Monday, May 28, 2012

You Were Expecting Someone Else 11 (Slipback)

With Doctor Who off the air for eighteen months everyone involved was, for obvious reasons, interested in finding some way to get some new Doctor Who out. And so they ended up doing a radio series of six ten minute episodes written by Eric Saward. The end home of this series was part of a BBC Radio 4 children's magazine show entitled Pirate Radio 4. Since he was writing for an overtly children's audience Saward, to his credit, recognized that his usual space marine action approach was a no go. Accordingly, he channelled Douglas Adams.

Wait, what?

Let's not forget that one of the foundational myths of the Nathan-Turner era is that the show was irrevocably broken by the Graham Williams era and that it was "silly." Eric Saward was among the pilers-on, accusing the Williams era of insulting the audience. Now, suddenly, he's trying to mimic the approach of Williams's script editor?

The problem is that between the time when that myth was laid down - 1980 or so - and 1985 - there'd been a necessary reevaluation of things. In 1980 Douglas Adams was a comedy writer who'd had a decent success with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, with the novel coming out towards the end of his time on the show. Accordingly, he could be dismissed as having made the show silly. But 1985 he'd gotten to book four of the trilogy and was a reliably best-selling author. And suddenly he was a major point of legitimacy for Doctor Who - someone the program wanted to boast about its association with instead of boasting about moving past.

But more than that, there is something odd about the spectacle of Eric Saward writing light comedy. I mean, he attempted dark comedy on a regular basis - there's a great moment in the infamous Starburst interview when, pressed on the idea that Doctor Who isn't funny anymore, he pointed out that Vengeance on Varos, The Two Doctors, and Revelation of the Daleks are all comedies. Which, I mean, they technically are, but... this is clearly not what those critics meant. This, though, is the only real instance of him doing an extended piece of straightforward comedy in Doctor Who on his own initiative (as opposed to in the course of a salvage job).

It's not very good, but it's not very good in the same ways that The Visitation is not very good - a case of the whole being markedly less than the sum of its recycled parts. Many, if not most, of the ideas are genuinely funny, but the story is in many ways wholly encapsulated by the drunk ditz computer, a funny idea that overstays its welcome by a considerable margin. Still, it's nowhere near as bad as its reputation. Doctor Who has always faltered when people attempt explicitly "for children" versions of it. This is no worse than The Pescatons before it or The Infinite Quest after it, if we're being honest. Indeed, it's probably better than either.

No, here once again we have something where the biggest factor in its critical reception seems to be what era it's a part of as opposed to a judgment of quality as such. Which is not to mount a defense of Slipback so much as to note that as Eric Saward's weakest bit of Doctor Who writing by far it acquires all of the excess hatred of Eric Saward. But what's interesting about it is that it provides a good window into Eric Saward himself, a figure who has been much contested over the past few seasons on this blog.

The trouble with Saward, at least from a critic's perspective, is that he's not quite as bad as would be useful. I mean, obviously we all want to find someone to blame for the train wreck of the Colin Baker years and the squandered potential of the Davison years. John Nathan-Turner, having presided over the quite good Bidmead and Cartmel years, can't absorb all of the blame, though he certainly gets given a large portion of it. Which means that we want to direct the blame at Saward. He, after all, oversees the bulk of the parts of the 80s where the show doesn't work. If we really want to get creative and blame Season 24 on him, that's certainly doable (though I much prefer enjoying Season 24). So, you know, if it looks like a goat and bleats like a goat you may as well send it out into the desert.

But there are some problems here, and the main one is that Saward isn't that bad a writer. Yes, all five of his stories came in for some sharp criticism on this blog, but of them he has only one abject turkey, and even it's better than the two season openers before it. The faults of Saward are maddeningly hard to pin down. Even the most obvious - that he's more interested in the violence around the Doctor than in the Doctor himself - doesn't quite stick after Revelation of the Daleks given that the violence around the Doctor is so interesting there. Still, it's difficult to ignore the fact that the program takes a dramatic downturn that coincides almost precisely with his tenure as script editor. So what, exactly, is the problem if not that Saward is a rubbish writer?

