Pip and Jane Baker were quite controversial writers for ‘Doctor Who’ in the mid to late 80’s, since their episodes were often criticised for being too old-fashioned. They also created two of the more controversial characters of the original series’ later run – the Rani and Melanie Bush. In this old DWM interview, they talk about the crisis that led them to take over the end of ‘Trial of a Timelord’ from Eric Saward and Robert Holmes, and they script for ‘Time and the Rani’, which had to be written – for the most part – before Sylvester McCoy had been cast.
Pip: We’d been to Spain and on our return we met John Nathan-Turner in a lift at the BBC, and he said ‘Where on Earth have you been? We need a story’, so we wrote the Vervoid story and then we were finished as far as we were co ncerned. We were never part of the decision to make the Trial a format for the season – there was some discussion, I believe, but we weren’t there. We were told only that the Doctor was on trial in the previous two adventures, and our brief was that we had to provide the Doctor’s defence in a story set all within the studio.
Jane: We had a meeting in John’s office and both Eric Saward and John wanted a who-dunnit in space.
Pip: We came to an arrangement where we would write an episode a week and run it down to Television Centre on the Sunday. They would read it on the Monday and phone us back to say proceed. After we’d done two, we then went in to spend a day with Eric going through and discussing how it fitted in with the rest of the concept. We still didn’t know what the outcome of the trial would be – we were never told. The last two episodes were being kept very much a secret. We were being asked to put thing in for which we were given sort of half explanations – the suggestion that the Matrix had been tampered with, for instance. We never really understood why. Anyway, we delivered the scripts and there was this great silence, so we phoned the office and the next thing we heard was that Eric had left the BBC. Bob Holmes had died – we didn’t know him, but Eric was very upset and emotional about it. Bob had written only about twelve minutes of the last episode before his death.
Jane: Eric phoned us from home and he didn’t give us all the details of why he’d left. He’d called us earlier to say that Bob Holmes was having terrible difficulties with episode fourteen and that he felt he just couldn’t write it.
Pip: Then Jane had a rather strange conversation with John just after Eric had left. He said ‘There’s a taxi on its way to you with a script in it. Read it tonight and come in tomorrow morning’. And he wouldn’t say any more. So the taxi came and we discovered it was script thirteen. We went in the following morning, and the first ten minutes was just the usual coffee and gossip. But there was another person there as a witness to ensure that John didn’t tell us anything that was in script fourteen, because of copyright difficulties. Obviously he wanted us to provide a replacement, but he couldn’t tell us how the series was supposed to end! There were thirteen episodes leading up to a conclusion that wasn’t there. We said we’d think about it and then John said he wanted it within the week! (laughs)
Pip (cont.): Chris Clough was already working on ‘Terror of the Vervoids’. We went over to Eric’s empty office and talked it through – whether we could do it justice – not just because of the time period, as we had experience of that kind of speed on American series – but because we were being asked to wrap up thirteen episodes. If people have watched it that long, there’s an expectation that has to be satisfied – this has got to be it. We were also told that we could have the trial room sets in the studio, which everyone had got bored to tears with, and shoot at locations they’d already found. There wasn’t time for us to see them – all they could do was to bring us some photographs and drawings and say ‘This is where it’s to be shot’. We had three days in the end – two to write, and one to type up from out longhand, which we always write in, and collate everything.
Jane: It was challenging rather than exciting. We delivered the script on a Tuesday, John and Chris read it, and then we had a meeting in an observation room for half an hour. I think the script ran to about thirty-eight minutes. We took some out, and Chris said ‘Let me go into rehearsal and see what we can cut there’. You see, they were shooting thirteen and fourteen before theVervoids. At rehearsal, it was still too long. After the producer’s run, we told John to leave us alone to sit down and cut it, and we knew there was going to be heartbreak, because we had to cut four minutes and that meant losing some lovely scenes. Some of the actors pretended not to speak to us in rehearsal – they were genuinely a bit hurt. Anthony Ainley and Tony Selby suffered the most, because the Master and Glitz were really a sub-plot.
