Monday, June 10, 2013

Doctor Who: 1980

Episode 534: Full Circle, part 1
First broadcast: 5.40 pm, Saturday, 25 October 1980
<< back to 1979

My earliest memory of anything:
K-9 and the Doctor, Full Circle part 1
This is where I come in. My earliest memory of anything at all is the Doctor crouched with K-9 in the reeds, watching the Marshmen emerge from the swamp – and then the scream of the closing credits.

It's still a brilliant moment, beautifully shot and directed. Years later, when the Haemovores rose up from the sea in The Curse of Fenric (1989), I assumed it was a homage. Then, as I watched my way through all of old-skool Doctor Who, I assumed both were nicked from The Sea Devils (1972).

But – as this blog has been making quite evident – what do I know about anything? So I asked Full Circle's writer Andrew Smith whether that was intentional, and also about how he came to write Doctor Who on TV while still in his teens...

SG: Hullo Andy. So, as I've told you, that scene is my first memory of anything ever.

AS: Wowza.

How much of it was nicked from The Sea Devils?

None it it! (Laughs) The cliffhanger of them coming out of the marsh was one of the first things I thought about when I was writing the story. That was the standard at the time, which people have forgotten now. The usual thing was that your main monster would turn up as the cliffhanger of episode one. It's kind of what I did with [2012 audio story] The First Sontarans, too. People complained that you don't hear a Sontaran in that until the end of the first episode – but that's classic, godammit!

A lot of old stories would start with what I like to call a “Stuart Fell sequence”, which is some hapless person being killed by something we don't see. And then we see what it was at the end of the first episode.

Yeah, and in Full Circle it was actually Stuart Fell! He gets dragged underwater by a wire. Yeah, the whole thing is set up for the monsters and then there they'd be at the end. Of course [director] Peter [Grimwade] and [film cameraman] Max Samett just did it fantastically well. It's quite a daring way to film it, all in silhouette, really. I was so glad to see Max Samett interviewed on the DVD. I meant to mention him on the commentary because I remember him very clearly on location. The stuff that he did was incredible. We were lucky with the weather and everything else as well. I was really impressed with it when I saw it broadcast, even having been there.

[Andy's kindly provided me with this scan of a polaroid photo taken by Continuity when the Marshmen were being filmed emerging from the lake. “I scanned it to send it to you, so it's previously unseen,” he says. Yes! An exclusive!]
Continuity shot from the filming of Full Circle
Care of Andrew Smith

How old were you at the time?

That was filmed four days before my 18th birthday, so I was 17 when I wrote it.

It's quite a thing to have written Doctor Who in your teens.


You talked to Toby Hadoke in his podcast about writing to the production team and being a fan, but did you know other people who were writing and sending stuff in? Was there a gang of you?

No. I wasn't a member of anything. I don't think I even knew local groups existed. I was in the Doctor Who Appreciation Society, which I joined after I'd been to the Doctor Who Exhibition in Blackpool in I think October '75 – Planet of Evil was on, so whenever that was – where I discovered the Target novels. That was when the fandom stepped up a gear. It would have been fairly soon after that that I joined the Appreciation Society. I think their details were in the novels at the time and that's when I found out about them. But I wasn't aware of any groups. I was still at school – and then university, later in the year. But I wasn't associated with anyone else who was writing, I was just getting on with it and not really aware of my age.

It's funny, I was interviewed by Radio Free Skaro and they asked if I ever mentioned my age when I wrote in. I'd never been asked that before. I thought about it and no, I didn't, but then I can't think why I would have. If you were 22 or 38 or 52, would you mention your age? I didn't. I think I was 14 or 15 when I sent the first one in. I didn't mention my age because you just wouldn't. At what point do you say, 'Oh, by the way, I'm 14' or whatever? You want to write, you've written something and you want to see if people like it so you send it in. The mental process is... Well, I never thought I'd be too young to do it.

So when did they realise how old you were?

I really don't know. (Laughs!) I came down to see Douglas Adams and they were filming The Creature from the Pit – so whenever that was, sometime in early '79, I think. He'd have met me and realised but whether we sat down and discussed my actual age I don't know. It was never an issue really.

