Philip Martin created Sil, one of the more popular recurring villains in the Colin Baker era. Here, he talks about writing ‘Vengeance on Varos’, as well as his aborted script for season 23, ‘Mission to Magnus’, which would have featured Sil teaming up with the Ice Warriors.
“My daughter Hilary, who was then seven, began to watch ‘Doctor Who’ independently of me. One day she said ‘Will you come and watch with me?’, so I watched a couple of weeks of early Peter Davison episodes. I woke up one morning with the idea for what eventually became ‘Vengeance on Varos’. I wasn’t commissioned, I sent the idea in, and they said ‘Why does Philip Martin, who writes Play for Today, want to write for Doctor Who?’, and I went through the whole process, right from writing a scene breakdown, that a novice writer would, which gave me a very thorough grounding in the programme.
“When I started writing for it, it was on midweek in twenty-five minute segments. Then it changed to two forty-five minute episodes, then I was told that Tegan and Nyssa were leaving, then that the Doctor was leaving. I remember doing one draft when we didn’t know who the new Doctor was going to be, we didn’t know who the companions were, and we weren’t even sure of the timeslot!
“The original idea was that I wondered what the entertainment business of the future would be. Then I got another idea, I wondered how a prison planet would develop, and the two ideas collided, as they often do when you’re creating things. I began to get the idea that the original officers of the prison planet had become the ruling elite, and that the original prisoners and their descendants had become the masses who would need to be entertained by violence.
“The National Viewers and Listeners Association have an extremely naive conception of entertainment, of developing drama, and this is the sort of show that catches them out. What we’re actually doing, in a way, is arguing on their side, but are they intelligent enough to see it? They should be, because it’s there, but then you need a sophisticated response, and you have to have shows like this, so people’s critical faculties can spot what is gratuitous and what is there for a purpose, almost a moral purpose.
“When I was thinking about having an alien on Varos, I read something of Asimov’s, which said that you never seemed to see water-based creatures. This is partly because they don’t like water in TV studios. You drop it on the floor and the paint blisters, for some reason. Designers hate it. If he’s in water, he’s probably an amphibian, he’s probably a mutant. The designer came up with that. Then we had a real stroke of fortune, in that we had Nabil Shaban, who made the character his own, not only in terms of acting but in intensity and motivation. He turned it into something wonderful. He started those little green things which he pops into his mouth, which are now called Marshminnows. It’s a great delicacy that he offers people, not always to their delight, I might add, when they taste them.
“I was asked to write a script (‘Mission to Magnus’, for the aborted seasons 23), again with Sil, maybe involving the Ice Warriors. I’d written a first draft, where I had the Ice Warriors inside a polar ice-cap, because it was so cold. They were burrowing workshops in the ice-caps, which was beginning to flood this planet, and the people couldn’t understand why. This ice environment allowed them to move freely, because I was always worried about how slow they were.”