Time Can Be Rewritten 31 (Atom Bomb Blues)

(32 comments)

It's December of 2005, and Doctor Who fans are eagerly awaiting the proper debut of David Tennant's Doctor. Meanwhile, the Past Doctor Adventures line stutters to a stop, some nine months after it was officially relegated to being a historical footnote to a now resurgent series. These final books are an interesting spur road of the series' history - a last legacy of what is now thought of as the classic series that persisted past the point where it was surpassed.

It's oddly appropriate, then, that the final book of the series tacks back to the final days of the television show, filling in the space between Survival and Timewyrm: Genesys and tucking the wilderness years into a loop, if not a neat one. Andrew Cartmel, who oversaw the program's last days, now returns to them nearly a decade after his last writing for that era (though he did a Fifth Doctor story for Big Finish and a Second Doctor one for Telos in the intervening years).

The result is strange. The novel is great fun, but arguing that it's a successful piece of Doctor Who when you have to slot it in between Parting of the Ways and The Christmas Invasion is a stretch. It's clearly a step backwards. But, odd as this may sound, I don't mean that as a criticism. The very act of publishing the novel in this position, as the finale to the Past Doctor Adventures, is a conscious step backwards - a rolling back of the clock. To complain that a book that is self-consciously striving for 1989 doesn't fit well with 2005 is an odd complaint, although, to be fair, it's an odd problem as well.

Of all things, reading Atom Bomb Blues felt most evocative of reading a Terrence Dicks novel. This is odd, as Cartmel's prose is hardly the well-defined quantity that Dicks's is. He's only done three other Doctor Who novels, and the only bit of those I remember with any vividness is a description of violence in Warlock that, for some reason or another, stood out to me. (I'll say more when I cover the novel, as I don't even remember its context or trust my memories of the description) So it's not like I'm reacting to the sort of linguistic warm blanket that Dicks prose by default invokes in anyone who grew up with Target novelizations. And yet there's a sense of deep familiarity to this book.

Certainly many of the concerns of the Cartmel era are well reflected here, with or without a big degree of appropriateness. His anti-nuclear weapons program is firmly in place some sixteen years since the end of the Cold War took some of the bite out of his final season on the program. His enduring infatuation with Ace remains clear and oddly charming, a crush frozen in time. (Cartmel’s love of the character, historically, walks an odd line between a crush on Sophie Aldred, which not nearly as inappropriate as one might think given her character [he’s only four years older than her], and a clear love of the character herself, which is actually somewhat stranger given the level of artifice involved in her.) Perhaps most idiosyncratically, he retains a compulsion to exposit at somewhat tedious length on points of history. While some of these are surely appropriate for a book set in the US and aimed at a UK audience, it is difficult to imagine many audiences for whom it is necessary to provide a lengthy exposition on the basic fact that many Jews fled Nazi Germany. (Not, to be clear, a detailed explanation of what this was like, but a few sentences of infodump that this happened in the first place.)

But what’s more interesting, in many ways, are the subtle ways in which this does push against some of the conventions of the McCoy era. Cartmel’s stories tended to walk a tightrope between the mundane and material and the epic, and at his best they found ways to put a foot firmly in each camp. One thing we’ll track as we go over the sprawl of the wilderness years is an inexorable pull of the epic on Doctor Who, to both good and bad effect. On the one hand, many of the epics we’ll be covering over the next few months are properly fantastic things. On the other, it’s contributed tremendously to what we might call a sense of epic creep, in which the epic increasingly becomes the default register for Doctor Who, and it increasingly makes the focus on material reality difficult.

This is sufficiently true that, by the end of the wilderness years, the idea of a “small” story became kind of antithetical. If you released a book without some sort of high concept or epic sweep it would get pans for being dull or not about anything or not being exciting or substantive or some other thinly veiled synonym for “epic.” And towards the end of the run this started to get a bit desperate. That’s not to say that there weren’t phenomenal books coming out in the latter years - we discussed the book before this, Simon Guerrier’s sublime The Time Travellers - back in the Hartnell era. But equally, there were several that felt a bit desperate.