After Full Circle I did a play for television. We were in production when the series it was part of was previewed in TV Times and they talked about me and the other writers. It said 'Andrew Smith, 23, blah blah blah'. I spoke to Robert Love, who was the Head of Drama at Scottish Television at the time and who'd given the interview with my age in it. I said, 'Where did you get the idea that I was 23?' He said, 'Oh they asked your age and I said that was about right. Was it?' I said, 'Actually, I'm 18.' He went: 'Oh!' As I said, we were in production at the time – and from that point on I was patronised by the director. Not by Robert; he was really good. But the director, no question, patronised me, didn't buy me another drink (laughs) and wasn't sure about letting me in the bar. It was really odd.

So Doctor Who wasn't the only show you had pitched to? 

Yeah, because I pitched to things like Shoestring and other shows and even got some feedback. I remember feedback from Robert Banks Stewart where he talked about stuff he'd done on Doctor Who and other programmes he'd written. I remember he was quite impressed that I knew about a daytime series he'd written called Rooms. So there was that and there would have been a couple of other things. I wanted to write, it wasn't just writing for Doctor Who. Doctor Who was always there.

The first thing I had on telly wasn't Doctor Who, it was a quickie on Not The Nine O'Clock News. I'd written comedy sketches for Week Ending before that. I was 15 or 16, I think, when I had my first sketch performed on Week Ending. So yeah, I was pitching around a few places. It took about three years, I think, to get to the point on Doctor Who where they said, 'Okay, we'll ask you to write a script and see what we think'. Whereas of course on other programmes they'd have finished their run before you got to that point.

You've talked elsewhere about writing more Doctor Who and one of your unused stories became The First Sontarans last year. But at what point did you decide to stop writing and join the police?

It was about four years into it. I was always really interested in joining the police and wanted a bit of excitement: it was that positive thing of wanting to do it. With the writing as well, there were a few things: the insecurity of it worried me, especially projecting very far ahead and knowing it would be a constant gamble. I knew other writers, older than me, and saw what they went through. And I just liked the idea of the excitement and the security of the police.

It's a mug's game being a writer, that's what you're saying.

Well, no, it was great. But it would have been a real leap in the dark and I recognised that if I carried on doing it, I'd probably have a feast or famine existence. It would have been a gamble with no guarantees of anything. I'd really enjoyed it but what I also found was that there was almost no time off. That thing of holiday? No chance. I'd think, 'I'll go on holiday but I'll take the typewriter with me anyway'.

In those four years I always had a commission for something until I had to begin turning things down as I approached the start date with the police. There was always that constant pressure of not having a working day. I just felt guilty. Again, sometimes I do now. I've decided to stop, sit down and watch TV with the family or whatever and I think, 'Should I be back there continuing?' You'll know this: sometimes you can't stop. Sometimes it's a little like pushing a bus. It takes a bit of effort to work up momentum but once it's going it's difficult to stop the bugger.

Last thing: Full Circle is all about evolution. Lalla Ward (Romana) has since married Richard Dawkins. Is it right that he's seen it? What does he make of it?

I have no idea! In fact, we didn't discuss it, I don't think, when she recorded The Invasion of E-Space (2010). We chatted about a lot of things but I don't think we talked about Full Circle. We never did a thing of 'Oh, do you remember when...' It was more just a chit-chat and what have you.

Do you think the story would stand up to his scrutiny?

(Long pause) To be honest, I don't really know. I'm aware of him but I've not read his books. I don't think I've ever seen an interview with him. About the only time I've ever seen him speak was when he had that cameo in Doctor Who. (Laughs).

Well, that's no help at all, is it? Andrew Smith, thank you very much!

(Postscript: when Dawkins was interviewed by Benjamin Cook for Doctor Who Magazine in 2008, he mentioned his wife being in the series:
“I didn’t watch it at the time, but I’ve loved seeing many of her episodes on DVD...”
But which episodes?!? I must know!)

Next episode: 1981

1 comment:

Tony Jones said...


An interesting interview and very revealing. I always wondered how Andrew felt about introducing Adric to the world