Recall UNIT (stage play)

October 14, 2009

Richard Franklin (Mike Yates & Writer)

“I was so struck by the enthusiasm of fans at the conventions, I suddenly said during an interview that I’d write a UNIT play so that everyone could see us together again on stage. Of course, a lot of people really like the suggestion, but I don’t think anybody really, seriously, thought we’d do it. That became ‘Recall UNIT’.

“The writing happened by degrees. I had a lot of help from George Cairns, who acted as a sounding board for my inspirations and, because he knew the show’s continuity, advised on technical details. He brought up things like the Tissue Compression Eliminator and the phrase ‘Reverse the polarity of the neutron flow’. I came up with the idea of starting the play with us as ourselves and gradually merging us into our fictional personae. That holds an essential truth about the crossover that existed in real life between us and our characters. I included the topical elements of the plot, like the Falklands and the satire on Margaret Thatcher, as a backdrop to the Master’s off-stage plans to take over the world.

“The Brigadier takes part using pre-recorded voice-over (after Nicholas Courtney had to drop out due to a TV role), and luckily I found an actor called Richard Kettles to play the Brigadier’s stand-in, who really adopted most of the lines.


Colony in Space (3H, 1971)

October 6, 2009

Michael E. Briant (Director)

“I think ‘Colony in Space’ was probably the least successful of my stories. The monsters were these kind of primitives and they didn’t say anything except ‘Ugh!’, so they were rather limited! We filmed a lot of it in a china clay quarry with those lovely round huts build to act as the colonists’ settlements. Malcolm had written tents in teh original script and I wasn’t sure about that, so I thought ‘Let’s have prefabricated igloos’.

“They also had to have ultra-modern transport around them, so we used vehicles called Haflans, which I hadn’t seen in England at the time but which are probably dated now! It was all a question of pioneering new ideas. The IMC robot caused a lot of problems – at first it simply refused to move, and then when it did, it went right out of control and crashed into the set!

The Macra Terror (JJ, 1967)

October 3, 2009

Michael Craze (Ben)

It was disgusting, having to clamber all over that rubbish on Brighton rubbish tip!

Four to Doomsday (5W, 1982)

October 2, 2009

Peter Davison (The Doctor)

The first one we recorded was ‘Four to Doomsday’. Now, if you watch that, you’ll notice that we’re all working very hard, perhaps even forcing it a little, and that was because I was feeling my way into the part, and the others who were already there were adapting to me. It was a very tiring one to do from that respect, because we were all being careful not to tread on each other’s toes. Later on, as we became much more familiar, the whole process was a lot easier. So I was grateful we did it that way, although you’ll notice my hair grows between stories.

The Happiness Patrol (7L, 1988)

October 2, 2009

Andrew Cartmel (Script Editor)

I remember saying to Graeme [Curry], yeah, yeah, making it an attack on Thatcherism, totally. Then, of course, we’d soft pedal, saying no, no, of course it’s not like that. Then Sheila Hancock, without anybody saying anything to her, totally latched on to it and just played it like Thatcher. So Graeme and Sheila would go to conventions together and someone would ask if Happiness Patrol was an attack on Thatcherism and Graeme would feel obliged to waffle for a bit, knowing he might get me into hot water if he said yes, then Sheila would say ‘Of course it was!’ [Laughs]

So, of course it was. But nobody intended it to be that and nothing more. We didn’t want to produce something that could only function in its period.

The Kandyman was meant to look like a stick of candy rock or something, but the designer did a fantastic job, creating this liquorice allsorts man instead. There was a certain amount of trepidation that this might invite all sorts of litigation, but thankfully it didn’t. It was a wonderful idea but I could understand higher-ups being worried.

The problem with suits like the Kandyman had, it completely masks their features. If you give them very witty lines, like the Kandyman did have, they kind of get lost. The characterisation gets lost. Graeme did a nice, subtle job on the Kandyman. He was a very black, comic character.

The Happiness Patrol had this sinister aspect of taking all these childish things and made them dangerous, the sort of thing that gets used mentioned unfavourably in Parliament.

