Monday, October 20, 2014

John Nathan-Turner Encounters A State Of Decay

The Antechamber, or Pantry, in Tamworth Castle

This post is Part 2 of a series on the Doctor Who story "State of Decay" by Terrance Dicks.

Adric followed much the same route as the Doctor and Romana when he left the TARDIS, taking the track that led along the edge of the forest, past the ploughed land and into the Village. It was, he thought, as unattractive-looking a place as he had ever seen. He saw the open door of a large building at the end of the street, walked up to it, and slipped cautiously inside. 

At first, the big room seemed deserted, but the smell of food led his eyes to a kitchen area in the far corner, where he saw a homely old woman slicing vegetables into a cooking pot. Adric suddenly realized he was very hungry, and began sidling mouse-like along the edge of the room. He reached the kitchen area undetected and was just reaching out for a particularly tasty crust of bread when some instinct made the woman turn around. She grabbed Adric's wrist with a work-toughened hand and dragged him forward. "Got you!"

--from the novelization Doctor Who and the State of Decay by Terrance Dicks

Taking over the top job as Producer of a popular BBC TV series like Doctor Who was never going to be easy. Having never worked as a producer before, John Nathan-Turner (JNT) knew many in the BBC hierarchy doubted that he was up to the task. After all, the current (fourth) Doctor, played by Tom Baker, had connected with the public as never before, and become a national hero. So, in a highly unusual move, the BBC hierarchy commissioned Barry Letts, who served as Producer for all five years of the Third Doctor era, to oversee the show as Executive Producer. Although a normal role in America, BBC TV shows in that era did not usually employ Executive Producers. So JNT knew he had much to prove during his first year at the helm of the long-running series

Thankfully for him, John Nathan-Turner had laid the groundwork for his new role earlier in his career. While working as Production Unit Manager for the TV shows Doctor Who and All Creatures Great and Small, he had a chance to observe and work with many talented people. One of those was director Peter Moffatt. One day, on the set of All Creatures, he had approached Moffatt, explained his career hopes, and asked if the director might work for him if he became a producer. He felt insecure in doing so, as he was younger than Moffatt, and had worked under him up to this point. Moffatt graciously replied, "Don't be silly, young man. Of course I would work for you." After JNT became producer for Doctor Who, he remembered Moffatt, and sent him the preliminary notes for "State of Decay," which Terrance Dicks was then in the process of writing. Moffatt, directing a play in South Africa, loved the story, and readily agreed to direct it.

Unbeknownst to Peter Moffatt, or apparently even John Nathan-Turner, Terrance Dicks had refused to make the sweeping changes Script Editor Christopher H Bidmead demanded. So Bidmead had rewritten the script to suit his interests (as well as those, he believed, of JNT). When Peter Moffatt returned to England, and arrived in the Doctor Who offices to begin preproduction work on "State Of Decay," he was handed a much different script than he had anticipated. Tearing through the pages, he grew increasingly frustrated, until he finally walked into John Nathan-Turner's office and asked him to find another director. 

Surprised, Nathan-Turner sat Moffatt down and asked him to tell him why he wished to leave the production. As the two men talked, Moffatt explained that the script did not represent a fleshed-out version of the treatment he had been sent. Gone were all the Gothic aspects of the story. Instead of the medieval village and castle, the story was set in a future. A focus on blood and vampires had been replaced with (what to him seemed like) techno-babble. All this confused Moffatt, and in no way represented the ideas that had fired his imagination when he read the initial proposed story. This being the case, he could not commit his time, effort, and enthusiasm to directing this story. So John Nathan-Turner found himself little further along than when he had begun his tenure as producer. He had commissioned two stories, but production of this second one, "State Of Decay," seemed on the verge of falling apart. What's more, he had disappointed Peter Moffatt, a director he greatly respected and admired, by delivering a script significantly different than the one he promised. 

Sometimes, we don't realize that a state of decay has entered our lives, or our workplaces, until we are caught in that "Got you" moment, just as the Doctor's young companion is caught when he tries to take something he has not earned. At such times, it suddenly grows apparent to us that this decay, hitherto invisible to us, has wreaked untold damage in our lives. Still, it's up to us to figure out how to eradicate the decay, rebuild relationships, and repair what has been damaged, if we wish to progress and accomplish our goals. Otherwise, we risk further decay, with our lives, careers, and relationships eroding, as has hindered the health and social development of the Village in Terrance Dicks' Doctor Who story "State Of Decay."

