Home : Archive : TSV 1-10 : TSV 2 : Feature

Gerry Davis Interview

By Paul Scoones

Gerry Davis is - or used to be - a writer for Doctor Who. His earliest connection with the programme was in 1966 when he joined as script editor with producer Innes Lloyd. Davis was script editor from The Ark to The Evil of the Daleks and scripted, or collaborated, on a number of scripts during and after that period. In his post of script editor, he had to rewrite the entire Celestial Toymaker story, as well as putting a lot of work into the writing of The War Machines, The Power of the Daleks, The Macra Terror and The Evil of the Daleks. Teaming up with the programme's scientific advisor, Kit Pedler, they devised and wrote the introduction of the Cybermen in The Tenth Planet, as well as The Moonbase and The Tomb of the Cybermen. On his own, he has written The Highlanders, and most recently, Revenge of the Cybermen. In addition, he has novelised five of his stories for Target books: The Cybermen, The Tenth Planet, Tomb of the Cybermen, The Highlanders and, with girlfriend Alison Bingeman, The Celestial Toymaker.

Gerry is always willing to discuss his time on Doctor Who with the fans, work permitting, and this is where this article stems from. Recently, Gerry was interviewed by Marvel Doctor Who Magazine (issue 124, May 1987), but what you read here is taken from a tape recording sent to Paul Sinkovich by an American fan, Barbara Simon. The recording is of an informal panel discussion Gerry and Alison gave in Los Angeles on 10 October 1986.

The Celestial Toymaker

This was one of the first stories that Gerry became involved with after joining the show.

"Basically, this had a very checkered history. It was set up by the previous administration, as it were. I joined with a producer called Innes Lloyd, and the two of us had to take on one or two programmes that had already been commissioned and written, and we had to sort of look after them.

"So this particular one had been written by a man called Brian Hayles, and it had been written around two characters called George and Margaret, a middle-aged couple. It was an in-joke because the guy who was our boss was Gerald Savory who had a big success in the West End of London, pre-war, with George and Margaret. It was fairly tedious stuff, and rightfully, I think, Savory, who had given his permission to use the names suddenly changed his mind when he looked at the scripts, and said 'No, forget it!' The actors had been engaged and there was nothing to put in its place, so the producer went to the Head of Department and said 'Gerry will rewrite it, okay?' - he hadn't asked me about it yet! So that was my first job on the programme - I had to sit down and rewrite it in four days, but not only rewrite it, but recreate it, because we had to use different characters and things.

"It was complicated by another factor - we couldn't have the Doctor! He'd been promised a vacation because he'd been working for nearly three years with hardly a break, and he wanted three weeks off. So we shot all his stuff beforehand. What we did was we made him invisible and pre-recorded his voice. He was playing a trilogic game with the Toymaker, but you just saw his hand, to give him that break. He came in at the end to finish up."

The Gunfighters

"The Gunfighters was a nice little comedy, and it did give Hartnell, who was at one time a comedian, a chance to play comedy. He did have some comic lines, but it was very slow, and the viewing figures just went zoom! Straight down. It seemed obvious that the last thing you can do in the BBC studios is a western. It was competing with John Wayne, and people were used to seeing John Wayne, so they just hated it. The viewing figures went right down to practically nothing.

"The guy who wrote it was a man called Donald Cotton, and he was a most interesting man. He used to write comedy and he was a very shy man who had hidden himself in this funny little village where there was only one telephone, and that was in the local pub. And he didn't have a typewriter He used to write it on ledger counter in very fine print so you'd need a microscope to see it. He used to tear the leaves out and send them in, and my secretary had to type them. Finally, she went on strike. She said, 'I'm not going to do this any longer', and I didn't blame her. I had to make a call to that pub, and the barmaid had to send someone out in a rowboat across the lake to an island or something!"

