Chris Boucher wrote a number of classic Fourth Doctor stories, including ‘The Face of Evil’ and ‘The Robots of Death’, and created the character of Leela.
“I submitted a sample script and the plot of the next three episodes, which landed on the desk of Robert Holmes. Bob liked the style in which they were written but not the story, so he called me into his office and sent me away to work on a draft of a new idea which became ‘The Face of Evil’. That went through about three rewrites until they were finally satisfied and then it was made.
“I started with an idea about a computer – an idea derived from reading a book several years before by Harry Harrison, called ‘Captive Universe’. The book isn’t actually about the computer, but about a place which the inhabitants think is a world but which is actually a spaceship. In my script, I took that a stage further by sayng that my spaceship had in fact landed and that the source of all the trouble was the computer of the ship, which had gone beserk on landing. The computer then manifests its own personality on the planet, which, I figure if there is a God, is exactly what He has done. Hence the original title of the story, ‘The Day God Went Mad’, which wasn’t that good a title anyway. The new title came from Robert Holmes.
“At the time I was commissioned, they were between companions and they hadn’t decided what they were going to do about new companions, how many, or what sex they would be. They didn’t want to make any rush decisions but at the same time the pressure for scripts was on and they were having to be non-comittal on the subject to their writers. I was told that obviously, my script would need a companion figure – someone for the Doctor to talk and explain things to. Now Bob Holme was very tired of the screaming, helpless girls and all that routine, so I was told whatever I did write, not to write that. The natural antidote came after I had gone away and thought about it, and that antidote became the character of Leela.
“After a bit of thought, it was decided that they would try Leela out as the companion for the rest of that season and it was that which led to the commission to do my second ‘Doctor Who’ story, ‘The Robots of Death’. With me overseeing that, and Bob writing the final six-parter of the season, Leela could be safely introduced and then the team could decide whether or not to keep her on. There were some strong words exchanged about Leela between Graham Williams and Tom Baker. I think this made it quite tough on Louise Jameson, who is a very carefree sort of woman, very energetic and full of a lot of ideas, and who had to cope with Tom, who is also a very strong, dedicated man, who had set himself against this new development. This coloured their relationship but fortunately never meant that they couldn’t get on with each other.
“Having been the obvious choice to carry on from the last story, Bob and I met to discuss the outline for the next adventure. Bob told me that he had always been keen on isolated outpost stories, with people trapped in claustrophobic surrondings and menaced by a force from within. I agreed that that always worked, so I went away and thought about it a bit further The problem which seemed to be most obvious was that this kind of plot can suffer from being too stationary, so I started looking for a setting which would counteract this.
“The giant sandminer came from these requirements, with clear echoes of ‘Dune’. What we ended up with was a mixture of Bob’s isolate outpost idea and Agatha Christie’s ‘Ten Little Indians’. The robot society was probably the most novel thing about it, and even that had clear derivations. Spies and the business of spying was a very current issue then, so I had an undercover agent among the robots. The robot strata and the concept of the Five Families was very much a class satire, working from my own working class background and all its attendant grudges! Meanwhile, the robots said the words that were written, but completely differently to how I’d imagined them. It had never occurred to me like that, but it worked I think Michael Briant did a wonderful job on it.
“Image of the Fendahl was really my attempt at doing a ghost story. It was okay, but the big problem was that I made the classic mistake of building up to a monster. It doesn’t matter how you do it, if you build up to a monster like that, there is just no way you can pay it off and succeed in making it work. Monsters are far better when they are only partially seen, or even not at all – ‘The Haunting’ is a classic movie where you are never shown anything, and yet it’s still terrifying. In ‘Image of the Fendahl’, I built up to a monster appearing at the end of episode three, which is your most important cliffhanger, and it frankly looked bad.
“The story itself was alright. I had great fun with names like Fetch Wood, fetch being an old word for goblin and all that sort of thing. The skull imagery was all from the same kind of horror movie cliche. Unfortunately, it’s quite difficult to do something which is atmospheric in a television studio – films is always better. They did allow me night filming, which is tremendously expensive and is usually cut out straight away. I’d only put it in because I was so green, but they left it and it looked good.”