Donald Tosh Interview
Former Doctor Who story editor Donald Tosh speaks candidly to Alan Stevens about shaping history, losing companions and dark political manoeuvrings, both behind as well as in front of the camera.
What made you move from Granada to the BBC?
Well, suddenly there was a whole lot of political shenanigans going on and there was a group of people who wanted to cut Francis Head, who was my boss, down to size. The Story and Contract Department back then consisted of Francis Head, her secretary and me, plus three readers working freelance, and it was thought that if they could get rid of me, they would cut Francis off at the knees. So, suddenly, when Francis was away in America, I was sent for by one of the grey suits from the sixth floor and he said to me, “I'm terribly sorry, but your department is being absorbed into the Drama Department, which is also being reduced, so we're declaring you redundant!” I was taken completely by surprise, and said something along the lines of, “when do you want me to go?” And he replied, “perhaps... in six to eight weeks?” Totally bemused, I said, “okay, fine, and if I get a job in the meantime, I presume I can walk out and take it?” and he replied, “oh, yes, absolutely,” and he assured me that I would leave with a very favourable reference, and that there was no dissatisfaction with my work. Anyway, when Francis came back she created all hell of a stink, but felt it was too late to do anything about saving me. So I having written to Donald Wilson (then Head of Serials at the BBC) she made sure that he actually saw me. As it turned out, he thought the same way as I did about how television should function, and so said to me, “come and join us.” I was then sent a contract offering me £3000 plus a year, which was three times as much as I was getting at Granada, and I thought, “Christ! I should have gone to the BBC years ago.” Meanwhile, Francis was fighting her own battle, and managed to get her entire department upgraded, which must have cost Granada a fortune, because the huge irony is that I leave, after being paid peanuts for nearly six years, and then suddenly Francis gets a new deputy, a general gofer and a fully qualified lawyer, so it cost them an awful lot to replace me!
Apparently, it was you, while working at Granada, who gave the green light to Coronation Street.
That's right. In fact I used to have framed on the wall of my office the comment Sidney Bernstein [founder of Granada] wrote on the bottom of my report as to why we should do Florizel Street, which quite boldly said, “I would take a lot of convincing anyone's going to be interested in a lot of boring people living in a back street in Manchester.” I had been told by Sidney Bernstein (well, Francis Head had been asked, and she told me) to find a twice weekly serial which would knock Emergency Ward 10 off its perch as the most popular show in the ratings. Well, I was an arrogant, quasi-cultured twenty-something year old who believed that television should enrich people's lives by giving them the best. And twice-weekly serials were the kind of programme for which I had little sympathy. But Tony Warren’s treatment [for Florizel Street, later Coronation Street] was quite beautifully presented and, in so far as there are any, it obeyed every rule that you need to make a success of a twice-weekly or, indeed, daily serial. I fell on it with joy and wrote a long and detailed report as to why Granada must buy this idea and develop it. It took me a lot of time to convince several people who had Sidney Bernstein’s ear that this was the twice-weekly he was looking for, but they did eventually.
How did you become involved with Doctor Who?
Donald Wilson had said that he wanted me to work on some of the classic serials, however, when I arrived, Donald told me that he was facing a major crisis, and would I mind, just for a few weeks, taking over as story editor on Compact? And I thought, “oh, Christ! A twice-weekly serial!” It was the one thing I loathed, and wanted nothing to do with, however, “yes, of course I'll do it,” I said, and I did Compact for eighteen months and, in a way, one enjoyed it, and I learned a great deal about scriptwriting, but eventually, I went back to Donald and he told me that there were a few things that he'd be quite happy to move me to. One was another twice-weekly serial, and I said, “no way, please have mercy!” and then he suggested Doctor Who, and also told me that John Wiles was going to take over as producer from Verity Lambert and I said, “oh, yes, then certainly I'd like to work on Doctor Who,” as I knew Johnnie, we got on very well, and I had a huge respect for his work.
You trailed Dennis Spooner on “The Chase.” What exactly did this involve?
Well, Dennis wanted to go to Monaco to play bridge, because it was going to earn him a great deal of money, so I stepped in and oversaw the rehearsal and the studio recording for one episode of “The Chase.” It was the one where the Daleks land on the Mary Celeste and frighten the crew so much they all jump overboard. Brilliant!
Do you recall any changes you might have made to this particular script?
I don't think I made any changes at all, and one very rarely did, so long as it wasn't over or under-running, once you'd got to the rehearsal stage; unless an actor really went bazonkers and said, “I can't say this line,” and then you'd change a couple of words just to make him feel better... I mean there were one or two actors who, if they didn't raise some objection to the script, felt they hadn't contributed, and mentioning absolutely no names, but usually the actors who made the most fuss were the ones who then became totally unmemorable in a part. The others usually got quietly on, learned the lines, stood up there, said them and then went home.
Now, you are credited as story editor on “The Time Meddler,” but on the commentary you did for the DVD release, you said that you contributed nothing to the story at all.
I had hardly anything to do on “The Time Meddler,” that is absolutely true, because I thought, “Dennis has written this story and he knows this programme better than I do, as I've only just moved in, so if he tells me that's going to work, I'm going to believe him.”
Again, although you're credited as story editor on “Galaxy 4,” this adventure had originally been commissioned by Dennis Spooner before you joined up...
