What might have happened had history turned left?
The question once asked by Russell T. Davies in the Doctor Who Series 4 episode Turn Left is one of science fiction’s stock ideas. One simple incident that changed history forever, a ripple effect that creates two very different alternate accounts.
What for example, might have happened to Doctor Who without Terry Nation’s Serial B, The Daleks? What if we’d seen The Giants open the show instead of An Unearthly Child? is Farewell Great Macedon the tremendous historical epic we’re genuinely missing from Season One?
We will never know as not one of those stories ever made it into production. Yet, they make for fascinating reading and listening. A collection of half-finished ideas that in many ways echo what we finally saw on-screen, but also differ wildly in many places. These unmade scripts are echoes of what might have been for Doctor Who had history turned left for the show. They are echoes in time.
Nothing at the End of the Lane by CE Webber (Four Episodes)
Synopsis: High school teenager Biddy alongside two teachers from her school (Lola and Cliff) meet a strange old man who has lost his memories, discovering that he has an invisible time machine.
A story that doesn’t permit the title of “unmade script” as it was neither a script nor even commissioned to be one, Nothing at the End of the Lane was the title for the suggested first story in CE Webber’s Dr. Who: General Notes on Background and Approach circa May 1963.
The characters of Biddy, Lola and Cliff would develop into the familiar Susan, Barbara and Ian that we know alongside other significant changes from the early proposals. For example, Sydney Newman rejected the invisible ship, requested changes to the character of “Dr. Who” and rejected the use of the that name.
The Giants by CE Webber (Four Episodes)
One night, teachers Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright follow home their mysterious pupil Susan Foreman. Discovering that she seemingly lives in a junkyard, they soon encounter an equally strange old man and force their way into a police box hidden in the yard only to discover it is bigger on the inside! Fearing discovery of his time machine, the old man operates the ship and whisks all aboard back to Ian’s laboratory, shrunk to one-eighth of their normal size! Susan and Ian are cut off from the ship and face giant caterpillars, spiders, a compass and microscope before finally being able to communicate with those in the class, being returned to the machine and the old man.
The first unused script for Doctor Who is one that was planned from the very start. A story surrounding “minuscules” originated in CE Webber’s Dr. Who: General Notes on Background and Approach (see above) and outlined at length in the May 16, 1963, iteration.
Leaving the secondary modem school where they work at the end of Parents Day, the applied science master, Cliff, and the history mistress, Miss McGovern, come across Sue in the fog. She asks them to help her find the home of a strange old man (Dr. Who) who is lost.
To their surprise they find that his home is apparently a police box. To their further amazement they discover that its shabby exterior conceals a vast chromium and glass interior of a kind of space ship. They become locked in. Through the pressing of wrong buttons the ship convulses itself, breaking away from its moorings (no exteriors of this, please). More wrong buttons pressed and they discover that the ship has the capacity to transport them into time, space and other seemingly material worlds. In fact they get a preview of this.
The first episode ends when they find themselves in Cliff s own school laboratory. To their horror they have been reduced to the size of pinheads. ‘All we have to do,’ says Sue ‘is to get back to the ship.’ Miss McGovern (somewhat hysterically) “That’s all! At our present size the door is equivalent to two miles away!’
Three more episodes follow to complete this first story in which their dreaded enemies turn out to be the other students and teachers who are of normal size and who might step on them at any moment. This adventure ends about two-thirds through the fourth episode and a new adventure begins.
The further three episodes were outlined by June 4, 1963, and Rex Tucker was penned in to direct with the characters of Biddy, Cliff and Lola developing into Susan, Ian and Barbara. Sydney Newman, however, disliked several aspects of the proposed serial. The chief complaint was the use of the caterpillar and spider as monsters (quite literal bug-eyed ones!). Newman felt the story was lacking in both incident and character, stating the serial was “very weak in story and too dependent on special effects.” On June 10 he would outline his thoughts in greater detail in a letter to Ayton Whitaker, Verity Lambert (who had yet to arrive at the BBC), Rex Tucker and Mervyn Pinfield.