Arom Bomb Blues, to its credit, largely avoids that trap, managing to be a “small” book. There are a few moments that play at epicness - it’s suggested, for instance, that the villains’ scheme might lead to the Japanese winning World War II in every universe in existence - but for the most part this book keeps events on a very human scale. It’s an oddly charming decision, especially given that this is the final book in its line. Having the Past Doctor Adventures line go out on a quieter, more human note is delightful. But equally, it’s the Cartmel era, with stories like The Curse of Fenric and Remembrance of the Daleks, that moved Doctor Who towards this epic scale. It’s not that the move towards a non-epic approach cuts against that as such; stories like Survival and The Happiness Patrol were, after all, doing actively small scale work in the McCoy era. But of the two approaches of the McCoy era, this is the softer and less recognized one.

More visibly absent, if we’re being honest, is much of the theoretical complexity of the Cartmel era proper. Survival may have been a relatively low key story in terms of its scope, but it was still juggling evolution, the Cold War, adolescence, feminism, and youth alienation. Atom Bomb Blues isn’t nearly so ambitious, at times seeming to have few insights beyond “nuclear war is bad” and “jazz is good,” along with its end synthesis, “nuclear war is more bad than jazz is good,” a point that, while in no way untrue, seems to fall somewhere short of being terribly helpful. But equally, there are some distinctly neat concepts here. The novel involves a curious and alluring intermingling of magic and science, and offers the brilliant notion of a universe in which Edward Teller is right and the atomic bomb really will destroy the world.

It’s just that these ideas never add up to be greater than the sum of their parts. In some ways the book leaves one with a newfound appreciation for John Nathan-Turner’s contributions to the program in the Cartmel era. It’s odd, in some ways, that Nathan-Turner, in most accounts of the program, drops out of view in the Cartmel era, usually only coming up substantively when people need someone to blame Silver Nemesis on. I say odd because Cartmel himself, who is not at all shy about singing his own praises, repeatedly goes out of his way in his memoir of the show, Script Doctor, to stress how Nathan-Turner, despite being at times difficult to work with, had solid instincts that dramatically improved the show.

But here we can see the sorts of things that Nathan-Turner did for the program that nobody is doing for Cartmel now. In amidst the good ideas are several relatively silly ones that an editor should probably have suggested Cartmel dial back. The elaborate and ultimately purposeless plot about alien fish oil to make Ace better at math, for instance, is clever, but does nothing for the book. The insertion of generic space aliens is similarly undeveloped. These are the sorts of things that the Cartmel era itself mostly avoided, and the fact that Cartmel indulges in them suggests that it was his main collaborator who was responsible for dialing these things back.

If it is harder to imagine Nathan-Turner cracking down in order to maintain a thematic density and richness then one ought think back to Season Eighteen, where Nathan-Turner’s focus on the visual elements of the show made a wonderful compliment to Bidmead’s conceptual depth. Yes, Bidmead provided the raw materials for that depth, as Cartmel did. But it’s still not difficult to believe that Nathan-Turner honed the stories, helping focus on the concepts in a way that brought their depth to the forefront. Certainly it’s the easiest explanation to hand as to why this story doesn’t quite have the tightness associated with the rest of its ostensible era.

I’ve focused largely on the negatives here, and I could continue to do so - pointing out, for instance, that Cosmic Ray goes a bit too far as a character, or that his motivations, while clever, are faintly absurd. But all of this starts to give the impression that I didn’t like the book, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. I quite loved the book, and tore through it far more voraciously than I usually do Doctor Who novels. It has its flaws, but it really is great fun. And more to the point, its quality derives from the same sources that most of the Cartmel era’s quality comes from: building sci-fi out of human interactions.

Again, though, we run into a problem of obsolescence. Not to prefigure the Buffy the Vampire Slayer post in January or February too blatantly, but one of the things that genre television figures out - in fact, a key moment in its transition from “cult” television to “genre” television - is that you can do sci-fi/fantasy/horror very well by just taking a shop-worn story and swapping in a genre concept for a key element. In Buffy the canonical element of this is the Angelus arc, in which the standard teen angst plot “I slept with this guy and then he turned mean” gets turned into an epic melodrama for the ages. And so, yes, the Cartmel era does this too, and to a much greater extent than past eras of Doctor Who. (As I noted in comments once, what’s interesting about Ace is that she’s the first companion since Steven to be given any sense of interiority.) But by 2005 this was something other things - most obviously Doctor Who - were doing better than Cartmel had, and Cartmel's approach seems limited in that context in a way it didn't on television.

