The surreal thing about listening to DVD commentaries of the Pertwee era is not how many of the participants are no longer with us, but how recently they have died. Producer Barry Letts, actors Nicholas Courtney, Caroline John and Elisabeth Sladen all passed away within a handful of years, but thanks to DVD schedules, we have some very recently-released (and even some yet to be released!) DVD commentaries featuring their voices. In the case of Terror of the Autons (released in 2011), Katy Manning is now the only survivor of the commentary, which is unbelievably sad especially considering the close friendships of the people who made the show in this era.
When Katy, Nicholas or Barry talk about Jon Pertwee or Roger Delgado on this commentary it’s with pride and sadness, and it feels like they are enjoying the opportunity to capture those friendships one more time.
The cozy camaraderie of this era of the show has always been reflected in the DVD commentaries, though just as the enjoyment of the cast often translates to a story (like The Daemons) taking on a particular shine with fans, I wonder how many negative descriptions/myths about this era also originate from the well-honed anecdotes of the show regulars. Their merry in-joke jibing about Jo being ditzy and asking all the handy questions has I think taken on far too much weight as Received Fan Wisdom – she is a far more interesting character than her creators give her credit for, and one of the few companions who had a narrative arc through the time she was with the show. We see her grow up! Jo is one of my absolute favourites, and I swear it’s not just because of her adorable outfits.
Nicholas Courtney is surprisingly low-key in the Terror of the Autons commentary, which is mostly the Barry Letts and Katy Manning show. Katy in particular is rather lovely to listen to, as she laughs and teases her way through the story, mocking all the silly bits and putting on funny voices. Considering the story itself doesn’t have much humour in it (though it is a historically significant one, with the introduction of the Master and Mike Yates as well as Jo herself), her perspective certainly livens things up!
Katy on the props they had to work with in 1971.
Katy on the legendary Roger Delgado – she claims that he pretty much hypnotised her in the scenes where the Master did the same thing to Jo. This technique of the Master’s was later dropped as being far too convenient for him.
Katy on the dramatic height difference between herself and Jon Pertwee – she also claimed he was in a “constant state of plié,” in order to squeeze down to her level for most camera shots.
In between all the snark and giggles, though, Katy also makes a few more serious reveals. I really enjoyed her rant about the cruelty to animals in circuses, and how this clashed with Jon Pertwee’s ‘showman’ routine – and also her rather pointed comment that people tended to assume that she was playing herself on screen, even to the point of giving her the credit for Jo’s wardrobe, when in fact she was an actress playing a character.
That last point is one that most fandoms could stand to remember…
ELSEWHERE ON 1971
Terror of the Autons [The Angriest]
Terror of the Autons (in images) [llywela13 on Tumblr]
Terror of the Autons: Plastic & Pertwee [Fangirl Knits Scarf]
The Mind of Evil [Chronic Hysteresis]
The Daemons [Kasterborous]