Verity Lambert

The world of fandom is a curious and fickle place, especially in a series as long-running as Doctor Who. Loyalties shift and diverge as fashions pass and the generations rise and fall; favourites emerge and subside; saints are cast out as pariahs, only to be re-evaluated and canonised once more.

Throughout this constant flux of passing fads and fleeting allegiances, very few names emerge of people who are still unequivocally heroes of the Whoniverse.

Once such person is Verity Lambert, here treated to a serious biography by Richard Marson. And when I say “serious biography”, I don’t mean dusty or po-faced; but what I do mean is that this is not a lightweight piece of frippery tossed out to amuse a few fans. This is the work of a proper biographer doing proper biography, examining not only Lambert’s time on Who but her entire life and career, complete with social context, insight into her motivation, and with commentary on the structures and mores that would best her during her career as the first major female producer at the BBC.

In order to achieve this grand scope, Marson ropes in a wide and knowledgeable crew of contributors – Lambert’s friends and family as well as former co-workers from all phases of her life have chipped in to give a broad and compelling picture of Lambert, going back as far as her erstwhile Who colleague, Waris Hussein, and right up to people who were with her during her final battle with cancer.

With so much detail to cram in, it is difficult to keep this sort of book from becoming either too dense or too long. In order to achieve this, Marson uses a standard trick of the biographer: he absents himself from the page, so far as is possible, content to make his points through dialogue in the form of excerpts from interviews he conducted with Lambert’s friends and colleagues as well as from interviews she herself conducted while alive. Marson himself shows up merely as a sort of narrator, adding any information needed to connect us from one interviewee to the next. There’s a reason why a lot of biographers opt to write in this way – it works very well. The freshness of the interviewees’ dialogue keeps the pages moving and breaks up the mass of information into bite-sized chunks, perfect for the reader to absorb and retain much more effectively than a string of info-dumps could achieve.

When it comes to the Doctor Who content, Drama and Delight naturally covers much of the same ground as Mark Gatiss’s docudrama An Adventure in Space and Time, and anyone interested only in this period of Lambert’s life will not find a great deal of new material here. Indeed, the only major criticism I have of this book is that Gatiss’s programme and the casting of the Lambert part come in for some slating in the foreword; this is perhaps intended to show Marson’s book as setting the record straight, or to legitimise it against the question of why it is needed in the light of the biopic’s existence, but it comes across as rather petty and mean-minded.

Despite this unwarranted editorialising early on, I cannot chastise Marson too harshly; he has evidently put a very great deal of time and legwork into Drama and Delight, and the result is a thorough, well-researched and eminently readable life of the woman who created Who and much more besides. For the Doctor Who fan this is a fascinating insight into a woman held in great and well-deserved affection; for the collector of biographies on TV production or the serious student of sexual politics in the workplace, I daresay the word “invaluable” is not too strong.