Dragon Dave

Friday, October 17, 2014

If At First You Don't Succeed...

Pocket: Where are we going today?
Denim: Master & Mistress mentioned something about trying Waimea Canyon again.
Pocket: What? After last time?
Denim: I know, sir. But the weather's supposed to be better today.

Pocket: It is as I feared. Look at those dark clouds! And after all the time it took us to get up here!

Pocket: Say, a break in the clouds. Maybe today won't be as bad as I feared.

Denim: Ooh, look sir! A waterfall!

Down in the valley, 
The Waimea Valley so vibrant and green, 
I lost my dear sweetheart,
Her Dalekanium housing had such a lovely sheen.

Pocket: Poetry alert! Poetry alert!! POETRY ALERT!!!
Oh, let him have his moment.

Denim: So sir, were Master & Mistress right to attempt a second assault on Waimea Canyon?
Pocket: According to my analysis of the situation, the odds favored a day at the beach. Still, you can't argue with a triumph.

Pocket & Denim Dalek

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Invasion of Poipu Burgers

Denim: What? Twenty-Five Miles Per Hour? It's Lunch Time! Order Mistress to put her foot down!
Pocket: I'd better not. Poipu is a notorious speed trap, and the Police track vehicles by lasers.
Denim: You mean by radar?
Pocket: No, the sign said by lasers.
Denim: The Police on Kauai sure are high-tech. I'd applaud such inventiveness if it wasn't delaying our lunch!

Denim: Say, this place looks promising.
Pocket: Yeah, we might even find authentic Hawaiian cuisine here.

Denim: Mistress' Teriyaki Chicken Burger looks good.

Pocket: I'm sure Master will enjoy his Kalua Pork Burger. Since I've removed the raw onions, it's even safe for him to eat it.
Denim: You know, we should dip into our savings, and surprise Master & Mistress with a special dessert.
Pocket: Yeah, we should be completely selfless in our generosity.

Denim: Well, there it is: the Kilohana Crater. I suppose we had better taste it, to make sure it is worthy of their sophisticated palate.
Pocket: You know, I thought Master explained us well to the waitress.
Denim: Except for the fact that she kept calling us Darleks.
Pocket: And she said we looked like mice! Can you believe it?
Denim: Sir, can we discuss this later? The ice cream's melting!
Pocket: All right, I'll grab the spoons.

Pocket & Denim Dalek

Monday, October 13, 2014

Terrance Dicks & Christopher H Bidmead Clash Over Vampires

A forbidding castle
Guards the village of Tamworth,
In the English Midlands.

This post is Part 1 of a series on Doctor Who and the State of Decay by Terrance Dicks.

Looming above the Village was the dark Tower. Its pointed turrets reared up against the night sky, dominating the landscape as they had done for a thousand years. The simple village dwellings huddled around its base. Beyond the Village was a scattering of ploughed fields, bordered on one side by dense forests, on the other by swamp.

So begins Doctor Who and the State of Decay, a novel by Terrance Dicks. Soon the TARDIS will materialize in the forests, and the fourth Doctor and his companions will investigate the only inhabited area of this planet. There they find threadbare peasants horrified by the idea of visitors. These people, worn and weary, eek out a miserable existence, giving the fruits of their labors to the Lords in the Tower. Each harvest seems worse than the last, and the Lords leave them with fewer scraps on which to survive. And then there are the Selections, when the Guards take away the strongest and most vital inhabitants. A few of those selected become Guards. The rest are never seen again.

But then, the lot of the Guards is little better than that of the peasants. 

One of them was Habris, Captain of the Guard. Lean and grim-faced like his fellows, he marched along the gloomy corridors of the Tower, with reluctant haste. The haste was because he was on the business of the Lords, and dared not delay. The reluctance was because, as always, to enter the presence of his rulers made Habris sweat with fear.

He's not sure why this should be, as he stands high in their favor. But there is something cold and distant in them, something lacking. Something not quite human.

