Hello! Right, just a quick update to the Tom Baker interviews. Well, it’s not really an interview as such, but I only just found out that Mr. B answers questions on his website from time to time in a special ‘Question Room’. So it’s like an interview, I suppose. You can read it here.
Posts Tagged ‘Tom Baker’
Here’s a brief quote from Tom Baker, talking about Jon Pertwee. Short, I know, but worth it because there aren’t too many examples of him talking about other Doctors:
“I only met Jon Pertwee for the first time at the changeover shot in his last episode. So up till then I had no knowledge of him.
“Later I met him in various sound studios where we doing voice overs or commentaries and so on. Also I met him on several occasions at Sci-fi conventions. He was always very glamorous and charismatic and he obviously felt I was a bit peculiar.
“I used to tease him by pretending I was earning huge fees. This made him pink up a bit. But he was the generation ahead of me so there was a gap too wide for us to become friends.
“But I respected him and greatly admired his Worzel Gummidge series. I was sorry to hear of his death although envious of the manner (he died in his sleep). He did not know the fear of dying”.
I think this is Tom Baker’s first interview after getting the role of the Doctor, and to be honest it’s less an interview and more a series of press quotes. Perhaps the most interesting thing is that while he’s now turned the interview into something of an art form, this is Baker way before he became such a seasoned interview ‘pro’…
“Perhaps what clinched it for me was my appearance in the special effects film ‘The Golden Voyage of Sinbad’.
“We are not playing Dr. Who for laughs. I am trying to stress his strangeness, that he is out of this world, not human, therefore his reactions would be different from ours. I may only be a middle-aged ten-year-old, but I take Dr. Who very seriously. He has to be genuinely loveable, not pleased by violence, and he must be honest. Humourous, but never comical.
“I seem to have played so many psychotics, it will be a pleasant change. The Doctor’s a fantastic character and I’m not sure yet how I’m going to play him. It’s very difficult. Fortunately, kids have such elasticity of imagination that it is easy for them to accept that he has to be killed, but because he is a Time Lord he doesn’t really die. He regenerates into another form.
“I have a nine-week break in the summer. I’m under contract with Sam Speigel to do a film then. I don’t know what. But if I wasn’t acting I would take some job. I don’t like saying ‘I’m resting’ when I’m out of work. It’s a fallacy that actors get paid astronomical sums of money. I get paid very well sometimes, of course, and it’s a temptation to blow it on a flash car. But I live very simply. I have hardly any possessions and I live in a bedsit in Pimlico. I read in a national newspaper that I was getting paid £1,000 a week for ‘Dr. Who’. That’s absolutely preposterous. The BBC must have had a good laugh.
“(The Daleks) are terrible creatures that just want to kill everybody. They’re terrible. No humour, no jokes. And without jokes, there’s no optimism!”
Here’s Peter Davison talking to Radio Times back in 1981 about his approach to playing the Fifth Doctor. Davison had big shoes (Tom Baker’s) to fill, and this interview – published shortly before he made his debut – reveals he met Baker for a drink to discuss the role, but couldn’t hear what his predecessor was saying. Nice story, hope it’s true!
The producer rang me up one day and said ‘How would you like to be the new Dr. Who?’. I was speechless. I was staggered to see it announced on the news. I really had no idea ‘Doctor Who’ was so important. I bet some of my friends thought I’d died when they saw my picture.
Tom Baker and I did meet in the bar one evening to discuss the part, and he was all set to give me some advice. But it was ‘Top of the Pops’ that night, and the noise was so furious, all I heard was ‘good luck’.
It’s a lot more than just an acting job. You take on the mantle of Dr. Who, and that kind of instant charisma that goes with the job.
I’ll be a much younger Dr. Who, and I’ll be wearing a kind of Victorian cricketing outfit to accentuate my youth. I’d like my Doctor to be heroic and resourceful. I feel that, over the years, ‘Doctor Who’ has become less vital, no longer struggling for survival, depending on instant, miraculous solutions to problems. The suspense of ‘Now how’s he going to get out of this tight corner?’ has been missing. I want to restore that. My Doctor will be flawed. He’ll have the best intentions and he will in the end win through, but he will not always act for the best. Sometimes, he’ll even endanger his companions. But I want him to have a sort of reckless innocence.
I don’t consider it a disadvantage taking on a part that is well-known. It’s not as if you have to continue the same characterisation. You can start from scratch. I don’t overtly copy (the other Doctors), but I do bear in mind a particular aspect of each one.
