Archive for the ‘Script Editors’ Category

Anthony Read (1985)

October 11, 2009

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.”

Christopher H. Bidmead (1988)

October 9, 2009

Here’s an old DWM interview with Christopher H. Bidmead, in which he talks about his brief time on the show, which covered the changeover from Tom Baker to Peter Davison:

“Robert Banks Stewart was talking to John Nathan-Turner, who was looking for a script editor. Bob mentioned my name as a writer he’d enjoyed working with, but what he didn’t know was that in the interim I’d been writing a lot of scientific and technical stuff, dealing with computers and gadgetry, which I thought equipped me very well for ‘Doctor Who’.

“I then had to confess to John and Barry Letts that I didn’t actually want to do ‘Doctor Who’, as it had got very silly and I hated the show. They agreed with me – Barry wanted to go back to earlier principals and to find a way of familiarising children with the ways of science. You can understand how deeply that idea had been subverted.

“Two things were going wrong. One was the pantomime element, and the other was the element of magic which had come in. Magic is entirely contrary to science and to my mind the Doctor’s view of the world is that he looks at a problem objectively and then tries to apply laws derived from experience to reach a scientific solution.

“We had David Fisher’s story (The Leisure Hive), which had been commissioned by John before I joined and that was the only one of the shelf that we were committed to do. But it had been commissioned before we hammered out the new principles of scientific integrity, and it did contain a lot of silliness. This wasn’t David’s fault – he was picking up on the previous season. So we had to do a great deal of rewriting.

“I then turned to the production heads and said ‘Can we have the file index on all our writers and I’ll get busy ringing them all up and talking to them’. They said ‘What file index?’ The horrific thing was that we’d inherited no list of writers at all. And of course I didn’t actually want to use the writers from the previous season, so I scraped around in the back of my memory, after first approaching writers of the calibre of Nigel Kneale. The last thing they wante to do was our show.

“The rules we established in that first year were undoubtedly good for the series. It’s very hard if you’re trying to write for a totally unpredictable fantasy situation where anything  goes. The idea was that the eccentric and unpredictable Doctor would arrive at a real planet which had real rules and a real economy and a real history, however bizarre. It was all to be rational and understandable, the only element of fantasy being the Doctor himself. We had to persuade Tom Baker that the ad-libbing which he felt was so necessary to fill in the script was no longer needed – something he didn’t take to.

“State of Decay had been coming and going for some time and poor old Terrance Dicks had been messed around from pillar to post over the thing. The premise was based on something which I greatly disliked in ‘Doctor Who’ – borrowed plots. I absolutely loathed riding on the backs of other people’s stories, that sort of ‘nudge, nudge, do you recognise this?’ For me, ‘Doctor Who’ was entirely unique.

“That script started off very much as a rip-off of the standard Hammer vampire story. I was interested in injecting more detail into it and there was a great deal of creative tension between myself and Terrance over that. It was very hard to argue with a guy who had much more experience, but argue I did, and I think the result was a great improvement. I got him to make all the vampires scientists, and I brought all that stuff about the conflict between science and superstition into it.

“Peter Moffatt and I came to blows, because I was still working on the script after he joined – I tried to have some of the gothic nature of the sets removed, because I found it most unbelievable that you went to this alien planet and you found yourself on the set of a Hammer movie. It was still early days, you see, and people hadn’t quite grasped what we were trying to do.

“What we did with Adric, which may have been a mistake in practical terms, but which I still think is a good idea, was that we invented the character as a whole, rounded entity and then cast it. Other shows often work the other way around. What drew us to Matthew, although he wasn’t wholly the character we designed, was his tremendous enthusiasm as a real fan of the show, coupled with his interesting and unusual face.

“I didn’t have any responsibility for deciding on companions. John Nathan-Turner simply came and told me that Nyssa is to be a companion, and another new girl called Tegan Jovanka will join. I invented much of Adric with John. Sarah Sutton was a super actress and Janet Fielding was such a strong personality, she created much of it herself. Personally I feel we didn’t give her a good chance and we wated her, but she became very popular.

