Who is Michael E Briant? It’s a question even pretty knowledgeable Doctor Who fans can be forgiven for scratching their heads at. Briant helmed half a dozen of the Time Lord’s ‘70s adventures (including much-loved tales “The Green Death” and “Robots Of Death”), but has a lower profile than some of his colleagues.
During the course of this memoir of the life of a jobbing freelance director, he looks back at all six stories. A lot of knowledge is assumed, and many of the anecdotes recounted will be familiar to the target audience; after all, Briant has contributed to DVD commentaries on most of these stories. Perhaps more intriguing for fans are his recollections of life as a production assistant on “lost” Patrick Troughton tales “Fury From The Deep” and “Power Of The Daleks”, for which he wrangled sinister foam, and wiggled cardboard-cutout Daleks with a length of string.
Technicalities like this are favoured over behind-the-scenes gossip. The stars of the series are barely mentioned (we’re told Jon Pertwee is “truly professional”, and that’s about it). Briant’s discussion of Who ends by page 104, and his work on the first series of Blake’s 7 gets pretty short shrift (just five pages). Thereafter, it’s non-genre telly all the way. There are amusing snapshots of a pre-Health And Safety BBC (Briant seems to have spent an inordinate amount of time risking life and limb by hanging out of helicopters!), and the director’s scornful asides about how TV is made today (with layer upon layer of inexperienced, straight-out-of-university producers forever sticking their oar in, apparently…) are entertainingly curmudgeonly.
Since Briant’s a keen sailor, you should also prepare yourselves for some yachting yarns. Given that he’s circumnavigated the globe and had Somali pirates shoving AK47s in his face, it’d be churlish to complain, though – they’re stories that warrant the telling, even if Doctor Who fans aren’t the ideal audience. A solid, unsensational read, best suited to aficionados of ‘70s TV in general.
Ian Berriman twitter.com/ianberriman