The War Machines

"This was the first one that Kit Pedler and I worked on together. Kit was this scientific adviser whom I later became writing partners with, and he came in to devise an idea. We looked across at the skyline and we saw the Post Office Tower, this great big tower that had just been built in London, and we suddenly thought; what would it be like if somebody wanted to dominate London from that tower, and it turned out to be a rogue computer. But the computer can't move so it got people to create these machines called War Machines, and they also worked through the telephone system. So you picked up the telephone and - arrgh - you were taken over: We had letter boxes too, and I must say that there was hardly a kid in London who dared post a letter, and they kept away from the telephone!"

The Tenth Planet

"We did set out to create a monster, and we hoped it would be a success. The Daleks had been withdrawn because Terry Nation at this time had hoped to make a series of films with the Daleks because they were so enormously popular. They made wonderful toys. Everybody wanted to have a Dalek. So it was a real blow to the programme when Nation decided that he'd take the Daleks out, and as he owned the copyright, there was nothing we could do about it. There was no other monster that had come up prior to that, that ranked with the Daleks, so the time had come to create another one, so Kit Pedler and I got together. Kit Pedler was a medical Doctor, a pathologist, a scientist, and he had a feeling about medicine that if you started replacing too much of the human body, where do you stop? When does the result turn into a robot? He felt that you'd lose humanity if you kept replacing arms and legs. So I played on that. I said, 'Well, suppose you had a race of beings who had started off with an artificial leg, and then another one, and then an arm, and this sort of thing, and finally there was perhaps a little core there, but the rest of them, the breathing and the brain functions and everything was cybernetic; what would they be like? So we speculated and we decided they'd be very frightening people to run into on a dark night!

"We spent a lot of time trying to devise a body where the limbs didn't come from the place where you'd expect them to come, or some other sort of peculiarity that made them seem other than human. But of course it went to the costume designers, and they did a good job. For that first manifestation the best thing they could think of was to put this rubberised stuff - I think part of it was a wetsuit - and golf balls and bits of tubing on - it was quite a hotchpotch, those first Cybermen.

"What Kit Pedler and myself did for the very first appearance of the Cybermen was to take one out into a crowded South London street market. I wanted to see what the reaction was, so we got an actor, a tall fellow, and dressed him up - I nearly volunteered but it was very hot inside. I was briefly an actor for a while, and I played the Frankenstien character. When I was doing this, I sat through a Frankenstien film, and I watched the walk, and the walk of Frankenstien is very menacing, and it worked. So when we came to the Cybermen, I thought, well, we don't want them loping along because there's no menace in that, so I got the actors, and tried to show them how I'd done this thing, and it was very good because the Cybermen always walked in this way. I coached them a bit, and showed them how to do this walk. So this Cyberman walked through this market, and it was very funny - this weird-looking monster was walking among them and they were edging away. I have photographs of it, which are going to appear in a book about the Cybermen by Andrew Skilleter. I discovered them tucked away in a file, taken of this very occurrence.

"The Tenth Planet was the first one that Kit Pedler and myself wrote, and it starts off with them landing at the South Pole. There was a big snowstorm and out of the snowstorm came these figures and they didn't look as menacing, I think. For me, the Cybermen really took off when they got that molded helmet - before that, you saw it as a man. They arrived out of the snow and they were impervious to cold when everybody else is freezing their guts off these would walk in!

"After about three years, Billy Hartnell wasn't a well man, and he wanted out, and that was a bit of a disaster to a programme that was called Doctor Who. Everyone identified with him as Doctor Who, and it's very hard for people to accept a different Doctor. The answer was to rejuvenate him. Then we looked for an actor and finally we found Patrick Troughton. He looked like a hungry gypsy He was very fey - you couldn't tie him down to anything; he'd never make a statement."

The Moonbase

"The Moonbase was the second Cyberman one, and the weather is being controlled from the moon, and what we did was to have a weather station with a Gravitron, in other words, an instrument for changing gravity, and with that you can change the direction of the weather. It's a very dangerous thing. The Cybermen had set up one of their guns, but with the Gravitron, the rays were deflected when the gun hit the Gravitron field, and in fact what happens at the end when they turn the Gravitron gun on the Cybermen you see them go way up into space - they suddenly all take off like ballet dancers and disappear among the stars."