“I remember reading a Chistopher Priest book and thinking ‘This is absolutely wizard’. I spoke to Chris, and I was very impressed with his creativity and his business-like approach. I put it to John that we commission Chris, bearing in mind that Chris was too distinguished a writer to have to bulldoze his story into shape. Chris and I would work closely together to produce the final draft, and it was on this basis that we went ahead. I can’t exactly remember what went wrong. The first draft of ‘Sealed Orders’ was a very good story, but showed lack of TV experience. I think I made the mistake of over-estimating the amount of time I’d have to work side by side with Chris, because I’d underestimated the time the rest of the show took to get going.

“I found Johnny Byrne by going back to an old telephone list of mine from the early Seventies. I’d met him in a pub, where he claimed to be a poet. When I tracked him down, I found I wasn’t finding someone new to TV, but getting someone who at that stage had considerably more experience than myself. The story of ‘The Keeper of Traken’ shows the writing process very well. Johnny came to us with a stimulating and interesting idea which he turned into a draft s cript and then announced he was going off on holiday. John and I had hammered out a principle that by the time a director arrived, the script must be what we called director-proof – we didn’t want loose ends, because inevitably a director would latch onto these and alter the script.

“The problem with ‘The Keeper of Traken’ was that Johnny said ‘Here’s your script, I’m off to Greece’ – a way of working I now greatly understand – and left the story in need of tightening up. In the course of doing this, I found many things which I thought could be made better, so I put of lot of input in it, and largely re-wrote it. Mind you, Johnny had given me carte blanche to do so, but it would have been difficult if he hadn’t.

“The premise of ‘Doctor Who’ is so exciting and it seemed to me that the TARDIS was particularly exciting. I wanted to take it apart and understand how it worked. In the course of doing so, you came across story ideas by the handful. That ‘unique to ‘Doctor Who’ thing was one of the most appealing things about ‘Logopolis’. Now, I accept the Douglas Adams criticism that my high seriousness approach led to ‘cod’ scenes like the cited one in ‘Logopolis’ where the Master broadcasts to the universe. My approach was subject to the odd ‘cod’ idea and shortage of budget, but I still stick by it.

“With ‘Castrovalva’, it was super to start off a new Doctor. It was written at short notice because another script had fallen through, and it was quite a slow burn. They weren’t quite sure how Davison was going to work out and I was asked to write the script accordingly. I realised that the Doctor had to be the central part of it, but at this vulnerable stage I saw him being placed in a box – making him the focus of interest. The unstable regeneration was a wonderful, inherited idea and it was logical to go on exploring the TARDIS. I poured over an Escher book for a long time but the ‘Castrovalva’ print is not typical of his work.

“Eric Saward phoned me up and asked me to do ‘Frontios’. They wanted the monster element, which was a struggle because I always hated ‘Doctor Who’ monsters – partly because they tend to look cheap and mainly because they are so limited on dialogue. Dialogue is so important in a low budget show – it creates the whole effect. Part of the complex idea behind ‘Frontios’ again involved the TARDIS. If you’ve got a story about gravity and things being sucke through the Earth, then why not push the thing a bit further and actually break the TARDIS up? I wanted the Doctor to be no safer than these poor last vestiges of humanity. I wrote it at the time of the Beirut crisis and I was influenced by that.

“The Tractators were based on woodlice – my old flat was infested with them and I used to watch them very closely. I was told we had no filming, which was an exciting constraint. As for characters, I found Turlough very interesting – he was an extraordinary actor and Plantagenet I rationalised by saying that one of the things they were carrying over was their culture. Plantagenet as a name had echoes of history.

“They had a script (for season 23) which I have just finished re-working into four episodes, but whether they will use it I can’t say. One thing, though, is that it’s all new plot-wise – I don’t like digging up old characters who I think have generally served their time.”

Robert Holmes (1985)

September 24, 2009

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.”

Robert Holmes (1985)

September 23, 2009

Robert Holmes was one of the most important contributors to the original ‘Doctor Who’, and if he was still around today he’d probably still be writing the occasional episode.This interview is from an old DWM.  The Autons and the Sontarans were among his most famous creations, and both have been resurrected in the modern version of the show.