Yes, that's right. And it had been knocking around for some time, bought and paid for. Nobody in the production office was really happy with “Galaxy 4.” We all thought it was too thin, and we all thought it needed something else. Yes, it had the Rills and their Chumbley robots, and originally it was thought that if we made the Drahvins all female then that might have done something to give this rather boring story a lift, but I don't think the idea of these tough Amazonian ladies ever really worked out. I remember seeing a photo of them in The Sun newspaper at the time and I thought “yes, they look pretty good,” and they did look pretty good in the still, but that was the only time. I think Verity was probably very naughty, in that she thought “dear god, I'm not happy with this script,” and was pushing it ever forward until her time ran out.
Originally, together with the Doctor, the story also featured Vicki, Ian and Barbara, but then, after the latter two left at the end of “The Chase,” it had to be rewritten for the Doctor, Vicki and Steven. Did you perform this rewrite?
No, that was done by Dennis before we joined. To be honest, it wasn't really the sort of story Johnnie Wiles and I would have commissioned; it was a very black and white, good versus evil sort of thing, with a fairly obvious twist, but we were in the situation that it had been bought and paid for, so, let's just push it through the machine and get on.
Apparently, none of the regular cast were happy with this story, and Peter Purves wasn't very pleased that his character largely took on the role originally given to Barbara.
Well, that's why the “The Massacre” was eventually written for him, to help him get over it.
Peter loves “The Massacre”.
I know he loves “The Massacre,” and he was very good in it too.
It's documented that William Hartnell also made quite a fuss about “Galaxy 4.”
He did, that's right. Bill didn't like it either, but you've got to remember, Bill and Peter were very supportive of each other. They got on very well, and Peter to this day defends him staunchly; he is a great champion of Bill's, even though he covered for him time and time again. I can understand that, because Bill was a very, very good actor, but towards the end, he sort of got lost in the part. He took it on, and started to become the character he was playing.
That kind of happened to Tom Baker.
Well, Tom Baker became even wilder... he was so far out there, but this can happen to actors.
Was it difficult for John Wiles and yourself to defend a script which you hadn't commissioned?
In a way, yes, but what could you do? We had to say “I'm sorry, but you're going to have to just get on and do it.” When you've got that sort of turnaround you haven't got any other choice but to get on with it.
But Hartnell must have known that. Do you think he may have been testing the new regime?
I think probably, yes, I think there would have been a little element of that, and he already knew that Johnnie wasn't going to let him get away with anything if he could help it, and this was actually the trouble, the conflict between Bill and John. I can't remember why, but both of them got off to a bad start, and Bill had been cosseted by Verity, and Johnnie wasn't prepared to nurse him. I think that was it.
I think there may be something in that. Suddenly there was this new producer, and Bill didn't like changes. Now, Dennis had always left anything to do with Bill to Verity, whereas I came in on my first day and greeted the old boy by telling him how much I'd admired his work, rattling through all the things I'd seen him do, films and stage, and he'd thought, “oh, great! I've got an ally.” And this is why, I think, Johnnie would come to me and say, “for god's sake, get yourself over to rehearsals, as Bill's grumbling again,” and so I would go over and I would talk to Bill and calm him down. Of course, sometimes I wasn't available, and suddenly Bill would be fighting with a director, and then Johnnie would be sent for-- they had all these strange codes to tip off the producer that there was something up; I don't know what they were.
Now, as you've mentioned, this story introduced the Chumblies, who are described as “miniature Daleks” in early BBC internal material, and seem to have been conceived with a possible eye on the merchandise market (cute, friendly robots of a simple design). Was there any formal discussion of merchandising these?
I wasn't involved with that at all, and it was totally up to the producer and the merchandising department what got okayed, but all sorts of firms would make things and send them in and sometimes they were approved and sometimes they weren't. I mean, at one point they were turning the Daleks into bath sponges! Now, all this stuff would come into the production office, and normally it would just sit there and rot, or get chucked out. However, because I had a small boy at home, my stepson, who couldn't wait to get his hands on all this stuff, it meant that I could cart a whole lot of it back and say, “well, there you are. Take that and amuse your friends.” Or if he was suddenly going off to somebody's birthday party, I'd take one of the new Doctor Who toys that had been sent in and use that, as it saved me having to buy a present. And, of course, it would be a present that no one else could possibly have given the friend, as it hadn't been okayed yet. As for the idea of merchandising the Chumblies, I remember it was one of those things mooted, purely because the Daleks had been so successful that there was this whole idea that we'd be doing a range, and suddenly we'd have big Daleks and little Chumblies, but it was never followed up. Partly because there were no plans to do more “Galaxy 4” stories.
The Chumblies do have a lot in common with the Daleks, designwise at least....
And they were operated just like the Daleks, with people paddling along with their feet inside, but, as the Chumblies were only about three feet off the ground we had to get these, I believe they like to be called “little people,” to drive them. I remember that one of them was an extremely attractive girl called Pepi Poupee and she ruled the other little people. Rather like how John Scott Martin was sort of the head Dalek, Pepi Poupee was certainly the head Chumbley. It was quite incredible, and when you talked to them they'd say, “yes, we're filling in with a little bit of television, but basically we've got a pantomime starting next week, and then we're off to do a summer show...” and they had all these things lined up all over the place and all over the country. I mean, if you were a small person interested in acting, then you could get theatrical work forever!
