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BOOK
Script Doctor
The Inside Story of Doctor Who 1986-89

Author: Andrew Cartmel
Reynolds & Hearn
RRP: 12.99
ISBN 1 903111 89 7
Available 28 February 2005


Never has a script editor's reign coincided so completely with that of "his" Doctor than during the Andrew Cartmel/Sylvester McCoy era. Whereas David Whitaker was outstayed by William Hartnell, and Terrance Dicks was already in place long before Jon Pertwee arrived, Cartmel joined after the departure of Colin Baker in 1986, and both he and McCoy stuck around until the series' end in 1989. This book is Cartmel's memoir of that turbulent period...

I have always thought it a shame that the old Doctor Who series (now being referred to as the "classic" series - yuk!) came to an end just when it was on the verge of regaining true greatness. Though Season 24, Cartmel and McCoy's first, was undeniably weak, there was an energy about it that hadn't been there during the previous couple of years. The show then went from strength to strength until it was producing challenging works such as The Curse of Fenric and Ghost Light.

Though the production of such serials overlapped each other in real life, Cartmel deals with each one separately, on a chapter-by-chapter basis. His recollections of the first five stories are the more in-depth, because following Remembrance of the Daleks he chose to be less involved in the production of each show once its script had been completed. His discussion of the final seven stories contains more description of their plots than in previous entries, which comes across as though he is trying to pad out those last few chapters.

Cartmel makes no bones about where he feels the serials failed due to shortcomings on the part of writers (Pip and Jane Baker's unwillingness to alter their script for Time and the Rani), costume designers (who should have made the armour in Battlefield look more futuristic), special effects personnel (Cartmel likens the animatronic cat in Survival to Harry Hill's glove puppet, Stufa!) and himself (for the tacked-on departure of Mel in Dragonfire and an overlong speech in Battlefield). However, he appears blind to the shortcomings of Paradise Towers, never once acknowledging the ham acting of most of its cast, in particular Richard Briers, or its lacklustre action and effects sequences.

Still, the book is never less than riveting. We can feel Cartmel's shock and anger as producer John Nathan-Turner flies into another one of his rages, and we sense his divided sexual loyalties as he makes frequent references to his girlfriend Kate before then remarking upon the numerous other attractive women he encounters.

And he entertains us with humorous recollections, the most memorable of which concerns a pushy teenage fan who considers that he should be the new Doctor. Not only does he swan in to the audition clad in purple pantomime boots, purple breeches, a purple velvet frock coat and a three-cornered hat decorated with a long purple feather, but he leaves behind a folder containing seven years' worth of storylines - complete with cast lists - for his Doctor's era. That is scariness on a par with the "mentalist" fan from I'm Alan Partridge!

However you feel about the television era that Andrew Cartmel oversaw, Script Doctor, in common with much of his writing, is both provocative and engaging.

Richard McGinlay

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