Graham Williams (1980’s)

Here’s Graham Williams, one of the show’s most popular producers, talking about the original version of ‘City of Death’, which was called ‘Gamble With Time’, as well as the first designs for K9 (a robotic Doberman, apparently) and the birthday cake that was originally planned for ‘The Stones of Blood’.

“I was taken in to see Bill Slater, then my Head of Department. He was having to look through a tape of ‘The Deadly Assassin’ which had just attracted huge fire from Mary Whitehouse because it showed the central character – the Doctor – being held under water in part of the dream sequence. There was a right uproad about how kids would imitate this. So I was at this point being offered the job but with an absolutely clear dictate – it was a brief, it was a dictate – that the violence level had to come down, and the horror element with it! The moment I protested that this was what the audience for ‘Doctor Who’ adored, I was shouted down.

“They wanted the horror out, but they also wanted ‘Doctor Who’ not to be so much for kiddies. Needless to say, this caused Bob Holmes more than a few headaches. He’s one of the most wonderfully endearing but sadistic monsters I have ever come across. He’d loved all the shows they’d done up until then. We had to go back over all the stories we’d been commissioning and inventing among ourselves and take all the horror out, leaving us with a rather nasty hole – a vacuum. So, all we had left to fill it with was, predictably, the humour.

“Normally you have about five or six months to set up and do preparation on a series with, usually, a few unused stories in the cupboard. We had nothing. The Invasion of Time came about because the original script for that slot came in right up against the deadline. And when it did come in, it proved to be unworkable. It just could not be done. There were things in it, I remember, like an amphitheatre the size of Wembley Stadium filled with killer cats in the audience. So that story went out of the window, leaving us just five days to write three hours of television. I don’t think either Anthony Read or I went to bed for three days solid.

“For ‘City of Death’ we had decided to do another spoof story, much to the horror of the fans. This had been done historically by Bob Holmes and Philip Hinchcliffe year after year, but nobody had noticed. Having done ‘The Androids of Tara’, which was a very direct spoof on ‘The Prisoner of Zenda’ and had worked very well with everyone apart from the fans, we called the same author in and said ‘How about Bulldog Drummond?’. It was to be set in the twenties at a casino, with somebody rigging the gambling tables. The idea was that of a madman who wanted to travel back in time and who needed the money to do it, hence the title, ‘Gamble With Time’. Well that was another instance of a script falling apart in your hands. We tried re-jigging it and re-writing it, but in the end the conclusion came about that the only way to salvage anything was for Douglas Adams and myself to go away and totally re-write it – which we did in the familiar three days.

“No sooner had we settled on Paris for ‘City of Death’ than I decided to cost out the script. I felt we could actually go to Paris for no extra cost at all, so long as we were clever about it. I have John Nathan-Turner – then my Production Unit Manager – the list of the cast I intended taking over and the length of time we’d be there, and he returned me a costing that was to within about £15 what we’d spend going to Ealing Film Studios to shoot it. Thus, I could guarantee, with my producer’s hat on, that the writer, wearing my other hat, wouldn’t need to take across people like ‘chippies’, scene shifters and so on. All the scenes in Paris were written with a view to taking the minimum crew across, yet making it virtually undetectable to the viewer the way in which we had done it. It worked, but I don’t think I’d like to try it again.

“It was very much against my preference that Bob Holmes left, because in my estimation he is one of the greatest assets the series can have, not only in the ideas he had, which were smashing, but in his ability to step into the breach when scripts fell down and do it all himself – which took an enormous load off my shoulders. When I took over, Bob had done three years as script editor, having said originally he was only going to do two. He’d been persuaded by clever old Philip to stay on for three and then again by iniquitous Graham who’d said ‘I’m taking over the show and I don’t want both the producer and the script editor to be new people’. Sure enough, he did stay on for nine more months for me, but after than I don’t think even a king’s ransom would have kept him on the show.

“Bob Baker and Dave Martin invented K9 for ‘The Invisible Enemy’ and after all the agonies of his construction he seemed too good just to be thrown away. My brief to the designers had been that under no circuumstances should the kiddies be able to point to it and say there’s a little man inside. At first they came up with a drawing of a huge Doberman Pinscher – armour-plated and very fierce. I told them ‘great, very gothic, but it does look as though there’s a man inside’. ‘But that’s how we’re going to do it’, they replied, to which I said ‘No, we’ve got to have it small and radio-controlled. And by doing that we were ultimately ahead of R2-D2.

“The Key to Time season was something I’d had at the back of my mind for a very long time, but it had been impossible to realise during my first year when all we were doing was fielding stories like very fast balls. By the end of that period, I was mightily sick of having to do stories which just came off quite co-incidentally. I wanted something which had a bit more positive force to it. The concept itself was quite easy to get together but I knew I needed stories which still could be self-sufficient in their own right. I found it a refreshing challenge, but I knew I didn’t want to repeat it the year after.

“Tom would take every opportunity he got to inject his own quirkiness and this I would not discourage until the point at which I felt it was going over the top – like the famous scene i cut out at rehearsals for ‘The Stones of Blood’, of Romana and K9 presenting the Doctor with a 15th anniversary birthday cake. That, I felt, was a case of the suspension of disbelief being turned on its head, and that I would not allow”.

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