“After reading the above might I comment that the four episodes seem extremely thin on incident and character. It is as if the author is so excited by the enormous size of everything that he has forgotten that his human beings, even though minuscule, must have normal sized emotions. In short, where are the elements of love, hate, suspicion, etc., all of which creates dramatic tension? The device of the size is merely the background informational/educational environment which challengers the emotions and intelligence of our four humans. Items involving speeders, etc., gets us into the B.E.M. school of science fiction which, while thrilling, is hardly practical live television. In fact what I am afraid irritated me about the synopsis was the fact that it seemed to be conceived without much regard for the fact that this was a live television drama serial. The notion of the police box dwindling before the policeman’s eyes until it’s one-eighth of an inch in size is patently impossible without spending a tremendous amount of money. There are also some very good things in the synopsis, like the invention of the use microphone and microscope to enable our central characters to communicate with normal sized people. I implore you please to keep the entire conception within the realms of practical live television.”
Rex Tucker decided to abandon the story following technical concerns at Lime Grove and possibly the concerns of Sydney Newman. In June 1963, Anthony Coburn was asked to deliver a new Pilot, and the minuscules concept would go on to be handed to Robert Gould and subsequently Louis Marks. The story finally made it to screen as Planet of Giants in October and November of 1964.
That month production for the first season of Doctor Who had reached the commissions stage of production. Besides Anthony Coburn who was commissioned for The Tribe of Gum (An Unearthly Child), he was also commissioned for The Robots (The Masters of Luxor) and John Lucarotti was commissioned for A Journey to Cathay (Marco Polo). Script editor David Whitaker requested potential storylines from Terry Nation, Malcolm Hulke, Peter Yeldham, Robert (Banks) Stewart, John Bowen & Jeremy Bullmore, Barbara S. Harper and Alan Wakeman. When David Whitaker compiled a document some months later outlining progress on the ten stories for Season One, at the bottom of the list was a column marked “other commissions”. This column listed Wakeman and indicated that he had been paid half-fee and written off for his submission The Living World which he had been commissioned for on July 31.
Nothing is known of any submissions by Harper, and nothing was submitted by Bowen/Bullmore, Stewart or Yeldham (his agent Beryl Vertue, Mother-in-Law of Steven Moffat, turned down the offer on his behalf).
The Survivors by Terry Nation was accepted and would develop into The Daleks. The Hidden Planet by Malcolm Hulke was also accepted much later in December, later abandoned as was his other submission 408 AD.
Untitled #1 by Robert Gould (Four Episodes)
Synopsis: The Doctor, Ian, Susan and Barbara are shrunk to 1/16 of their normal size, facing threats from carpet dust storms, cigarette ash and now much larger creatures, not to mention the need for food and water!
Following the production team abandoning CE Webber’s The Giants, Robert Gould was tasked with penning another tale featuring miniaturisation, intended to be the fourth serial in the run following Marco Polo, pushed back to fifth after Inside the Spaceship was added in November of 1963.
By January of the following year, however, the story was removed from the schedule and Gould met with David Whitaker on February 4 to discuss the issues he was having with the serial. He agreed to abandon the story and work on a new concept, named Untitled #2 in this feature.
The “minuscules” concept was now passed to Louis Marks and finally developed into Planet of Giants, the first serial of Season 2.
The Living World by Alan Wakeman (Four Episodes)
2: What Eats What?
3: The Living Planet
4: Just in Time
Synopsis: The TARDIS seemingly lands on a wholly unique planet, desert-like in its desolation. What are the strange hexagonal units that honey-comb the ground, and what is the mysterious so-called “silent sound”? Answers are revealed as we discover our travellers have landed on a “living world.”
Commissioned to write one episode as a pilot on July 31 1963, the production team were unable to decide on the basis of the storyline for The Living World. Equally, although the team were said to have liked Wakeman’s ideas and concept, they felt they were too adult for the series and were unsure whether or not it might be suitable. They paid the author a half-fee of seventy-five pounds and rejected the proposal. Only the first episode was completed, and it was resubmitted again to Dennis Spooner before being denied a second time, Spooner noted that it would be “difficult to pull off without laughter at moving rocks.”