Back when Saward first arrived on the scene I suggested that even from the beginning his work was best understood as a weak imitation of Robert Holmes. Now, with Slipback, we have the same phenomenon with a different source writer: weak imitations of Douglas Adams. We can add to that the weak Evelyn Waugh imitation in Revelation of the Daleks. All of this begins to shape up to a pattern gestured at from the start - Saward's taste exceeds his talent. He tries to write like good writers and can't quite pull it off.

Or perhaps more accurately, Saward's taste exceeds his confidence. If anything, I think Saward's work and tenure on the series tends to demonstrate a real anxiety about other writers. It's easy to observe that for all of his complaining about having to use writers like Pip and Jane Baker or Glen McCoy that the good writers he had found tended to vanish after one or two stories. The Lost Stories line shows that rejected scripts by Bailey, Bidmead, and Clegg existed. He shows a similar aversion to importing well-known writers from elsewhere. We've seen how good The Song of Megaptera actually was, and Saward's behavior in and around the Christopher Priest debacle is easy to criticize. (About Time quotes a letter to a fan inquiring why the show didn't use writers like Priest that says "the names of writers you quoat are novalists. Infact one of them has attempted to write a Doctor Who script with disasterous results. That is why we don't use novalists." Priest received a formal apology for this, apparently.) Equally, he was quick to ally with Robert Holmes, and clearly had respect for Philip Martin, so it's not as though he only surrounded himself with hacks, but equally, any suggestion that the writers just weren't there in the Saward era is, as we've seen, nonsense.

I am loathe to take the psychoanalytic tack when dealing with writers, but it is difficult to ignore the sense of Saward as desperate to prove himself the equal of writers he admires, terrified of being outshone, and unable to escape his influences enough to distinguish himself. But in this regard Saward is not so much the scapegoat on which to pin the era's failures but a tragic figure.

Let's consider, first of all, Eric Saward's television experience prior to writing The Visitation. Well. That was a short list. OK, let's move on to his television experience prior to becoming script editor then: The Visitation. If ever there was a case of promoting someone too fast, this is surely it. Even Douglas Adams had a few miscellaneous television credits stretching back a few years. If we look at The Visitation as what it is - the first produced television script of a writer - it's got considerable potential. Yes, it's a Robert Holmes knock-off, but it's mostly capable and he's ripping off the right stuff. It's just that nothing about it screamed "this is the man who should be in charge of shaping the writing for Doctor Who for the next five years." It may have screamed "take this writer under your wing and in three years you'll have a good writer," but that's not what the program did.

We've also talked about the sheer size of the task facing the program in this era. With the family audience it had catered to for twenty years evaporating, science fiction making massive leaps and bounds as the doors opened by Star Wars are casually walked through on a regular basis, and the increasing rise of a wide variety of alternative culture along with some exceedingly divisive politics of the sort science fiction was all but made to comment on the business of making Doctor Who exciting and interesting in the mid-80s was as difficult as at any time in its life. It needed a very steady pair of hands in 1981, and that's not what it got.

So yeah, the untested writer at the start of his television career couldn't cut it on that big a stage. But, I mean, this is hardly surprising. It's worth asking whether a writer we've mostly praised like Terrence Dicks could have cut it in the mid-80s either. There's a moment on the Trials and Tribulations documentary where Ian Levine accuses John Nathan-Turner of deliberately avoiding older Doctor Who writers who, as he puts it, could write Doctor Who in their sleep. It's true, but surely, in the mid-80s, when Doctor Who needed nothing so much as bold new ideas, the last people you want to write it are ones who can do conventional Doctor Who reflexively. The other writer Levine mentions - Holmes - certainly could do Doctor Who in his sleep, but notably hardly ever did. But Dicks, much as I love his writing, is a solid source of extremely traditional straight-up Doctor Who yarns. None of his skills would have helped in 1985 either. He was, in many ways, as fortunate to work on the program in the early 1970s as Saward was unfortunate to be working on it in the early 1980s.

To Saward's credit, then, he was trying the right stuff. We'll look next time at what top notch BBC drama in 1985/86 looked like, but it's not nearly as far from what Saward is trying to do with the program as his critics would have you believe. It's just that, well, Saward isn't good enough to pull off what Dennis Potter or Troy Kennedy Martin can do either.

