Posts Tagged ‘Chris Boucher’

Chris Boucher (1980’s)

November 1, 2009

Chris Boucher wrote a number of classic Fourth Doctor stories, including ‘The Face of Evil’ and ‘The Robots of Death’, and created the character of Leela.

“I submitted a sample script and the plot of the next three episodes, which landed on the desk of Robert Holmes. Bob liked the style in which they were written but not the story, so he called me into his office and sent me away to work on a draft of a new idea which became ‘The Face of Evil’. That went through about three rewrites until they were finally satisfied and then it was made.

“I started with an idea about a computer – an idea derived from reading a book several years before by Harry Harrison, called ‘Captive Universe’. The book isn’t actually about the computer, but about a place which the inhabitants think is a world but which is actually a spaceship. In my script, I took that a stage further by sayng that my spaceship had in fact landed and that the source of all the trouble was the computer of the ship, which had gone beserk on landing. The computer then manifests its own personality on the planet, which, I figure if there is a God, is exactly what He has done. Hence the original title of the story, ‘The Day God Went Mad’, which wasn’t that good a title anyway. The new title came from Robert Holmes.

“At the time I was commissioned, they were between companions and they hadn’t decided what they were going to do about new companions, how many, or what sex they would be. They didn’t want to make any rush decisions but at the same time the pressure for scripts was on and they were having to be non-comittal on the subject to their writers. I was told that obviously, my script would need a companion figure – someone for the Doctor to talk and explain things to. Now Bob Holme was very tired of the screaming, helpless girls and all that routine, so I was told whatever I did write, not to write that. The natural antidote came after I had gone away and thought about it, and that antidote became the character of Leela.

“After a bit of thought, it was decided that they would try Leela out as the companion for the rest of that season and it was that which led to the commission to do my second ‘Doctor Who’ story, ‘The Robots of Death’. With me overseeing that, and Bob writing the final six-parter of the season, Leela could be safely introduced and then the team could decide whether or not to keep her on. There were some strong words exchanged about Leela between Graham Williams and Tom Baker. I think this made it quite tough on Louise Jameson, who is a very carefree sort of woman, very energetic and full of a lot of ideas, and who had to cope with Tom, who is also a very strong, dedicated man, who had set himself against this new development. This coloured their relationship but fortunately never meant that they couldn’t get on with each other.

“Having been the obvious choice to carry on from the last story, Bob and I met to discuss the outline for the next adventure. Bob told me that he had always been keen on isolated outpost stories, with people trapped in claustrophobic surrondings and menaced by a force from within. I agreed that that always worked, so I went away and thought about it a bit further The problem which seemed to be most obvious was that this kind of plot can suffer from being too stationary, so I started looking for a setting which would counteract this.

“The giant sandminer came from these requirements, with clear echoes of ‘Dune’. What we ended up with was a mixture of Bob’s isolate outpost idea and Agatha Christie’s ‘Ten Little Indians’. The robot society was probably the most novel thing about it, and even that had clear derivations. Spies and the business of spying was a very current issue then, so I had an undercover agent among the robots. The robot strata and the concept of the Five Families was very much a class satire, working from my own working class background and all its attendant grudges! Meanwhile, the robots said the words that were written, but completely differently to how I’d imagined them. It had never occurred to me like that, but it worked I think Michael Briant did a wonderful job on it.

“Image of the Fendahl was really my attempt at doing a ghost story. It was okay, but the big problem was that I made the classic mistake of building up to a monster. It doesn’t matter how you do it, if you build up to a monster like that, there is just no way you can pay it off and succeed in making it work. Monsters are far better when they are only partially seen, or even not at all – ‘The Haunting’ is a classic movie where you are never shown anything, and yet it’s still terrifying. In ‘Image of the Fendahl’, I built up to a monster appearing at the end of episode three, which is your most important cliffhanger, and it frankly looked bad.

“The story itself was alright. I had great fun with names like Fetch Wood, fetch being an old word for goblin and all that sort of thing. The skull imagery was all from the same kind of horror movie cliche. Unfortunately, it’s quite difficult to do something which is atmospheric in a television studio – films is always better. They did allow me night filming, which is tremendously expensive and is usually cut out straight away. I’d only put it in because I was so green, but they left it and it looked good.”