The serial was resubmitted again by Wakeman to Russell T. Davies following the show’s 2005 return, Wakeman suggesting he be allowed to redevelop the episodes for a modern audience. As is the case with all unsolicited material; however, no interest was shown.
The Masters of Luxor by Anthony Coburn (Four Episodes, then expanded to six episodes)
1: The Cannibal Flower
2: The Mockery of a Man
3: A Light on the Dead Planet
4: Tabon of Luxor
5: An Infinity of Surprises
6: The Flower Blooms
Big Finish Synopsis: The TARDIS is drawn to a mysterious signal emanating from a seemingly dead world. Trapped within a crystalline structure, the Doctor and his friends inadvertently wake a vast army of robots that have lain dormant for many, many years. Waiting… for the Masters of Luxor. The Perfect One wants to become more than just a mockery of a man and will stop at nothing to achieve it. But will the cost prove too great? The travellers are about to uncover a horrifying tragedy. A tragedy that threatens to engulf them all.
Anthony Coburn was commissioned on June 18, 1963, to write a second serial for Season One after problems arose with the proposed Giants serial by CE Webber, meaning he would be writing both of the first two serials for the show, Rex Tucker directing. After Coburn left the BBC to go freelance, it was recommissioned and had a title — Dr Who and the Robots, developing from a story set in Earth’s future (30th century) to one on a distant alien world by the end of July of ‘63.
Becoming dissatisfied with the serial, the story was pushed back in favour of The Daleks by Terry Nation which had been scheduled 5th in the run on September 23. By Tuesday, October 15 Coburn had delivered on all six scripts for the serial and it had a new name — The Masters of Luxor. Early in 1964, the story was taken off the table for the first season and held over for the second. It was considered for the sixth slot in the run. By the end of 1964, however, the decision was made to drop the story entirely with the production team believing it to be substandard.
Anthony Coburn’s rejection led him to vow to never work on Doctor Who again, which he didn’t.
It is a little known fact that both The Masters of Luxor and Coburn’s other script An Unearthly Child would have both been abandoned had a replacement been available with neither David Whitaker nor Verity Lambert impressed with it as a debut serial. Terrance Dudley was approached but never commissioned for the role of replacing An Unearthly Child. Equally, The Daleks never replaced The Masters of Luxor as Terry Nation was commissioned around a month before Coburn delivered on Masters. Still, it was undoubtedly abandoned in favour of it.
As it was, The Masters of Luxor was the first script to be formally abandoned by the series after being commissioned and delivered upon, entering legend as arguably the most famous of all unmade Doctor Who scripts.
The Masters of Luxor was adapted for audio by Nigel Robinson and Big Finish Productions. Released in August of 2012 as the seventh release of the third series of The Lost Stories range, the story featured original cast members William Russell and Carole Ann Ford. The audio also starred Joseph Kloska as The Perfect One.
Britain 408 AD, by Malcolm Hulke (Six episodes)
Synopsis: The Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan become embroiled in the Roman departure from Britain in 408 AD and the various clashes with the Celts and the Saxons, between those left behind to rule the isles and those who allied with the invading Saxons. The serial ends in the time travellers fleeing the savages back to the safety of the TARDIS. It has been speculated the serial would deal with the theme of colonialism.
First submitted to the production office on September 2, 1963, story editor David Whitaker believed that the story held interest, yet was over-complicated with its various warring factions and tribes. Whitaker also felt hat the ending of the serial too closely resembled 100,000 BC, rejecting it on September 13, 1963. Whitaker was hopeful however that after revision the episodes would occupy the sixth broadcast slot in the season and become Serial F, scheduled to be directed by Christopher Barry.
The serial was eventually abandoned on September 23 as it was felt that there was no need for another historical in the series, the serials position finally being taken by The Aztecs. Verity Lambert and David Whitaker, however, were interested in a second idea that Hulke had presented surrounding Earth’s twin and Hulke would begin work on a second submission The Hidden Planet (see below) almost immediately. He would resubmit his scripts for Britain 408 AD during Season 3 but would be rejected once again on April 2, 1965, this time by Dennis Spooner as the Romans had only just been used in his own serial that same season.