I have a new favourite Tom Baker interview. It was conducted for Australia’s ABC Television to promote the fifteenth season, and includes a lengthy digression onto the subject of what would happen in the Doctor met Superman. The transcript is below, but to get the full impact you really have to watch the video.
Q: What does it feel like to be in Australia, considering you travel the universe, you span 500 years?
A: Oh, good. Good.
Q: Sometimes they say Australia’s 500 years behind the rest of the world. What’s your assessment of that?
A: Oh, I would’ve thought it’s longer than that, isn’t it?
Q: I hope not. Now you’re starting your new series tomorrow night, four nights a week at 6.30. You must get in some awful strife. Can you let us in on some secrets?
A: Well, the first one has a very messy monster. ‘Horror of Fang Rock’, it’s called. And in a series of ‘Doctor Who’ type coincidences… It’s not a bad script at all, I think that viewers might like it. I hope they do, because there seems to be a big interest in it.
Q: Are you surprised by how popular ‘Doctor Who’ is, both here and in Britain?
A: Well it’s very difficult to believe anything that happens on the other side of the world, isn’t it? I’ve never been to Australia before, so to arrive here and be so warmly welcomed, especially by young children, is wonderful. I knew the series was popular here, but I didn’t appreciate it, and now I appreciate it and I enjoy it.
Q: Your theme song was a bit hit in the charts a couple of years ago, and now there’s a disco version. Have you heard the disco version?
A: Mmm. Yes, I have.
Q: Will we ever see Dr. Who and the monsters dance to it?
A: No. No, they’re not brave enough back home to let me do that. I’d like to do that very much.
Q: The disco version?
A: (smiles) Yes.
Q: Now, with the advent of ‘Superman’ coming to the big screen, do you think there’s ever a chance that Dr. Who and Superman may run into each other?
A: Well that’s a nice idea, but what would be the point? I mean, Superman wouldn’t be any opposition, would he, because… well…
Q: You both have a similiarity with phone boxes, though, don’t you?
A: Ah, yes, but that’s the only way. I suppose Superman only uses a phone box because he’s rather prudish and modest, and doesn’t want to take his knickers off in public. But I think compared to the character of Dr. Who, he’s a bit of a bonehead, isn’t he, Superman? He punches things out. Whereas the character I’m involved with tries to think it out.
Q: Now, I’ve often wondered, does Dr. Who wake up in the morning and get confused about the time? Because you only have to travel from Sydney to Perth to get confused about the time. You must get really confused.
A: Yes. I am. I’m in a permanent state of confusion.
Here’s a brief extract of a Tom Baker interview, in which he talks about his approach to playing the Doctor, as well as the plans for the 1970’s film ‘Doctor Who Meets Scratchman’, for which he co-wrote the script with Ian Marter, but which was never made.
“I never consciously thought it out. I never knew where I was going with ‘Doctor Who’, because the very essence of the character is that the Doctor never does know where he’s going. What I worked hard at was maintaining the spontaneity and ideas, keeping the audience surprised, since, after all, the Doctor was meant to be an alien. He wasn’t emotionally involved, except in the most heroic way.
“The script for ‘Doctor Who Meets Scratchman’ was about scarecrows becoming animated when a fertilizer on Earth goes horribly wrong. The scarecrows were able to make other scarecrows and they go on the rampage, raiding stores and using their sticks as weapons. The Cybermen came into it, too; there were wonderful scenes of the Cybermen coming out of the sea.
“The whole thing hinged on the fact that somewhere out in space was this creature called Scratchman, which is an old-world named for the Devil. He just wanted to make trouble. I remember the ending: we were going to turn the whole studio into a giant pinball table. The Doctor and his companions were stuck on this table and Scratchman was firing these balls at us. The balls disappeared down holes which were sort of gateways into other hells. It was a very violent film, but very funny too. The production office saw it and hated it, but I thought it was marvellous.”
Very briefly, here’s a transcript of Tom Baker’s recent appearance on Radio 4, discussing Barry Letts, who died just over a week ago.
Q: Barry Letts was an actor before he was a producer, wasn’t he?