He’s probably best remembered for his time as script editor in the mid 1970’s, covering some of the most popular Tom Baker stories, and he wrote or  co-write (sometimes uncredited, sometimes under a pseudonym) stories such as ‘The Ark in Space’, ‘The Sunmakers’ and ‘The Deadly Assassin’.

In fact, in the recent DWM poll to find the most popular episodes of all time, he wrote three of the top ten: ‘The Caves of Androzani’ (number 1), ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’ (number 4) and ‘Pyramids of Mars’ (number 7). He was also script editor for ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ (number 3) and ‘The Robots of Death’ (number 9). Not bad going 🙂

Even though I’ve cut parts out, it’s still a long interview, so I’m going to split it over two posts. Part 2 will be up in the next few days, there may be something else in-between. Anyway, enjoy:

“I sent ‘The Krotons’ in, not as a ‘Doctor Who’ story but I sent it to the drama department as a story called ‘The Space Trap’, for inclusion in a series they were doing of four-part science-fiction thrillers, because I thought it was a suitable idea. Then I got a letter back from Shaun Sutton, the Head of Serials at the time, saying that they had decided to discontinue this series and he’d passed the idea on to ‘Doctor Who’. And I never heard any more about it. Three years passed and we were moving house and when I was clearing out my desk I came across the thing and thought ‘Well that’s not too bad’, so I rehashed it specifically for ‘Doctor Who’ and sent it in again. Terrance Dicks was script-editor by then and he commissioned it.

“(The Space Pirates) was originally intended as a four-part story, but at the last minute became a six-parter when one of their other six-parters fell through, so I went back and reworked some of it. I remember that the germ, that got me going on it, was this odd captain type chap in his battered space vessel who, every time it went wrong, kicked it or hit it was a beer bottle and got a result. I can’t remember too much about it, but my wife insists it is better than any of the others I’ve done.

“The cast (of Carnival of Monsters) never met! I can’t remember the reason, but I was asked to make it cheap – though I was told afterwards that it worked out quite expensive. So I decided that the way to write it was to do it in two sections: the onboard ship section and the people outside the machine. Only the Doctor and Jo passed in between. They shot that with the shipboard stuff done in the first session in the studio, and the outside recording two weeks later. It was quite a different and amusing idea to have this peepshow – my favourite bit was when the Doctor got out of the TARIS at the beginning and started talking to the chickens!

“I had been a script editor on other programmes about three times – I must have done probably about seven years editing in the last twenty-five years – I edited ‘Shoestring’ and ‘Knight Errant’, and they even asked me to edit ‘Blake’s Seven’ later. So I was quite used to the idea of script editing and I had written for ‘Doctor Who’ for some time, and had developed ideas on how I would like the show to change. Basically I thought it was over cluttered with characters – all the UNIT people – and I wanted to get it back into space because it had been stuck on Earth for such a long time. I also wanted to toughen it, try to make it more adult – to widen the audience and incorporate the mums and dads. I had Mary Whitehouse and Shirley Summerfield and ‘great’ people like that raising questions in the House of Lords when ‘Terror of the Autons’ was done a few years previously, so I think that was indicative of the way my mind worked anyway! I don’t think fantasy violence is at all damaging to children, and as I explained to Jean Rook and everybody else, if they think they have a sensitive child then don’t let it watch these programmes. It’s not up to television to cater for the minority of kids who might be influenced.

“I trailed Terrance Dicks for about three shows, including ‘Death to the Daleks’ and ‘The Monster of Peladon’. What that really meant was that as I worked on these shows, Terrance came in twice a week, poked his head round the door and asked ‘How are you doing? The aspirins are in the top right-hand draw!’ and cleared off again! And then I got him to write ‘Robot’ as he claimed it was traditional for a departing script editor to write the first episode of the next season! Good excuse, wasn’t it?

“(Season 12’s stories) were entirely ours. As I said, I got Terrance to do the first one, and then I asked John Lucarotti to write the next one, ‘The Ark in Space’. He was living on a boat in Corsica at the time and there was a postal dispute so the scripts came in – after I’d outlined the sort of story we wanted – a bit later than expected. When the second episode came in, we could see it was veering off the course that we wanted but it was too late to do anything about it. Then when the last bit came in, Philip (Hinchcliffe) said ‘We can’t use this thing – we’ve eighteen days to get it right’. That was just before the director, Rodney Bennett, arrived. So I took it home and totally rewrote it. It had my name on because I totally rewrote it. Wherever possible, though, I tried to keep the original writer’s names on the credits – unless it was 100% me. If not, as with ‘The Brain of Morbius’, we used pseudonyms.

