As we watch the at times compelling, at times just kind of sad spectacle of Doctor Who frantically trying to reinvent itself on a brand new formula and premise, it may be worth looking at other contemporaneous British attempts at Earth-based science fiction to get some idea of what genre Doctor Who is trying to impose itself on. It’s not, of course, as if Doctor Who has never imposed itself on other genres before. The historicals, in their latter days, were all about genre crossing. But note the specific wording – a story like The Gunfighters was about taking Doctor Who and crashing it into the western then filming the explosion. With the UNIT stories we are by and large seeing something different: a fair swath of the production team does not seem to be trying to cross Doctor Who into another genre. They’re trying to make Doctor Who as an example of another genre. Until we understand what that genre is, it’s going to be difficult to say what can be accomplished by turning Doctor Who into that genre.
To some extent we’ve already seen what that genre is via Monty Python. Or, more to the point, we’ve seen that whatever Doctor Who is trying to do, it’s so flamingly obvious within the context of British culture that it can be parodied prior to Doctor Who doing it. Of course, if we rewatch the Science Fiction sketch, we can see that it’s just as much a parody of the old Quatermass formula. In other words, there’s an established sort of science fiction here that Nigel Kneale invented with Quatermass that Doctor Who, under UNIT, comes perilously close to faithfully and blindly discharging. Of course, we’ve also seen with the Brigadier the beginnings of a response, which we’ll see expanded on when we get to Terror of the Autons.
But Doctor Who wasn’t even the only contemporary sci-fi thriller airing on BBC1, little yet the only one being made in Britain at the turn of the decade, so let’s look at two others to set up some signposts. The first is obvious – Doomwatch, created by Gerry Davis and Kit Pedler, is, like Adam Adamant Lives!, a case of “what Doctor Who people did next.” And like Adam Adamant Lives!, the answer is “something that is almost, but not quite, what Doctor Who did next.” Just as Adam Adamant Lives! prefigured the charismatic lead model of the Troughton years, Doomwatch was an attempt by Davis and Pedler to work through their issues (well, Pedler’s issues mainly) regarding contemporary science via contemporary earth-based sci-fi.
Perhaps the most alarming thing about Doomwatch is that it’s actually quite good. This is alarming because the creative talent on it was, as I mentioned, Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis. We discussed the seeming nature of Pedler’s Doctor Who scripts in the past. Gerry Davis, on the other hand, is responsible for The Celestial Toymaker, The Tomb of the Cybermen, and, to be fair, The Tenth Planet.…