A: The whole of television seemed to be staffed entirely by… the producers, directors, script editors were all actors, because where did the original people come from? At that time, when television got going, the only people who knew anything about theatricality were actors, so lots of the producers had been actors in their day. I remember seeing Barry, I think, in ‘The Cruel Sea’. He was the big link in changing my entire life, really, because he it was who decided to cast me in ‘Doctor Who’. It was left down to Barry Letts deciding to employ me or not. He was very anxious, because replacing Jon Pertwee was considered perdour. Then it just so happened that there was a film I was in, a big special effects film called ‘The Golden Voyages of Sinbad’, next door to the BBC, and Barry went next door to see it and saw me playing some old wizard, and I was on. He filled me with great confidence. He was a good man, you know? A really good man.
Q: Did he bring any of his philosophical or spiritual beliefs to the programme? Some people think that in the mid-70’s, ‘Doctor Who’ pioneered issues of ecological disaster.
A: Well, I mean he was too sensitive to have said any of that explicitly, but there were several stories, weren’t there, where people were, you know, groups of people, monastaries or nuns, sisterhoods, you know, strange orders where they believed in strange things, and believed in the power of light or eternal flames and that sort of thing, quasi-religious things, and he did all of that with great style.
Q: Did he encourage you to make your Doctor very different to Jon Pertwee’s?
A: He was very subtle, really. He tried to induce from people their way of doing it, without actually saying ‘You’ve got to be different’. I was naturally very different, even though, of course, the problem was that the writers were still writing in the style of Jon Pertwee’s character. The point is, Dr. Who’s not really an acting part, any more than Sherlock Holmes.
Q: Barry Letts employed you as Sherlock Holmes, didn’t he?
A: He did, he did. I wasn’t very good at playing Sherlock Holmes, the BBC apologised for my performance in it, so Barry actually was mistaken there. His intuition betrayed him. He was a gentleman. So kind. There’s no substitute for kindness, is there?
Here are a few Barry Letts interviews, from various sources, edited together. He talks about working with Patrick Troughton, about the brief ‘Moonbase 3’ series he worked on with Terrance Dicks, and about the time Mr. Pastry almost became the Fourth Doctor.
“While we were making ‘Enemy of the World’, Patrick Troughton said ‘They’ve asked me to sign up for another year of ‘Doctor Who’ and I don’t know what to do. This once a week pace is really killing me’. We were so pushed for time, I had to use doubles for the long shots of Patrick, Frazer and Debbie on film because they were in London recording while we were down on the south cost. It was a ludicrous situation. So I said to Patrick, ‘Why don’t you say you’ll do another year, but then suggest that everybody would produce much better shows if they cut down the number of them and had gaps between each story to do the filming. I think he went back and suggested this, but of course by this time the next season was already down on the schedules and it was too late. Nevertheless, the planners decided it was a good idea and set it up for the following season, with the connivance of Peter Bryant and Derrick Sherwin, with the idea of the Doctor being confined to Earth so they could make use of ordinary locations.
“There had been a change of attitude on the show that I picked up and encouraged strongly, which was to move away from science fantasy towards an emphasis on science fiction. They sound similar, but there’s a technical difference. Science fiction, as far as I’m concerned, is a very clear cut genre which in effect says: let’s take one assuption in terms of science which can possibly be extrapolated from present day tendencies, or which is outside present day knowledge. Then, given that as our promise, stick very closely to what would happen in reality and what is factually possible in terms of real world science. In other words, you can’t bend the rules as you can in fantasy ‘The Daemons’ came close to it, I must admit, but all the time – and it was the theme of the show – we were saying ‘Is it science, or is it magic?’. Everybody else was shouting black magic, but the Doctor was saying ‘No, it’s not, it’s science, the alien science of the Daemons’.
“Some people thought the changes were a pity. Verity Lambert, for example, felt that, as far back as the Troughton era once it had been shown where the Doctor came from – the story of Gallifrey and so on – the show lost a lot of its poetry and ambiguity; all the mystery that was so much a part of its beginning was now gone. This is certainly a point of view, but I think that although it had been a lovely show when it started, if it had stayed exactly the same it certainly would not have lasted so long. One of the reasons ‘Doctor Who’ has gone on for so long is that it has developed and gone in a new direction every so often.
“One of the first things I did editorially on ‘Doctor Who’ was to alter the ending of ‘The Silurians’. If you remember, it was the sequence where the Brigadier blows them all up. Now in the script, after the Brigadier has done this act, the Doctor says something like ‘What a terrible thing to do, think of all that they could have taught us, think of the science they’ve got that we haven’t’ and so on. To me that was wrong, and I had it changed to ‘But that’s murder. Just because a race has green skin doesn’t make them any less deserving of life than we are’. It’s an enormous help in the structing of stories to have a point or a theme to the whole thing.
