Cited by modern Doctor Who showrunners, Russell T. Davies and Steven Moffat as the best story of the classic era, “The Ark in Space” is also a great entry point for fans who want to see what all the fuss classic Who is about.
Robert Holmes had just taken on the reigns as script-editor when he had to do a full page-one rewrite of a script by John Lucarotti. Holmes kept the setting of a space station because the sets were already under construction (a cost-cutting measure for the first fourth Doctor season had the sets used here and later in “Revenge of the Cybermen.”) In place of the original story, Holmes gave us a four-part serial with an utterly chilling monster and a high stakes as the Doctor and a group of humans fight for the survival of humanity.
In many ways, this is Holmes taking the base-under-siege stories of the Patrick Troughton era and upping the stakes dramatically. Yes, we’re concerned with the fate of the group of newly revived humans as they battle the Wirrin. But also at stake is the future of humanity and whether or not humanity will survive or become Wirrin food. Continue reading
Doctor Who was originally intended as an education program for families — one that would see the TARDIS crew traveling backward to various eras and imparting a bit of knowledge about history to the viewing audience of the day.
But by the time the series celebrated its first decade on the air, journeys to historical settings had become a thing of the past. That is until producer Berry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks decided to bring back the historical story for the show’s eleventh season debut. Dicks jokingly says that he dragged Robert Holmes “kicking and screaming” into the Middle Ages with the debut story of Jon Pertwee’s final season, “The Time Warrior.”
“The Time Warrior” is a story of a lot of firsts. First appearance of the Sontarans, first appearance of Sarah Jane Smith, the debut of the diamond logo and new opening credits (I can’t tell you how much this surprised on my first viewing of season eleven), and the first time Gallifrey was used as the name for the Time Lord’s home world. Given all these firsts, it feels like a no-brainer that Letts and Dicks would go to Holmes for the story. Continue reading
You have to admire the sheer audacity of Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks. A mere three stories after “Spearhead from Space,” the team not only brings back the Autons to invade Earth yet again, but they’re brought back in virtually the same story as we saw in “Spearhead from Space.” Just substitute the Master in the role of Channing from “Spearhead” and the two serials are remarkably similar.
The Nestene, using the Autons, have decided it’s time to invade Earth again. Though this time, the attempt to take over our world features a different ally and is a bit more subversive. Whereas “Spearhead” is a full fledged frontal assault (complete with the memorable image of the Autons coming to life as shop dummies), this invasion comes more from within with the Master spearheading (pardon fully intended) the wiping out of a great number of the population and then invading in the chaos.
The Nestene appear to have decided — or possibly been persuaded by the Master — that taking over Earth is easier if you plunge the world into chaos by killing off large chunks of the population via plastic chairs or daffodils. The invasion plot continues a theme from Robert Holmes’ “Spearhead from Space” of taking the everyday, mundane, or even safe things of life and making them scary somehow. In this case, you can be killed by authority figures like the police or struck down in the safety of your home by a plastic daffodil cutting off your ability to breathe.
It’s a pretty chilling invasion plot, if you step back and think about it. And the idea of your final moments being given over to fear as you’re attacked by a plastic doll or daffodil is one that’s pretty chilling. Continue reading
For its first six seasons, Doctor Who featured call-backs to its past but hadn’t really started building any significant amount of mythology. That all changed with the introduction of the Time Lords in the last installment of “The War Games” and solidified for the next five years under the leadership of Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks.
The Jon Pertwee years were the time when the show began to establish precedents that would continue not only for the rest of the classic series run but are still being used and built on today. It even extends as far as when the series decided to come out of retirement that Russell T. Davies borrowed heavily from Pertwee’s first four-part serial “Spearhead from Space.”
During the wilderness years, a fellow Whovian and I were discussing what it would be like if the show came back and it was pointed out that a great monster to bring back the show wouldn’t necessarily by the Daleks or the Cybermen but the Autons. The Autons are significant in the series, appearing twice in the original series run, and the sequence of them breaking out of shop windows in episode four is one that is indelibly burned into the minds of the viewing public. But the Autons don’t have the same level of backstory, expectation, and baggage as some of the more popular foes the Doctor has squared off against. Continue reading
What if I told you there was a Doctor Who serial written by the great Robert Holmes in which the presence of the Doctor and his companions wouldn’t alter the outcome of the story one bit?
You’d probably think I was talking about the classic serial, “The Caves of Androzani.”
And you’d be correct.
But I could also be talking about “The Space Pirates,” Holmes’ second offering for the series.
At this point in the Patrick Troughton era, scripts kept falling through and there was a behind-the-scenes scramble to get something on the screens to fill time. And “The Space Pirates” sure feels like it’s doing a lot of filing time over the course of its six episodes.
The story has a pretty dodgy reputation among Doctor Who fans. Part of that is that the single surviving episode features the Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe locked in a room with little or no impact on the story unfolding. Another part of it is that there’s a lack of visual materials to go with the surviving audio, making viewing the telesnap version of this story a bit of a slog at times. Continue reading
For 2021, I’ve decided to take a look back at what many fans consider the best writer Doctor Who has ever produced — Robert Holmes. With the exception of “The Space Pirates,” we have a full run of Holmes’ output in the BBC Archives. Today, I look back at his first offering, “The Krotons.”
Patrick Troughton’s final season as Doctor was marked by a lot of scripts falling through and a scramble to get something, anything onto screens. Out of that chaos came something good — the Doctor Who debut of Robert Holmes.
Sure, “The Krotons” isn’t exactly on the same level as “Spearhead From Space” would be just a season later. And Holmes’s distinctive writing style is a bit rough around the edges. But, this four-part serial is an interesting starting point for Holmes and offers hints of things to come.
Holmes would borrow elements from this serial for multiple other stories as the series went along. The concept of an alien taking the best and brightest from an alien society would be used in “The Trial of a Time Lord” close to two decades later. And he’d also recycle the backstory of the Krotons themselves a bit when we meet the Sontarans in “The Time Warrior” (lone ship from a fleet crashes on an alien world and uses local population to rebuild).
So, while “The Krotons” isn’t necessarily essential for the story itself, it is an essential part of Doctor Who’s history. Continue reading