Louise Jameson (2006)

August 18, 2009

This is the ‘Doctor Who’ part from a great and quite lengty interview with Louise Jameson, in which she discusses her feelings about Leela, about acting in general, about the various writers who she feels were best at writing for Leela, and about the time John Nathan-Turner asked her to return to the show for a season.

Q: What were your preparations for Leela? I know you had a story that you watched your dog, or something?

A: Although Leela was uneducated, I didn’t want to make her stupid so I looked around for creatures that were uneducated but intelligent. One was my dog, who’s sadly no longer with us, and one was the little girl who lived upstairs, Sally, highly intelligent but of course hadn’t gone through any education, so there were my role models. I only used little things, like a twist of the head when I heard something, holding the breath, animal instinctive qualities. I also wanted her to not have an accent but to have slightly careful speech, and I took out all the apostrophes so instead of wasn’t, was not, instead of couldn’t, could not, just slightly studied, slightly archaic.

Q: And I know people say Tom Baker was difficult to work with, and he didn’t like Leela at first, but you’ve said you admired his professionalism and the fact that both Tom and you are are top of things, playing it totally straight.

A: It’s a very Stanislavsky approach I have to all my work, be it Shakespeare or Noel Coward or indeed ‘Doctor Who’, it’s something that… what would this character want out of this moment, what is my objective? It’s like life, you always want something. Like I want to talk to you, but there’s an obstacle, perhaps I’m not explaining myself very well so I try to do it very clearly. There’s a very direct desire in everything you do, and Leela’s desire was for knowledge, she was like a sponge, like a piece of blotting paper, she was thirty for knowledge, and I think one of the exciting things, when the writer had that in mind, like Bob Holmes was my favourite, when he had that knowledge that’s what Leela wanted, and that desire was fed into the adventure, that was terrific. When I was just written as ‘an assistant’, when the speeches become interchangeable…

Q: That’s something they often do in ‘Doctor Who’. The motivation for Leela really made sense, she was used to mystical concepts, things weren’t so mind-blowing for her.

A: That’s a lovely scene, where he tries to explain it, takes it away, it’s perspective. I wish there’d been more of that.

Q: Even the bit where you’re playing with the yo-yo is great too. How much of the character did you have input into?

A: Well it depended very much on the director. Because my knowledge of Leela was greater than anyone else’s, usually what I said went. But as an assistant you had to be pretty accommodating, it’s not like you were the driving force, making the decisions.

Q: On shows like ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’, people like Michael Dorn have said they had input and they’d be doing things they didn’t think the character would do and they’d not be listened to and they’d give up and let it go.

A: It was a pretty lengthy process if you wanted a line change. You told the director, who told the producer, who’d get the executive producer, who’d phone the writer, who’d phone back…

Q: It wasn’t just the director?

A: Not really. You kind of learned to play the system, so you might go in one day and say ‘I’ve just had a thought about this line’, sidestep the paraphernalia. If it was a request that you thought might be rejected, you just had to be careful who you asked.

Q: Or you might ask for ten different things, and the one thing you wanted the most…

A: I was very emphatic, I really didn’t want to scream.

Q: David Jansen, who starred in ‘The Fugitive’, said ask for everything you can think of, and you’ll get half.

A: Did he? I thought he was a wonderful actor.

Q: Writers from your era like Bob Holmes and Chris Boucher did the best for your character. She had witty comebacks and so on, like in ‘The Robots of Death’ kicking Uvanov. In their stories, there was more focus on the actual character of Leela, someone who just used straight head-on logic.

A: No manipulation, just who she was. I really liked that. I loved being her, and I loved Blanche in ‘Tenko’ and Rosa Di Marco in ‘Eastenders’ for the same reasons.

Q: How did you feel about the way she was written out?

A: It was a way of getting rid of a woman, have her fall in love. I had taken a very deliberate career decision to leave the series, I didn’t want to stay in it too long, and I’d been offered ‘The Merchant of Venice’ at Bristol Old Vic, which was a marvellous opportunity that I grabbed with both hands, with very little experience. I think in retrospect John Nathan-Turner asked me to go back in for a season and I said that I’d go back for maybe two or three stories but I didn’t want to do a whole season, and I think in retrospect that was a mistake.