Unfortunately, between his meltdown criticizing Nathan-Turner in the aftermath of Trial and his being at the helm for the hiatus, Doctor Who marked the end of his television career. And the thing is, Slipback really suggests that this is maddeningly unfortunate. Because for all of its multitude of faults and sins the reality is that Slipback is, much like The Visitation, a merely half-bad Douglas Adams knockoff. Which suggests that Saward has both taste and versatility. And, let's be honest, no small measure of talent. What he never got the chance to develop was experience and style.

Because frankly, crap scripts are what writers do early on. Robert Holmes had to get The Krotons and The Space Pirates out of his system before he became the Robert Holmes we all know and love. Does anyone seriously believe that if he'd been put in as script editor after The Krotons and had to mastermind the Pertwee era it would have gone off without a hitch? People have rough starts to writing. Hell, go look at the early entries in this blog - my Marco Polo entry as it appears here is absolutely cringeworthy. (The book version ain't half bad, if I may say so myself.)

In the end, Saward had very, very good instincts on who to imitate and what to try to do. He didn't have the execution down early in his career, and he was put in far too high a position far too quickly, and, crucially, before he'd had a chance to develop his own style instead of attempting mimicry. It's easy to imagine an Eric Saward whose career was allowed to develop normally and who became quite a good television writer in the mid-to-late 80s. But that's an Eric Saward who didn't get tapped for one of the hardest jobs in television wildly prematurely.

Saward, in the end, tried the right things. Better writers than him would have floundered as well. Yes, Saward's failings were exceedingly bad for the show. But of the two of them, Saward fared the worse, and we ought give him no small measure of sympathy for it.

54 comments:

  1. You've really got me feeling sorry for poor Eric Saward. Any suggestions on who would have been a better choice for Script-Editor? You hinted that you're going to cover 'The Singing Detective'; can't wait!

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    1. Chris Boucher would have been the obvious choice. Or "not driving Bidmead away," obviously.

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    2. Chris Boucher would have been an excellent idea. He established his talent in Doctor Who through his scripts in seasons 14 and 15, and through creating one of the show's most popular companions in Leela. He showed with Blake's 7 that he understood the tone and style of science fiction in an action-adventure mode. The characters of that show also demonstrated how to do bickering among a large crew right, handling character development and tight adventure plots at the same time.

      What kept him from coming back to the show? Was he too busy wrapping up Blake's 7 at the time? If so, could he have been held on a part time or more advisory basis until season 20? Or did it have to do with JNT's reluctance to return to older Doctor Who writers? Phil's analysis of JNT's aesthetic in The Five Doctors showed a motivation to paper over the Tom Baker era. Some earlier discussions of Saward showed that he had to fight JNT over the return of Robert Holmes. If JNT wanted a break with the past regarding the T.Baker era, would that have put Boucher out of consideration?

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    3. Boucher was busy throughout the period in question: he went from Blakes 7 to Juliet Bravo to Bergerac to Star Cops to The Bill.

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    4. It's so disheartening when talented people become so in-demand and successful.

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    5. Equally, though, the gap between Blake's 7 and Anthony Root's departure was almost perfect for Boucher to step in. The final episode of Blake's 7 wrapped five months after The Visitation did. The gap that would have needed to be papered over was a few months. It was June when they learned Root wasn't coming back to Doctor Who, and the decision was made to elevate Saward permanently then. Had they wanted to they could surely have used Saward as a bridge and approached Boucher to take over when he finished his work on Blake's 7. But there's zero evidence whatsoever that Boucher was ever even considered.

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    6. Unfortunately... it would appear that hiring Saward was completely Root's idea: http://www.shannonsullivan.com/drwho/serials/5x.html

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    7. Though to be fair, Saward was being hired as an interim script editor at the time. Assuming they wanted an internal hire that meant that, from Root's experience, the options were Saward or Terence Dudley. So yes, from that perspective, of course Saward was suggested. The decision to keep him permanently would not have been Root's.

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    8. Hmmmmm... looking at the Shannon Sullivan site again, it seems to me that Saward was kept on as a result of the fracas over "The Enemy Within" in mid-June. I wonder how serious that damn payment disagreement over the rewrites really was... shame Priest and Nathan-Turner came to blows over it. :-(

      (Oh, and the failure "Sealed Orders" seems to've been entirely down to Chris Bidmead's worries over Priest's inabilities to translate his writing to television scripting... apparently, Priest didn't take very kindly to Bidmead's attempts to guide him to a workable set of scripts.)