“For a long time they just wouldn’t give us the go-ahead for Jon’s second season, and when they eventually did it was the end of January or later, which was very late for getting in the scripts. It was, I believe, Jon Pertwee who saved the show, simply because he was rapidly very popular. When we were casting Jo Grant, I told the agents I was after a youngish girl, preferably attractive, a very good actress with a strong personality and able to speak even the dullest lines with a vivideness. I saw about sixty girls, writing a two-hour audition piece for the six or so who were short-listed. Katy Manning was the last girl to arrive, resembling a nervous sparrow, puffing away at cigarette after cigarette and absolutely covered in rings. I told her it was far, far too late, but she begged to be allowed to do it, so I agreed, thinking that she certainly seemed worth it. And although we had some great girls up for it, including two ‘Avengers’ types, Katy was the one who got it.
“The Master was always planned as a regular, and Roger threw himself into it. He was especially keen on the idea of having a pair of very tight black leather gloves, which he had learnt were very sinister when he’d been playing Gestapo agents in other productions. He perfected a way of putting them on, and I have to say we were all very impressed.
“During ‘The Three Doctors’, poor Bill Hartnell couldn’t remember things from one moment to the next, because of his debilitating illness. We used cue cards which we plastered about for him to read from – something he managed very professionally. Then, while we were down shooting the quarry stuff, we sidestepped during one day’s filming and took that one shot of Hartnell picking a flower in his garden.
“We asked Frazer Hones to come into the studio for the last episode, which was recorded in January. All it was, was for him to appear in the final part where the Troughton Doctor was saying goodbye – we wanted Jamie to materialise in full kilt and say something like ‘Doctor, will you hurry up’,and then to promptly vanish with Patrick. It was just a gag cameo, really, and we left it open for Frazer to do it, right up until about three days before we went into studio. Unfortunately, he just couldn’t fit it in with his commitments to ‘Emmerdale Farm’.
“Terrance Dicks and I, before ‘Day of the Daleks’, had endless discussions about this whole question of the time paradox; what happens if you go back in time and shoot your grandfather before he’s met your grandmother? So, from that, you can’t be born because your father was never conceived, and if that is true then how could you shoot your grandfather? And if you didn’t shoot him, then you would be born, in which case you would go back in time and shoot your grandfather – and so on… In a word, time travel is impossible and so we had to think of reasons that would make it seem possible. This was particularly true where you had action taking place in two parallel times.
“If you remember, in ‘Day of the Daleks’ the guerillas were coming back from the future to the present day in repeated attempts to blow up a peace conference. While this was going on, the Doctor had gone ahead into the future to try and sort things out there, and so you had action going on in two places at the same time. Now why, we wondered, should these events be going on co-incidentally? Why if you travel forwards in time for a day and then come back, do you find a day has elapsed in your time too? It isn’t necessary at all – you could come back the day before if you wanted, surely?
“This difficulty really got on top of us and, having had it at the forefront of our minds for so long, we eventually had Jo Grant say to the Doctor ‘Why don’t we go back to the day before and get it right this time?’, to which there is no real answer. So what the Doctor in fact said was ‘Ah well, that’s the Blinovitch Limitation Effect’, and when Jo said she didn’t understand, the door opened and in came the guerillas. So we never explained the Blinovitch Limitation Effect, but it provided us with a way out of time paradoxes.
“Visual effects saw in the script for ‘Invasion of the Dinosaurs’ the requirement for a twenty foot monster which they then made in the customary way. They produced a man-sized dinosaur suit which was so heavy when worn that in order to support the weight of it, the head had a ring bolt through it, fixed to a line attached to the ceiling. Therefore the actor inside could only move within the narrow radius allowed by the length of the line. After that, they used CSO (Colour Separation Overlay) to make the creature seem large beside Jon Pertwee, and it wasn’t until a while afterwards that it dawned on everyone that there was no need to have gone to all the time and expensive of building a full-sized suit They could have achieved exactly the same effect using a puppet two feet tall, operated by rods.
“The Master’s departure was screwed up. We were all very, very sad that the ending went wrong – if he had been coming back, it wouldn’t have mattered. What was supposed to happen was that the great blobby monster you saw in the quarry was supposed to appear in the corridor. The Master is clearly seen to escape in the confusion. But because we ran out of time in the studio, we never got the shot of the monster, so there was no explanation of why the Ogrons were rushing around like demented schoolboys and why the Master just vanished. The phrase for what happened is ‘complete cock-up’.
