williams decided to step down as producer. When the BBC couldn't get George Gallaccio to take his place, the role was given to Nathan-Turner. Owed to his relatively young age, at just 33 years, Nathan-Turner was mentored by former producer Barry Letts, who acted as executive producer, also collaborating with new script editor Christopher H. Bidmead. In his first season, which was also the last season with Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor, Nathan-Turner immediately made a series of drastic changes: a new opening, a new version of the theme song, having scores done in-house at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (instead of using longtime composer Dudley Simpson), 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 cut down the Doctor's outfits to a Limited Wardrobe of one or two getups per incarnation, each with a distinctive question mark motif (largely for merchandizing), did away with the use of stories over four partsnote , and 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, the latter of whom 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. Davison would be Doctor for three seasons, being replaced by Colin Baker in 1984.
In 1985, after Colin Baker's first season as the Sixth Doctor, BBC controller Michael Grade (who hated the show) imposed an eighteen-month hiatus on the series. The series returned in 1986 with a completely rewritten twenty-third season and 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 following a spat over the proposed season finale and left the series midway through the story's production. 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 the BBC effectively forced him to stay on the show by making clear that it would be cancelled outright if he departed and that his association with the programme had rendered him toxic within the Corporation, making it unlikely that he'd be given opportunities to produce other shows. Sylvester McCoy was hired for the lead role and Andrew Cartmel became the new script editor for the series; because Nathan-Turner shifted to a more laissez-faire approach after the ordeal with Grade and Saward, Cartmel became the main creative force of the Seventh Doctor era. Doctor Who would last another three years before it was finally unceremoniously cancelled at the end of 1989. Nathan-Turner officially resigned as the show's producer the following August, concurrently with the closure of its production studios.
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.
Tropes in his work include:
- Continuity Porn: Nathan-Turner sought to appeal to Doctor Who's hardcore fanbase by bringing back monsters, characters and other elements from the show's past. This reached Continuity Lockout levels in stories such as "Attack of the Cybermen", which required detailed knowledge of two stories that hadn't been broadcast for nearly 20 years (and were Missing Episodes at the time) in order to understand the plot.
- Darker and Edgier: Nathan-Turner sought to move Doctor Who away from the lighthearted and comedic tone of the show under Graham Williams' tenure, and as such retooled the series into a more serious, dramatic direction. This reached its peak during Season 22, when the show featured an abundance of morally-grey characters, including the Doctor himself, and levels of Family-Unfriendly Violence not seen since the Philip Hinchcliffe era. After drawing the ire of BBC controller Michael Grade, Nathan-Turner eased off on the grit for Seasons 23 and especially 24, but moved back into a proto-Revival Series mix of weighty drama (minus the violence) and morally-grey characters afterwards.
- No Hugging, No Kissing: Nathan-Turner is the producer who most aggressively enforced this policy in Doctor Who. He forbade Peter Davison from touching any of his female companions onscreen, particularly due to one of them being about the same age as he was. John Nathan-Turner originated the often quoted "No hanky-panky aboard the TARDIS", a phrase which first appeared in a January 1984 TIME Magazine article about the show.
- Stunt Casting: As Doctor Who producer, Nathan-Turner was fond of casting well known actors in roles very different from what they were known for playing, in order to boost publicity. Most infamously, he cast grandmotherly comedienne Beryl Reid as a tough space freighter captain in "Earthshock".
- Vacation, Dear Boy: By his own admission, Nathan-Turner started setting Doctor Who stories in exotic locations purely because they had the budget to go there for location shoots.
- The first example, dating from his days as main production assistant rather than producer, was when he realized they had the budget to shoot "City of Death" in Paris — and, in fact, it would be cheaper to actually shoot it there rather than do it in a studio — so long as they rejigged the script for a modern-day setting.
- When he took over as producer, Nathan-Turner tried to include overseas filming in at least one serial per season: "Arc of Infinity" was partially set in Amsterdam, "Planet of Fire" was a crew holiday in Lanzarote, and "The Two Doctors" had to switch from New Orleans to Seville when funding for the former fell through. Problems with overseas shooting in Sevillenote for the last of these meant that overseas filming was subsequently abandoned, and Doctor Who would not shoot outside the UK again for the remainder of the Classic era.