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  2. At the time, I really loved that era of "Who", but looking back, I can see that I was in a minority (as I usually seem to be with the general population) and that era now seems "out of time" somehow as the wildly eccentric adventurer motif just doesn't seem to gel with the rest of the drama that was playing on our screens then. After all, Granada had just launched their "Sherlock Holmes" series, and we were on the very brink of "Inspector Morse", both TV eccentrics battling a kind of "evil" in their own, unusual ways, and I was still able to appreciate the novelty of the "Who" style without appreciating that the very strangeness I liked seemed "odd" to the general public. With a few minor tweaks, mostly due to cutting down on some of the "silliness" in the production design, and a more "keeping the monsters in the shadows" psychological terror approach, I still believe that this particular era could now be thought of as one of the better ones, instead of the reputation it still has in some quarters, but what do I know?

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  3. In the interview with Pat Mills on the Song of Megaptera CD Mills says that Saward and Nathan-Turner described Davison's Doctor as an action hero, which Mills found puzzling since nothing else they said backed that up. I would guess that it was Saward who wanted the Doctor to be an action hero and Nathan-Turner who had qualified the idea out of existence.

    But this is one of the points about Doctor Who and SF that you've been raising. Doctor Who is not like Star Trek, Star Wars, or Blake's 7 - the protagonists aren't military (regular or guerilla). I think Saward wanted to be writing something more like Blake's 7. He wasn't alone. From my memory of the university SF society in the early nineties, the people there who were slightly older than me pretty much all liked Blake's 7 and would have liked Doctor Who to be more like Blake's 7. (And one of the things they liked about Blake's 7 was Avon being cynical and bullying, which I suspect may point to an explanation of the characterisation of Colin's Doctor.) There was an even harder core who liked Sapphire and Steel as well, but I don't think the Doctor Who / Sapphire and Steel but not Blake's 7 constituency would have had any takers.

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    1. "I don't think the Doctor Who / Sapphire and Steel but not Blake's 7 constituency would have had any takers."

      Me! Me!

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    2. one of the things they liked about Blake's 7 was Avon being cynical and bullying, which I suspect may point to an explanation of the characterisation of Colin's Doctor

      But Avon got such better lines to do it with ....

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    3. I for one would love to hire Chris Boucher as my personal dialogue consultant for real life.

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    4. Yeah, Philip Martin has said he was told to write the Doctor as "James Bond", he started Vengeance with this instruction for the 5th Doctor and it didn't change when writing for the 6th.

      There's no sign of a cohesive vision from either JNT or Saward, it's no wonder that the era is such a mess.

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    5. Philip Martin has said he was told to write the Doctor as "James Bond"

      What a marvelous idea! I hope Moffat accepts my equally brilliant suggestion to write Sherlock Holmes as the Incredible Hulk.

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  4. A fair and sympathetic account of Saward, but I don't think his inexperience as a writer is the whole story here. After all, Andrew Cartmel was even less experienced - he was hired on the basis of some, doubtless impressive, unproduced scripts. And yet Cartmel managed to find a fresh and exciting direction for Doctor Who that proved fertile for long after the series itself had been cancelled.

    I think that even a more experienced Saward would always have been the wrong man for this particular job. He wanted to be writing cop shows, or Blake's 7. Maybe with a couple more Doctor Whos under his belt as a freelancer, he could have done fine as a jobbing writer on a range of TV drama series. But I doubt that he would ever have developed into the right guy to steer the creative direction of Doctor Who.

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    1. I think the fact that Cartmel was as good and successful as he was is a minor miracle. The odds of that appointment working were as low as those of casting of an ostentatious comedy roadshow actor as the Doctor.

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    2. Speaking of McCoy - no doubt we'll have a chance to discuss his casting properly whenever the blog gets to Time and the Rani, but I think it's important to recognise that he wasn't just a clown who put ferrets down his trousers on the telly. Prior to becoming the Doctor he had already been headhunted by Joan Littlewood for her Theatre Workshop and had played the lead role in a new play at the National Theatre. All the physical comedy stuff was only half the story.

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    3. While that is a very good point and well worth remembering in the face of his detractors, I actually rather like the idea that my favourite Doctor was previously a clown who put ferrets down his trousers on the telly.

