Archive for the ‘Robert Holmes’ Category

Robert Holmes (1980’s)

October 24, 2009

Here’s another set of quotes from Robert Holmes, one of ‘Doctor Who’s most popular script editors and writers. He talks about being called a clot by the Head of Series and Serials, about not wanting to use the Daleks, and about the ‘intentional’ continuity problems of ‘The Two Doctors’.

On ‘Spearhead From Space’

It was about the time plastic was coming in, in a really big way – it was everywhere. As there was so much of the stuff around, I thought it would be effective to have an alien force that inhabited and used it. ‘Doomwatch’ did a plastic scare story at exactly the same time, so it was a kind of current issue. The Nestene itself I thought of as a plasticky, swirling mass, a glob of pure instinct which spawns the Autons. The Autons come from the word autonomous, because although they were formed from the Nestene element, they weren’t a part of the host form. I started the show with a swarm of meteorites landing, because in ‘Doctor Who’ it’s very rare to actually see the alien land. As this was to be a season set on Earth, I thought it would be a good grab to open it with.

On ‘Terror of the Autons’

I was sitting opposite Ronnie Marsh, the then Head of Serials, across acre of polished maple. He started telling me about the guidelines he felt the programme should follow. ‘Two or three seasons ago,’ he said, ‘we had some clot who wrote the most dreadful script. It had faceless policemen in it and plastic armchairs that went about swallowing people. I might tell you, there were questions in the House. Mrs. Whitehouse said we were turning the nation’s children into bed-wetters’. Could it be that he was referring to my ‘Terror of the Autons’? ‘Tut, tut’, I muttered, feeling the job slipping away. ‘how awfully irresponsible’.

The elements in the story all came from plastic again. At the time there was a soap powder distributing plastic daffodils outside supermarkets, and I remembered all the warnings about children not being allowed near plastic bags. Then it all came together – I suddenly realised that all you need is a four-inch square of clingfilm to suffocate someone, and the spitting daffodils followed on. As for the doll and the armchair, well, there were some Danish troll dolls on the gimmick market at the time and I thought they were horrible, so I used that idea. Also, those plastic inflatable armchairs were all the rage, which is why I wrote in McDermott – specifically to kill him off in that chair!

On ‘Carnival of Monsters’

I was particularly fond of the ending, where the Master finally gets to finish his book! Meanwhile, Vorg and Shirna were a kind of in-joke on the acting profession – they’d been in theatrical digs all over the galaxy, and were deliberately very tacky. I thought it added depth to it. That was the one where I created a little anecdote about a place called Metebelis 3 – which they then went on to use!

On ‘The Time Warrior’

They wanted to do a historical, which they hadn’t attempted for some time. Now, I hate ‘Doctor Who’ in the history mode, because I think it’s too whimsy and twee. So I compromised and offered them a story mixing science fiction with a kind of pseudo-history. The Sontarans came after I’d been reading some heavy tome on war – it was terribly Teutonic and all about the Fatherland and so on. I saw the cloned Sontarans gaining sustenance from their shops wherein they are monitored to make sure they don’t spend too much time on the recharding. If they do, I saw a kind of umbilical regression surging down to kill them.

The bifurcated hand was my mistake – it was very difficult for the actor to pull out his laser or whatever. Other stuff in that script was Professior Ruebish, a favourite character of mine, because I like zany professors and that wonderful sexist line about Sarah, where Linx says she is useless because her thorax shows her to be the female of the species! The name Irongron was inspirted from the Danish names of warriors, while Bloodaxe was just hokey ‘Robin Hood’ style – you know, terribly butch men living in castles.

On ‘Genesis of the Daleks’

I said ‘Unless somebody can come up with something different, I’m not doing a Dalek story’. A lot of pressure was put on me to change my mind. Then Barry came up with the idea of calling it ‘Genesis’ and having this Davros character who had actually invented the Daleks in his own image. This gave the story some scope and we could have some acting going on. I’d looked at the viewing graphs for the Daleks, and saw that every time they were brought back they were popular in week one, as a lot of people had perhaps never seen them before, and then the graph would go straight down, because they were boring.

On ‘The Android Invasion’

I said to Terry Nation ‘Let’s have another story, but not Daleks’, and I think he was quite keen, as Daleks are terribly difficult to use, anyway.

On ‘Pyramids of Mars’

We had a character try to steal the TARDIS, to which the Doctor said it was isomorphic, only he could operate it. Then, later stories should Leela and lots of other flying the TARDIS willy-nilly. This appeared to be bad continuity – but surely when faced with Sutekh, the Doctor had good reason to lie.

