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Was Doctor Who‘s Season Two Supposed to Be Like That?

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If everything had gone to plan, what would Doctor Who‘s momentous second season have looked like? Would Volcano Day have come early? Would Harriet Jones still be Prime Minister? Would Stephen Fry have taken us back to the 1920s?

Read this excerpt from About Time 7, the latest in a series of extremely in-depth encyclopedias covering Doctor Who. The latest volume, authored by Tat Wood with contributions from Dorothy Ail and out September 10th from Mad Norwegian Press, covers the first two seasons of the rebooted show and features behind the scenes information as well as thoughtpieces examining aspects of the show, its hero, its monsters, and much more.

Readers of Panini’s The Doctor Who Companion—Series Two will have seen a version of the proposed second series that Russell T Davies presented to BBC Drama heads around the time that the first series was about to be broadcast. This is interesting, if incomplete (as this booklet went on sale before the second Christmas Special, the details of the first-draft of “The Runaway Bride” were left out, as were anything else they might have planned to bring to the screen). Attention to a few anomalous details in broadcast episodes, information we have now that wasn’t public then, and—let’s be honest—educated guesses complicate this, shall we say, slightly disingenuous account.

We’ll begin with Davies’ document, as published by Panini. This begins with the hour-long Christmas episode which is, right from the outset, a post-regeneration Doctor against the Sycorax. Harriet Jones is pencilled in as a returning character. As with many of the guest-cast being notionally brought back, availability and desire to return was assumed and a contingency plan considered. As we now know, Penelope Wilton, Elisabeth Sladen, Zoe Wanamaker, Shaun Dingwall and the semi-regular Noel Clarke and Camille Coduri all agreed to return. The first two episodes of the second series as shown were to have been what became “New Earth” and “The Girl in the Fireplace” (X2.1, X2.4), but not necessarily in that order. Whilst there was potential for Cassandra to have had an evil twin or a change of voice-box as part of her re-growth, Wanamaker’s availability would have been a consideration. If she had agreed but had not been free until later on, the episode also could have come later, possibly as episode six. The story pencilled in for this slot was “The Runaway Bride” (eventually X3.0), but was here between the two two-part stories. Episode nine was Mark Gatiss’ 50s-set story “Mr Sandman,” about a song that steals people’s faces. One story is exactly where it was in the broadcast run, notionally called “I Love the Doctor” and to be written last, on the understanding that whatever won the Blue Peter monster competition would be the antagonist and the Doctor and Rose would barely be in it. In at number eleven was something called “The 1920s,” by Stephen Fry (see below). Finally, “Army of Ghosts” would be a two-part sequel to Tom MacRae’s “Parallel World” story with the Cybermen (scheduled for eps four and five). There is no mention in this proposal of what is in the Void Ship or what happens to Rose…

The parallel universe and separation from the Doctor seems always to have been the planned exit for Rose at the end of a second series. The same plot, adapted from the Big Finish audio Spare Parts, was always to have brought back the Cybermen. The conversations that had crystallised into this document had been going on for about 18 months beforehand; other options for stories made in the first series can be added to the nebulous collection of not-quite ideas that were mooted and remained available as last-minute replacements. What became “Tooth and Claw” (X2.2) was a notion that had been kicked around since the first season but wasn’t on the list presented to BBC drama-head Jane Tranter et al. The Series Three idea Matthew Graham had been asked to work on was hurriedly brought forward to fill the gap as Series Two’s last episode before the two-part climax. The first idea for the eleventh story for Series One became “The Fires of Pompeii” (X4.2), although Captain Jack mentions “Volcano Day” in his debut episode (X1.9, “The Empty Child”).

There are smaller differences from the broadcast versions that we can sketch in here. Davies confirms that Elton Pope (X2.10, “Love & Monsters”) would have been female if either of the Doctor’s celebrity historicals had fallen through and made the gender-balance different. The three historical-ish stories here were intended to root this new Doctor into the past; the consequences of his meeting with Queen Victoria would be playing out throughout the series, and he would be shown interacting with the start of television as a mass medium and the Coronation of the present Queen (in an episode shown shortly before her Golden Jubilee, a fact not lost on schools throughout the UK). Writer Toby Whithouse proposed an army base as the setting for what became “School Reunion” (X2.3). Early on, after seeing a pre-broadcast preview of “Aliens of London” (X1.4), writer Matt Jones asked to have the Slitheen in his two-parter, in the function that the Ood later fulfilled. These and others we have mentioned in each story’s listing.

