Gerry Davis co-created the Cybermen (with Kit Pedler), but he also worked as script editor on the show during the period when William Hartnell left and Patrick Troughton joined. Here, he talks about the problems involved with ‘The Celestial Toymaker’, about the genesis of the Cybermen, and about returning to the show in the 1970’s.
“We had three or four stories, but the viewing figures had been going down because of the inclusion of fanciful historical stories. I trailed through ‘The Massacre’ and ‘The Ark’ and then I wrestled with ‘The Gunfighters’. That had a delightfully clever and sophisticated writer called Donald Cotton, but he was too much for ‘Doctor Who’. In one or two scenes, Hartnell showed what a great comedian he was – he could really handle comedy.
“The Celestial Toymaker was written by Brian Hayles, who I’d just been working closely with. We suddenly had a crisis on this one. Gerald Savoy had written this famous play called ‘George and Margaret’ and Donald Tosh thought it would be terribly funny to do a ‘Doctor Who’ version of this. This was a bit precious for a young audience, I felt, but Hayles had been asked to write this thing about two characters who actually never appear in the play – they are expected throughout but they only arrive, off stage, at the very end.
“We had booked the players, Carmen Silvera and on other whose name I’ve forgotten, and then suddenly Gerald, who was our head of department, read the script and threw his bombshell. He didn’t like the script and wasn’t having the names of his characters used for this. And it was actually pretty tedious, but the framework was good. The content was a sort of pseudo-smart Noel Coward comedy which was wrong for the audience. I literally had to sit down in the garden of the bungalow I’d just bought in Cookham and dash out an act a day. What happened was the Toymaker characters suggested toys, which suggested nursery and I played around with somethiing sinister on these lines. Had I more time, I could have done a better job.
“I got on with Bill Hartnell because I discovered it was no good confronting him, because as soon as you did he’d get angry. There was a lot of anger in him. What I would do was, having the necessary knowledge, talk about something to do with his past. For example, there was the occasion of the chair. He came onto the set, took one look at this chair, and said ‘This is ridiculous – I can’t sit in this chair, it’s wrong. Take it away and I won’t do anything until it’s taken away’. They used to send for me and I’d come down and say ‘What’s the matter?’, and he’d say ‘Look at this, it’s an insult and completely wrong for the scene’. So I’d reply ‘Doesn’t it look familiar to you? When Barrymore played his 1925 Hamlet he used a chair identical to that!’. And Hartnell would pause, think and then say ‘Oh yes, I saw him’. So we talked about Barrymore for five minutes and then I said ‘Well, sorry to disturb you, you’d better get on with the scene, but first we must get rid of that chair’, and he said ‘Oh no, that’s fine. Nothing wrong with that!’.
“I liked Peter Purves (as Steven), but Innes Lloyd decided he wanted a change. Peter was good but he was a bit unvarying in his portrayal. He was robust but stiff, and I think we wanted somebody a bit more flexible, so we got Ben, the cockney sailor. Dodo was dropped because the camera picked up that this was an older woman and we thought the audience would identity better with this leggy swinging Sixtiees girl. Ben and Polly were contrasts – light and shade, and Innes had a big input into those characters, while I was to create Jamie entirely on my own.
“I wanted a scientific adviser for the show, and I wanted to generate new science fiction-based story ideas, as we had decided to phase out the historical stories. I’d been having meetings with Patrick Moore, Alec Comfort, Professor Laithwaite and the like, with one or two stock questions to see if I could provoke their imaginations. I said to Kit Pedler ‘Supposing something tried to dominate from the new Post Office tower’, and he immediately said ‘Oh, it would have to have a control network, possibly using the telephones, and that’s how ‘The War Machines’ started. Ian Stuart Black was booked to write a script, so we gave him the storyline and between us, Kit and I came up with lots of stories. Every time we met, we’d talk for hours and ideas would start bubbling out. The Cybermen came because we’d lost the Daleks and wanted a new monster.
“We thought of a South Pole setting (for The Tenth Planet) because of the atmosphere it gave, with the tracking station and something – what? – affecting it. Also, the South Pole is so inhospitable that nobody would expect anything to come out of those howling blizzards And the image of those great big silver monsters stalking was wonderful – we even devised the walk for them! The regeneration was inspired directly from ‘Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’, a simple inspiration to get the change-over between actors.
“It was a head of series decision to continue (when Hartnell left). There was definitely a threat and a lot of hard thinking as to whether we should continue, but in fact, Troughton came in. I was reminding Shaun Sutton about this the other day. We had these big meetings and we sat around trying out ideas. Patrick Troughton was getting more and more confused. Suddenly, after sitting there for two hours and listening to a lot of talk going backwards and forwards, I lost patience and slammed the table and said ‘Just a minute’, and everybody stopped and looked at the most junior member. I said ‘Look, he’s got to play it. I’ve got to write it and get the writers to follow on. It seems it would be far better to leave it to us. Sydney Newman said ‘Okay, you two intellectuals get to it’.
“Pat and I worked it out. I’d noticed his principle characteristic was a very fey quality, you could never pin him down. The other ingredient came from a very favourite movie character of mine – Destry from the film ‘Destry Rides Again’. I recalled that he’d be around and get other people to do what he wanted by sheer word play and telling them little parables. I thought that for a complete change from the autocratic Doctor who told everybody what to do, wouldn’t it be fun to have someone who never told them to do anything! So in the first story, the companions have to do all the figuring out.
“For The Highlanders, I got hold of Elwyn Jones, who had just retired as head of series and was a big-shot in the business. He created ‘Z Cars’ and we thought it would give it a nice twist to use him, so I booked him and he jotted down a few things, but didn’t actually do anything. One day I was called into Shaun Sutton’s office and Elwyn was sitting there. Shaun asked me to take over from Elwyn, telling me that he had great confidence in me! So, for sheer credit, I ended up writing the whole thing. At the end, Elwyn wrote me a little note, saying ‘Dear Gerry, how very clever you are!’. As I had no story from him, I sued what was at the back of my mind – ‘Kidnapped’. I loved that swashbuckling period.
“Tomb of the Cybermen was all very Freudian, with the symbolism of going down into the catacombs. It was an old-fashioned horror story with the breaking of the foetal membranes an added touch. That also gave us more scope with the Cybermats, who were based on silverfish. Although we devised them thinking mainly of the merchandise, they were also pretty horrific, with red eyes and the ability to leap up at you.
“I was offered the producership of the programme by Innes, but I’m primarily a writer and I didn’t want to get swallowed up into his kind of job. Peter Bryant was my assistant and I thought he was producer material rather than script material, so I pushed him in, in place of myself.
“With Revenge of the Cybermen, Mac Hulke called me and said he’d been asked to write this Cyberman thing, but he didn’t think there was enough material, so we talked and realised I was the one to do it. I did and was able to bring in some of my own background stuff. They asked me for more than I could supply, but I’ve fitted them in where I can. As for ‘Revenge’, which was the wrong title if ever there was one – mine was ‘Something in Space’ – basically what happened was that they wanted a cheapie, so I wrote the whole thing as a sort of Las Vegas in space. It was a little like ‘The Moonbase’ with the Cybermats. It was a kind of Marie Celeste space casino, at first, with these deserted roulette tables. The Cybermen were destroyed with the gold used there, gold being the only pure metal. Then they got more money and decided to write in a sub-plot, which I thought diffused the interest a bit. Though I liked the Tom Baker Doctor, he was a bit over the top in places and tended to dominate the opposition, whereas I always thought that the menace should be greater than the Doctor.”