A comics writer I’ve always admired is Alan Moore and when I first got on the show, I tried to get him on board. I actually spoke to him on the phone but he was too caught up in other stuff. But one thing he said about Doctor Who was that it was scariest when it poked into dark nursery corners. That was harking back to the Hartnell years, but The Happiness Patrol tried to probe those corners too. The Kandyman was a figure of fun yet he was totally homicidal, and he had sweets that can kill you. That sort of thing.

It came about because I’d read a radio play by Graeme called Over the Moon, which was about football, of all things. But I could tell from it that the guy could write. So I got him in and asked for story ideas. It was painful at first, he’d keep coming up with stories but we couldn’t get one to click. He’d just about given up hope of ever doing one. We went all through the same thing with Robin Mukherjee.

Finally Graeme came in one day, slumped in a chair in the office, and said: ‘What about a planet where everybody has to be happy, and if they’re not, they’re executed.’ Bingo! He’d done it! There were torments and rewrites to come, but the story was on.

All the while we were working on it we just called it The Happiness Patrol to have something to call it. Eventually we had to come up with a proper title, so Graeme called it The Crooked Smile but John said. ‘For God’s sake, call it The Happiness Patrol.’

Fans always wanted the show to be dark and punchy, and as soon as they heard about a story was called The Happiness Patrol, they formed preconceptions about it. Another problem was a lot of the costumes and the elements were this kitsch holiday camp thing, presented as sinister, but I think some fans lacked the irony to see beyond the surface, to see it was this horrible concentration camp.

Slipback (Radio)

October 2, 2009

Colin Baker (The Doctor)

Most of us knew Valentine Dyall of old, and we all noticed that he wasn’t up to his usual level of energy, and that he looked rather ill. At the end of recording I said ‘I’m sure we’ll be working with each other again soon’ and he shook his head and said ‘I doubt it. I don’t think I’ve got long left’. And sadly for us, he was right.

The Ultimate Evil (Unmade)

October 2, 2009

Fiona Cumming (Director)

I was booked to direct ‘The Ultimate Evil’, but I didn’t see the script. I knew that it was to feature Nicola Bryant quite strongly, which is why I think I’d been chosen. The writer was Wally K. Daly. It happened so early, I hadn’t set foot in the building. I was standing in our London flat doing a spot of cleaning when John rang me up. I was desperately upset, as I was looking forward to working with Colin.

Daleks: Invasion Earth 2150 AD

October 2, 2009

Philip Madoc (Brockley)

It was a reasonable part. I mean, it wasn’t two lines, and it stood out, in its way. It was clear, you see, that he was a villain. He ended up in a shed being blow up, but that was his fault for not realising that the Daleks don’t have a conscience. They’re not going to help someone just for that particularly, and it was enjoyable seeing how the Daleks worked. That in itself was fascinating.

The Underwater Menace (GG, 1967)

October 1, 2009

Hugh David (Almost Director)

Another script landed on my desk, a story called ‘Atlanta’ (The Underwater Menace), which eventually I didn’t do. It was passed onto Julia Smith, who now produces ‘EastEnders’. The concept seemed to me to be too weighted against us. I loved challenges, but this was too difficult. It just didn’t work. I have no rules – I just say ‘Does it work?’. That story called for things that were impossible to achieve on our budged. We had so little money then. It concerned a sort of Hitler, who’d gone down in a U-boat and arrived in an underwater city, Atlantis, and started up a kind of Nazi enclave. Quite a good story, as long as we could do the underwater photography.

“I contacted a guy at Pinewood, who’d just done the James Bond film ‘Thunderball’, which featured a lot of underwater sequences, and I thought there might be equipment left over which they didn’t require. I asked if he could give me any advice, and told him the outline of the plot. He asked me how much money I had, and I said £3,500 above the line for the whole show. He signed and said ‘£3,500? Mmm, well, on our underwater sequence alone we spent £3m, and that wasn’t enough. Any more questions?’. And I put the phone down and told Innes I couldn’t do it. You couldn’t take a tiny tank at Ealing and pretend you were in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean indefinitely.

