Who Are the Most Overlooked Writers of Doctor Who?
Guest contributor Will Brown picks out four he thinks went unnoticed.
Over the past fifty-plus years, an astonishing ninety-four writers, be them real or merely written as a pseudonym, have received on-screen credit for scripting a Doctor Who episode. Some, for better or for worse, have been greatly remembered, perhaps even idolised by a few, whilst others have been unfairly overlooked and forgotten by much of the fandom. In this article, I seek to take a look at a selection of scriptwriters from the classic era belonging, I feel, to this latter category.
Whitaker is primarily remembered as the show’s first ever story editor, a post later renamed ‘script editor’, between 1963 and 1964, leaving after The Dalek Invasion of Earth. He did, however, contribute a total of eight scripts for the first three Doctors, most notably his two Dalek stories, Power- and Evil of the Daleks, making him only the second writer, after Dalek-creator Terry Nation of course, to fully pen a Dalek story. Power of the Daleks was also Patrick Troughton’s full introduction as the Second Doctor. Whitaker also wrote the introduction of twenty-first century scientist Zoe Heriot in The Wheel in Space.
Other remarkable stories from Whitaker include the third ever story, The Edge of Destruction, which was made on so little a budget that it only includes the TARDIS set and the four regular cast members, and The Enemy of the World, which, as heavily publicised, was found in its entirety in Nigeria and went on to be the highest-selling classic series DVD, only to be beaten by The Web of Fear a few months later. Most of his stories have been immensely well-received, with several being hailed as classics, Whitaker’s aforementioned Dalek serials being some of them.
Another writer chiefly known for his time on the show as the script editor, Dennis Spooner was in fact Whitaker’s successor, taking this post between The Rescue and The Chase. As for his own stories, he is exceptional for his attempts to introduce particularly comedic elements to the series. This was first in his debut script The Reign of Terror, which incorporated some humour, and again in Spooner’s next story, The Romans, which is full-blown, over-the-top farce, and all the better for it. This laid the groundwork for later comedies in the series, although for several of them, whether or not the humour was intentional can be questioned.
Perhaps the greatest contribution to the mythos from the writer was the Monk, originally brought to life by the marvellous Peter Butterworth, and was the main villain of The Time Meddler and a rival Time Lord for the Doctor. The character appeared again in The Daleks’ Master Plan, of which Spooner wrote six of the twelve episodes, and has went on to be in various spin-off media over the decades. Somewhat recently, the Monk has faced off against the Eighth Doctor in the Big Finish audio range. Certainly quite a legacy for Spooner to have.
A personal favourite of mine, the reason as to why Lucarotti has been unfortunately neglected by the fandom is probably that of the three stories to his name, only one has any remaining episodes. This story is, of course, his second script The Aztecs, which was ranked as the fourth highest, and highest non-Dalek story, of the First Doctor’s era in DWM’s poll of 2014. As well as being a brilliant historical story set in medieval Mexico, with realistic and three-dimensional characters such as Cameca and Autloc, it also raises the question of changing history, immortalised by the quote “You can’t rewrite history. Not one line!”
This dilemma of altering the time-lines was raised once again in The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve, when frictions arose between the Doctor and Steven. The Doctor’s then-insistence on non-interference angered his companion, who threatened to leave the TARDIS. These circumstances meant that Lucarotti could easily demonstrate his ability to write complex characters. Strong characterisation was a constant in his scripts, such as in his debut Marco Polo, particularly concerning the eponymous traveller who had to present the TARDIS to Kublai Khan as a gift.
Lucarotti was set to return with a story for the twelfth season, but he received no credit for the story that eventually became The Ark in Space after the script was deemed unusable, most likely due to the infamous budget limitations of the time.
Unlike the other writers I have mentioned, Chris Boucher wrote for the show in the 1970s as opposed to the 60s, but he too crafted some magnificent scripts; 1977’s The Robots of Death is consistently ranked as one of the greatest stories of all time, known for its suspenseful mystery in the guise of a base-under-siege style with some killer robots for good measure (and no, it’s not a spoiler – it’s in the bloody title!). But versatility was Boucher’s middle name, it seems, as Robots was in stark contrast to the serial immediately preceding it: The Face of Evil, concerning two tribes on an alien world. It sounds like a somewhat standard, and tiring, affair, despite the introduction of the endlessly enduring Leela. Yet Boucher adds dimensions to it, with the revelation that the Doctor has had previous adventures on this unnamed planet.
1978’s Image of the Fendahl was his third, and sadly final, story. Whilst not being to the quality of Boucher’s other stories, Image is, again, hugely different to them, as it set in the English countryside of the (then) modern-day, where a strange artefact has been unearthed. Another simple plot, harking back to the storylines of the Third Doctor’s era, but another time when Boucher alludes to other events, of a planet between Mars and Jupiter that the Time Lords destroyed and placed in a time-loop to prevent any knowledge of it leaking out. Boucher definitely had some great concepts up his sleeve.
I wish that several of these writers, mainly Lucarotti and Boucher, returned to Doctor Who, because from what we saw, they had much potential. But change is the very essence of the show, and everybody will have their own writers they feel are overlooked. Feel free to make your own suggestions in the comments.