Andrew Cartmel was the Script Editor throughout the Seventh Doctor era and oversaw three seasons, including fan favourite tales like Remembrance of the Daleks, The Greatest Show in the Galaxy and The Curse of Fenric.
Kasterborous caught up with him to discuss the recent reprint of Script Doctor: The Inside Story of Doctor Who, 1987-89. First published in 2005, the memoir is based on diary entries made during his time on the show, now updated by Cartmel and Miwk Publishing.
K: Can you briefly talk us through the process of getting Script Doctor back in print?
ANDREW: I was increasingly eager to get Script Doctor back in print, since it had become something of a collector’s item and there was clearly demand for it.
But all I could think of was doing it as an eBook on Amazon. I was moaning about the technicalities of this on Twitter when up popped the wonderful Matt West, who got in touch with me and said he would be interested in reprinting the book in a proper paper edition from his firm Miwk, who did the biography, JN-T: The Life and Scandalous Times of John Nathan-Turner.
I was delighted to hear from him and my delight only grew when I got to know the guy. The experience with Matt, Rob Hammond (his designer and publishing partner) and Miwk has been a pure joy. Unlike the first edition…
What was it like revisiting something you wrote nearly ten years ago, and did you change your view on anything?
My main concern was to put in more pictures (which we did – three times as many) and to correct the numerous typos which had bedevilled the first edition.
There wasn’t really much I could add in the way of new written material, because I’d drawn on all my diaries (etc.) the first time round.
When writing, were you ever nervous of offending any ex-colleagues?
I wasn’t nervous, though on the other hand I didn’t deliberately set out to offend. While I didn’t publish everything I said in my diaries, I also didn’t often pull punches. For instance, I quoted JN-T saying of [prolific director] Chris Clough, “I just bit his f***ing head off” and Chris wasn’t too impressed when he read that. But it was true and I don’t think it reflected badly on Chris. It just showed that John was thin skinned and sensitive and had a temper (he thought Chris had been speaking disparagingly of the show’s lack of funds – which was a very real situation).
Speaking of JN-T and his temper, I got the impression that you had a clear idea of where you were going with Doctor Who. But were you intimidated by JN-T at the start, and was he ever resistant to the new direction of the show? From reading Script Doctor, he sounded very open to everything you were doing and I think the enthusiasm shows in the series!
I was never intimidated by JN-T, least of all at the start when he was at his most supportive and charming because I was new to the job. What did happen was that occasionally (not often) he’d have an explosion of anger – or perhaps petulance – (frequently documented in Script Doctor), I’d be offended and resentful, but remain polite and cooperative… and then either JN-T would apologise or things would simply blow over and everything would be fine again. I gradually began to develop a clear idea of where I wanted to take the show and John was almost entirely helpful and backed me up… If he hadn’t, I couldn’t have done it.
I do remember him warning me, though, that we were giving too much attention to Ace in the stories and that this would be at the expense of the Doctor… and I initially disregarded this, but he proved to be correct, so I reined it in a bit. And on another occasion I remember him blowing up and saying “I’ve already let you go really far and change everything. This is too much!” – or words to roughly that effect. I can’t remember exactly what this was about, but as usual, we soon came to an accommodation. What is interesting and revealing about this is that John was clearly aware that I was making radical departures, and that he was assisting me in that.
You were determined to make the Doctor this mysterious figure again, but from what I’ve heard, you had a fairly clear idea of his past; how far would you have gone on-screen? Was this all just background information for incoming writers to base the character on?
The background information about the Doctor wasn’t really detailed; in a sense it was exactly the opposite of that. To make him mysterious I had to eliminate all detail and information. So my idea of the Doctor’s background was just to say that he only apparently was a Time Lord, but in fact he had existed before Gallifrey. I never wanted to get into specifics, because then we’d be right back with the same problem of having pinned down the Doctor with an origin and identity and mystery would have consequently gone out the window.
Did you have to rein in any criticism of former colleagues?
Yes, I did occasionally, although more often my self-censorship operated in different ways. For instance, I deliberately got coy about certain people sharing a joint, because that’s the sort of thing that someone might be upset about seeing in print.
What feedback did you get about Script Doctor from your friends and colleagues?
People seemed pleased with the book, and I think they felt that it brought the period back to life fairly vividly (at least, I felt that). Though it has to be said most of them just went through it to see what I said about them!
There are some really nice additions scattered through Script Doctor. How did these added extras come about?
The wonderful extras for Script Doctor, like the Silas P business card, were entirely the brainchild of my splendid publishers, Matt and Rob, who are just wonderful about this kind of thing.
Were you at all involved in the casting process? It sounds like you were very impressed with many actors/actresses; in particular, I’m thinking of Sophie Aldred, Jessica Martin and T. P. McKenna, as well as the cast of Ghost Light.
I was rooting for Sylvester and Sophie and I’m sure JN-T was aware of this. But ultimately it was his decision – and he made the right one. They were the only casting choices I was really invested in.
Can you tell us anything about updating Who as Who aka Through Time?
Through Time was my history of the show, a personal overview. Its less than spectacular sales might well have been due to a title and cover which really didn’t shout Doctor Who. The new edition will correct that as well as updating the text. Plus, being published by the good people at Miwk (hi Matt West, hi Rob Hammond), it will be a more lavish and splendid version.
I was really sorry to hear about the passing of Kate O’Mara on Sunday. Can you share any memories of her on Time and the Rani with us?
The only line of dialogue I definitely remember that I helped to shape in Time and the Rani was the Rani’s “I want the man,” referring to Sylvester. Kate O’Mara, who was an excellent actress, of course picked up on the obvious sexual subtext and made the most of it.
It was great to read Steven Moffat’s new introduction to Script Doctor. What legacy do you think the Seventh Doctor era has left on the show? I can certainly see stories seemingly influenced by them, particularly The Long Game and The Beast Below. Tom MacRae, writer of The Girl Who Waited, also grew up with McCoy’s Doctor and especially remembers being scared of the inhabitants of Paradise Towers!
I’m writing a three part series on the writers of the Seventh Doctor era for Doctor Who Magazine which extensively explores, among other things, our influence on the show now. But just one example, perhaps the first and most obvious, was the way Ace of 1989’s Survival segued neatly into the Rose of Rose (2005).
Thank you very much to Andrew Cartmel, not just for the interview but also for providing us with a definitive, insightful guide to that brilliant era of Doctor Who.
Script Doctor is available for just £14.99 now.