“A similar thing happened with ‘Pyramids of Mars’, again a total rewrite. I commissioned Lewis Grieffer – I knew him from old and that he had an interest in mythology. He had written some science fiction before for ITV, but then he had to go into hospital and then had to go to be a television chairman in Tel Aviv or something. Anyway, the scripts arrived late and again we couldn’t get him to do rewrites quickly enough, not all the way from Tel Aviv, in the style we were looking for! I also got the impression that poor old Lewis had never actually got to see ‘Doctor Who’ because it was quite different from the series’ pattern and the Doctor’s character was odd and everything. So, I wanted the mythology and I wanted a re-run of ‘Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb’, or one of those, so I had to rewrite it. He didn’t even give me the story basis of Egyptian mythology – I got all that from a book! His story veered all over the place and wasn’t anything to do with Egyptian mythology. I wanted Horus, Sutekh etc. ‘Pyramids of Mars’ was, I think, his original title – he was very into pyramids.

“It was Philip (Hinchcliffe)’s idea to do ‘The Deadly Assassin’ and we decided I should write it. He said it would be good to explore this place we’ve never been to – home of the Time Lords. Lis Sladen’s contract was up and we decided to see if we could do a story for the Doctor without a companion, just as a rest. It was also the first story, if you discount the Master, that we struck the ‘received law’ that every ‘Doctor Who’ story had to have a monster. There were no monsters and ‘The Deadly Assassin’ was very popular. It aroused a lot of anger among the traditionalists, but that’s alright.”

Verity Lambert & Dennis Spooner (1964)

August 9, 2009

This is a fairly light 1964 piece promoting the return of the Daleks in ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’, episode one of which had just been broadcast. Nevertheless, there are relatively few interviews with Verity Lambert and Dennis Spooner, so even a small piece holds some interest. Scans coming soon(ish).

From the Daily Mail:

Shorty after 5.40 this evening a week of almost unbearable tension will come to an end.

At that time, the BBC adventure serial ‘Doctor Who’ comes on the air. And as some ten million viewers can tell you, the dreaded Daleks are back and about to reveal their future plans.

At the end of last week’s episode, a single specimen of this radioactive race of what appear to be malevolent pepper-pots rose from the Thames and waved its antenna at the terror-stricken audience. Then the credit titles rolled.

At once a howl of anguish went up all over Britain and the BBC switchboard was jammed with 400 calls. Angry viewers protested that the Dalek’s appearance was far too brief: that children who had waited months for another sign of the monsters were weeping and refusing to go to bed.

And not only children, for ‘Doctor Who’s massive audience includes millions of adults.

The operation of the Daleks – they were killed off earlier this year but brought back by public demand – is conducted by a remarkably attractive young woman called Verity Lambert who, at 28, is not only the youngest but the only female drama producer in BBC TV.

She arrived at the Corporation via Roedean, the Sorbonne University and a spell in New York as personal assistant to David Susskind, the producer and commentator who is one of the top figures in American TV.

‘Doctor Who’ was her first producing assignment a year ago, and with this background she has insisted on a high standard of professionalism for the serial.

“I have strong views on the level of intelligence we should be aiming at,” she told me briskly. “‘Doctor Who’ goes out at a time when there is a large child audience but it is intended more as a story for the whole family.

“And anyway children today are very sophisticated and I don’t allow scripts which seem to talk down to them.”

Nine well-established script-writers have contributed to ‘Doctor Who’ in the past twelve months and they are closely briefed on the requirements of the Doctor and his invaluable machine.

Story editor Dennis Spooner, who has written many episodes himself, told me “writers have to be divided into those who can cope with trips back into the past and those who can write adventures set in the future. Very few can do both.

“The futuristic stories ought to be easier because the scope is endless but we have to set some limits to remain mildly plausible and we have found that many writers are completely lost with science fiction.”