“When we were casting Sarah-Jane, I told everybody that I wanted somebody who was attractive, a very good actress, with a very good personality in her own right, and cheap. It became something of a joke among the agents and so on, although I’d specified the same before Katy arrived. One of my colleagues, Ron Craddock, was the producer of ‘Z Cars’ and he came to me one day and said ‘Why not see this girl Lis Sladen, I’ve used her twice in ‘Z Cars’ over the last year, in two completely different parts, and she was superb in both’. I already had a shortlist, but Lis came in and got it – ironically, the last girl I saw, just like Katy.
“Terrance Dicks and I got offered the chance to do a more adult science fiction serial, partly because I had wanted to leave by the end of the previous season and was persuaded to stay with this as the carrot, and also because we were looking for a direction in which to go after ‘Doctor Who’. It was clear that our term on the show was coming to an end anyway, so if ‘Moonbase 3’ had taken off that’s what we’d have gone on to. It didn’t work because we never had enough time, what with working in ‘Doctor Who’ at the same time – we just didn’t want to miss the opportunity. It was also the reason why I hadn’t directed for one whole season, and why there was a gap between ‘Carnival of Monsters’ and ‘Planet of the Spiders’. Normally I’d have directed ‘The Time Warrior’.
“Lennie Mayne treated ‘The Curse of Peladon’ just the same as if he’d been working at the National or the Royal Court. It was as real to him as that, and it enraged him if he thought someone was slacking or taking on the attitude that this would do because it was ‘only Doctor Who’. After he’d finished work was a diferent matter. He’d have a few and laugh along with everyone else.
“I don’t think ‘Doctor Who’ should be a vehicle for any form of overt political viewpoint, however laudable. I think our audience was intelligent enough to make the connection, it was still there to be made. The real reason Bob Baker and Dave Martin didn’t like the changes to ‘The Mutants’ was more to do with the fact that writers rarely like change, full stop. All that CSO was in there to stretch our resources to the utmost. I wanted us to take the technology by the throat, and not the other way around. It was hard on the actors and it was certainly hard on the production teams. We used to sweat a lot of blood over the CSO, but it gave us what we’ve got today and there’s no need to apologise for that.
“(Regarding a replacement for Jon Pertwee) Richard Hearne was one of those actors with a magic touch. Indeed, for years following his celebrated ‘Mr Pastry’ series he would open fetes and carnivals as Mister Pastry. I invited him along for discussion about his possibly being the new Doctor, but we established quiet clearly that this was impractical as his interpretation of the part would be to play it like Mister Pastry: a doddery old man.
“If it had been an older man, then Harry would have been on-hand to do the physical stuff like fight scenes. As well, I had a fondness for the ‘Doctor Who’ stories which had a boy and girl companion, like Ben and Polly, or Jamie and Zoe. I thought the addition of a secondary male character would alter the style of relationships we had established with Jon’s stories. It goes back to our initial uncertainty over the new Doctor’s age.
“Because the audience has not yet accepted the new Doctor, their sympathies are with the characters they know and they are identifying with these characters as they react to the new and eccentric Doctor. In ‘Robot’, the old characters – the Brigadier, Benton and Sarah – are there to reassure the viewing public that they’re still watching ‘Doctor Who’, and it was a fun situation to see their looks of shocked horror as they tried to come to terms with this new, wildly erratic figure.”
Here’s Lalla Ward talking about her time as Princess Astra and Romana, as well as her marriage to Tom Baker, the loss of ‘Shada’ and her decision to leave the show in ‘Warriors Gate’:
“I must have been the most unusual entrant into the series. My audition was, unwittingly, a six-week story! Naturally, at the time I had no idea it would blossom into the offer of a regular job. I was fortunate because when I joined, I knew everybody, so the first-night nerves, so to speak, were not so concentrated. Everybody had been so surprised at Mary Tamm’s decision to leave. It was all so quick, before I knew it there I was – the new Romana!
“The director of ‘The Armageddon Factor’, Michael Hayes, had worked with me on ‘The Duchess of Duke Street’ and also noted my work in ‘Shelley’. He contacted my agent because he saw me as right for the past of Princess Astra. I think one of the reasons they asked me to take over from Mary was that my original character had received a favourable response from the viewers. I’d got on so well with Tom – and with Mary – that I was suggested and I certainly had no qualms about taking it on.