You're credited as story editor on “Mission to the Unknown,” but this was another episode that had been commissioned before you joined the series. Do you recall working on this script at all?
No, I don't think I did any work on it. I think Dennis, again, had completed all the work that needed to be done on that episode well before either John or I were involved, so I left it alone. Also it was not a script with much dialogue and Terry had given long and detailed descriptions of the action. I just saw it through rehearsal and studio. It was an easy week for me!
The next story, “The Myth Makers,” is unusual for Doctor Who in that it contains no real villain of the piece. Does this mark a deliberate shift towards a more adult audience?
Yes, we suddenly aren't dealing with straight good and evil anymore. We aren't. We don't have a villain, because, in all the myths of Troy, there are goodies and baddies on both sides. And the bad guys have good aspects and the good guys have bad aspects. So fine, this is how Homer did it, so this is how it was treated by Donald Cotton in his scripts.
Cotton had written extensively for BBC radio, and you require more pages of script to fill twenty-five minutes of radio than you would to fill twenty-five minutes of television...
That's right. So, having commissioned Donald to write “The Myth Makers,” I was then presented with a four volume novel. The scripts were literally inches thick, and, as television, would have ran for ninety minutes each. They were brilliant. They were wonderful, but oh, god, it was a nightmare cutting them down into twenty-five minute episodes. There were things, I remember, in the script-- there was one scene were the horse is being pulled into Troy, and Cassandra appears on the palace balcony, and when she sees this horse she starts saying, “it's an omen. An omen of disaster,” and then she says, “prove that I am right. Give me a sign,” and, suddenly, out of nowhere, a vast pile of steaming horse shit appeared. She looks and she says, “oh, yes, oh yes! The auguries are bad.” And I thought, “this has got to go!” I said, “we can't do that before seven o'clock on a Saturday night, we just can't do it.” I mean, lovely, we'd have had the whole nation in fits of glorious laughter but, at 6.50, or whenever time it was going out? Mrs. Whitehouse's cohorts would also have been out in a fury. No way.
Apparently, Donald Cotton agreed to write for Doctor Who on the proviso that he could bring over some of the cast from his Third Programme radio plays.
Well, you make it sound as if Donald put a gun to our head and that's how we ended up with stars like Max Adrian as King Priam and Barrie Ingham as Paris... big name, above-the-title people at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, and they wanted to do it. I mean, when they knew the scripts were by Donald Cotton, they thought, “great! He writes wonderful stuff, we'll have lots of fun, and also be paid lots of lovely money, thank you!” And they did have an absolutely wonderful time. And they, old thespians that they all were, rather sent up the local cast.
Julian Glover, who played King Richard in the Doctor Who story “The Crusade,” has said that Hartnell resented the fact that he'd previously done Shakespeare, and got really quite nasty about it.
Bill, himself, had never done it, you see. And he also felt that it gave actors a certain cachet of legitimacy that he felt he had never had, and he didn't like that. He saw it as a sort of threat, suddenly here were stars that were bigger than him, and Max was wicked, a very funny man, who could suddenly drop in a remark, or deliberately make a mistake, which would then just crease everybody up.
“The Myth Makers” departs from the usual run of historical stories up to this point by containing deliberate anachronisms (e.g. Paris, the Horse, the big romance between Troilus and Cressida...). It's as if the Tardis crew had entered a fictionalised version of the Trojan War, not the actual event. Was this deliberately planned from the outset or did it evolve over the course of the story?
Well, it's not really an historical story. What we were doing was to link up with what everyone thinks they knows about Troy. I mean, everyone thinks there was a wooden horse, so we put a wooden horse in, everyone knows about Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, so we stuck them in as well. We were writing to the knowledge of the audience and, where we could, sometimes broadening it.
It's a mythological story, but the Doctor is treating it as if it were real history.
Yes, he is, and I think the story reveals a side to the Doctor which the audience hadn't really seen before, in that he had this rather pedantic nature where he'd think, “well, if history records this as having happened, then that's how it's got to be.” He wanted history to be maintained as he remembered it, which is very different as to whether you can change history or not.The Doctor doesn't want to suggest the wooden horse, because he didn't believe it was historically accurate, but then he goes and invents the catapult and the glider as a way of getting around it!
Yes, exactly! The Doctor was tying himself up in these tremendous knots, and I think that idea, in Donald's story, certainly added to and enriched the whole thing. My only real problem with the story was the fact that we had to cut so much wonderful stuff. And because we were cutting, cutting, cutting, we never really had the time to suddenly stop and look away, and then look back at the scripts and ask ourselves, “does it really all work?” It was all jolly good. It was all beautifully played. I mean Bill may have thought he was being upstaged, but he was actually rather good in it, as he was making sure he got his lines right for once, and it was also very nicely directed by the splendid Michael Leeston-Smith, who was totally dotty and would turn up in jodhpurs with a riding crop like some Hollywood director of silent movies. But... I don't think we ever really achieved that kind of nice, smooth, rounded complete story and the reason for that was simply that we didn't have the time.