The Hidden Planet by Malcolm Hulke (Four Episodes)
1: The Hidden Planet
2: The Year of the Lame Dog
Synopsis: Landing on a twin planet to Earth, a mysterious tenth planet, we find a world that is almost identical to our own but with some drastic differences. On this world, one that orbits the Sun diametrically opposite to our own, ensuring the planet has always remained hidden, a double of Barbara leads the planet and women are the dominant sex with men struggling for equality. Barbara and the others are soon kidnapped by rebels and the Doctor as she’s forced to assume her identity, Ian and Susan becoming engaged with the struggle for men’s rights.
Originally submitted as an idea on September 2 1963, The Hidden Planet appears to have been based on an earlier work of Hulke’s, The Mirror Planet, a six-part sci-fi series that he had penned with Eric Paice and had rejected in 1958.
Hulke was asked to develop the concept after being told to stop work on Britain 408 AD. The production team pencilled in The Hidden Planet as the seventh serial of Season One before it was pushed back to eighth by the time Hulke was formally commissioned for the script on December 2. This was due to the new inclusion of Inside the Spaceship as the third serial of the series. The story would be promoted to fifth in the run (E) after issues surrounding the untitled script by Robert Gould and The Masters of Luxor. It was set to enter production between March and April of 1964.
“The Hidden Planet was about a planet which is the same size as Earth, but on the other side of the Sun, and therefore we have never seen it. The Doctor goes to the planet, and for obvious reasons, the TARDIS crew think they are on Earth. But they find things are different. They landed in a field and Susan noticed a four-leaf clover, and then they see they are all four-leaf clovers. And then other mysterious things happen like birds flying backwards or having double wings, and things of that sort.”
Malcolm Hulke, speaking in the 1970s
The scripts were rejected for Season One in January of 1964. Hulke rejected the rewrites and argued that his writing for the first episode was within the guidelines, requesting an additional fee for any rewrites. This request was refused, and Hulke agreed to revise in March. By April the serial was on the table for the second serial of Season Two.
By July, Hulke had condensed the story into a five-part adventure and there was some consideration to making it the first story of the second recording block. However, there was concern at the amount of restructuring would be needed following the departure of Susan as well as the serial’s lack of monsters. David Whitaker subsequently abandoned the story on September 24, official confirmation coming on October 20 of ‘64.
As with Britain 408 AD, Malcolm Hulke would resubmit his scripts during Season 3 only to see them also rejected by Dennis Spooner, citing the usage of Ian and Barbara. They were being written out of the show.
In April of 1983, Richard Linden reported in Doctor Who Magazine that filmed footage of the story had been found as an April Fools joke, going on to claim that the footage would be used in the forthcoming season as part of a serial named The Phoenix Rises.
The Red Fort by Terry Nation (Seven Episodes)
Synopsis: The TARDIS crew land in Delhi, 1857 and become embroiled in the Indian Mutiny, a long and bloody conflict between native-born Indian troops and colonial officers of The East India Company. Drawn into the build-up to the attack on the majestic Red Fort, a Moghul palace in Delhi, our four travellers are at risk of instant death amidst the boiling tension of one of the most violent uprisings in human history.
Nation had been due to write Serial H since mid-September 1963, a seven-part historical entitled The Red Fort with his formal commission coming on September 24. Delivery date was expected by December 16 for what was planned to be the series’ eighth serial (later ninth after the insertion of Inside the Spaceship). Nation never delivered on the scripts, claiming later that he had finished The Daleks in haste and without enthusiasm, forgetting about Doctor Who until the broadcast of The Dead Planet. By coincidence, the production team were eager for Nation to write another futuristic tale given the immense success of The Daleks. On January 21, 1964, Nation met with David Whitaker, Verity Lambert and Mervyn Pinfield and agreed to write a six-part serial in just four weeks. Those scripts would be The Keys of Marinus.
