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The Scripts: The Masters of Luxor

By Anthony Coburn

Book review by Jon Preddle

There can be no denying that the Daleks made Doctor Who the success it is today. However, things could have been very different had The Masters of Luxor been made. In The Forgotten Tales in TSV 21 we covered this adventure, and now, the full story is available for all to read. Titan Books have selected The Masters of Luxor with which to relaunch their Doctor Who - The Scripts series.

Australian writer Anthony Coburn was commissioned for the first four episodes of Doctor Who, namely 100,000 BC (aka An Unearthly Child). The quality of those four lead to his commission to write the next six. Script editor David Whitaker probably gave him the brief to base the adventure on the exploration of a dead city and the discovery of a robotic life form, because Terry Nation's script The Daleks, which was commissioned at about the same time, has a similar plot-thread (I have yet to read The Sixties, which will no doubt elaborate on this background). As it happened, Whitaker rejected Coburn's script in favour of Nation's - and the rest, as they say, is history. Reading the story one is constantly thinking 'what if The Masters of Luxor had been made instead of The Daleks...?'

The script book is similar in format to the previous releases, and broken down into the six episodes. Of interest is Episode Three's title, A Light on the Dead Planet. Sound familiar? McElroy lists the changes he has made to the scripts in preparing it for publication in an Afterword. It is a pity that there is no indication in this section of the dates the scripts were originally written. McElroy also fails to give background details on when and why the scripts were junked which is too important to be omitted because the whole point in publishing the scripts is because they were rejected! Again, we will have to wait for The Sixties for an answer, but then, we shouldn't have to.

The scripted characters of Ian, Barbara, Susan (or Suzanne!), and even the Doctor, are all very different from their TV counterparts, giving the impression that the characters were still undefined at the time of writing. Given that the story is a six parter, there are only two other speaking parts over the four regulars; Tabon and The Perfect One (although some of the minor robots have the odd line or three). Some dialogue has dated ('Holy Moley') - but then it was written thirty years ago! - and some is unintentionally funny. One piece springs to mind: Barbara is watching Susan and Ian on the TARDIS scanner.
Barbara: It's alright. It's Susan banging away at a gong. They seem to be enjoying themselves.

The story, and its method of narration, is firmly fixed in the way television was made in the Sixties. The scenes are structured as if done live, and the sets seems very simplistic. The Perfect One is simply a man with silver face make-up (shades of Kamelion/Howard Foster in Planet of Fire?) so there would be no expense involved in constructing an elaborate robot costume for the actor. As for the other robots, or Derivatrons as they are called in the script, these would probably have been realised by simple robot-like helmets akin to those worn by the ice soldiers in The Keys of Marinus.

The story comes across as being heavy with religious detail. Coburn saw this as a chance to deliver a 'Man is made in God's image' sermon. Both Ian and Barbara say 'My God' a lot, and even the Doctor is known to deliver a few oaths of a similar nature. It is probably because of this excess that Whitaker dropped the story.

By sheer coincidence one is reminded of later TV adventures in the framework of the story: The Savages, The Brain of Morbius, Warriors' Gate, The Robots of Death, and of course The Daleks are all there in some form or another. (Coburn's widow apparently resubmitted the scripts to JNT in 1980 for Season 18 at a time when Warriors' Gate was in production!)

The Masters of Luxor is an interesting read, if only as an indication as to what might have been. I hope Titan are able to publish other unused scripts, like The Hidden Planet, or Sealed Orders to name but two. Personally, I'm glad The Masters of Luxor wasn't made. If it had, I doubt that Doctor Who would have lasted as long as it did, and TSV would probably be a Star Trek fanzine!

This item appeared in TSV 31 (November 1992).