Doctor Who as chaotic evil: a time of chaos behind the scenes

We dig into the history of Doctor Who script editors again, at a stage when calm was being sought after a particularly choppy era behind the scenes…

Peter Bryant was the Script Editor of Doctor Who for the last four episodes of Season 4, then Victor Pemberton was Script Editor for the first four episodes of Season 5. Bryant was producer for the episodes Pemberton script edited, then returned to script editing while Innes Lloyd finished up his producing role.

When Bryant resumed producing for The Web of Fear,   Derrick Sherwin took over script editing, briefly becoming producer for Patrick Troughton’s final story and Jon Pertwee’s first. During Season 6 Terrance Dicks began script editing as well, with Sherwin working on the first two stories and the penultimate serial of Season 6.

It’s fair to say it was getting a bit chaotic behind the scenes at this stage. The storm before the calm.

Bryant had assisted previous Script Editor Gerry Davis, so when the latter declined the producer’s job Bryant was promoted, performing the full story editor role while being lined up to replace Innes Lloyd. Victor Pemberton was brought in as Bryant’s assistant, partly due to their working together in radio.

Tomb

Producing Series 5 opener Tomb of the Cybermen at the end of the Season 4 production block removed the pressure of recording episodes one week ahead of broadcast. Viewing figures had generally increased since the Doctor had regenerated. It was quite a promising situation to inherit.

Due to his lack of producing experience, Bryant was temporarily brought into the Producer role for Tomb of the Cybermen, hence Victor Pemberton acting up as Script Editor for that story. Innes Lloyd returned to the producer’s role for the start of Season 5, with Bryant back as Script Editor.

Bryant came into the role on the back of a potential final end for the Daleks, so part of his approach was to look for new monsters who could take their place. The Cybermats were created with commercial appeal in mind, and The Ice Warriors commissioned from Brian Hayles with a view to establishing a new regular opponent.

Yeti creators Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln were also asked for a marketable foe, and came up with the Quarks for Season 6’s The Dominators, a story intended to satirise hippie anti-war ideals which Sherwin felt obliged to rewrite then truncate, leaving a story with the vestiges of conservative satire and a gap where things happening should be. The writers fell out with the Doctor Who production office, not over these script issues, but over merchandising rights for the Quarks.

Incidentally, a quark is also a type of fresh dairy product made by warming soured milk until the desired amount of curdling is met, and then straining it. Just thought I’d mention it here.

While nominally the Script Editor for The Enemy of the World, a script requested from David Whitaker after he finished work on Evil of the Daleks, Peter Bryant was taking over as Producer from Lloyd at this point. With Victor Pemberton gone, Derrick Sherwin worked closely with director Barry Letts on the scripts (which had managed the unlikely combination of being very wordy but also running short).

Pemberton had decided that he preferred writing to script editing and so left the role after three months, the shortest tenure of a Doctor Who script editor during the original run. He returned to write Fury from the Deep. This was a new version of a script called The Slide that had been rejected for Doctor Who by David Whitaker in 1964, only for it to be broadcast on BBC radio in 1966. This revised version had been script edited by Peter Bryant, who commissioned a new version for Doctor Who.

Promotion

Then Bryant was promoted to producer, with Derrick Sherwin appointed as Script Editor. Sherwin immediately reworked aspects of the script, including building up to Victoria’s departure. Sherwin appointed his friend Terrance Dicks to the assistant role, while Bryant later cast Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor. Bryant had also requested that production blocks be reduced in length, an idea introduced to Patrick Troughton by Barry Letts. The future was quietly insinuating itself into the show, like old ladies do at bus stop queues.

When Deborah Watling asked to leave the show, Sherwin created a new companion who contrasted with her, resulting in the scientific genius of Zoe Heriot and one of the most popular TARDIS teams. Sherwin’s dissatisfaction with scripts led to stories being abridged and abandoned, which in turn led to rewrites of workable scripts, hence Sherwin having to write a new first episode of The Mind Robber to replace the scheduled sixth episode of The Dominators with no extra budget or sets.

Future Script Editor Robert Holmes’ debut script for Doctor WhoThe Krotons – was produced, not because it was especially good, but because it was a finished script ready to go when another story fell through. Brian Hayles’ second idea for a follow up Ice Warriors story needed rewrites by Terrance Dicks, with Hayles claiming the uncertainty over Fraser Hines future on the show had hindered his writing.

Despite Kit Pedler’s outline for The Invasion being considered only enough to fill four episodes, the abandoning of a four-parter led to the Cyberman story being expanded to eight episodes. After the success of The Web of Fear, and possibly aware that the base-under-siege-by-monsters formula had long worn thin, Sherwin and Bryant thought it would be wise to focus on Earthbound stories set in near-present-day, influenced by the success of the Quatermass series. The reaction to The Invasion would determine the shape of Season 7 as a result.

Sherwin was preparing to take over from the now ill Bryant as Producer, and Dicks was now rewriting both Hayles’ story and prepping The War Games with Malcolm Hulke. Sherwin performed both script editor and producer roles for The Space Pirates, a story promoted to fill the gap left when The Krotons got moved forward in the production schedule. Writer Robert Holmes was told there was no budget for new monsters, and the story he had envisioned as four episodes must stretch to six. The driving force behind Doctor Who was now largely just to get the show made.

Morals

It’s worth noting that, during this monster-heavy period, the Doctor became much more trigger happy, more morally ambiguous. While the racism, anti-semitism, and sexism can at least be explained by the attitudes of the time, the desperation to get the show made means there is rarely time to show the Doctor defeating his enemies through cunning, but he certainly can make and mend weapons to use against them. However, there were exceptions to this.

For Troughton’s final ten episodes, Malcolm Hulke was developing a six part story and Sherwin the four-part season closer. Both were abandoned, leading to Hulke and Dicks’ ten-part story The War Games, where the Doctor sacrifices his freedom for the exploited many. Sherwin also contributed, and is credited by Dicks as inventing the Time Lords.

After this period of intense work, rewriting and abandoning scripts, Peter Bryant and Derrick Sherwin were moved onto a troubled production of Paul Temple while they were working on the opening stories of Season 7, leading to Barry Letts taking the Producer’s job after fellow director Douglas Camfield turned it down. The future had arrived.

With the BBC considering axing the show, which had again dropped viewers, Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks. When asked about his plans for script editing Doctor Who, Terrance Dicks replied ‘to get the bloody show out on the air’. Considering his experience in the late Sixties, this was genuinely optimistic. Yet, from all this turmoil, Sherwin and Bryant gave Doctor Who the foundations for genuine stability.

Not to credit David Whitaker with supernatural powers, but the fact that this chaotic period in the show’s history started with a script of his that put his interest in alchemy on screen, produced a period of chaotic, bubbling agitation, then settled into something more solid and balanced…

Yeah, alright. David Whitaker was a witch.