“It’s a bit dodgy, this process” – Gerry Davis and the changing face of Doctor Who

We take a look at the Gerry Davis era behind the scenes of Doctor Who, and examine the changes that he helped introduce…

So. Cybermen. Regeneration. Jamie McCrimmon. Quite the legacy.

Yet, Gerry Davis is bubbling under when it comes to fan favourite Script Editors.

Yes, there is such a thing as fan favourite Script Editors.

Innes Lloyd and Gerry Davis were unlucky, in many respects, that a lot of their stories no longer exist in broadcast form. The ones that do are not renowned as classics, although the release of The Enemy of the World recently showed that stories can be positively reappraised if the video is found.

The commissions from the previous production team had production difficulties, and clashes in tone with Davis and Lloyd’s vision for the show. Donald Tosh had brought back The Myth Makers scribe Donald Cotton for The Gunfighters, whereas Davis and Lloyd had brought on board a scientific advisor because they were looking to Bidmead the shit out of Doctor Who.

Less humour, more science-fiction. The Gunfighters was almost scrapped in favour of The Savages, a story more representative of Davis’ vision for the show. The existing companions were also moved on, as Peter Purves’ Steven Taylor was regarded as a poor audience identification figure and Jackie Lane’s contract was up in the middle of the following story.

Coupled with the desire to move away from historical stories (the two historicals that followed being a case of tight deadlines and the clout of Highlanders writer Elwyn Jones to get one made), using contemporary or near-future settings more often, this led to the creation of Ben and Polly as replacements.

The worry that the show – nearly three whole years old at this point – was becoming old fashioned led to companions designed to tap into the zeitgeist (the Sixties at this point still swinging like a scythe before the hippy wigs adorned Woolworths’ walls).

The writing was also on the wall for William Hartnell. Despite Innes Lloyd getting on better with Hartnell than his predecessor, the star’s health had deteriorated and ratings had dropped, so the BBC gave permission for this less antagonistic request to change the face of Doctor Who.

Davis’ initial ideas for the new Doctor’s character were reshaped by former Script Editor Dennis Spooner, and by the end of his first series Patrick Troughton had developed the role away from his initial catchphrases and obsession with hats.

Accompanying these changes was the hiring of Kit Pedler as a scientific advisor, who essentially completed the pitch for The War Machines at his interview. A pitch of his involving ‘star monks’ was altered to avoid confusion with The Meddling Monk (an intriguing anomaly of a Time Lord, who never appeared in the TV series again), which became the Cybermen.

Davis wrote the first drafts of the scripts due to Pedler’s falling ill. The Cybermen’s costumes differed from the draft script’s vision – human faces with a metal plate under their hair, human hands with transparent arms, and a third arm was to extend from their chest units.

Sandra Reid’s costumes were more practical and, as the Series 10 finale demonstrated, had a lingering creepiness to them. The Cybermen were honed for their next performance, but this began a long running issue with the popular monsters – unlike the Daleks they were inconsistent both in appearance and purpose, but were also deployed regularly due to their popularity.

Where Davis was more successful was in noticing the potential of the character of Jamie. Davis had redrafted Elwyn Jones’ scripts for The Highlanders after Jones became too busy to work on them, and noted Jamie as a potential companion. Previously a companion from Earth history had been quickly abandoned as unworkable, whereas Davis and Lloyd came up with a character (and were aware enough to sit in on the casting) who remains one of the most popular companions in the show’s history.

Despite the tone they were trying to establish, production problems and another writer being unable to complete rewrites led to The Underwater Menace – a story very much on the maybe pile – being written, rewritten and filmed in a hurry (it does work perfectly well, but only if you treat it as a comedy). The Macra Terror is a more successful at balancing the sinister and ridiculous, coming from the author of The Savages and The War Machines. The tone from these early commissions of Davis seems to have given way to the logistical difficulty and intrinsic whimsy of Doctor Who, even from the pen of the same author.

Around this time Davis decided that Polly wasn’t working as a companion, and that Ben wouldn’t work without her. Even with Pedler as a scientific advisor, the stories contained fantastical notions that remained unexplained in the scripts. Budgetary reasons and the success of the Cybermen set the template for future ‘Base Under Siege’ storylines.

Davis decided to leave the show when Innes Lloyd did, and later teamed up again with Kit Pedler for more Cybermen stories, and also to create and write Doomwatch. At the end of Davis time on the show, the Second Doctor had been accepted by the public and in Jamie McCrimmon they had a companion who would last for the rest of Patrick Troughton’s time on the show. Ratings had improved from when he joined, the Daleks had been potentially destroyed but a new monster had won the public’s affections.

Davis and Lloyd’s initial approach was to use contemporary companions and science based in fact. They ended their run bringing in a woman one letter short of being the complete Victorian, putting her alongside their Jacobite piper in a story where the Daleks travel in time using mirrors and static electricity. It’s not that their initial ideas were bad, just that due to other factors Doctor Who had momentum it was difficult to arrest. Their new approaches became absorbed by the show, but failed to override everything that had gone before.

It’s clear that the influence of previous production teams lingers on after they have officially left the job, and so in reacting against the Doctor Who they inherited, David and Lloyd brought about the creation of the Cybermen. This in turn led to the ‘Base Under Siege’ template that followed.

Ironically Davis and Pedler wrote the first story of that series, Tomb of the Cybermen, as an attempt to diverge from that format. This would be Davis’ last work on the series until his final story, 1975’s Revenge of the Cybermen, and is emblematic of his tenure on the show:

The Second Doctor and Jamie face off against the Cybermen, and while Gerry Davis may have intended to invert the base under siege format, he had already cemented it as part of the show’s language. Tomb became part of the Base Under Siege season, and Davis’ version of Doctor Who also expanded, rather than replaced, what had gone before.