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    4. To be fair, it beats doing funny voices on the radio any day.

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    5. And, more obviously, he could act. I'm sure that came out in his audition. His acting experience was scant, and his training was as a clown, but he had talent. And that talent matched very, very well with the fact that he was extremely experienced at getting audiences to like him at any cost.

      Still, on paper "let's hire a roadshow clown without a lot of acting experience and an inexperienced script editor" ought to be a recipe for total disaster. That it wasn't, and how fantastically interesting a moment in Doctor Who that is, is the fact that's getting me through the last dregs of the Colin Baker era. :)

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    6. I was only reflecting this morning that the best album I've bought recently was a blues piano record by Hugh Laurie, a man I previously associated with pulling funny faces and doing silly voices on Blackadder, before he shocked us all by going on to star in the highest-rated US drama series of the decade.

      "The Prince Regent Sings The Blues (and looks set to give Jools Holland a serious run for his money)" is just as unlikely (and as pleasing) as "That Ferret Bloke From Tiswas Will Turn Out To Be Your Favourite Doctor". I love it when stuff like that happens.

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    7. Speaking of McCoy

      McCoy? I assumed the "ostentatious comedy roadshow actor" reference was to Eccleston.

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    8. 'Hugh Laurie, a man I previously associated with pulling funny faces and doing silly voices on Blackadder, before he shocked us all by going on to star in the highest-rated US drama series of the decade.'

      Were people shocked? He's actually been a more-or-less permanent fixture of British television since about 1982, including the odd bit of piano and guitar playing on 'A Bit of Fry and Laurie'. But I suppose that 'household name in Britain' can easily translate into 'suddenly appearing from nowhere' in the USA.

      I was more shocked to find that you seem to be completely unaware of 'The Young Ones' (he's in that, too) across the pond.

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    9. Apparently Bryan Singer - a high profile director - was wholly unaware that Laurie was British when he auditioned and in fact praised his Americanness when seeing his audition tape. In the US he was probably best known for the Stuart Little movies.

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    10. Matt Sharp, I meant more "shocked that a comedian/sketch performer who had done the occasional bit-part in costume dramas, often as comic relief, proved to be capable of carrying the lead role in a major drama series".

      To the best of my knowledge, he'd certainly done little before that to suggest the depth of dramatic skill shown in House, a couple of scenes in Peter's Friends being the only instances I can call to mind.

      As a Brit myself, I've been a big fan of Mr Laurie since his early days with Mr Fry, but I certainly never expected him to become a major US dramatic actor (or even a pianist signed to Warner Brothers, even though I've known he played piano since the first series of A Bit of Fry and Laurie.

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    11. Here in the u.s. I first became aware of Hugh Laurie in the 90s through Jeeves & Wooster.

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    12. Well yeah, but you're an NPR rat like most classic series Doctor Who fans in America. :)

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    13. I'm so sorry, Zapruder, I thought you were a colonial ;) ! And I think you may have missed Jeeves and Wooster, it may have been a comic part (sort of) but it demonstrated his range and ability pretty well.

      As an aside, my grandma always referred to Stephen Fry as 'That Abdul Abulbul', after a part that he didn't play in an advert for beer in 1982...

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    14. "After all, Andrew Cartmel was even less experienced - he was hired on the basis of some, doubtless impressive, unproduced scripts. And yet Cartmel managed to find a fresh and exciting direction for Doctor Who that proved fertile for long after the series itself had been cancelled."

      All well and good, but Cartmel's first season was a disaster, and his initial vision of a clown-Doctor simply didn't work. Not everything wrong with the programme at this stage is his fault - orders from on high and Keff McCulloch must take a large part of the blame - but the programme only really returns to a decent level of quality with season 26, and even then it involves reinventing the world around the Doctor as that of a comic-book.

      On McCoy: When he's good, he's really good, but all too often, the writers seem to play to his weaknesses (in particular, his inability to act and shout at the same time), and put next to the disastrous character of Ace (Aldred's acting is, I think, fine on the whole; she's been landed with dud material, though ["bogbrain", etc.]) you've got a variable actor next to a wobbly character. Neither of whom you can hear above the horrendous music.