Untitled #2 by Robert Gould
Synopsis: The TARDIS lands on a planet where planets treat humans the way we do planets in a reverse situation of those on Earth…
After abandoning the minuscules scripts (see above) Gould was tasked with working on a new set of episodes at their February 4 meeting. Producer Verity Lambert noted however that the idea might be too similar to The Day of the Triffids and as soon as the 9th of the same month Gould informed Whitaker that he would not be taking the scripts any further.
In one of the first controversies of the series run, Gould accused David Whitaker of plagiarism to Head of Serials Donald Wilson, complaining that his concept of dominant plant life primarily inspired the Screaming Jungle (The Keys of Marinus Episode 3). Gould believed that Whitaker had passed the ideas on to Terry Nation after their meeting in February. Whitaker replied in a memo dated March 26, offering a detailed defence of the charge with Terry Nation’s statement being critical, that being that he had arrived at the hostile vegetation concept independently. Whitaker went on to state both he and Verity Lambert had believed Gould’s work as merely derivative of The Day of the Triffids in any case.
Gould would never write for the show again.
The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance by Moris Farhi (One episode)
Big Finish Synopsis: Fragrance is a paradise world — a utopia that the travellers are loathe to leave after a relaxing stay. But the way of life is different here. And so is the way of love — as Barbara discovers when the Fragile Yellow Arc is broken.
The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance was never considered for production. Intended as a calling card piece, Farhi had contacted David Whitaker on January 6, 1964 about writing for the show. Whitaker was impressed with his enthusiasm and commissioned a single episode for viewing.
On the 17th, Whitaker met with Fahri and discovered that he had already written The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance. Whitaker rejected Fragrance on the grounds he felt the subject was unsuited to the show on January 24 stating: “Love as a subject, and in this way, for Doctor who, is very difficult,” but he encouraged Farhi to continue developing ideas. He suggested that through his interest in Greco-Roman mythology he might consider an adventure surrounding the Greek pirate Barbarossa. Morris Farhi would, however, go on to begin work on Farewell Great Macedon which sadly also never entered production.
The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance was adapted for audio by Nigel Robinson and released alongside Farewell Great Macedon in The First Doctor Box Set by Big Finish Productions as part of The Lost Stories range in November 2010.
The First Doctor Box Set is available now from BigFinish.com. It comes highly recommended.
Farewell, Great Macedon by Moris Farhi (Six episodes)
1: The Hanging Gardens of Babylon
2: O Son, O Son!
3: A Man Must Die
4: The World Lies Dead at Your Feet
5: In the Arena
6: Farewell, Great Macedon!
Big Finish Synopsis: The TARDIS materialises in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, in the year 323 BC. The Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan meet Alexander the Great — but their excitement is tempered by the realisation that these are the final days of Alexander’s life. As the travellers become embroiled in the tragic events, the inevitability of history unfolds around them. But can they — and should they — change it?
By February of 1964, the future of Doctor Who was looking more assured than it had been in its first two months, the success of Terry nation’s The Daleks ensuring the show would likely continue for a whole first season. David Whitaker drew up a list of the first nine serials, accurate up to The Sensorites. However, what followed was radically different from what transpired, listing an adventure by Whitaker (likely The New Armada), the troubled minuscules story by Robert Gould and a second Dalek serial from Terry Nation. At the bottom of this document was a note of other commissions which listed Moris Farhi as having received a “special fee for view of script only.”
After meeting with Whitaker at the script editor’s request to discuss writing for the show, Farhi had agreed science was not his strongest subject. Conversation instead turned to history and the issue of Alexander the Great as a subject suitable for dramatisation. As mentioned previously, Whitaker had already suggested an adventure surrounding Greek pirate Barbarossa. This plot would have seen the Doctor forced to invite someone into the TARDIS (see above). Farhi agreed to give the Alexander tale a go and was paid an encouragement fee of fifty pounds, being asked to provide a sample script. After viewing Marco Polo and reading other scripts from the series, Farhi began work.
