Doctor Who really does seem to have a hold over the people that get involved with it, something that many years later comes back to grab you around the wrist and yank you back into the mad world of dimensionally transcendental police boxes and regenerating Time Lords, Daleks, Cybermen and talking robot dogs.
Andrew Smith is a particularly good example of this – after falling off the map for years (“I’m an inspector in the Metropolitan Police”) Smith was tracked down and was a key draw among the extras for the 2007 release of the E-Space Trilogy DVD boxset.
Since then, he’s found himself back in the world of Doctor Who and has contributed a new script to Big Finish’s fascinating series of Companion Chronicles. The Invasion of E-Space stars Lalla Ward as Romana, tells the story of a previously unseen adventure in E-Space, and is out this month.
I spoke to Andrew recently, and learned that there is also a very good chance of more from Andrew, which seems like quite a comeback; however I was more interested in just how he found himself writing about the Doctor, K-9 and Romana again after all these years!
“I was a guest at a Doctor Who con in Glasgow back in May last year. David Richardson and Nick Briggs from Big Finish where there as well, and I spoke to David and he asked if I would be interested in writing for them and we discussed a story that I had been commissioned to write for the Colin Baker period. I almost talked myself out of it – I thought the BBC wouldn’t want us to do it.”
“Then a few months later he phoned me up and asked if I would like to write a companion chronicles involving Romana II and set in E-Space.”
Often in these cases, the writer is given a shopping list of things to include or ignore, and it seems that while some of the classic Season 18 characters are involved in the adventure, not all of them are.
“One of the things was not to mention or involve K-9. Adric is in the story, obviously not as Matthew Waterhouse. The other character is Marni Tellis, a law enforcement officer who comes across Romana, Adric and the Doctor. It set between State of Decay and Warrior’s Gate.”
You’ll have to wait for the adventure itself to find out any more than that! Smith was just 17 when he was commissioned to write the script for Full Circle, the opening tale of the E-Space trilogy. That is obviously quite a large gap – but more to the point, isn’t the concept of a circular, organic and lost history a bit deep for a 17 year old?
“[The lost history] was something that evolved – no pun intended – but that wasn’t in the original storyline called ˜The Planet That Slept’. The starliner was a ship that had just crashed, but there was always this idea that every 40 years the mists would come and the whole planet was a living thing. It developed through meetings with Chris [Bidmead] and John Nathan-Turner where it became quite meaty.
“I think some of the key things remained even when we went over to the generational idea.”
Speaking of generations, I was keen to find out what Andrew thought about the departure of Tom Baker, which also occurred in Season 18. It seems that he has some interesting recollections about his own involvement with Doctor Who in the late 1970s
“Tom Baker for me is the best Doctor there has ever been – he’s also made some of the worst stuff I think! The season before had become very silly in bits, and there was a feeling at the time that perhaps the next Doctor wasn’t going to be long in coming.”
Younger Doctor Who fans probably won’t be aware that new producer John Nathan-Turner – under the stewardship of former producer Barry Letts as executive – ushered in an exciting new era of the show that was visually dynamic, took advantage of advances in video effects and even got a new theme tune. This was in sharp contrast to the series in the mid-1980s, just a few years later, with the same man at the helm. Did JNT stick with it too long?
“John came in for a lot of stick and a lot of people forget that he turned it around and got Tom Baker under control.
“[Later on] he wanted to get out of it, and you know creativity is a well, and you can only go there so many times. Something like Doctor Who has so many facets and can be done in so many styles and it needed an injection of fresh creativity on a fairly regular basis, but I think John deserves a lot more credit than he gets these days.”
One of John Nathan-Turner’s appointments was that of the science-oriented Christopher H Bidmead as script editor.
“Oh, he was very into science! I remember him sitting reading new scientist magazine, and that’s Chris’ thing, he really understands science and he’s a real one-off. When we met for the commentary for the [E-Space Trilogy boxset] DVD he was still the same character, older but full of energy and a real confidence.
“But I still have no idea about why they gave me a job like that at my age.”
Back in 2009 Doctor Who Magazine published an interview with Christopher H Bidmead in which the former script editor was quite critical about elements of Russell T Davies’ stewardship of Doctor Who since 2005.
“I remember reading that and thinking it was so Chris, and he just speaks his mind! He’s passionate.
“RTD has produced a lot of material, wrote the bulk of the episodes across 4 series and the job he has done has been phenomenal. I remember the first down I sat down and watched Rose and it was fantastic. He made so many choices that were spot on in bringing Doctor Who back.
“Other things, like Utopia, the last 10 minutes are superb. The strange thing is that even now, Rose comes out that well in polls, but we just happened to watch it yesterday because my kids want to watch it and it’s great. Four of the first 5 episodes were written by Russell and the reason the show is doing so well 5 years later is because of the work done by Russell T Davies and Phil Collinson.”
[(Bidmead has since attempted to clarify some of his observations in this interview – check out the comments section of this post at www.colinbrockhurst.co.uk)]
Bidmead oversaw a selection of thrilling and visually stunning stories, such as Meglos and Warrior’s Gate; however Andrew recalls that while something might have been good on paper, it didn’t necessarily translate well to screen.
I had the scripts for Meglos beforehand and remember being disappointed when it came to screen. But you know Chris and John both did a really good job on that series. I watched Warrior’s Gate when the DVD came out and I thought, ˜what a fantastic story!’
“Stephen Gallacher did a fantastic job, and Keeper of Traken is another great story from that season.”
It is now 2010 – Andrew’s episodes of Doctor Who went into production over 30 years ago. Yet somehow, despite being a member of Her Majesty’s constabulary and the 24/7 routine this entails, Andrew has managed to maintain this interest in writing. Or has he?
“I haven’t really! I’ve been writing since I was 7 – I got a typewriter for my 7th birthday. One of the things that got me into writing when I was 17 was that I’d always wrote and then I went into it professionally for 4 and half years. When I went into the police service I was still writing. I wrote for myself and the way it went is that the most of my career I’ve been in an area of policing with long unpredictable hours away from home, and it’s only recently as I’ve become management that my hours have become a bit more predictable.
“I couldn’t have done this 4 or 5 years ago; if David or anyone had said to me ˜could you deliver a script in one or two months?’ then my answer would only have been ‘well, possibly!’
“So now with hours being a little more predictable, it’s come at a good time. I was always fastidious about deadlines; they’re like a promise that you have to keep. So it was the right time.”
It has certainly fallen in the right way for Andrew – and with a few scripts for Big Finish, he could be in a good position to move back into TV land.
“I would love to! I’ve got 4 years left of my police career and I hope to continue doing some writing over the next 4 years and hopefully on a more fulltime basis when I retire.
“In terms of writing for the TV series now, I can’t think about that – why would it happen, why should it happen? There’s no reason it should and I certainly wouldn’t’ ask, I’m happy to sit back and watch the stuff they’re doing at the moment.
“When I did it before, there’s this impression I wanted to write just for Doctor Who, and I didn’t! I was sending stuff in to other shows, Shoestring, Blake’s 7 and it was encouraging what I was getting back, and then the series would end whereas Doctor Who was always on.”
Well, this has been a fascinating chat with Andrew – but time has caught up with us. I’ve just got the chance to ask one more question – does he have any plans to do any more work with Big Finish?
“Yes – in fact I am. I’m doing something else at the moment but it’s full cast, and I can’t say which Doctor.”
That’s quite a cliffhanger – we can’t wait to see how it turns out!