While the programme is running – and it has had only one six-week spell off the air – the cast start rehearsing each week’s episode every Monday morning in an outside rehearsal room and remain hard at it until the following Friday.

On Friday mornings they move into the studios at the Television Centre or the BBC’s riverside studios at Hammersmith and from 10.30am rehearse with cameras and the full, impressive range of props that appear in ‘Doctor Who’.

From 8.30 in the evening the programme is recorded and the cast are permitted the weekend off before starting all over again on the following Monday morning.

Pre-recording has allowed the regulars in the series a five-week holiday which is just ending.

When they return on Monday – with the exception of Carole Ann Ford, whose place in the team is being taken by a newcomer called Maureen O’Brien – they will start working non-stop for 26 weeks on programmes that will be shown in the New Year.

These ugly anti-social fugitives from an overgrown cruet may well have met their match in Miss Lambert.

Tall, dark and shapely, she became positively forbidding when I suggested that the Daleks might one day take over ‘Doctor Who’.

“I feel in no way obligated to bring them back for a third time even if this present story is a tremendous success,” she said with a noticeable chill.

Eric Saward (1986)

August 6, 2009

This is probably one of the most notorious interviews in the history of ‘Doctor Who’. Former script editor lets  John Nathan Turner have it with both barrels in a scabarous encounter first published in issue 97 of ‘Starburst’.

Q: Let’s start with the most immediate thing – you’ve recently left Doctor Who.

A: Well…I was getting very fed up with the way Doctor Who was being run, largely by John Nathan-Turner – his attitude and his lack of insight into what makes a television series like Doctor Who work. This had been going on for a couple of years and after being cancelled and coming back almost in the same manner as we were before…the same sort of pantomime-ish aspects that I so despised about the show. I just think it isn’t worth it.

Q: So, what exactly was the effect of the cancellation?

A: We were rather stunned. We didn’t know what was going on. I don’t think anyone’s really got to the bottom of why it was cancelled. I don’t honestly think that. Michael Grade can correct me, we were simply taken off because they thought we were awful. If we were really that bad I can’t believe he would have kept the same team. Grade did criticise us, and when he talks about the production team he’s basically speaking about the Producer and the Script Editor who are the team that are always there. I don’t whether he was just referring to us.

Q: What was the first thing you knew about the cancellation?

A: John had been told on the Monday that we were being cancelled, and he told me and Anji-Smith, the Production Associate on the following day. He wanted us to know before it was made public, but as it transpired the whole department knew anyway.

Q: There were no reasons given?

A: Other than it was thought the show needed resting, re-thinking. We were told we were going back to 25 minutes, which was Michael Grade’s decision, and that more comedy was wanted. I must admit that I didn’t understand Grade’s not about comedy, last season we had three very comic stories (‘Vengeance on Varos’, ‘Two Doctors’, ‘Revelation of the Daleks”). It was a pity that two out of the three stories were poorly directed.

Q: There’s a certain something, a sparkle, missing from the direction.

A: Most of the directors on Who haven’t got the lightness of touch necessary. And if they’ve got it they don’t hang around Who for very long because of the budget restrictions, working atmosphere, quality of the scripts and so on. The show isn’t that enticing to a rising director.

Q: What do you mean by working atmosphere?

A: Well, the constant thing of having to do everything for tuppence. Interference does go on. John can become so unpleasant to someone he’s employed, such as his director. The likes of Graeme Harper will not come back to Doctor Who if they’ve got something else to do. People like Peter Grimwade, who I suppose is the only other director of any note who has come out of Who since John has been producer, says he wouldn’t work with John Nathan-Turner any more – and I don’t think Nathan-Turner would employ him.

Q: There was some row, wasn’t there?

A: It was a lunatic situation…Grimwade directed a script I had written called “Earthshock”. He made the story work well, so John decided he could direct ‘Resurrection of the Daleks’ (in my opinion the worst Doctor Who story ever written. (As an author I am entitled to say that!) Peter had been booked and then there was a strike. So the story was cancelled. Grimwade said “Fine, well obviously we can’t do anything about that. If I’ve not got anything to do I’m going to have lunch and go home”. So he took me, remember I was an author as well as the script editor on the show, and his Production Manager and one or two other members on the team. I think there were about six of us. We went to the Television Centre for lunch – I mean so exciting, it’s unbelievable – only to find when we got back that John Nathan-Turner had been shouting and screaming all over the building “How dare they all go off to lunch together,
and not invite me”.