On ‘The Brain of Morbius’

I ended up writing most of it, and it was the same with all my ‘Doctor Who’s – very difficult because you’re inbetween Grand Guignol Gothic horror on one sie, and Monty Python on the other. ‘The Brain of Morbius’ could terribly easily have gone over to the other.

On ‘The Masque of Mandragora’

The starting point for the story was an idea Louis Marks had that there might be some basis for the ‘science’ of astrology. That the stars, in fact, did have an influence on human affairs. We tried to rationalise this idea, and this led us to Demnos. We also decided that, if the story was to work properly, it should be placed in an era when astrology was taken very seriously.

On ‘The Talons of Weng Chiang’

Tom didn’t like the Leela character at all, and at first was only mollified because he thought she was only gonig to be in the three stories. I remember during ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ that Philip Hinchcliffe had still not told Tom that she was signed up for another season. I kept going to him and saying ‘Have you told Tom yet?’. I think in the end he left it to Graham Williams.

On ‘Underworld’

Unfortunately, the CSO was very hard on the director, Norman Stewart. For years, he’d been one of the BBC’s senior production managers, and finally he went to the head of department and said ‘I think it’s time I became a director’. He did the course and went freelance, but it was really being plunged in the deep end to have to direct ‘Underworld’ as virtually your first assignment’.

On ‘The Ribos Oberation’

I like wild, rich, hammy characters and ‘Doctor Who’ is one of the few series where you can get away with them. I liked the Graff, with all his German connotations and one of the key stills in writing for the Baker Doctor was to make sure that there were strong enough parts so that Tom didn’t completely dominate – if an actor wasn’t strong enough, or if the part wasn’t there, Tom would overtake.

George Spenton-Foster directed and he tended to appreciate the humour in the script, so that Iain Cuthbertson was allowed to get away with a lot. That was my fault because of the writing, but this basic joke of a splended galactic con-man trying to sell a planet amused me.

On ‘The Power of Kroll’

It’s probably the least favourite of all my stories. It didn’t work. Anthony Read said to me ‘I don’t want any humour. I want the biggest monster ‘Doctor Who’s ever seen’. I instantly thought ‘We’re in trouble now’. It gave Norman Stewart terrible problems and I think it was a bit dull. Anyway, I hated the umbrella theme, because it gave everything an additional complication.

On ‘The Two Doctors’

When I wrote ‘The Two Doctors’, it was no mistake that the Troughton Doctor knew he was being controlled by the Time Lords. The theory which myself and other who worked on ‘Doctor Who’ began to conceive was that the Time Lords were in dual control of the TARDIS all the time. The first trial was a mockery, a public relations exercise, because the Doctor had become involved too close to home and something had to be done about him. That’s why he is almost half-hearted about attempting to escape, which normally he never was. He knew that they were in complete control and had been all along. To operate as sneakily as this, you would have to be corrupt, and that’s what came later, when I was the script editor. Did they not condemn the Doctor to exile for interfering in the affairs of other planets? And yet who had sent him on these missions? They had!

Robert Holmes (1985)

September 24, 2009

Here’s part 2 of the Robert Holmes interview. He talks about the Time Lords, about his interest in the fictitious version of Victorian London, and about his returns to the series in the 1980’s, which included ‘The Caves of Androzani’, ‘The Two Doctors’, and nearly ‘The Five Doctors':

“People ask whether I based the Time Lords on religious grounds, rather like the Vatican, but I saw it more as scholastic. I mean you have your colleges of learning with Deans and all that. I decided that from what we knew of the Time Lords, they were august and remote people who were only concerned with keeping the structure of time in place. But then I looked back and discovered that they ‘framed’ the Troughton Doctor and got him to do various things for them, and then hauled him up in front of them on trial – like the Americans persecuting McCarthy – so I decided there were two sides to them. They have one image that they project but they were something else to themselves, which every now and then produced renegages like the Meddling Monk, Omega and the Master.

“Leela wasn’t my creation totally, because Chris Boucher named her. But we said to him we wanted Raquel Welch in the jungle, handy with a knife. But we didn’t give her a name; he did. We thought it was time we had a more positive companion – somebody who could handle things on her own, rather than let the Doctor do it. A companion would would contrast with the Doctor’s more pacific nature. He is not supposed to initiate violence, except in self defence, but Leela was the girl who would simply go out and stab someone in the back! I think they made a mistake with her falling in love and getting married – I feel that was fairly stupid.