But equally, there’s something compelling about a return to the hazy days before something became a standard approach. Cartmel’s Doctor Who may prefigure the post-Buffy approach, but its roots are still closer to pulp and golden age science fiction than they are to post-Buffy television. Which is to say that while the goings-on of Atom Bomb Blues extend out of human experience and frailties it’s still, at its heart, a bit of an old-fashioned science fiction piece. Its approach is as retro as its subject matter, and this is what gives it that Terrence Dicks-esque sense of nostalgic familiarity.

Which brings us back to Cosmic Ray. Who is annoyingly written and sillily motivated, as I said. But on the other hand, I confess, dear reader, that I just can’t bring myself to criticize a character who gets suckered into nearly destroying the world because he really wants to hear some Duke Ellington music from a period when Ellington legally couldn’t record. It’s a triumph of Holmesian sci-fi - vast cosmic consequences that stem from the utterly mundane. And yes, it’s Cartmel’s usual obsession with jazz, but when that obsession gets given to the slightly annoying stoner scientist who nearly destroys the world it feels just self-aware enough to fall on the charming side of the ledger.

All of which said, there's something odd about bringing the novel years back to this point, simply because so much of what is interesting about the Virgin and BBC Books territory that we're delving into imminently is that it did so much to expand upon and develop this sort of character-based storytelling. To, at the end of that period, go back to almost exactly where the program started is a strange experience. There's something slightly awkward about its old-fashionedness.

And that is, ultimately, what the charm of Atom Bomb Blues is: it's a love letter to an old-fashioned way of making Doctor Who. There are two Sylvester McCoy eras, and in a lot of ways the tropes of the second one, which we’ll start to explore in just over a week, have overwritten the first. We spoke previously about the way in which the Cartmel era was, by its end, nearing readiness for replacement. But the fact that its genius was coming to an end wasn't a flaw - it was an opportunity to go further. The program wasn't running out of steam - it was just ready for a new burst of energy. The Cartmel era had tread its ground well enough to be ready to be surpassed, yes. But it was still a triumph.

And given that, it’s genuinely nice to see a retro McCoy story done in the same spirit as, for instance, Mark Gatiss’s self-consciously retro Pertwee romp Last of the Gaderine or Gareth Roberts’s The Well-Mannered War - both of which also harken back to eras that the show rightly moved past. Even if it's not as good as the era itself, there's something to be said for the simple fact that the Cartmel era was worthy of nostalgia. And really, what better way to wrap up the Past Doctor Adventures, once the future of the show had been properly secured, than with a novel whose main thrust is a nostalgia for the show when it was cancelled? Doctor Who came back, it was an absolute triumph, and thank God for it. But even still, after we know it all worked out in the end… it never should have been cancelled, dammit. It was really, really good. Even if, as I said last Wednesday, the Cartmel era doesn't seem to have been on track to keep improving, as this book demonstrates, not quite as good as Season Twenty-Six is still worth doing.

Comments

Carey 5 years ago

The nature of Doctor Who's relationship to "epic" is summed up succinctly by Steven Moffat in the rather wonderful podcast commentary that accompanied "Silence In The Library" (worth a listen to by every Doctor Who fan as it features Moffat, Russell T Davies and David Tennant talking passionately about the programme they love). He describes Doctor Who as "men in a room talking urgently," and, in all honesty, reveals the flaws in fandom's belief that epic equates to quality. The best Doctor who, as you so rightly says, balances the epic with the small scale, so we have Genesis of the Daleks (possibly one of the most epic classic era stories ever made) featuring the destruction of two ancient civilisations after a thousand year war seen predominantly from a bunker situated half way between the two.

Likewise, humanity is almost destroyed and Earth's original rulers are incredibly close to reclaiming their planet in the Silurians, but much of this is witnessed from an underground nuclear research centre. It's the attempts at making epic action stories where doctor who seems to fall down: for all the momentum of Rememberance of the Daleks, I find the Happiness Patrol far more effective (and, in its own way just as epic: the Doctor destroys civilisations in both, but the Dalek civilisation is one we barely know, while Terra Alpha's is far more recognisable, and therefore one we care about.