It's interesting that you should say that, because Troilus doesn't physically appear until about a third of the way into episode three, and he isn't mentioned at all in Donald Cotton's original storyline. Now, I was wondering if the Troilus and Cressida subplot was a later addition, perhaps inspired by Maureen O'Brien's comment, “look, it's not fucking Shakespeare,” when you'd tried to discuss a scene with her during a previous story?
We're back to “Galaxy 4” again. That was the story we were doing when she said that to me...
Because in “The Myth Makers” King Priam changes Vicki's name to Cressida, and then she suddenly falls in love with Troilus...
I can see what you're getting at, but to be perfectly honest, I really don't know whether I thought that up as a sort of conscious revenge, because at the same time you're cutting stuff, you're also having to add new material, and you're trying to hang the story all together, and all sorts of ideas come up, and are flung in, flung out, picked up again, given a heart transplant and brought back to life.
So it may have been unconscious? Because sometimes ideas, deep in the back of your mind, do have a way of working themselves out onto the page.
Well, true, that sort of thing can happen, so there may have been something of that, so there may have been a subconscious thing from something buried, but it stayed very much in the subconscious.
Originally, “The Myth Makers” was going to end with Vicki leaving in the Tardis, and the original storyline for “The Daleks' Master Plan” also features Vicki. So the decision not to renew Maureen O'Brien's contract must have come quite late in the day.
Well, it did. If we had known, when we'd first commissioned Donald to write “The Myth Makers,” that Maureen was leaving, then that would have been integrated into the script more smoothly, but that didn't happen. Instead, I was just suddenly informed that Maureen was going, and she had to be written out. Well, when I told Donald, almost straight off, he pointed out we had a way we could do it, as we'd already written this Troilus and Cressida thing into the story; we'd just have Cressida leave with Troilus instead of leaving with Diomede-- the name Steven was using in the story-- as originally planned. So, I thought, “Fine, she comes in, does her last four weeks and buggers off, and then we'll pick up someone else.” Which we did. We picked up Katarina. A handmaiden from Troy.
I understand that Maureen was quite surprised to find that her contract had not been renewed?
Poor Maureen was never told she was going. She only found out when she finished reading the scripts that I had sent her, and she was furious. “why have you written me out?” and I replied, “what do you mean, 'why have I written you out?’ I thought you were going! I was told you were leaving!” And we were at cross purposes for about ten minutes. I'd known Maureen hadn't really been very happy on Doctor Who and so I'd thought she'd just decided to leave. Anyway, I then went storming up to the production office, and I said to John, “look, what the hell's going on? I've just had Maureen O'Brien tearing me to shreds, because nobody's told her...” and he replied, “what do you mean, nobody's told her?” “well,” I said, “didn't you?” And he replied, “well, of course not. No. That's her agent's job.” And there then followed this argument between John and her agent, and I left them to it. But it was all very unfortunate. And I'm not surprised Maureen blew her top, I would also have been furious if I'd been her.
Do you know why John Wiles wanted to get rid of Maureen O'Brien?
I have no idea. I don't know. It was one decision I knew nothing about until it was far too late. I kept clear of the politics. And there was an awful lot of it in those days, there was a lot of small “p” politics, BBC politics, amongst the producers, and so forth, and I just stayed well clear of all that. I'm sure there's a lot of small “p” politics going on in television right now.
Did you have any say in the casting of Adrienne Hill as Katarina?
I knew nothing about the casting, but with regard to Katarina, I realised the character we had created wasn't going to work when I started reading Paul Erickson's early scripts for “The Ark,” and it was very clear what the problem was. Everything had to be explained to this girl. And I mean, absolutely everything, because she came from a primitive and distant past and was being transported to a far distant future. And I said, “we can't do this! Every story will be dragged down again and again to make room for explanations.”
So, it was decided to kill the character off...
I don't think we had any other choice. We couldn't take her back to Troy, and there was no one that we could suitably marry her off to, I mean, Kembel was full of Daleks, Desperus was full of vicious criminals, and when the Doctor and company arrive on Earth, they're being hunted down by Karlton's SSS. And then, after all that.... where do they go then?
They arrive on Mira, a planet full of savage invisible monsters!
Exactly. So that was the dilemma, where could she go? Nowhere! Katarina was lost in time!
Katarina's death must have been a big shock to the viewing audience.
Yes, the Tardis crew were no longer invulnerable; we were actually killing people off. I think it certainly made people sit up and take notice, and with good reason.
Just a thought, but when it was discovered that Katarina wasn't going to work out, why wasn't the decision made to extend Maureen's contract for another four episodes, and then just throw Vicki out of the airlock in Katarina's place? I mean, Vicki dying that way would have been even more powerful...
Almost certainly, but with these things, if you start mucking about with people's contracts then the agent is onto it in a second, and before you know where you are, she's signed up for the next forty-five years. No. Once the decision has been made not to renew Maureen's contract, then that was it.
Katarina was replaced by Sara Kingdom, but nine episodes later, she was also dead.
Yes. I hate to say it, but you get to a stage where once you've killed off one, you don't mind killing off two. Now, we really wanted to use Jean Marsh on a more long-term basis, but as far as I recall, she was only able to commit herself to another four episodes after “The Daleks' Master Plan” was over, and that really wasn't enough. We wanted a longer term. So we decided to kill her at the end of the Dalek serial, which gave us this very dramatic and wonderful ending.