Pip: We were asked to create the character of Mel for Bonnie Langford, and we tried to give her something to do other than being just a feed. It’s very difficult to write for a companion. The screams weren’t necessarily in the script! (laughs) We don’t believe that you enhance a character by giving them nonentities around them. If you want to establish a principal (character) and make him or her a principal of substance, the Doctor has to have someone of substance to play against. It’s a mistake if an actor wants all the good lines – to have a victory over a non-entity is no victory at all.
Jane: We found episode fourteen one of our favourites. For the satisfaction of the readers, we’ve re-introduced all that was cut into our novelisation and given an explanation for the seemingly easy access in and out of the Matrix – no doubt some will nit-pick with it, but nobody gave us an alternative explanation. When we were writing the novel, I rang Terrance Dicks – whom we don’t know – as he was writing the first book. He said he just followed the script, which gave us no clues! Episode fourteen worked, we felt, very well. It brought out the best in the actors, or at least the actors gave their best to it, and we enjoyed it.
Jane (cont.): We don’t set out to write erudite dialogue. What happens is that first of all you create a character, and then you work out how they would talk. Take the Rani – now if you’re creating somebody who’s supposed to be a superior being, somebody at the apex of all evolution – she can’t start talking, I don’t think, in an ordinary way. As we understand it – Eric told us this – the Time Lords have no magic power, all they’ve got is this ability to think more and use their minds in a way most of us haven’t yet evolved to. You’ve got to demonstrate that. The Valeyard was a tremendous villain. He had this tremendous intellectual capacity. You’ve got to give him something that matches that. You’re trying to say ‘This is a character different from the rest’, he can’t just mouth mundane chit chat.
Pip: If anyone is polysyllabic, they’re accused of being pretentious, which is a shame because if you got back to the end of the last century and read Dickens, you can’t accuse him of being monosyllabic, and he was writing for a mass audience. It’s a shame that something’s happened to the working vocabulary nowadays, so that it’s gradually being gleaned down to a much smaller range. We don’t believe in writing down (to the audience). We’d have thought ‘Doctor Who’ followers would appreciate that.
Jane: For ‘Time and the Rani’, the first thing we were asked was to set it somewhere so that the unit wouldn’t have to travel away. If you went to the end of our road and turned off, you would find yourself in several miles of lush woodlands, so we set it on that sort of terrain. It was a production decision to change it, as they felt a quarry would look more alien. In the story, there’s a sequence where Mel and Ikona go into a drain. In our original script, it was a piece of common ground and he’d dug himself a ditch camouflaged from above, but this was lost because of the change of locale. The reason was that he’d worked out the only way to outwit the Tetraps, who had this 360 degree vision, was either to be above them in a tree, or in the ground below them.
Pip: We were well into the story when we were shown a video of Sylvester – we had to find a way of (a) regenerating the Doctor, and (b) finding a character for him. John asked for a pre-credit teaser. All of us felt we couldn’t go straight into the story. If we had to regenerate in this way, we needed to start with it, then have a full stop and then start the story. You couldn’t open with Sylvester’s titles otherwise, it would have looked silly.
Jane: Andrew Morgan (the director) was more anxious to see the Tetraps earlier than we were. But it was much more of a discussion than a disagreement. We had other science fiction elements in it that we couldn’t afford. We were quite happy working with Andrew, and more than happy working with John (Nathan-Turner), and we’d be just as happy to work with him again, not necessarily on ‘Doctor Who’. We’ve done eleven episodes of ‘Doctor Who’ and we’ve had quite a good go at it, and never even had a cross word with John. The only thing we’ve got against the programme is the element of malice which creeps in among some of the fans. Basically, it’s a good-natured show – it’s not a great social tract, but we can only speak as we find.