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    15. Gnaeus - I cannot wait to get to the McCoy era and explain in meticulous detail why almost every sentence of that comment is wrong. :)

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    16. I'm so sorry, Zapruder, I thought you were a colonial ;) ! And I think you may have missed Jeeves and Wooster, it may have been a comic part (sort of) but it demonstrated his range and ability pretty well.

      No worries, Matt! I married a colonial and now live and work in the colonies, so maybe that has rubbed off on me more than I thought! I was born and bred in Dear Old Blighty, though, and still fondly remember Stephen and Hugh's early appearances on Saturday Live as formative influences during my college years.

      You are spookily spot on in deducing that I somehow missed Jeeves and Wooster, though! I had no idea why it had passed me by until I just Googled it: the 1990 to 1993 run co-incides almost perfectly with my "playing lead guitar in a band at University" years! I must track the DVDs down ...

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    17. Dr. Sandifer, I look forward to disagreeing with you vociferously on at least some of the points. :)

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  5. For me, the importance of Slipback lay in the idea that, if the TV series went away, the series could simply move to radio and carry on as if nothing had happened, which is what I remember thinking at the time was probably the plan, with Slipback as a pilot to test the waters before a full transfer to audio-only adventures took place.

    As it turned out, the TV series did return, but the template was set for the Virgin New Adventures novels, Jon Pertwee radio shows, and then Big Finish CDs to step neatly up to the plate and save the day.

    Slipback may not have been very good itself, but what it did was present us with a new story that was explicitly "the Official New Doctor Who Adventure, it's just not on Televison any more", carving a path for what ultimately proved to be the future of the show.

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  6. On the subject of McCoy it's really worth covering 'What's Your Story?' the interactive programme he hosted on Children's BBC. He anchored a programme where after an initial set up episode, children submitted their ideas for where the story would go next. Watching clips of it back it's incredible to see how Doctor-ish he is, a simultaniously undermining and confirming presence who knows what might be coming next but is on the side of his children's audience. There's a lot of the seventh Doctor in his taking the audience into his confidence to share snippets and comment on what is unfolding as the kids take the story in odd directions. He has that kind of subversive verve that certainly makes it into his first season.

    After covering The Adventure Game, I really hope Philip is going to cover it before we get to Time and The Rani.

    On the subject of Saward, it's worth looking at his novelisation of 'The Twin Dilemma' where he pads the slim script out with loads and loads of unassociated sub Hitchhikers stuff

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    1. Certainly not before Time and the Rani - it didn't debut until 1988. But it's not going to be ignored.

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    2. Cripes, I got my chronology all mixed up! It's funny, watching it as a child I don't remember thinking 'look, there's Doctor Who hosting a telly programme!'

      It was a brilliant experience to watch it as a kid, though. I seem to remember either the first or second series taking a very odd and frightening existential dread direction for at least one episode.

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    3. Agreed about the Twin Dilemma novelisation. As a 14 year old, I was only vaguely aware that Adams had worked on the show, let alone whether Saward had an opinion on this. But as soon as I got to the bit about the Time Lord who regenerated from jaw-droppingly handsome to average, forced another regeneration, and became a monster, I thought "Is he trying to do the Guide? Why?"

      IIRC, What's Your Story? was in the Jackanory slot, so the presence of someone we recognised from some other programme would have seemed entirely natural.

      I was a bit surprised when the new companion was the woman from Corners, though.

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  7. I will concede that Eric Saward is a good DOCTOR WHO writer, but remain resolute in my opinion that he was the worst possible thing for the show as a script editor.

    Based on your analysis, I can see why JN-T appointed Saward as the new script editor, but heartily wish to gawd that he hadn't...

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  8. John Nathan-Turner, having presided over the quite good Bidmead and Cartmel years, can't absorb all of the blame, though he certainly gets given a large portion of it.

    Stupid question, perhaps, but wasn't JNT responsible for hiring and overseeing the script editor? Or am I misremembering the BBC chain of command? Because if Saward's problems came down to (a) being promoted way too early and (b) having a vision for the show that was at odds with what the show had traditionally been about, then I think a lot of the blame for Saward's missteps should go to the person who hired him and then failed to maintain oversight and step in when things started going pear-shaped.