“I just couldn’t be the same as Mary. It wouldn’t have worked. I had to approach it differently. I kept thinking that I was in somebody else’s shoes and they didn’t quite fit. So it was weird – but a challenge. Besides, when Time Lords regenerate, they don’t stay the same, do they? None of the Doctors have, and I’m sure Romana wouldn’t have either. It was never easy to do ‘Doctor Who’ – it was very hard work, very taxing at times for all sorts of reasons.
“We used to have the most awful problems with our writers. Tom and I used to have the rewrite most of our dialogue with the director, usually because it wasn’t right for the parts we were playing. And it happened from the very st art. Our actual rehearsal time, which was incredibly tight, was reduced still further as a result. So the programme was always a heavy workload – we had this responsibility for the show and we were doing so many a year against the problems of a small budget and scripts that we wouldn’t have done without at least an element of rewriting.
But our writers were under pressure too. They had to work with severe limitations, and in making it adventurous the characters were often neglected. And in some ways, I felt the show was more about people than adventure situations.
“The schoolgirl outfit was my idea – so was the riding look in ‘The Horns of Nimon’. I took the whole thing to its limits because I knew I’d probably never have such a chance again. In ‘Destiny of the Daleks’, we came up with that smashing idea – a joke on the Doctor, really – of having a version of his costume for Romana. She was an individual charaacter and her clothes had to show this – a fantastic mixture of all the different worlds at her disposal. I’m ashamed of the way I bossed my poor designers around. They’d suggest something, which might be alright, but then I’d see myself in something else, so I’d insist on that. They were always letting me have my own way, so I had a tremendous time. I always bore n mind what would appeal to the viewers and make them laugh. It was all fantasy and I enjoyed every minute of it.
“City of Death was very challenging. For a start, we had to film loads of scenes in the rain and cold and as quickly as possible because we only had a few days – there was no glamour at all! Then we had tov irtually rewrite the whole thing, because it just wasn’t working out. Luckily the excellent cast helped and it was stimulating, but very difficult. In retrospect, it was different from the ordinary stories too, and I liked the finished result.
“My favourite was ‘State of Decay’. It had the most amazingly real designs – the sets made me feel so eerie, it wasn’t difficult to act. I think perhaps the horror element was over-played, but it was a powerful script, one of our beset, and beautifully directed.
“Tom works incredibly hard, too hard. He’s a perfectionist at heart, and with ‘Doctor Who’ we often didn’t have time for perfection. He love the fans he got through playing the Doctor – especially the children – and he always kept up an incredibly conscientious role while he was in the series – he never smoked or drank in public. That was something he saw as his responsibility. He is a superb actor and his popularity reflects this. The trouble is our careers came to be just as important as each other, and we grew apart. I was angry at suggestions that it didn’t work because I was too young – or that Tom was unreasonable to me. It was a decision we discussed and felt was for the best.
“On ‘Shada’, we had stupendous problems for a while. We shot the series out of order anyway, and because of delays and over-running we got steadily more and more behind schedule. The team were all working at breakneck speed to complete it all in time. Tom was a hopeless punter, so that scene on the gondola took hours! We lost everything we’d done – which was a lot, unfortunately. As I remember, the filming in Cambridge was superb, but overall I wasn’t happy with it. Douglas had written a superb script, but it just coincided with a time when I felt fed up with everything. To have worked so hard and got so far advanced was heartbreaking when all that happened was its cancellation. Morale sank very low.
“I know it’s a cliche, but it’s best to get out on top. I’d had my era – it was time for a new look and the programme never keeps its cast for too long anyway. I’d made up my mind before the start of recording for the new series that I’d like to go halfway through. John Nathan-Turner had exactly the same feeling, so we had no conflict over the decision – it was entirely amicable, and a relief, because I’d been dreading telling him – and vice versa, I think. I absolutely loated ‘Warrior’s Gate’ because it was my last one. I felt particularly regretful, I’d become so very close to the show. The story itself was a good one – a fine leaving story – with a sufficient air of mystery to it. I hadn’t wanted to be killed off or fall in love or anything tame and silly, so I was pleased that I got a nice open-ended departure. I was also delighted I got K9 as company. It somehow eased the break. An excellent story – good for Romana – but terribly sad for me.
“I discovered quite early on that a camera never lets you down. Your acting is unrestricted by its presence, whereas an audience will react in different ways. I love the theatre and I do like to work ‘live’ every so often, but my first loyalty is to television. I’d done so much there – I feel a sense of attachment. The atmosphere of television is right for me.”
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.”