Doctor Who’s Canadian Connection

Grierson coined the term documentary. He came to Canada at the start of the Second World War to produce propaganda (a term he embraced) against Nazism. He initiated a cadre of young Canadians into film who shared the leftwing politics of that era, when the Soviet Union was our ally. But at wars end, an anti-communist campaign was orchestrated across North America. Grierson was driven from film and many at the NFB though not Newman lost jobs. Like other Canadians with political and artistic impulses, he went to the U.K., which was less repressive than the U.S. There he became head of drama at ITV, creating the series The Avengers; then he took the same post at the BBC, generating Doctor Who and much else. It may seem odd work for a Canadian. But every empire recruits talent from the colonies. It uses them to renew its own sapped vitality. You saw that in Sundays pre-film: Newman as the brash irreverent Canuck who stirs things up at the staid, establishment BBC. He in turn recruits internal outsiders, like the BBCs first woman producer and first Indian director: the posh wog and the pushy Jewish bird, as they describe themselves. Each side thinks theyre using the other and they are. By the 1970s a Canadian could don a lumberjack shirt and Greb Kodiaks to found a London theatre or gallery and the Brits would follow, awestruck. It was a version of good old American can-do, acceptable because it presented as Canadian. In the 1970s Newman returned to Canada to head the NFB himself. There, he suppressed films by radical Quebec filmmakers like Denys Arcand who were leftwing nationalists much as Newmans comrades had been.

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