And this is something the best of the new series seems to realise: PArting of the Ways is one of he most effective series climaxes precisely because the destruction of much of the Earth is reflected in small scale by the Daleks assault on the Gamestation. Millions may die, but we are moved by the tragedy of Lynda With A Y.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on the Virgin Novels.

Oh, and as a by your way, are you going to include the BBC's 1992 tv series "Virtual Murder" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_Murder) in the blog: a quality attempt at tv fantasy that was a failure for a variety of reasons, and an indicator of both what any returned Dr Who series should and shouldn't do. And features Jon Pertwee in one episode as a Spanish arsonist. I thought it remarkably good, but as with most British tv fantasy in the 1990's it was a critical and ratings failure, although much of the later should be blamed on broadcasting it in a 9.30-ish Friday evening slot.

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Scott 5 years ago

"And this is something the best of the new series seems to realise: PArting of the Ways is one of he most effective series climaxes precisely because the destruction of much of the Earth is reflected in small scale by the Daleks assault on the Gamestation. Millions may die, but we are moved by the tragedy of Lynda With A Y."

Agree 100%. To take a non-Who example, I remember someone effectively summing the appeal of the "Lord of the Rings" in that while there's all sort of epic battles and conflicts happening all around them, the true appeal lies in the fact that it all ultimately hinges on two little hobbits walking through the mountains trying to get rid of a ring.

Conversely, I think the worst of the new series has a tendency to happen when they go for epic without keeping this in mind (or perhaps rather when the 'everyday' aspect isn't interesting enough to justify the 'epic' aspect).

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Scott 5 years ago

(Whoops -- this was supposed to be a reply to Carey BTW.)

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elvwood 5 years ago

Ah, Atom Bomb Blues - my second encounter with the seventh Doctor (the TV Movie was first), and also the first Doctor Who novel I read. I picked it up at the library out of curiosity, not expecting much; and then kept on reading. I didn't know who Andrew Cartmel was, or Ace, and had only a vague idea of this incarnation of the Doctor (having given up watching during season 15), but this was proper Who and a good story to boot. At the time I was of the opinion that any TV tie-in not written by James Blish was likely to be dire, but this one got me into the novels (my second was The Time Travellers, which cemented my decision by being even better). I'm so glad I picked this one up rather than The Adventuress of Henrietta Street, which was next to it and would almost certainly have put me off!

I've not read any NAs other than Lungbarrow; but I will keep reading the blog.

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Philip Sandifer 5 years ago

Virtual Murder is a neat idea, and could be folded in well with an entry I already have planned... a definite maybe.

As for epics and Doctor Who, let's be fair, part of Moffat's accuracy is not down to an inherent relationship with scale but one of budget. In this regard, Journey's End is the more indicative one - two or three CGI shots of a massive Dalek fleet and you can get away with an episode that's actually just Davros and the Doctor in a basement yelling at each other a lot and have it be epic.

To me the focus on the small is a separate issue. For my part, I think Remembrance is more effective than Happiness Patrol not because of the degree to which we can recognize the civilizations but because Remembrance does so much with the human scale of things - many more scenes are set among the "little people," so to speak.

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daibhid-c 5 years ago

This is one of the novels I skipped (having given up on the War Trilogy halfway through Warchild, I wasn't tempted by the combination of Cartmel, the Seventh Doctor and a war), and having read your post I regret it.

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daibhid-c 5 years ago

Wait, Warchild was the last one (which I also skipped) wasn't it? I meant Warlock.

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Ike 5 years ago

LOL. The description "Davros and the Doctor in a basement yelling at each other a lot" suggests something much better than what we actually got. And more subtle. MUCH more subtle. ;)

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Yonatan 5 years ago

I had stopped reading the books around the time that Father Time came out (2001 or so) and only read the PDA's occasionally. At some point when i unpack my books and actually see what condition my BBC books era collection is in, I will have to add this one to the list.
I did always find that, especially after the wonderfulness of the NA era, that the 7th Doctor/Ace PDAs were never that good. Except for Matrix. Matrix was bonkers in all the right ways

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Matthew Blanchette 5 years ago

Caption for cover: "Mmmmmm, nuclear flowers..."