“I’m not a fan of Sherlock Holmes, although I’ve read all the books, but I am a fan of that fictitious Victorian period, with fog, gas lamps, hansom cabs, music halls… We look back on it and say that’s what it was like, but of course it wasn’t. People were slaving in dark, satanic mills and starving in London gutters, but the popular concept of  Victoriana is this, with colourful language. I think David Maloney was a wonderful director, he got it all so right. The only thing that went wrong was pointed out afterwards by Graeme McDonald, then Head of Series, was the rat! The special effects department made this marvellous giant rat, as long as two tables, and they worked from scale drawings and pictures – it look marvellous. But when it came on the box it had little pink ears, was well groomed and totally unlike a sewer rat, which should have looked scurvious and scaly and greasy, bleeding here and there, with horrible yellow teeth. Instead it was a nice, cuddly sort of rat!

“The Sunmakers was a skit on the Inland Revenue, with a Gatherer and a Collector, and I had some references to income tax forms, like Corridor P45, liquidation and things like that. I’m not a serious writer. I like to get some fun out of what I’m writing. I was having a running battle with the Inland Revenue, and I had been outraged at the way the tax system worked for freelance writers. Being fairly helpless in everyday terms, I realised I could get my own back by writing something – and what better than the anarchic boundaries of ‘Doctor Who’ to convey my message!

“There was the planet that The Collector came from, once it was revealed that he wasn’t human and he went into liquidisation and plopped down into this commode thing. I said he came from the planet Userers, but Graham Williams was adamant that we couldn’t have a planet called Userers, which both myself and the director Pennant Roberts didn’t agree with.

“After I finished being script editor, I was up to my eyeballs in ‘Doctor Who’ and wanted a break from it, which I had for a few years. Then they asked me to do ‘The Five Doctors’, which I didn’t do because they wanted too many characters in it and I felt I couldn’t do that and get a good story as well. So I said no thanks, and Terrance Dicks did it. I think they asked me because of my association with the programme, it being an anniversary show, and then when they found out I wasn’t in the bath-chair just yet they asked me to write a four-parter for Peter Davison. They said, in fact, would I like to write the death of the Doctor and I said yes, firstly because I’d not written for Peter Davison, and secondly because everyone knows this is the last story and so you have that kind of in-built drama. I was teasing the audience quite a bit, really – I killed the Doctor off, apparently, at the end of the first episode – although you only had to look at the Radio Times to see he’s alright!

“Apparently Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines so enjoyed ‘The Five Doctors’, they asked if they could come back and do another one. We were moving to the forty-five minute time slot and this was going to be the season ‘biggie’ – and Eric Saward wanted someone with experience of writing what is virtually a six-parter and asked if I’d mind writing it. Then they said ‘Can we have Sontarans?’. I don’t really like bringing back old monsters, but I don’t think the Sontarans were really well used in their last appearances so I was glad to redress the balance.

“I had created the script to be set in New Orleans, not Seville. That’s why I created the Androgums – I couldn’t think of any reason why aliens should visit New Orleans and I recalled it was a jazz place – but not even I could envisage a race of aliens obsessed with jazz, and then I remembered it’s the culinary centre of America, with lots of restaurants, so then I invented the Androgums, who are obsessed with food – an anagram of gourmand. So they went to New Orleans for the food. They stayed, however, when it shifted to Seville, because I couldn’t htink of anything else.”

Robert Holmes (1985)

September 23, 2009

Robert Holmes was one of the most important contributors to the original ‘Doctor Who’, and if he was still around today he’d probably still be writing the occasional episode.This interview is from an old DWM.  The Autons and the Sontarans were among his most famous creations, and both have been resurrected in the modern version of the show.

He’s probably best remembered for his time as script editor in the mid 1970’s, covering some of the most popular Tom Baker stories, and he wrote or  co-write (sometimes uncredited, sometimes under a pseudonym) stories such as ‘The Ark in Space’, ‘The Sunmakers’ and ‘The Deadly Assassin’.

In fact, in the recent DWM poll to find the most popular episodes of all time, he wrote three of the top ten: ‘The Caves of Androzani’ (number 1), ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ (number 4) and ‘Pyramids of Mars’ (number 7). He was also script editor for ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ (number 3) and ‘The Robots of Death’ (number 9). Not bad going :)

Even though I’ve cut parts out, it’s still a long interview, so I’m going to split it over two posts. Part 2 will be up in the next few days, there may be something else in-between. Anyway, enjoy:

“I sent ‘The Krotons’ in, not as a ‘Doctor Who’ story but I sent it to the drama department as a story called ‘The Space Trap’, for inclusion in a series they were doing of four-part science-fiction thrillers, because I thought it was a suitable idea. Then I got a letter back from Shaun Sutton, the Head of Serials at the time, saying that they had decided to discontinue this series and he’d passed the idea on to ‘Doctor Who’. And I never heard any more about it. Three years passed and we were moving house and when I was clearing out my desk I came across the thing and thought ‘Well that’s not too bad’, so I rehashed it specifically for ‘Doctor Who’ and sent it in again. Terrance Dicks was script-editor by then and he commissioned it.

