Anthony Read was script editor of ‘Doctor Who’ for a short period in the late 1970’s, and his time on the show included the ‘Key to Time’ season. Here, he tells DWM about joining the BBC in the 1960’s, about wanting to rest the Daleks in the 1970’s, and about his script for the series, ‘The Horns of Nimon’.
“It was the 2nd of November 1963 when I joined the BBC and when I had first come up to meet my potential employers, I remember noting that they were in the studio with the very first episode of a show called ‘Doctor Who’. Thus my later decision to become script-editor was partly inspired by nostalgia for this memory. Incidentally, Sydney Newman actually invented the BBC script-editor and was a remarkable man in many ways, nurturing a lot of talent. When I arrived, I had the advantage of ten years’ writing and editing experience, a training which proved invaluable. I did several shows, including ‘The Lotus Eaters’, before deciding that I’d had enough of the Corporation. As a result, I left to go freelance, a state of affairs which suited me greatly and which proved very successful.
“Graham Williams (phoned and) said ‘Have you ever thought about coming back to work for the BBC?’, and thinking he meant as a producer I replied ‘No, I’m happy where I am’. Then he said ‘Why not come back as a script editor?’. I refused because, unless it was a very special deal with a lot of freedom attached to it, it would look like a step down. He then sprung ‘Doctor Who’ on me. I said ‘Now that’s different. That’s a bit special’. They promised me that I’d have no hassles, and that it would only be a guest contract. Just to have ‘Doctor Who’ on the credits for a year was something I was very keen on.
“I arrived to overlap with Bob Holmes and the whole thing was definitely a bit bogged down. The first show I worked on was the K9 debut serial, ‘The Invisible Enemy’. There I was really just trailing Bob, although I did have a say on whether K9 should stay or not. ‘Image of the Fendahl’ had been commissioned by Bob from Chris Boucher, a writer he had discovered, but I did the work of following it through with Chris. Then Bob wrote ‘The Sun Makers’, which obviously I commissioned, Bob leaving with the idea that this was a nice goodbye present for services rendered.
“My feeling was that the previous producer, Philip Hinchcliffe, hasn’t really understood ‘Doctor Who’ or its ethos. It had lost what I liked, and that was the humour. The humour was an incredibly important element, without it becoming a send-up. I think after my time it did go a little too far, but you had to use Tom – in my mind he was the best of them all, the epitome of who the Doctor should be.
“I set out to bring some new blood in one the writing side. Old writers were still contributing the odd idea, but by and large were out of their time. You can’t play safe with a concept like ‘Doctor Who’, you’ve got to be daring, fast and new. I looked around me and began looking for very good professional writers with whom I’d worked before, or people with excellent track records who had been recommended to me. However, writing for ‘Doctor Who’ is an art in itself and some writers, however successful or established in other fields, just couldn’t get into the individuality of it. One writer in particular, we’d commissioned to provide the final six-parter of my first season. He’d worked with me on ‘The Troubleshooters’ but just couldn’t do ‘Doctor Who’.
“The brief we had given him was to do a story set on Gallifrey, showing something of life outside the city and maybe involving renegade Time Lords to show that all is not okay. It was very much a philosophical background, concerning the perfect society and whether it is too perfect, asking questions like ‘What about those people who want to be mavericks?’. This philosophical thing I wanted to run through the whole of my period. This particular writer was late in delivering his scripts, which is quite common and I felt convinced that they could be made to work. But they couldn’t – no way. He’d gone off beam and got himself into a corner. By this time the director had arrived and some casting had been decided, including Borusa. So over about two weeks I went off and wrote six half-hour episodes, delivering them episode by episode. I was aware of the background of Gallifrey. Having talked new ideas out with Graham, he acted as script-editor on my script, but with time being so short he had to put things in where necessary, rewriting quite a lot of it to suit our resources. The pseudonym we used, David Agnew, was actually one which Graeme McDonald, our head of department, had as a multi-purpose pseydonym.
“We talked about killing Leela off but we didn’t got that far, because we felt that the character being so important, the effect on the audience might have been overly traumatic. Leela’s exit was a last-minute thing, because we tried hard to keep her in. Louise was such a good actress and so nice to have around that it was galling to have to let her go.
“Graham and I met to discuss the next season and agreed that it would be nice to do a season of shows that weren’t totally unrelated. It was an experiment – we would still have stories zooming off and set in different places and times, but that to bind it all together would be fun for us as the production team and for the audiences at home. We felt that it would go some way to making a statement over the whole thing, and that the whole thing would add believability to this quest idea. It was something I was very keen on – adding something which wouldn’t affect it if you were a casual viewer, but which would be an added bonus if you followed it all the way through.
“To get it all together, I did what I’d done in the past and looked for the writing team before deciding on the stories. Once together, we met and worked as a team, with us committed to a certain number of episodes per writer. This also committed them – they had some ‘Doctor Who’ income to stop them going off to do other things.
“David Fisher wanted to do a supernatural story and I had always been fascinated by the legend of stone circles, so that came together as ‘The Stones of Blood’. ‘The Androids of Tara’ took my policy of literary pastiche as far as it would go, but the reasoning was ‘Here’s a cracking story, why not have some fun with it?’. ‘The Pirate Planet’ was Douglas Adams’ first television commission and showed his great strength of imagination coupled with flaws. The first flaw was a tendency to go over the top. I remember he had the Polphase Avatron saying things like ‘pieces of silicate’, which was a no-go area. He also lacked an understanding of television structure. In fact, Graeme McDonald wanted to throw his story out and myself and Pennant Roberts, who had already arrived to direct it, had to fight tooth and nail to do it. Graham Williams was away, so we were left rather on our own. In the end, Douglas’ tremendous powers of imagiantion were shown to their best effect.
“Having had the Leela character, we wanted a contrast. We sat down and said ‘Within this framework, what will be the dramatic needs of the series?’, and we figured that a Time Lady ice figure would do nicely. The Black and White Guardians followed naturally, we had to ask ourselves, what is the driving reason for this quest. In dramatic terms the search for the Key needed an urgency and a threat. Black and white, good and bad, pro and con, is the basic root of all drama and this is what we borrowed. We thought up the device of them not being able to be involved, so as not to effectively destroy the character of the Doctor.
“Both Graham and I felt it was time the Daleks were rested, because finding fresh stories for them was virtually impossible. However, using the Sontarans in ‘The Invasion of Time’ was obvious – they fitted the bill beautifully, and there was no point in creating anything new. It was nice, because we didn’t really have to explain them, as aficionados of the show already knew all about them.
“I was very sad to leave, but I only ever wanted to do my year, to contribute to the smashing legend the show is. I had a great thing about the Crete and the Minoan civilisation. If you think about it, the Minotaur is a very science fiction kind of story, what with the Labyrinth. The Horns of Nimon was nice because it gave things an extra dimensino – the allusion was fine, because if you couldn’t see it you would still enjoy the story, but if you could, it would add to the pleasure of it. As a bonus, it was more fun to write that way. As for the end result, I was on the whole pleased. It was on the borderline to going over the top, but it was a very tongue-in-cheek script. I would have liked a little more menace, I think, and the way I wrote the labyrinth was as a giant printed circuit, an analogy that was lost in the production.”