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Adam Riggio 5 years ago

What I find most interesting about your post is the seeds of redemption for John Nathan-Turner. We should be rightly critical of his actions and motives during the Davison and C.Baker eras: playing up the alienating cultish aspects of Doctor Who because Longleat falsely led him to believe that Ian Levine's priorities would be a path to popular success, prioritizing the superficial aspects of the show as a major creative focus. But the fact that he was a key part of the creative team when Bidmead and Cartmel were crafting brilliant visions of Doctor Who shows that when the context permitted, he could make excellent contributions.

Nathan-Turner helped shape the sometimes sprawling visions and plans of Cartmel and Bidmead. It's good of you to point out, Phil, that Atom Bomb Blues shows that Cartmel's mind could run away from him were it not for Nathan-Turner's editorial hand keeping him on a clear path.

John Nathan-Turner gets a lot of guff from the Doctor Who fan community, and he's come in for a lot of criticism on the Eruditorum as well, mostly deserved. But we should give him the respect he deserves. When things got tough, he could be a damn good producer; when he had solidly creative people to work with, like Bidmead and Cartmel, he could help them make some amazing television. It's too bad he didn't live to see Doctor Who so successfully revived, and to see his reputation rehabilitated — at least in part.

Really, it just hoists more blame for the creative downturn of the mid-1980s on Eric Saward, Ian Levine, and Pip and Jane Baker. It'll be tough to give a redemptive reading on them.

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Ununnilium 5 years ago

Well, I think that part of the problem is that Saward and Nathan-Turner accentuated each other's worst aspects.

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Ununnilium 5 years ago

Actually, looking back, there's a perfect encapsulation of this back in the entry for Resurrection of the Daleks:

"The problem is that this is by the script editor, and that points to more systemic problems. Especially when you have a producer whose blind spot is writing, when the writer can’t quite deliver the goods you have a big problem. Saward is almost, but not quite, up to the task of greatness. And Nathan-Turner’s production, to work, requires actual greatness."

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Tommy 5 years ago

For me JNT's gift and curse was how he was so furiously driven and burning with no many contradictory but adamant ideas about how the show should be done. Sometimes he could work miracles around problems, but more and more he was the kind who would make problems out of things that weren't problems originally. This of course

One of his main skills he brought to the show was showmanship, and that's where we got the greats of Earthshock and The Five Doctors which made the show feel like an inviting and exhilarating one. But each time it would be followed up by a more disastrous example of showmanship. And worse still, Earthshock paved the way for his showmanship to become more and more lurid and sordid and nasty in its excesses.

Gradually it got to a point where every potential chance the show had to capture the interest of the mass audience was blown in some way. The buzz of Earthshock, let down by Time-Flight. The buzz of the Daleks' return, let down by Resurrection of the Daleks. The publicity of the new Doctor, Colin Baker, practically killed by The Twin Dilemma and the nastiness of Season 22.

That in itself seemed to be because JNT valued fan opinion, and in this instance he'd actually cast a knowledgeable fan in Colin, who'd suggested a return to Hartnel's Doctor. So JNT thought this was a good idea, except he got it horribly wrong.

During Season 20, JNT was working on plans to produce a revival of the soap opera, Compact. Had he done so he probably would have left on The Five Doctors. So we'd have had that brief fan-pleasing period, and maybe even gained some new fans from it, but a new producer would probably take the show in a new direction. Probably all that would have survived of the worst Saward era excesses is Season 20's leftover story Resurrection of the Daleks- after all it had been all set to be filmed, and a chance to do another Dalek story might never come again, and if it was the last Dalek story it would have been a nice final word on them, and even its nasty nihilism and seeds of doubt over he Doctor's methods might have been easy to treat as a one-off.

Warriors of the Deep probably would have been abandoned as logistically unfilmable, or if it was filmed we wouldn't have had Ian Levine onboard to demand continuity corrections which had led to JNT demanding Eric do rewrites which produced a nihilistic ending of a total bodycount making the Doctor look like a total liability (especially given Eric's tendency to characterise the Doctor with the kind of passive aggression and incoherent misanthropy that makes it look like he failed to save the humans just to spite them).