But which again left you short one companion.
It was a nightmare. We go from not being able to use Katarina, then we lose our new potential companion at the end of “Master Plan,” so we've got to pick up a new one, and then, by god, we're in 16th century France. We've got the same problems again as we did with Katarina! I know later production teams were more cavalier about it, but at the time we didn't feel we could do that.
It's interesting that, at the end of “The Massacre” the Doctor states, “I dare not change the course of history,” and “we're all too small to realise its final pattern.”
Well, we tried to be as historically accurate as possible.
Though ironically, Dennis Spooner's earlier story “The Reign of Terror” was so inaccurate, it should have been renamed “The Reign of Error.”
Oh, that was the thing set during the French revolution, yes. Dennis was rather more cavalier about history. Yes, I'm afraid I got a bit stricter. The fact is, there's not much point in doing a historical drama if you're going to get all the details wrong, but equally the more that is known about a certain period of history, the more restrictive it becomes on your regular characters.
Because you really can't have Steven go off and strangle Catherine de Medici, can you?
No, absolutely not, there would have been angry letters sent to the Radio Times, and all sorts of fuss and nonsense, but where there was any fluidity, where certain historical events had not been recorded, or were open to interpretation, then you grabbed it with both hands, otherwise you were tying yourself in unnecessary knots.
Although the Doctor argues that he can't take Anne Chaplet out of France 1572, he does whisk Dodo Chaplet away from Wimbledon Common in 1966. Is this a double standard?
Well, we were desperate, and basically the thinking behind it was, “if we take Dodo from the present, then no one can say that this or that changed the course of history.” We needed a new girl and in this sort of tight situation, where you're doing everything absolutely on the hoof, it's a case of “is this going to work? Can we get away with it? Yes, I think so. Right!” And it was there, and it was in, and it was done. And you didn't dare question it too deeply, because you could then find yourself in a historical, philosophical and indeed physical quagmire.
If Dorothea Chaplet is Anne Chaplet's descendant then that would mean that Anne must have had an illegitimate son. Was Steven the father?
It was never more than a hint of a suggestion that Dodo was a descendant of Anne Chaplet. Quite deliberately, it was a conjecture and certainly it was NEVER even hinted at that Steven had carnal relations with Anne. Why is it not possible that Anne got out of Paris, met a sweet young farmer's boy in the Lot, married him and they had seventeen children?
Because Dodo's name is Chaplet, and surnames are passed down the male line. So, although she may have met “a sweet young farmer's boy,” she couldn't have married him. Equally, no "sweet young farmer's boy" appears in "The Massacre," so again, if Dodo's surname is Chaplet and Anne's child was illegitimate, then Steven's got to be the father!
Clearly you don’t understand French rural habits. Anne Chaplet fled Paris and returned to the village where she was born and there she teamed up with her father’s cousin’s son.
So, you're saying Steven was always the perfect gentleman...
Yes. Quite so.
How did Douglas Camfield come to direct “The Daleks' Master Plan”?
I was very fond of Douggie Camfield. I admired him and thought he was an excellent director and so when it was first mooted that Douggie was going to be approached to direct at least a part of the twelve-week epic, I remember saying to John, “if you can persuade Douggie to do it, it would be much better if you got him to do the whole thing!” and Johnnie replied, “I don't think anyone wants to do the whole thing!” But Douggie took it all kind of philosophically, and said, “yes, actually I will,” and he loved it, and Douggie put a lot into it, he had a huge input into the story, the development as well as the actual production.
Now, I'm surprised to see that Dennis Spooner wasn't formally commissioned to write “Master Plan” until the 5th of July 1965, and Terry Nation wasn't formally commissioned until July 16th. That doesn't give them a lot of time, does it?
“The Daleks' Master Plan” would have been discussed for at least a month before it was officially commissioned, by which point they would have produced a detailed storyline to work from. I remember having a series of three or four meetings in my flat with Douggie, Dennis, Terry Nation, Johnnie and myself, just the five of us, and as long as I provided enough booze, we would, as it were, thrash out how we were going to fill twelve weeks of story time. At that point, Dennis had already worked out a lot of his story, and Terry had worked out bits of his, and as we explored the story, other bits kept coming in from each of us, and changes at one end sometimes meant changes at the other.
Nation's draft scripts for “Master Plan” describe Bret Vyon as “ruthless” and Sara Kingdom as “cold blooded.” Were you at all concerned with allying the Doctor with such hard-edged military figures, especially as you have since voiced concerns that Jon Pertwee's Doctor was so strongly allied with UNIT?
The essential difference is that, once Jon Pertwee's Doctor became involved with the military, they all started to work together. He became part of the establishment. There is no suggestion of that here. There is no suggestion that the Doctor is being drawn into it on the establishment's side. In fact, when the Doctor arrives on Earth, he is treated as an enemy of the state, and the SSS are sent to kill him.
In the original draft scripts for “Master Plan,” Mavic Chen is written as a power crazed madman...
Yes, he was, and I thought that this was going over the top; he was too black and white, and I wanted him much more like a real politician, and this is why, when you get the scripts that I rewrote, you can see why and how he became Guardian of the Solar System; he is a very astute politician, he plays everyone off against each other, and that, as it were, was how I wanted Mavic Chen to be. And Johnnie agreed with me, as did Douggie, we thought this was much more interesting. And that's why we went in that direction, and moved away from this absolute classic monster figure.