Q: Oh, no!

A: It’s true! Yes he was furious and it was so silly. “How dare they? I am the one who does the hiring and firing around here – how dare he take…” He took exception to my going because he said “How dare he take my Script Editor to lunch, and not me”. He took that absolutely as an out and out insult, and that was a contributing factor to why Peter was never invited back.

Q: No!

A: Pathetic isn’t it? It’s mind-numbing. One of the two half decent directors he’s had on the show he will not use because of a silly, stupid incident like that. I think he’s a very paranoid individual. He probably feels that I’ve been slagging him off all over the place since left…which is not true. There were lots of silly events before I did leave. When I left, I was
writing the last episode. We had talked about this ending of the season and he had agreed, in principle, to what was wanted – a hard cliff-hanging thing. I was surprised he had agreed, knowing he does go for these pappy pantomime sort of endings. I went ahead and wrote the last episode as I had discussed it with Bob Holmes and as I had with John, but the episode went in and, and John said “Yes, that’s all fine, fine. What about the end? I don’t like the end, we can’t go out on that end”. He reneged on but he had agreed. He wanted the “walk-down”, happy pantomime ending. I couldn’t believe it. But that’s the man. He knows so much, he has the show cancelled and is openly criticised by the Controller of BBC 1 television.

Q: A lot of fans criticise John for his America fixation. How much do you think
that going off to conventions affected the time he had available?

A: When he goes to these Conventions he has to get permission from the head of department to do so. I gather that usually goes through on the nod. At first, it didn’t encroach upon his work in that way. He started going to more and more of them. A lot of them would be at weekends. What did become apparent though, if he’d gone off for a weekend Convention to America, he would come into work on Monday straight from the ‘plane. It was as though he wanted to go to the Conventions, but wanted to show everyone that nothing was distracting him from his duties as producer, so he would do the lunatic thing of coming back Sunday/Monday morning, coming into the office, and just shutting the door and going to sleep. He is obsessed with the American fans. I gather that he sanctions who can go to America and who can’t. It’s very difficult obviously to control actors who are no longer working on the show, and obviously the fan Conventions want the leading actors and the companions. But you’ll find that writers were never invited. I mean someone like Robert Holmes who’s written God knows how many stories, has been involved in it since Patrick Troughton’s days, edited the show for three years, a man very experienced in writing for television who would have had a great deal to offer any audience who would bear to listen. Men like him were never invited. Only two directors ever went that I was aware of.

Q: When John originally started he said he was only going to do it for a short
time anyway. He would only do it for three years or so.

A: I think the main draw for him apart from the fact that he has got his fingers in so many pies is the income from the Conventions in America, which I think is quite a lot of money. I think that is something he is reluctant to give up.

Q: It has also been said that he doesn’t like any of the fans working for the
BBC.
A: Well, he’s obsessed about keeping everything secret. But the one thing that again aggravates when someone takes a 2.5-3 hour lunch break every day is that you know that you’re not going to be able to speak to him between that time. There’s no two ways about it. He will come back if something has come up, but it’s a ritual. He trots out at 12:30 and comes back after closing time…

Q: I believe there have been times when you’ve urgently wanted to speak to him
and he’s been on the ‘phone?

A: Oh, yes…that got rather silly and unpleasant. He went through a phase a couple of years ago of spending a lot of time on the ‘phone I think to America, certainly to the various Convention organisers – most of them are in America – and we had the lunatic situation one day. I was standing outside the office, I needed to see him and two of his directors needed to see him, and he’d been there chatting on the ‘phone, as far as the Secretary was concerned,
for at least an hour. It just wasn’t once, it was often, and with people waiting to see him – waiting to make the g*dd*mn show he was supposed to be the producer of. It was anything that would come up – I mean he’d rather read a manuscript from W.H. Allen, or spend hours ‘piddling’ about with some crappy piece of merchandising from Enterprises than willingly become involved in talking about what we were doing. I can’t understand it.