Time for our first educated guess. Why does the Face of Boe haul the Doctor across space and time in “New Earth,” and then not bother to make the big revelation he’s got in store? It might be that the Series Three finale was originally part of Series Two. Well, some of it. The Toclafane are beings from a paradox—they arrive in their own past to wipe out their ancestors. If the Daleks hadn’t been allowed to be in the new series, these new aliens are what would have been at war with the Time Lords (see X1.6, “Dalek”). Paradoxical ancient enemies and a parallel universe would seem like a natural fit. This also suggests that the Face of Boe might have known a thing or two about it. He comes from the Silver Devastation. Professor Yana was also from this neck of the woods, and if the first BBC Books Doctor Who Annual is to be believed, the phrase “You are not alone” was carved on a cliff-face at the (suspiciously Welsh-sounding) Crafe Tec Heydra, beneath hieroglyphs depicting the Time War. The precise connection between Boe and Yana is never explained, and the suggestion that Boe knows because he remembers this from when he was Captain Jack is troublesome (see X3.11, “Utopia,” et seq). We can fairly conclusively rule out John Barrowman returning before Series Three—he was just too busy. Davies admits that the detail of Jack being called “The Face of Boe” was a last-minute improvisation when writing “Last of the Time Lords” (X3.13). Earlier plans would seem to have had a stronger link between these two strands.

The Cybermen were always going to have been the big returning enemy for Series Two, so it is unlikely that the Master would have been back as well. He would have been very unlikely to have sided with the antagonists in the Time War, whichever antagonists those turned out to have been. Even as broadcast as the climax of Series Three, the precise link between the Toclafane and the Master’s plan to build a new Gallifrey on Earth is hazy. (It’s a plan by the Master, do you really expect it to stand up to scrutiny?) Boe’s revelation might have been something different, but his involvement in the “body-swap” episode was a given, which is interesting. Although we now know that the Face of Boe was popular with viewers and the two references back to him (billions of years before his actual appearance) made him seem potentially significant, there was no way that Davies could have known in advance that a non-speaking prop from “The End of the World” (X1.2) would catch on in this way. It might have made more sense to feature the Moxx of Balhoon, whom the Doctor had (apparently) already met and who was the focus of the pre-publicity for the forthcoming series. Boe’s Last Message might well have formed to conclusion to the body-swap story, and his self-sacrifice could have provided a solution to the ethical problem of the “zombies.” If he died helping the creation of a new version of humanity, it might have made a cleaner ending to the story than the Doctor’s pseudo-laying on hands and then getting teased with the “textbook enigmatic” disappearance of Boe without any cryptic message being delivered as promised.

If we are right in assuming that, in the broadcast stories, the branching-off point of the parallel world was the assassination/infection of Queen Victoria, the fact that this story isn’t there in the first proposal might also be significant. By the time the proposal document we have was written down, the Daleks had been brought back successfully. This was, as we’ve seen, touch-and-go for a while, and the contingency plan—or at least the need for flexibility—may have affected the plotting of the second series. There is no immediately comprehensible link between the Void Ship, the parallel universe and the Daleks, where there could easily have been one between these phenomena and the Toclafane. With them gone, there is a need for a new story to open up the storyline. Some version of the Queen Victoria story had been kicked around, possibly set in Buckingham Palace and according to some sources involving an insect getting in her eye and controlling her thoughts. (The optical theme might well have included the Koh-i-Nor and telescope as per the broadcast story.) Both the Toclafane and the Cybermen are humans augmented beyond any neurotic Victorian system of self-improvement—but clearly a development of the same Gradgrindish mentality. Following this line of reasoning leads us to “The Next Doctor” (X4.14), so we will hastily change the subject.

Episode six was a version of “The Runaway Bride” made before we knew what Torchwood was. It was scheduled to go in just before a story with a shaft to the core of a planet and something big, red and shouty lurking there from the Dawn of Time. That story is listed as “The Satan Pit,” so this element of the story has to be assumed to be constant. Therefore, the whole Racnoss/Earth-formation element of what became the 2006 Christmas episode came later. The other odd feature of putting “The Runaway Bride” at number six is that it would be the fourth consecutive episode set in something like present-day London (even with the parallel world being more alien in the first drafts than as it appeared). Even the broadcast series having three markedly similar stories (“Fear Her,” “Love & Monsters” and “The Idiot’s Lantern”) in rapid succession is less repetitive than that would have been. Once again, with nothing solid about the mysterious Torchwood any earlier than this, and nothing about its origins, we can play a hunch that we would have had the sort of background we get from Queen Victoria somewhere in that version of Donna’s debut. Alternatively, it could have been at some point in the story set in the 1920s.

Many of the stories we got were planned logistically as well as aesthetically: the number of episodes set in something like present-day London was more to do with being able to afford armies of Cybermen than any Yeti-in-a-loo attempt at contemporary realism. Apart from one spaceship set in “The Girl in the Fireplace,” there are two stories not set on Earth and one of these (the Jones two-parter) is self-consciously made to have a ventilator shaft, a quarry-like planet and recycled Slitheen costumes to keep costs down. Everything else was negotiable, so long as the ending with Rose and her curious nuclear family being stuck in the wrong universe was set-up and executed.