Frontios, Awakening and Planet of Fire might still have happened, but in this version the Master probably would have stayed dead. Caves of Androzani was likely to still happen given that Robert Holmes had been offered a writing slot in Season 21 as consolation for his Six Doctors script falling through.

Anthony Steven and Pip and Jane Baker only became involved because JNT wanted to return a favour to them, so with JNT gone, Twin Dilemma wouldn't have happened (plus the ban on having Peter Grimwade as director would have been lifted). Maybe Colin would still have been cast, but he'd have likely been given a far more endearing personality. And with a fresh pair of eyes overseeing the show, Season 22 and 23 would probably have seen more of the neglected sumbissions by Christopher Bailey, Barbara Clegg and Andrew Smith made into stories.

The trouble is, with the BBC being in its financial shortfall, JNT's plans for the Compact revival weren't taken up. Just as Eric's plans to get Stargazers made fell through, and just like Troy Kennedy Martin got a bunch of scripts rejected before finally Edge of Darkness got commissioned. The very financial shortfall that saw Michael Grade being brought in to downsize the company.

JNT was a stifling and inflexible presence on the show, but made worse by how stifling and inflexible the BBC were becoming.

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Iain Coleman 5 years ago

Tommy,

There's much in what you say, but this:

"Season 22 and 23 would probably have seen more of the neglected sumbissions by Christopher Bailey, Barbara Clegg and Andrew Smith made into stories"

strikes me as implausible.

It's not unusual for stories to simply not work after some period of development, even stories by good writers. I'm pretty critical of Saward, but I doubt he would have left perfectly workable stories on the shelf given how hard it was for any script editor to get a full season's slate.

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Tommy 5 years ago

From what Christopher Bailey has said, there was a period during writing his third Doctor Who script where he went several months without being contacted at all by the production team, and basically feeling his work was being neglected and losing faith in the writing process.

Now it's possible that given JNT's odd fixation with limiting the kind of writers Eric could use, if a new, more easygoing producer left Eric freed up to let more of the show's older experienced writers get on with it whilst he attended to the scripts that were struggling, and didn't have to comply with Ian Levine's petty demands for continuity corrections, we would have gotten far better results.

But really I just think the show just needed a new script editor around this time who was more hands on and less neglectful (and to be honest, Levine, or no Levine, the further Eric Saward was from the original script of Warriors of the Deep, the better). And it's not unusual for a departing producer to be accompanied by a departing script-editor. Like I said, if Eric's last contribution to the show had been Resurrection of the Daleks being ready for a new production team to produce, I would have been happy for that to be the final word on Eric.

I mainly highlight Barbara Clegg and Andrew Smith because they were both big fans of the show and they were both among the most enthusiastic about sending in submissions. Infact from what I read, Andrew Smith's The First Sontarans was lined up for Season 22 and in a process of development with Eric Saward, but presumably it was abandoned because JNT decided to give Robert Holmes the Sontaran story instead.

Barbara Clegg particularly seemed to demonstrate a better understanding of the show than most of the other writers, and I'm not entirely sure why all of her submissions apart from Enlightenment were rejected- especially given her friendship with Eric, and her plans to collaborate with him on his new sci-fi project, 'Stargazers' which never took off.

I guess The Elite was probably rejected because of rights issues concerning the use of the Daleks, and Point of Entry seemed to fall to the wayside as a victim of the lost Season 23.

It just seems a shame that they were among the few examples of 'new blood' to come from JNT's shake up that really seemed to 'get' the show, and yet were so poorly and scantly used. But perhaps once they were on board, a different script-editor and producer would have worked more closely and more productively with them.

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Matthew Blanchette 5 years ago

The only way for JNT to leave with "The Five Doctors" is to have it as the Season 21 premiere, as was originally proposed and planned. That way, JNT gets his anniversary show, and the BBC get the full season following the special that they want from JNT. (Unfortunately, in real life, Sink or Swim got in the way.)

After that... who'd be producer, though? Saward? I doubt he'd be up to it. It appears that Philip Hinchcliffe was available, but I doubt the BBC would be willing to put him back on the show.