Julia Smith (Director)

Patrick Troughton was quite obviously very different in both appearance and shape – he wanted to bring another quality to the part, a slightly humorous, muddle-handed element. I enjoyed working with him very much. I remember there were awful arguments about that time, about how Patrick Troughton should play the part; whether he should be allowed to play his flute or not, quite how Quixotic the character could be. We all put forward our suggestions. It was the first time anyone had grappled with the problem of changing the lead actor. Now it’s become a sort of convention, and Dr. Who’s have come and gone at quite an alarming rate!

“All the underwater sequences for ‘The Underwater Menace’ were a problem, but we got by with trickery. We used the tank at Ealing to do a certain amount of trick work, but I must admit, I remember less about that one. I know we had great fun designing mermaid-type costimes and that we had hundreds of letters from little girls, asking if they could have the costumes. ‘The Underwater Menace’ depended more on action and trickery than it did on acting and performance. ‘The Smugglers’ had depended more on the performance. As a director, you encounter better and worse scripts, and I might make some quiet comments about them, but you have to believe totally in what you’re doing, because you have to sell it to the actors and give them support, help and enthusiasm to go ahead with the project.

The Smugglers (CC, 1966)

October 1, 2009

Julia Smith (Director)

William Hartnell was remarkable. As a director, you work out actors’ moves before going into rehearsal, in order to get a variety of shots, and I remember asking William Hartnell to cross to the TARDIS and press a particular button, and he went raving mad: ‘I can’t. If I do that, this’ll happen to the TARDIS and that’ll happen to the TARDIS!’. And he gave me a quarter of an hour’s dissertation of why he couldn’t press that button. I stood there, very young and very nervous, and took this broadside about the insanity of women drivers almost. It was obviously so real to him. He’d committed himself to the character and aquainted himself with all the machinery, which in those days was very much simpler than it is now. Compared with all the advances in technology over the years, William Hartnell’s TARDIS must now look prehistoric.

“Hartnell must be responsible in a very large degreefor the success of the whole thing – the mystique he surrounded himself with. He was pure, old-fashioned, theatrical actor-manager, with that resounding voice. But he did leave this feeling of remoteness, of being larger than everybody else. I think that’s a quality the programme lacks now; I can no longer believe in Dr. Who as a super-being. I know he wasn’t very well, and I treated him as I did John Slater on ‘Z-Cars’, who had a bad heart. You knew it was sensible to protect him and not demand too much of him. You didn’t make him run up and down stairs, or wade through rivers. I suppose that’s for example how they work with Joan Hickson as Miss Marple. You just don’t stretch the old ones too far.

“For ‘The Smugglers’, we went down to Cornwall to do it, because I knew the area very well. At that time, you could still find long stretches of coastline without a house in sight. And also caves, which we needed for the pirates’ lair. It was set round about the Cromwellian period, I don’t remember exactly, and I enjoyed it immensely, because I’ve always been interested in the history of buildings. I had a bee in my bonnet, because when we had to find a pub exterior, I insisted we use an old barn, because pubs in those days were far simpler, more rustic. So we surprised some farmer by saying ‘Please, sir, can we use your barn?’, and we dressed it up and put a pub signpost in the middle of a muck heap.

“We had a wonderful cast. George A. Cooper, who ended up in ‘Grange Hill’ – he played one of the baddies, a pirate with a smooth bald head. It was very much a traditional children’s idea of a pirate. In those days, one made it more with children in mind, and I think, in my humble opinion, that that was maybe its strength. Now it’s much more sophisticated, but then I suppose children are, too. Then it was a case of booing the bad guy and cheering the hero, not today’s maniacal obsession with equipment and technicalities.

“We left Newlyn harbour and it seemed fairly calm in the bay, but when we got our father, or brother… it was drizzling and all the actors were sitting there with plastic capes on over their costumes, and the pirate captain, who was quite a dandy, had a hood over his beautiful ringlet wig. And this picture sticks in my mind of a bright green face peering out from the hood, being sick over port. Those are the sort of things one remembers – the giggles one got out of it.