English television producer, writer and script editor Philip Michael Hinchcliffe was born October 1944 in Dewsbury, Yorkshire. He was educated at Slough Grammar School and Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he studied English literature. After a brief period working for a travel company and then as a teacher. Hinchcliffe began his Television career as a writer and script editor in commercial television after Joining Associated Television, writing episodes for series including the soap Crossroads. He then served as script editor of the sitcom Alexander the Greatest, the children’s adventure series The Jensen Code and the children’s drama series The Kids from 47A.
In Spring 1974, at the age of 29, he was approached by the BBC’s head of serials to take over as producer on Doctor Who, his first full production job, initially trailing and then succeeding long-serving producer Barry Letts. Although he trailed Letts on Tom Baker’s first story Robot, he was first credited on The Ark in Space. Throughout his first year he was mostly producing scripts that had been commissioned by the previous production team prior to their departure and it was not until a year later that Hinchcliffe’s full influence came to bear, with Planet of Evil in late 1975 – Tom Baker’s second season in the title role of the Doctor.
Hinchcliffe, together with script editor Robert Holmes, ushered in a change in tone for the television series. The series became darker and more adult than previously, with a gothic atmosphere influenced by the horror films produced by Hammer Films. This horror influence is especially evident in serials like Planet of Evil, Pyramids of Mars, The Brain of Morbius, The Hand of Fear and The Talons of Weng-Chiang, all of which have content which directly recalls well known horror novels and movies. Hinchcliffe also aspired to give the programme a more literary feel with a stronger science fiction basis.
Hinchcliffe was reluctant to use characters and monsters from the series’ past: the Daleks, the Cybermen and the Sontarans only appeared once during his tenure, and these stories were commissioned by Barry Letts. The Master and the Time Lords returned for one adventure, The Deadly Assassin, at the suggestion of script editor Robert Holmes, but were portrayed very differently from their previous appearances. The character of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce were written out of the series.
Hinchcliffe produced more episodes to achieve over 10 million viewers than any other producer in the series’ history; only during the “Dalekmania” spell of the mid-Sixties had the series gained a comparable reception from the public. However, the BBC received several complaints from Mary Whitehouse of the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association that the series was unduly frightening for children and could traumatise them. The NVALA had been critical of the series before but the complaints reached their height in the Hinchcliffe period. Her strongest criticism was for The Deadly Assassin, where an attempt is made to drown the Doctor at the end of an episode. While the BBC publicly defended the programme, after three seasons Hinchcliffe was moved onto the adult police thriller series Target in 1977, and his replacement Graham Williams, who had created Target, was specifically instructed to lighten the tone of the storylines and reduce violence. Screenonline states that this resulted in “the start of an erratic decline in both popularity and quality” for Doctor Who which led to its eventual cancellation. Hinchcliffe also wrote several novelisations of Doctor Who serials for Target Books, adapting The Keys of Marinus, The Seeds of Doom, and The Masque of Mandragora.
After Doctor Who Hinchcliffe worked on numerous series, single dramas and films including Target, Private Schulz, The Charmer, Take Me Home, Friday on My Mind and many others. He finished his career as an executive producer for Scottish Television and stepped down from the producer role in 1995, after working on the feature films An Awfully Big Adventure starring Hugh Grant and Total Eclipse starring Leonardo DiCaprio, but was engaged as an Executive Producer by Scottish Television from 1998 to 2001, overseeing series including Taggart, John Hannah episodes of Rebus, and one-off dramas including The Last Musketeer with Robson Green and Take Me in 2001.
Hinchcliffe has made numerous appearances on DVD releases of Doctor Who serials made under his producership. His most notable appearance is in Serial Thrillers, a documentary included in the Pyramids of Mars DVD release, focusing on his three-year reign as producer in some depth, examining what made the show so successful during that period. Most recently, an interview titled “Life After Who” was included on The Android Invasion DVD release, where daughter Celina Hinchcliffe takes her father on a trip down memory lane to recall his distinguished career in British television and film after his work on Doctor Who. With the death of his immediate predecessor Barry Letts in October 2009, Hinchcliffe and Derrick Sherwin are the only producers of the classic series of Doctor Who still alive.