Robert Holmes (1985)

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.”

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