“(The Space Pirates) was originally intended as a four-part story, but at the last minute became a six-parter when one of their other six-parters fell through, so I went back and reworked some of it. I remember that the germ, that got me going on it, was this odd captain type chap in his battered space vessel who, every time it went wrong, kicked it or hit it was a beer bottle and got a result. I can’t remember too much about it, but my wife insists it is better than any of the others I’ve done.

“The cast (of Carnival of Monsters) never met! I can’t remember the reason, but I was asked to make it cheap – though I was told afterwards that it worked out quite expensive. So I decided that the way to write it was to do it in two sections: the onboard ship section and the people outside the machine. Only the Doctor and Jo passed in between. They shot that with the shipboard stuff done in the first session in the studio, and the outside recording two weeks later. It was quite a different and amusing idea to have this peepshow – my favourite bit was when the Doctor got out of the TARIS at the beginning and started talking to the chickens!

“I had been a script editor on other programmes about three times – I must have done probably about seven years editing in the last twenty-five years – I edited ‘Shoestring’ and ‘Knight Errant’, and they even asked me to edit ‘Blake’s Seven’ later. So I was quite used to the idea of script editing and I had written for ‘Doctor Who’ for some time, and had developed ideas on how I would like the show to change. Basically I thought it was over cluttered with characters – all the UNIT people – and I wanted to get it back into space because it had been stuck on Earth for such a long time. I also wanted to toughen it, try to make it more adult – to widen the audience and incorporate the mums and dads. I had Mary Whitehouse and Shirley Summerfield and ‘great’ people like that raising questions in the House of Lords when ‘Terror of the Autons’ was done a few years previously, so I think that was indicative of the way my mind worked anyway! I don’t think fantasy violence is at all damaging to children, and as I explained to Jean Rook and everybody else, if they think they have a sensitive child then don’t let it watch these programmes. It’s not up to television to cater for the minority of kids who might be influenced.

“I trailed Terrance Dicks for about three shows, including ‘Death to the Daleks’ and ‘The Monster of Peladon’. What that really meant was that as I worked on these shows, Terrance came in twice a week, poked his head round the door and asked ‘How are you doing? The aspirins are in the top right-hand draw!’ and cleared off again! And then I got him to write ‘Robot’ as he claimed it was traditional for a departing script editor to write the first episode of the next season! Good excuse, wasn’t it?

“(Season 12’s stories) were entirely ours. As I said, I got Terrance to do the first one, and then I asked John Lucarotti to write the next one, ‘The Ark in Space’. He was living on a boat in Corsica at the time and there was a postal dispute so the scripts came in – after I’d outlined the sort of story we wanted – a bit later than expected. When the second episode came in, we could see it was veering off the course that we wanted but it was too late to do anything about it. Then when the last bit came in, Philip (Hinchcliffe) said ‘We can’t use this thing – we’ve eighteen days to get it right’. That was just before the director, Rodney Bennett, arrived. So I took it home and totally rewrote it. It had my name on because I totally rewrote it. Wherever possible, though, I tried to keep the original writer’s names on the credits – unless it was 100% me. If not, as with ‘The Brain of Morbius’, we used pseudonyms.

“A similar thing happened with ‘Pyramids of Mars’, again a total rewrite. I commissioned Lewis Grieffer – I knew him from old and that he had an interest in mythology. He had written some science fiction before for ITV, but then he had to go into hospital and then had to go to be a television chairman in Tel Aviv or something. Anyway, the scripts arrived late and again we couldn’t get him to do rewrites quickly enough, not all the way from Tel Aviv, in the style we were looking for! I also got the impression that poor old Lewis had never actually got to see ‘Doctor Who’ because it was quite different from the series’ pattern and the Doctor’s character was odd and everything. So, I wanted the mythology and I wanted a re-run of ‘Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb’, or one of those, so I had to rewrite it. He didn’t even give me the story basis of Egyptian mythology – I got all that from a book! His story veered all over the place and wasn’t anything to do with Egyptian mythology. I wanted Horus, Sutekh etc. ‘Pyramids of Mars’ was, I think, his original title – he was very into pyramids.

“It was Philip (Hinchcliffe)’s idea to do ‘The Deadly Assassin’ and we decided I should write it. He said it would be good to explore this place we’ve never been to – home of the Time Lords. Lis Sladen’s contract was up and we decided to see if we could do a story for the Doctor without a companion, just as a rest. It was also the first story, if you discount the Master, that we struck the ‘received law’ that every ‘Doctor Who’ story had to have a monster. There were no monsters and ‘The Deadly Assassin’ was very popular. It aroused a lot of anger among the traditionalists, but that’s alright.”


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