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John Nathan-Turner
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John Nathan-Turner

John Nathan-Turner was the ninth producer for the long-running BBC science fiction program Doctor Who, from 1980 until it was put on hiatus in 1989. He was the longest-serving, and most widely known, producer during the run of the show. Many fans either praised or blamed him personally for the ups and downs of the program during his tenure.

Born in the Midlands of England, John Nathan-Turner showed an early interest in acting and theatre. He joined the BBC as a floor assistant in the 1960s, and he first worked on Doctor Who in 1969 as part of the floor crew - in the days when Doctor Who was recorded in Studio D of the Lime Grove Studios. He later joined the series as Production Unit Manager during the fourteenth season. Nathan-Turner took over as producer at the beginning of the program's eighteenth season, which turned out to be the last season of Tom Baker's popular portrayal of the central character, the Doctor. He subsequently cast the next three actors to play the role: Peter Davison (1981-1984), Colin Baker (1984-1986), and Sylvester McCoy (1987-1989).

Having served as producer for so long, and having a more public persona than previous producers, Nathan-Turner was often the object of intense scrutiny by the series' fans (who often referred to him as JNT or JN-T). Decisions such as the casting of Bonnie Langford as the Doctor's companion are still a topic of discussion in the Doctor Who fan community 20 years later. His tenure coincided with a period of large growth in the show's fan base in the United States, thanks to repeated showings on affiliates of the American Public Broadcasting Service.

Nathan Turner was very effective at generating publicity for the series by threatening remove or change a traditional element of it. Examples include the Sonic screwdriver, K-9, the TARDIS (or at least its police box shape), and Tom Baker's Doctor.

Nathan-Turner was arguably the highest profile producer of the series, and his reign as producer was at times controversial. Though his changes to the programme were initially well-received, Nathan-Turner was blamed in some fanzines for decisions relating to the series, whether he had taken them or not. As his tenure on the series lengthened, and especially when the show's ratings began to drop, fan criticism became more prevalent. Supporters of Nathan-Turner's reign argue that Nathan-Turner was not solely to blame for the series' decline in ratings and that the hierarchy at the BBC, funding issues and the decision to schedule the series opposite the popular Coronation Street all should share some responsibility. He continued to be involved in Doctor Who-related events (including co-writing the one-off reunion telecast Dimensions in Time) until shortly before his death.

Nathan-Turner died, of liver failure, just over a year before the announcement by the BBC that the show would be revived, with new episodes to air beginning in 2005. He was survived by his long term partner, Gary Downie, a production manager on Doctor Who.

Note: This profile was written in or before 2005.

John Nathan-Turner Facts

BirthdayAugust 12, 1947
BirthplaceEngland, United Kingdom
Date of deathMay 1, 2002 (age 54)

Selected Filmography

Not available.