Terrance Dicks initially proposed Doctor Who and the State of Decay for the fourth Doctor and his beautiful but uncivilized companion Leela. Then the BBC commissioned a big budget production of Dracula, and forbid Doctor Who to film a story about vampires. So all work on the project ceased, and the story seemed destined to be forgotten. Then, a few years later, a new producer named John Nathan-Turner took over the show. He had great plans for improving the series, ideas he had carefully considered during his years of working in lesser roles on the series. Most of his predecessors had inherited several stories commissioned by the previous producer that were ready to be put into production. After taking the reins of the show, he discovered that he had little to begin his tenure with. More importantly, as a first-time producer, many in the BBC hierarchy wondered if he was up to the task. In taking over such a long-running TV show, with seventeen previous seasons at this point, Nathan-Turner knew he couldn't afford to fail. He and his Script Editor, Christopher H Bidmead, would have to scramble to commission scripts that they could shape to incorporate their ideas to help steer the series in their desired direction.

The young producer went through Doctor Who archives. During his research, he came across a file that writer Terrance Dicks has suggested might have been labeled "Stories We Didn't Film For One Reason Or Another." Amid this treasure trove of possible stories, he found the notes from Dicks' ideas about vampires in Outer Space, and fell in love with them. Having served as Script Editor during the third Doctor era, and with his solid track record of delivering easily-filmable scripts on time (sometimes even in a rush), Terrance Dicks seemed like a safe bet to deliver a script on time that needed little input from or reshaping by Christopher H Bidmead to incorporate into their upcoming schedule. So John Nathan-Turner commissioned Dicks to write the story for the fourth Doctor and his current companions: the beautiful and sophisticated Time Lady Romana, the young boy Adric, and his robot dog K-9. Certain he knew the perfect person to direct it, he sent the story treatment to Peter Moffatt, with whom he had worked on All Creatures Great and Small. Moffatt likewise fell in love with the story, and agreed to direct it. Content with the good start he had made, Nathan-Turner left the task of developing the story for production to Bidmead, and went on to other tasks. 

Unfortunately, Christopher H Bidmead did not share the producer and director's enthusiasm for the story. He wrestled with Terrance Dicks over the ideas in the story, trying to bring it more into line with his more Hard-Science vision of the series. They argued over the title.  Bidmead wanted to call it "The Wasting," and dismissed Dicks' initial title "The Vampire Mutation." Dicks hated "The Wasting," believing that critics and viewers might belittle it as "A waste of their time." They argued over the structure. In order to make one scene work to Bidmead's satisfaction, the Script Editor suggested a change that would have necessitated numerous changes to other scenes. Dicks refused to rewrite all four episodes to "fix" whatever problems Bidmead perceived in that single scene. It was Bidmead's job to shape scripts to steer the production in the direction that his John Nathan-Turner wished to take the series. In his opinion, Terrance Dicks refused to adapt his storytelling approach accordingly. The two men clashed violently and often, and with each argument, each man's opinion of the other fell.

Imagine how the poor, overworked Doctor Who staff members must have crept past Bidmead's office when these two men met. Picture the storm clouds that gathered around the BBC tower as these men fought and raged. Fear for those who, with reluctant haste, had to interrupt either writer during these titanic story sessions. For some storytellers are mere humans, while others are Lords of Story.

Dragon Dave

Friday, October 10, 2014

Assault on Waimea Canyon

Denim: Where are we going?
Pocket: Master & Mistress spoke about heading for the hills.
Denim: Ooh, I bet we're heading up into Waimea Canyon. Mark Twain supposedly called it the Grand Canyon of the Pacific!

Denim: They say you just have to be patient, but we've been here forever, and the fog refuses to clear.

Pocket: Great, I'm getting raindrops on my visual sensors! I'm heading back to the car!
Denim: Sir, come back, please! I'm sure it's just a quick shower!

Denim: This looks like a nice park. I'll steer Master & Mistress toward the covered eating area. That earlier shower might signify rain.

Denim: I'm glad we could stretch these bread slices back into shape.* Master & Mistress love their Peanut Butter sandwiches with Pineapple Papaya jam.

Denim: The rooster's coming inside. I wonder if he senses something.

Denim: Oh no, now it's starting to rain. I guess Pocket was right to stay in the car. Still, I was hoping we could go on a hike.

Denim: I want Kauai to stay so lush and green, but why did it have to rain during our assault on Waimea Canyon?

Pocket & Denim Dalek

*See Hulk Smash Bread