Yes, the changes make Chen much more convincing...
Chen uses the Taranium to buy his way into the Dalek alliance, and then gets them all involved in a deadly game of political one-upmanship. He's absolutely lethal, and it was beautifully played by Kevin Stoney, whose casting by Douggie, I think, was a masterstroke.
Talking of casting, the extras chosen to play what the camera scripts refer to as "Karlton's specials," all bear a strong physical resemblance to the actor who played Karlton (Maurice Browning). Are they intended to be clones of Karlton, and whose idea was this?
I think Karlton's special force was hinted at by Terry somewhere along the line, and then Douggie ran with it and came up with the “clone” idea, which both Johnnie Wiles and I thought was a great one.
Comparing Nation's draft scripts to the episodes as broadcast, it appears that much of the dialogue has been rewritten.
Yes-- I did the rewrites on “Master Plan,” and pretty well everything Mavic Chen says is mine. The whole irony, of course, was that, when Verity Lambert and a critic from one of the Nationals appeared on Late Night Line-Up-- I can't remember which critic, but he was from The Daily Telegraph, or The Times, or The Guardian or whatever-- in order to discuss the opening episode of “The Daleks' Master Plan.” He sat back and said, “you can always tell a Terry Nation script. He is the only poet of science fiction.” And yet Terry Nation had not written a word of it! Every word of dialogue in that episode was mine or Douggie's. And I had to go into the office the next day, and everyone was falling about, saying “how does it feel to be the only poet of science fiction?”
How much work did you do on Spooner's scripts?
As I remember, quite a lot, and that was the one time I did edit Dennis' scripts, because there were a lot of changes that needed to be made anyway, what with various name changes and so forth, but also, like I said, when working on Nation's scripts, I decided to rethink Mavic Chen's character, and there was, as it were, a knock on effect that took me into Dennis' scripts. I don't wish to take anything away from Terry, he could be a wonderful writer, but he was always up against deadlines. Doctor Who was a sort of meal ticket to Terry who not only got royalties from the Daleks, but had the exclusive right to use them-- or grant that right to another, in this case Dennis. But he also was caught on a dilemma and it was, “oh, gosh, yes, that faintly annoying thing that every now and again I've got to contribute to,” because he had a lot of bigger, better and more lucrative fish to fry.
Again, comparing Nation's draft scripts with your rewrites, it's clear that although the characters have been deepened and a lot of the dialogue rewritten, the actual plot structure and scene order have all been retained.
Certainly, the core of the story was there, and he sent me wonderful stage directions. I remember Douggie was going spare, because everything he did was planned to a military precision, and he'd say to me, “when are we going to get the scripts?” and I literally had to spent nights typing new dialogue.
The first recordings for “Master Plan” took place on 27th September 1965, with a five day schedule of shooting film inserts. Apparently the story's scripts were still undergoing revision...?
By that time I was able to give Douggie some fifteen minutes of “Master Plan,” of Terry's filming (adapted by me) so that he had something to work on-- this covered the first six episodes which I was still writing, and I promised not to call for any further filming, i.e. everything else would be done in the studio. Over those five days Douggie shot everything I suggested plus a great number of “grab” shots which he just dropped in at key moments and which certainly enriched the whole. He had been there when the whole thing was outlined and created. So instinctively knew the sort of extra film shot he might want to call up.
During this period, Nation and Spooner were also busy working on The Baron for ABC, where they ended up having to write almost all of the scripts themselves...
What Terry was supposed to deliver to me was his finished final scripts with all the rewrites incorporated, but what he dropped off instead, on his way to catch a flight to New York, was an envelope that contained twenty-four pages of rewrites, and they were supposed to be for all six episodes, and I was expected to slot these pages into his draft scripts! The majority of which, it had already been agreed, were to be changed. Well, I rang John, and told him what had happened; it was then that he told me, “you are going to be very, very busy.” I mean, certainly Terry's rewrites were helpful, as much of it was stage direction, so I at least knew what had to take place, I then had to put in the dialogue.
“Master Plan” worked out well though, didn't it?
It did, yes. In fact, the only person who was never happy with “Master Plan,” I think, was Johnnie himself. I was, by the end. Yes, I was quite content. Tired perhaps, but like Douggie, happy with what we had pulled off.
So John Wiles was not happy about it...
One memory I have is of Johnnie coming into my cubby-hole of an office in a white rage kept under control (just) and saying, “forget our schedule, forget our plans. We have an already commissioned serial.” I realised he was furious, but I also knew that he hated being bounced into the unexpected and so I pulled out the other chair and sent for coffee. “We have twelve weeks of fucking Daleks!” We only really found out about this quite late in the day and Verity hadn't said a word to either of us, and Dennis hadn't said a word to me, yet he was already lined up to write six of the episodes. Neither Johnnie or I would deny that the Daleks were the biggest seller/draw up to that point in Doctor Who, but the way we were treated was appalling.
Then I'm surprised it worked out as well as it did.