    Also, this quote -- "the names of writers you quoat are novalists. Infact one of them has attempted to write a Doctor Who script with disasterous results. That is why we don't use novalists" -- has an unusual number of misspelled words. I normally don't worry about typos in blog posts, but here, you are quoting someone else who is knocking on the writing abilities of his more successful writing peers. I actually did wonder whether there should be a [sic] or two in there. It would be strangely hilarious if Saward were knocking on Chris Priest while not knowing how to spell "novelist."

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    1. The typos are present in the original, it seems.

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    2. It's generous to call them typos. Two uses of "novalists" in a row is just a straight-up mizpeleng.

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  9. It's not a stupid question, though I don't know the answer. Given the byzantine nature of BBC bureaucracy, and the fact that (as someone noted in comments a few entries ago) JNT was acting as producer but still technically only a production unit manager, I wouldn't be at all surprised if it were a lot more complicated.

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  10. I've long felt that Eric Saward was a better writer than he was a script editor. Whatever their faults or eccentricities, Dicks, Holmes, Bidmead & Cartmel; apparently improved scripts by other writers. Saward repeatedly made them worse. and he had nobody to pick up the slack for his own.

    I liked Colin Baker, but hated most of his 1st season ("TWO DOCTORS" and "REVELATION" the exceptions). I was shocked when he was fired, not over the hiatus, but at the end of the Trial. Sheesh.

    Then I saw an interview with Sylvester McCoy on PBS. He said something along the lines of, "They brought me in for an interview with the producer. Then they brought me in with an interview with the head of drama. And then they brought me in for an interview with the head of programming. And they hired me ANYWAY." I loved him before I ever saw a single episode. This may explain why I never found "TIME AND THE RANI" that particularly bad. ("DRAGONFIRE", yes. That was awful.)

    JNT did a lot of promotion on Channel 23 in Trenton / New Jersey Network. At the SAME time, perhaps the biggest promoter during fundraiser weeks was Floyd Vivino. I'm convinced JNT and Vivino MUST have crossed paths. I mean... LOOK!!!

    http://www.tvacres.com/images/puppets_oogie.jpg

    You can see what for the whole of Season 24, I kept calling Sylvester "Doctor Floyd".

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  11. I'm hoping for a redemptive reading of Delta. I think I see something wonderful there, but I really struggle with the discourse.

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    1. I agree. I've always been fond of Delta despite its obvious flaws. I think it's the fact that it's set in 1959, a "historical" which is set only four years before the series' real life debut. And after all those loving homages to the Victorian and Edwardian eras, a story with a rock-and-roll soundtrack was delightful.

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    2. I like that the mercenaries turn out to be the real monsters, while the "monster" monster turns out to be closer to divine. And I like how Billy becomes a monster, too.

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  12. Hate to point this out, but "So Long and Thanks for All the Fish" wouldn't be out until 1986. However, that still leaves him with two radio series, three stage productions, three novels and a computer game to his name, so it doesn't really change the fact that he was now a Big Name.

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  13. Sorry, but Saward's "Short Trips" story absolutely killed any kind of ability in me to see merit in a redemptive reading of his qualities as a writer. 'CHAOS' (in 'Short Trips: Past Tense') is pretty much a straightforward embarrassment, and coming as it does after he had as much time as he did to polish his supposed craft, it strips away all the excuses that are trotted out in this blog.

    Put it this way: If he's still turning out stories that would be bad for a first-time writer, it's hard to claim that he would have been better if he'd just kept at it. :)

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    1. Did he do much of anything between 1986 and the Short Trips anthology, though? I mean, I thought his career largely derailed and that the return for the Short Trips anthology was him going back to writing. I assumed he'd gone and become a teacher or something.

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    2. I've heard he worked a lot in radio, particularly in other European countries.

      He wrote several Tom Baker narration audios for missing stories in the 90s. I've never heard them myself so I can't comment.

      After Jon Pertwee died he was supposed to be writing a radio play for Tom Baker to do instead-apparently called Genesis of the Cybermen

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  14. With hindsight, the interesting thing about Slipback is that it shows the Time Lords acting as a safety net for the Doctor at the end. Possibly the ONLY time we see (or in this case hear) them do this.

    When BBC Books gave us The Ancestor Cell, one of the justifications for events of the climax was that it would mean future stories would be more exciting because the Time Lords could no longer act as his safety net, as though they'd been doing it all the time.

    Without Slipback, that argument would have been complete and total bullshit, instead of just 99.9% bullshit.

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