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Tommy 5 years ago

I'm not sure about that. Apparently the agreement with the head of serials on The Five Doctors was that it would inherit some of the budget from Season 20, which suggests it was viewed as being the end of that season, rather than the beginning of Season 21.

Ideally I'd have hoped on JNT's successor being one of two people. First being Peter Moffatt. After all he had previous TV production experience and was known for being good at crisis management. I think he'd be a good choice especially since he valued the input of older Who writers like Terrance Dicks. Then again as one of the few Season 18 directors who'd worked with Lalla Ward before, and was sympathetic enough to be able to get on Tom Baker's good side, I'd also have wanted for a world in which he became producer *instead* of JNT.

My other choice would be Fiona Cumming, who was working to become a TV producer, which she eventually did in 1988 on The High Road. I mainly nominate her since she had worked so closely with some of the best Davison era writers, like Christopher Bailey and Barbara Clegg, and was especially faithful to their writer's vision.

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Matthew Blanchette 5 years ago

Crap; you're right, I got that wrong. Put a 1 where there should've been a 0; I'm like a malfunctioning computer! :-P

Wouldn't either of those two untested producers need an "executive" to watch over them, like Barry Letts did with Season 18, do you think? Hinchcliffe or Williams might've been good for that less hands-on, advisorial sort of job...

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Tommy 5 years ago

Not so much with Moffatt, since he had been a TV producer before back in the 60's. Cummming had experience as a writer too, which is something JNT didn't, which was the main part of the concern. I think the decision to bring Barry Letts in was an unusual one, and specifically down to the concerns of the then Head of Serials who was being put into a position where he couldn't micromanage the show anymore. It might have been decided this wasn't necessary again, by whoever was head of serials at the time.

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Matthew Blanchette 5 years ago

Well... considering the BBC at the time, if Season 20 had started with "The Five Doctors" and JNT had stepped down at the end of the season (strike or no), who out of your options do you think would be more likely to be picked as producer?

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Tommy 5 years ago

Of my choices, probably Moffatt, since he had the greater experience. But it's more likely the BBC would have tried to draft someone from outside the show.

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Matthew Blanchette 5 years ago

Probably a quantity completely unknown to us, then. :-/

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Tommy 5 years ago

On second thoughts there actually is a problem with JNT leaving on The Five Doctors, which is that after production on The Five Doctors ends, there's now only a two month gap before production of Season 21 begins. So the BBC might have decided to keep JNT on to produce the whole following season, rather than bring in an unprepared new team to work in such a small time window.

Either that or JNT would have had to leave on The King's Demons and let someone else produce The Five Doctors, and The Five Doctors was his ambition, so he probably wouldn't have passed up the chance, unless the BBC drew up an immediate production schedule on his new show Impact that demanded he leave Doctor Who now.

In that eventuality perhaps the best case scenario would be that JNT stays just for Season 21, but Eric Saward leaves (lets say he gets the go ahead to do Stargazers).

That way Resurrection of the Daleks goes ahead as it is and manages to be the audience draw, Robert Holmes possibly still gets a slot to do Caves of Androzani as consolation for his Six Doctors script falling through.

But Warriors of the Deep is rewritten by someone else and doesn't end with a total bodycount that makes the Doctor look like a total liability. And maybe even a different script editor manages to salvage something from Song of the Space Whale.

And maybe this new script editor could find and nurture better scripts for Colin, from the writers available.

Either that or it really is a case where the fall was inevitable and the show would have been better off ending either on Logopolis, or if Season 20 had finished on Resurection of the Daleks after all and not been lost to the strike, then end it on that story- either story would be apocalyptic and final enough to work as an ending, with hints of existentialism on what the Doctor's purpose in the universe is (Season 20 would also be a good farewell point because of the Doctor's farewell to the older Brigadier in Mawdryn Undead). And either would be a source of inspiration for the spin-off media in taking Doctor Who into a more adult or high concept direction.

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Matthew Blanchette 5 years ago

That's why the original plan for Season 20, with "The Five Doctors" starting it, probably would've worked out better; we get a great anniversary story and avoid the craptacular "Arc of Infinity"... but, in return, Johnny Byrne is probably assigned the eventual Kamelion story.