To be strictly honest, Doctor Who was probably the happiest time of my tele-life, because I was being stretched and challenged, and I really felt I was creating something which might influence the younger minds, whilst interesting all. As you can't fool all the people, so you can't seduce or interest all the people, you just hope to do it to enough of them to justify the cost.
In the rehearsal script for “The Destruction of Time,” Chen says, "it was always my intention, once conquest was complete, to take command with my own forces. I needed your war-machine." I suppose the logic behind Chen's plan was that his own hidden forces weren't strong enough to take on the combined military power of the Solar System, but...
Once the battle for the Solar System was over, the Daleks would have been weakened, with Chen's forces moving in to defeat them, yes.
Now, It strikes me that this plan of Chen's is very close to a similar situation that appears in "The Time Meddler," where Spooner has the Monk point out that King Harold lost the Battle of Hastings because his forces had already been weakened from fighting with the Viking army.
Yes, which is a historical fact...
However, in your version of “Master Plan,” Chen has a different strategy; he doesn't seek the destruction of Earth, but rather a military victory over the Daleks and their allies, which he would then use to unite the Earth, the Solar System and the galaxy under his direct, personal control, and allow him to launch a counteroffensive against the Outer Galaxies.
That's right, I changed it. Chen wanted to rule the known universe, so why would he allow the Daleks to destroy the Earth, the seat of his power, if he had the forces to prevent it from happening? It's ridiculous.
Well, based on the Nation/Spooner storyline, and Nation's draft scripts,Chen wanted the Daleks to use the Time Destructor to throw Earth's history into reverse so the planet could, "start again, but without the shackles of infantile philosophies and democracy."
As I've said before, I wanted Chen to behave like a proper politician, not a raving lunatic. His schemes were grand, but they also had to be rational, or he would never have got people to support him. Chen's plans against the Daleks had to make sense, otherwise Karlton, who was a military man, would never have supported him-- would never have backed him up.
Oh, I agree, but in “The Massacre,” we have Admiral de Coligny's plan to forge an alliance between the French and Dutch against Spain as a way of unifying the conflicting powers in France. Care to comment?
The de Coligny plan is in fact historically true, there are contemporary documents. When you're dealing with political machinations of one kind and another, you will frequently come up with the same resolution anyway. Now, what I can't remember is the order in which I wrote “The Massacre” and “Master Plan.” As you well know, I totally rewrote the whole of “The Massacre” and John Lucarotti and I fell out over it, but I'm not sure of the time frame in regard to my work on “Master Plan.” What I do remember, is that I took two days off, went to the reading room at the British Museum and literally saturated myself in all the historical detail, after which, I just came back and wrote “The Massacre” in about two weeks. Now, it's very possible that there came a point where I was working simultaneously on both stories. In which case, I'm not surprised that my writing on one set of scripts influenced my writing on another.
Although written into the rehearsal scripts for the last two episodes of “Master Plan,” the Doctor only appears in the first quarter of the former script and the final quarter of the latter. No one appears to know the reason for this; can you shed any light on the subject?
At a guess, I'd say that Bill just wanted some time off, and it was as simple as that. We were very aware that it was a punishing schedule and we had to give the man a certain amount of time off every now and again.
But I wondered why the Doctor was in the rehearsal scripts, but then written out of the camera script shortly before recording? Also, Hartnell's missing for most of “The Massacre,” and was again on holiday during episodes two and three of “The Celestial Toymaker.”
He isn't missing for most of “The Massacre” he's having a lovely time playing the Abbot of Amboise. With regard to “The Toymaker” we wanted to experiment with the ways to change from Bill to another actor and Bill may also have asked for some time off. Either he had asked for it, or we felt he needed it. I do recall that one time Bill asked for most of a week out because he wanted to go somewhere miles away and attend the funeral of an old friend, so we’d have cut him down to a single scene or whatever. I can’t remember which story it was.
It also seems apparent that Steven takes the lead during Hartnell's absence. Was that a conscious effort on the production team's part to, in view of the desire to replace Hartnell, promote Steven as the new audience identification figure?
Both John Wiles and myself felt that Peter as Steven was underused. The character is an obvious identification figure for our young male audience; after all, few nine to twelve year old small boys are going to identify with the Doctor as played by Bill. Peter not only had a good part in “The Massacre,” but in my version of “The Celestial Toymaker,” he was the driving force for good in a totally evil situation. That got lost and he was upstaged by panto-land.
Hugh Whitmore discussed a story idea with you in 1965, but the title and outline is unknown. Can you shed any light on what this was about?
Hugh Whitmore and I had worked together on Compact, and he'd written several scripts and they were jolly good. So, when I moved over to Doctor Who, he was one of the writers I'd ring up and say, “please watch the programme, and if you have any ideas for a story, then please submit them, and I don't care how dark you make it, or how scary you make it; we'll run with all that.” However, it didn't work out, partly because our schedule had been thrown by the sudden extension of “The Daleks' Master Plan.” I mean, when you are dealing with writers, they usually have a window of when they can write for you, and if you say, “I can't use you yet, but I may need you in six months,” you will usually find that, when you try and get back to them, they say, “look, I'm sorry. I'm not taking it. Someone has just offered me a movie,” or whatever, and you've lost them.
Do you recall getting a story proposal in from David Whitaker in December 1965, called “The New Armada”?