“I brushed up on Alexander and started work. I soon realised that a sample script of 25–30 minutes would not do any justice to the canvas I had in mind, so I rang David [Whitaker] asking him whether he would mind if I wrote all six episodes. David tried to dissuade me from such an undertaking, telling me that he could not increase my fee and that he did not want me to spend so much time on a project that could have no guarantee of production. However, I felt so confident of my subject that I said I didn’t want any more none, that I would write the episodes for the challenge the story pose. At that time, apart from driving mini-cabs, I was out of work and had all the time in the world to devote to the script.”
Morris Farhi, Doctor Who Magazine 294
Entitling the script Farewell, Great Macedon, broken down into six individual episode titles, Farhi completed the work and Whitaker liked the outcome, stating that it needed tightening in places and would be considered for Season 2. He arranged a meeting to discuss rewrites.
However, before the meeting could take place, Farhi was informed that the script was not acceptable after complaints from schools about the use of historical characters in children’s drama. These complaints suggested that the BBC was misrepresenting actual history. Doctor Who would still feature historical settings, but no precise figures from history. Whitaker and Fahri met again to discuss ideas and whether the scripts could be amended to cut out Alexander and focus on the court. It was decided that such changes would not do justice to the themes of the piece and Farhi agreed to abandon the scripts entirely on July 31, 1964.
Whitaker would circulate the script, however, and Morris Farhi found work on Compact followed by a string of other writing credits for the BBC.
In 2010, Big finish Productions would include Farewell, Great Macedon as part of The First Doctor Box Set, the inaugural release of the second series of The Lost Stories range. It was the first to feature the First Doctor and starred William Russell of Ian, Carole Ann Ford as Susan and John Dorney as Alexander.
To tie-in with established continuity, the production (which was adapted for audio by Nigel Robinson) omitted a scene at the start where it is explained how the TARDIS travellers can understand and speak the native tongue.
Strapped into couches, the team are attached to a computer via electrodes on their foreheads:
The Doctor: “You see, the brain is in actual fact like a computer. All you have to do is feed it with those electrodes, and it will absorb whatever knowledge you want.”
The New Armada by David Whitaker (Six Episodes)
Synopsis: Concerning the aftermath of the Spanish Armada and set in 16th century Spain.
By late February of 1964, David Whitaker was planning to pen a historical that would have been set in Spain during the sixteenth century, Gerald Blake scheduled to direct. Featuring the aftermath of the defeat of the Spanish Armada, the concept doesn’t appear to have got past the ideas stage. By March, Whitaker was searching for a replacement and had the name Dennis Spooner suggested to him. Spooner and Whitaker discussed the possibility of a story set during the French Revolution. On April 2, 1964, Spooner was commissioned to write The Reign of Terror, the final serial of Season One.
Whitaker considered the serial again for Season Two for broadcast after The Dalek Invasion of Earth but rejected the idea. He would eventually resubmit the proposal in 1965 which was dismissed by Gerry Davis, sending the former script editor the following letter on January 17, 1966.
“Enclosed please find your storyline entitled The New Armada which was passed on to me by Donald Tosh. Sorry, but I don’t feel that this is quite in line with the direction set down by the Head of Serials for Doctor Who. We are looking for strong, simple stories. This one, though very ingenious, is rather complex with too many characters and subplots. To simplify it, as it stands, would reduce the plot to the point when it would virtually be a new creation. I should very much like to hear from you. Perhaps we could meet for a chat in the near future. Could you bring over a number of storylines in embryo form we could take a look at?”
In an interview that featured in Celestial Toyroom 396, Donald Tosh remembered the proposal from Whitaker.
“Oh, yes [I remember the proposal], you see, every now and again, the old guard would submit ideas, but I think by then my attitude was, “interesting, but submit it later, as there is a new lot coming in,” and I didn’t want to lumber them with a huge great swathe of stories that had already been commissioned”
Donald Tosh, Celestial Toyroom 396
Gerry Davis’ invitation to meet for a chat would eventually result in Whitaker penning The Power of the Daleks.
Acknowledgements: Andrew Pixley, Shannon Sullivan, Richard Bignell, David J. Howe. Their work in this area is immense and of particular recommendation are Richard Bignell’s Nothing at the End of the Lane and David J. Howe’s Doctor’s Handbook series.