Hmmmmm... it seems David Maloney was free, and was not working on the programme at the time; d'you think he might've been good?

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Tommy 5 years ago

It might have been the plan, yes. I suppose another benefit of having The Five Doctors take the place of Arc of Infinity is that you'd have a more plausible explanation for Tegan's return via time scoop. And you'd have more of a ratings grabber if you started the season on a multi-Doctor story. Hell if Robert Holmes' script had fallen through we might have gotten him penciled in for a slot later in that season.

The problem wasn't so much down to BBC scheduling (although arguably an adjustment in the schedule might have saved Resurrection from the strike) so much as that JNT's conviction that The Five Doctors *has* to be shown on the anniversary day, seems rather neurotic in retrospect, given that it wasn't done with The Three Doctors, and it probably contributed to less money available to Season 20, and a lack of preparation time for Season 21.

David Maloney would have been a fantastic choice for next producer, yes. He had economised well on the show's limited resources before, and he probably would have been the best choice for maintaining the kind of visceral quality that Warrior's Gate and Earthshock had given us. And the fact he'd worked well with Terry Nation, Terrance Dicks and Robert Holmes would make him especially ideal in bringing back the old guard and cutting deals for the rights to use the Daleks again.

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Matthew Blanchette 5 years ago

Hmmmm... they might've given Holmes the first slot in the Black Guardian trilogy, considering how well he'd done the first installment of the Key to Time season back in '78. In that instance, Grimwade gets the second slot, and Gallagher... well, I guess we get "Nightmare Country" for the next season, then, in that instance. :-)

Do you think things also might've turned out better if Saward had only stayed as a temp in 1981? If I recall correctly, he signed on permanently due to the extraordinary circumstances behind replacing "Enemy Within" with "Earthshock"; if Priest's story goes through rewrites and payments without a hitch, Saward's likely out the revolving door at season's end.

At that point in time, Chris Boucher was available for the position; better situation, or not?

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Tommy 5 years ago

It depends if JNT would have Boucher onboard, which is unlikely given his preference for 'new blood' and his resistance to older Who writers. A shame because, yes Boucher would have been the right man for the job (unfortunately JNT was uninterested in the 'right' men, in favour of 'yes' men).

Saward being gone after one season would be to the benefit of the show. It was during the making of Season 19 that he got Barbara Clegg interested so we would have likely still gotten Enlightenment (personally I've have been very happy with her being made script editor on the strength of Enlightenment, especially if it meant she got tasked with the Dalek story).

In Saward's absence, Song of the Space Whale might have gone ahead without a hitch, Warriors of the Deep might not have even been commissioned, and certainly wouldn't have ended in the dealbreaking way it did.

Hell, maybe if the new script editor found better scripts for Season 20, Davison would have stayed another year and we wouldn't have gotten such an ill-judged debut for Colin.

However without Saward, it begins to look doubtful if we would have gotten Terrance Dicks or Robert Holmes on the show again, so we might have had to say goodbye to The Five Doctors and Caves of Androzani. I'd also be somewhat sad to lose both Eric's Dalek stories.... but it just might have ended up being for the greater good.

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Matthew Blanchette 5 years ago

I think Dicks, being an old, reliable hand, would've been approached for the anniversary story, anyhow; he would've only just done "State of Decay" the season before, after all...

Perhaps, if Priest's earlier submission, "Sealed Orders", had actually worked out, he might have been more forgiving about rewrites on "The Enemy Within"... and "Warrior's Gate" is pushed back to, perhaps, the finale of Season 19.

...but these are all might-have-beens, anyhow. :-/

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Alan 5 years ago

It's fascinating that we're having this discussion of maybes and might-have-beens when the story that is the subject of this entry -- Atom Bomb Blues -- is itself about traveling to an alternate reality.

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Matthew Blanchette 5 years ago

Yes... the Could-Have-Been King with his Army of Meanwhiles and Never Weres. :-P

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Ed Jolley 4 years, 9 months ago

Apologies if this has gone unmemtioned because everyone else finds it so obvious as not to deserve commenting on, but it struck me that Morita's motivation might have been partially inspired by (or even a dig at) the subset of fandom that gets fanatical about the search for missing Hartnell and Troughton episodes.

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