Oh, yes, you see, every now and again, the old guard would submit ideas, but I think by then my attitude was, “interesting, but submit it later, as there is a new lot coming in,” and I didn't want to lumber them with a huge great swathe of stories that had already been commissioned. I also remember talking to a particular writer who had an idea about the beaches of Dunkirk, which then just got lost.
That was probably “Doctor Who and the Nazis” by Brian Hayles. He also had another story idea, “The Hands of Aten,” which was commissioned on 16 November 1965, but then rejected by you in January.
I have a funny feeling that it absolutely didn't work. There was a germ of an idea there, then he submitted a much more detailed storyline, and that's what was rejected, because we could see that it wasn't going to work. And also, it was set in Egypt, and we'd already had an Egyptian adventure with two episodes of Dennis' “Master Plan.”
Hayles also submitted a story called “The White Witch.”
I don't recall anything about that one at all. What I do remember is that Brian submitted, at request, four stories, of which one became the “The Celestial Toymaker.” Johnnie thought it was a wonderful idea, and just the sort of avenue we should be going down, and I was very keen for this story to go ahead, so when Brian suddenly rang me up and said, “I can't go on with it. This whole story is so evil, so dark, it's driving me insane,” I replied, “Brian, it's all right. It's fine. We'll buy the story off you,” and then, on Johnnie's suggestion, I took it home and wrote it myself. I sent it to Brian and it had his blessing.
What's the story behind George and Margaret?
Well, I came to a stage in “The Celestial Toymaker” where I'd introduced these two characters, a sort of menacing aunt and uncle in charge of games at a grotesque children's party, and I thought, “what shall I call them?” Now, originally I was going to call them Charlie and Margery after an uncle and aunt of mine, not through any malignancy, but just because their names sort of fitted. But then I thought, “I can't do that. If the family get to hear of it, there'll be terrible trouble.” So, I thought, “how about George and Margaret?” Now, George and Margaret was the title of a play that had been written by the new Head of Drama Serials, Gerald Savory, and it had been a big success for him back before the war. And essentially George and Margaret, though spoken of, never appear. So, I go to see Gerald and I explain what I'm going to do. And he says, “well, I don't think I can object to that,” and off I went and wrote it, and when I'd finished, Johnnie was pleased with it, and we had a meeting with Bill Sellars, who was to direct it, and he was very happy with it, and then I go away for six weeks, on holiday. Actually, it was my honeymoon, even though it was a year after I had got married.
So what happened when you got back?
When I returned, although I had decided that I'm leaving, and I'm not going to sign the new contract with the BBC, I still had about four weeks of my old contact to run, and so I went into the Doctor Who office, and I am suddenly presented with these scripts for “The Celestial Toymaker,” and they have been radically changed. There was no George and there was no Margaret! And I said, “what has happened?” and I was told, “oh, Gerald hated what you'd done with them.” And I replied, “but he gave permission.” “Sorry.” And by then Johnnie had gone, and it was now the new producer, Innes Lloyd, and the new story editor, who I was still handing over to, Gerry Davis. And Gerry said, “Gerald asked to see the scripts and demanded that they be changed and I couldn't get hold of you,” and I replied, “well, of course you couldn't get hold of me.” I was very angry and I said, “how dare he!” And I looked through the scripts and I could see that the real power had gone. So I said, “you've written it, so you can take the credit. I'm walking away from this.” I wish I still had copies of the original scripts, because then I could show you what was missing, but I don't think anyone has got copies now. God knows what happened to them. They used to be in the BBC. Perhaps Gerry Davis, to protect himself, made a bonfire of them, I don't know.
For copyright reasons, the BBC don't like keeping draft scripts for anything.
But the number of draft scripts that do suddenly come out of the woodwork is unbelievable. Unfortunately, though, these are still missing, which is sad, because I'd love to have them. I did watch the first two episodes when they went out, and did think, “well, in all fairness, there is still an awful lot of my dialogue left in there, and the Trilogic game, and the Doctor being invisible,” that was all mine, but I hated the idea of turning it into a pantomime with a cook and a clown and Billy bloody Bunter. I just thought, “no, no, no, no, no. Take it away.” My amour propre had been deeply offended. I just suddenly said, “no. If this is how you're going to treat me, then forget it. I'll walk away, and I did.” And it was as simple as that.
Any regrets about it?
My one regret in leaving when I did, is that I really always felt that I should have stayed on as story editor until after “The Gunslingers”-- until after Donald Cotton was settled, but when I spoke to the new producer, Innes Lloyd, who was very unhappy about “The Gunslingers” anyway, it became very clear to me that his idea of what Doctor Who should be and my idea of what Doctor Who should be were poles apart. So there was really no point in me trying to stay on. I could have done, but I suspect it would have lead to untold battles in the production office, which is very bad for any programme. I mean, I would never have allowed that song for a start. What was it called?
The Ballad of the Last Chance Saloon.
Oh, god, yes. Awful.
I think you were wise to leave when you did.
Well, I've spoken as freely as I can. I am having to think back fortysomething years, and okay, I've been doing a little homework, but as far as I know, what I have now told you is as accurate as my memory will allow.
Donald Tosh. Thank you very much.
It was a pleasure.
This interview has previously appeared in Celestial Toyroom Issue 396.