Heroes of Who: Robert Holmes

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Guest contributors Patrick Durston, Adam James Cuthbert and John Hussey celebrate one of Doctor Who’s finest writers.

By Adam James Cuthbert

Robert Holmes, former military officer, policeman, and court reporter, contributed 71 episodes to the Classic era of Doctor Who, beginning with The Krotons in 1968 and ending with the incomplete The Ultimate Foe (or Time Inc.) in 1986. Holmes was revolutionary as a writer. His esoteric mastery of the English language, the poetics of dialogue, is truly inspirational. He could conjure up obscure terms like “valeyard” and incorporate them so easily into his screenplays. There was always a rhythm, a flow, to his dialogue and characterisation. Characters may seem like caricatures or pastiches at times, almost like horror-fiction archetypes in his darker stories, yet Holmes always endeavoured that Doctor Who should entice and captivate. Holmes famously said that Doctor Who “was geared to the intelligent fourteen-year old”, a statement I entirely agree with.

His writing can be seen as sensational for its time. The Deadly Assassin famously met with uproar by Mary Whithouse of the NVALA who claimed that Doctor Who contained unnecessary amounts of violence that would scare the nation’s children. Holmes scoffed at this: children want to be scared, why else would they watch the show? Many would say he is in fact the perpetrator responsible for the ‘behind-the-sofa’ cliché of Who.

Holmes was often influenced by literary sources and contemporary events when writing. The Sun Makers, for instance, was a reaction against the apparent bureaucracy of the UK tax system. The Talons of Weng-Chiang borrows from Jack the Ripper, Jekyll and Hyde, with The Brain of Morbius containing obvious parallels to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. His stories are distinguished by their macabre sense of humour, sophisticated vocabulary, and debonair wit. I admire the man with a passion, and only hope I can reflect this passion in my own writing.

By Patrick Durston

I’m not too sure where Doctor Who back in the day would be without the great Robert Holmes being a major part of it. One of the great aspects to him has been his fantastic ability to be remembered by fans for his extensive work and contributions to the shows incredible mythos and the achievements he made for it. For Holmes injected a great deal of brilliance and ingenuity when he took over the equally great Terrance Dicks’ position as script editor in 1974.

Holmes managed to produce quality scripts that expanded the shows sense of style, visual vocabulary, dialogue and language, and its capacity to be more experimental. He also managed to successfully debut many major characters and concepts for the show into his wonderful scripts – introducing many such as the Autons, the Sontarans, the Master and a whole abundance of other brilliant creations. Where would some of Who’s popular iconic villains, characters and concepts be without his own intervention? Most of them still have their influences in today’s world of Who.

All in all, Robert Holmes was a stalwart writer who significantly helped re – imagine a lot of key elements of Doctor Who. A complete inspiration to anyone who wants to follow in his footsteps. Out of all the writers for the show for both Old and New Who, Holmes for me stands out as being the best. All fans young and old should recognise his marvellous impact on the show and should be able to relate to his name, and understand how he gave the show a unique vision of its own.

A superlative writer indeed, with a whole set of brilliant stories under his belt. RIP Robert Holmes.

Robert Holmes’ excellent story “The Caves of Androzani”. Possibly one of his best.

By John Hussey

One of the best (if not the best) writers to ever write for Doctor Who. Bob Holmes is best remembered as the man who brought us the Autons and Nestene Consciousness, the Master, the Sontarans and if not most importantly, giving the Time Lords home their legendary name of Gallifrey.

He was truly dedicated to the show he worked for and maintained a loyal working partnership with Doctor Who and its many producers and script editors. Bob worked on the show from 1969, all the way up until his untimely and tragic death in 1986. Bob is well known for many brilliant stories throughout his long tenure: ‘Spearhead in Space’, ‘The Deadly Assassin’ and ‘The Caves of Androzani’ to name a few.

Bob’s stories were truly original and unique within their ideas, concept and storytelling, with all of his episodes having something different to showcase. He was well known for his catchy lines, slight humour, political stories and of course his love for the horror genre.

As well as a writer, Bob also became a script editor for seasons 12-14 and worked closely with partner Philip Hinchcliffe who worked with him as producer. Together they brought a new and darker style to Doctor Who and deliberately pushed the boundaries to create quality scares and suspense within their thrilling and exciting stories. During this era, Bob produced the brilliant ‘Pyramids of Mars’ and ‘The Brain of Morbius’, two of the finest episodes of Who which he wrote under a pseudonym. I believe his work with Hinchcliffe was one of the finest eras of Doctor Who’s history.

He is my favourite writer within Doctor Who and I love all of his stories. None of his stories lacked in quality. All of his stories were beyond brilliant and only increased in quality over time. He is an inspiration to me and I hope to one day write Doctor Who scripts as good as him.