The great unknown is the precise detail of what Stephen Fry was going to have written. We know it was too expensive for that slot in the series. We know that he hinted it would involve an alien planet and the revelation that a well-known historical figure was of extraterrestrial origin. We know he had an idea of basing it on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, an Arthurian tale that was partly a thinly veiled fertility rite and partly a meditation on mortality. We know he was unable to spare time to rewrite it for Martha. We know that he then sent an email saying “I can’t do this,” and then remained silent until he denounced the series as unworthy of any grown-up’s time (unlike the terribly mature QI). Some have suggested that an alternative eleventh episode other than the notional Series Three story by Matthew Graham (the one that became “Fear Her”) was touted, something about an alien force that absorbed colour. This sounds like Graham’s first thought for a story. (Or one distorted by rumourmongering. It could also have been Fry’s story. It may even be a mis-remembered episode of The Powerpuff Girls.) It is also remotely possible that Fry’s 1920s setting might have been a 1930s one, matching his recent directorial debut Bright Young Things (see X4.7, “The Unicorn and the Wasp”); Davies asked script-editor Helen Raynor to work up a 30s New York story, apparently at short notice. This became the two-part story “Daleks in Manhattan”/”Evolution of the Daleks” (X3.4-3.5). Assuming for a moment that a version of this without Daleks in was the Fry story, the positioning of this just before the two-part climax of Series Two might be significant. Then again, as with the broadcast run of episodes, it might merely be an effort at contrasting the present-day, big-budget epic season finale.

There’s a lot of fun to be had speculating on which 1920s/30s celebrity would have been an alien in Fry’s story (if this wasn’t just mischief from a writer not overly fond of the press). The number of other possibilities make this an endless task unless you play the man, not the ball: Fry is a sufficiently knowable public figure for this to be worth a try. HG Wells might have been a good prospect—admittedly someone purporting to be him was in “Timelash” (22.5), but then, Shakespeare had been seen in “The Chase” (2.8) and mentioned several times since, and this didn’t prevent “The Shakespeare Code” (X3.2). Virginia Woolf would have been a characteristic Fry choice, but tempting fate for reviewers to make the obvious “Bad Woolf” jibe (as everyone would have been gunning for him). It seems unlikely that Davies would have allowed Noel Coward to have been the closet BEM—BBC Books had published Mad Dogs and Englishmen by Paul Magrs, shortly thereafter put in charge of the prestigious Creative Writing programme at University of East Anglia, and this had featured Coward. Hitler being an alien is altogether too Tomorrow People, but Fry has written an alternate history novel, Making History, in which Hitler’s father was infertile and a different Führer arose and was more successful. Some people have taken this to be a clue. The Gawain theme makes scholar/ writers such as TS Eliot, CS Lewis or JRR Tolkien possible, as they have all used this mythos in their work. Following the (admittedly shaky) line of reasoning in the previous paragraph, it may not have been based in Britain at all, but in Jazz-age New York. (Louis Armstrong? PG Wodehouse? F Scott Fitzgerald?) Fry still claimed, six months before his public dissing of “infantile” TV drama, to have a notion to finish the script, so he is still reticent on details. (This comfortably rules out Churchill.)

What we can say is that Davies never tried to move the story to an earlier production slot with more money; with the demands on Fry’s time, this is probably a practical matter, but it could also be that the content of this story was meant to lead into the climactic two-parter more directly than “Fear Her” does. However, the prestige Fry brought, and might still bring, means that Davies might not have been able—even if he had wanted—to rewrite any of Fry’s script to dovetail with any other story. It is thus more likely that this would have been effectively a self-contained script that could, had it been ready, have been recorded and broadcast at any point in the series—given the resources.

This last point is where a lot of other commentators have speculated about what would have been so costly (prosthetics, CGI space-battles and a big cast have all been mentioned), but none of these people has any more information that we have been using and the biggest expense is surely the period setting. At this stage in the production cycle, even a present-day London setting with a small cast and minimal effects was going to be touch-and-go. The eventual tenth episode (“Love & Monsters”) had hardly any digital effects (and most of those were recycled from earlier episodes) and was given to a first-time Who director, Dan Zeff, who never returned to the series. The eleventh, also very light on special effects or vintage costumes, was given to the rising star of the series, Euros Lyn, to do back-to-back with “The Idiot’s Lantern.” Again, that story has scarcely any set-piece effects, but is diligently kept within a twentieth-century period that can, by virtue of being a period of austerity and a very ordinary street, be recreated relatively cheaply. The position in a series for a costume-drama with aliens is partially determined by the ratio of each: something relatively straightforward and off-the-peg, such as “The Unicorn and the Wasp” (X4.7), can be done later in the financial year than something with two periods colliding, for example “The Girl in the Fireplace” or “Victory of the Daleks” (X5.3). Putting any kind of period setting that wasn’t essentially a street in Cardiff lightly retouched into this late slot in the series would make it prohibitively expensive to do anything else after. A period story with humans behaving oddly under alien influence would be as much as they could have afforded, and this simply isn’t Fry’s metier.

Until people start talking more openly about these matters, we are in danger of making bricks without straw if we carry on like this. It is obvious from the above that the relatively late insertion of “Tooth and Claw” was primarily a means to introduce both the parallel universe sub-plot and Torchwood, utilising a leftover idea about Queen Victoria being infected. Setting it in Scotland—possibly just an excuse for Tennant to drop the mockney accent for a bit—came as a result of the need to explain the name of the Institute. The entire story is an exercise in housekeeping to retain the shape of a series planned, it would seem, to fit together differently but in roughly the same sequence.

About Time 7 copyright © 2013 Tat Wood and Dorothy Ail

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