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Doctor Who: The Scripts - An Overview

By Paul Scoones
(with thanks to Titan Books)

For many people the most accessible detailed record of the on-screen events of each story is the novelisations. Video recordings are of course the ideal record, but few have access to even all the surviving episodes, whereas but for a handful of titles, the complete Doctor Who stories are available on the book shelf in the form of the Target/Virgin novelisations.

The Doctor Who purist however probably winces at the very thought of the books being used as a reference source - most if not all novelisations feature some degree of variation from the televised story, particularly regarding dialogue, and therefore largely invalidating the books as an accurate source for quotations.

For the purist, the actual recordings themselves - either video or audio - are the thing to source in any study of the show; so an accurate scene-by-scene transcript of the action and dialogue is an invaluable aid, removing the necessity of fast-forwarding and rewinding to check exactly what it was the Doctor said in that elusive scene.

The Titan Doctor Who Script Books fulfill precisely this function. In 1987, Titan Books gained a licence from BBC Enterprises to publish the Doctor Who scripts, and subsequently hired an editor to prepare them for publication. Veteran Doctor Who fan John McElroy got the position on the strength of the fact that he had quite independently been preparing his own groundwork for publishing the scripts.

Although the BBC provide Titan with the scripts for each book, McElroy does not allow these to be printed wholesale - his intention is to provide a totally accurate record of the transmitted episodes, and invariably there are numerous points at which the televised version departs from the scripted action and dialogue. McElroy retains the wording of the action descriptions wherever this conforms to what appears on screen, but where it differs, he writes new descriptions. In addition to the scripts themselves, the books also feature full cast and crew listings, recording and transmission data, as well as a 'Background' section detailing the making of each story. The early script books listings and Background were compiled by McElroy's friend and fellow Doctor Who enthusiast, Jan Vincent Rudzki, but recent volumes have seen this task fall to Stephen James Walker.

The first book in the series was, fittingly, the first Doctor Who story, 100,000 BC, also known as An Unearthly Child - although McElroy chose to use a third name - The Tribe of Gum, a working title appearing on the first episode rehearsal script. A factor in selecting this story as the first in the script book series had been McElroy's intention to print a transcript of the pilot episode alongside the transmitted version, since it differs quite significantly, especially in the dialogue. Shortly before publication, however, Doctor Who producer, John Nathan-Turner vetoed publication of the pilot script, claiming that if the episode was not up to scratch in 1963 then it should not be printed. McElroy was understandably disappointed at this decision, which was made without his consultation, and today it seems rather ironic, given that the pilot episode has since been transmitted on BBC2 and released on BBC Video! The Tribe of Gum was published in January 1988 with a cover painting by well-known British graphic illustrator Dave McKean.

Following this first volume, there was a gap of one and a half years before the second book. Apparently Titan wanted to be sure that the books had a market before committing themselves to an ongoing series. Once sales of The Tribe of Gum had been deemed a success, three more titles were commissioned.

The Tomb of the Cybermen was published in August 1989 and was very well received as of course this story was still regarded as lost forever and no-one had seen it for years. The scripts were adapted using audio recordings, and scene descriptions came from the memories of those who recalled seeing the story in 1967. These memories were unexpectedly put to the test three years later when the story was recovered and released on BBC Video as might be expected, there were some discrepancies, in the nonverbal aspects of the story which unfortunately renders the script book a little less accurate as a record of the story than McElroy might have hoped for. The Background section however benefits from the input of script writer Gerry Davis (now deceased), and script editor Victor Pemberton. The cover was painted by Tony Clark.

November 1989 - the show's 25th anniversary month - saw the publication of the third book in the series, The Talons of Weng-Chiang. This represented a departure from the previous two books in that the story was readily accessible on BBC Video at the time of publication and therefore had potentially less appeal than the not nearly so readily available stories from the sixties. The choice of story may have been dictated by the public popularity of Tom Baker's Doctor and the high regard in which this particular story is held by fandom (it won the 1977 DWAS season poll). The cover was painted by Duncan Fegredo.

A fourth title was published just one month later, in December 1989. The Daleks was an obvious choice in the eyes of those who regard the script books as 'superior' to the novelisations, since the novel differs quite considerably from the televised version. The story was still a few months away from a BBC Video release and therefore the novel had been the best reference source available to most people before the script's publication. The cover was again by Tony Clark.

Interviewed for the fanzine The Frame in 1989, John McElroy expressed the hope that the wait for the next book after The Daleks would not be as long as the earlier gap between the first and second volumes. In fact it was to be more than two and a half years before the release of the fifth book. This hiatus appears to have been due to BBC Enterprises not granting permission for more script books during this time.

When it did arrive, in September 1992, the fifth book was a radical departure from the previously established scope of the series in that the featured script was of a story never made. Anthony Coburn's six-part story The Masters of Luxor had been discovered by McElroy when he contacted Coburn's widow during preparations for The Tribe of Gum book back in 1987. With no other record of the story to take into account, McElroy made only minor alterations to Coburn's script and furthermore detailed these changes in an afterword. The Masters of Luxor was to have been only the second story of the first season, and the scripts had been written before the show went into production, hence Susan was in places referred to as 'Sue' or even 'Suzanne'. McElroy is probably right to assume that oddities such as this would have been altered by the story editor had The Masters of Luxor been accepted for production. The cover painting was produced by Alister Pearson - better known for his work on Virgin's series of Doctor Who novelisations. Pearson has painted the covers for all of the script books since this one.

The book heralded a slight design format change for the series, the most notable alteration being the replacement of the McCoy era Doctor Who logo with the diamond logo now used by almost all Doctor Who merchandisers. Subsequently, the two earliest script books were reprinted in this revised format. The Daleks and The Talons of Weng-Chiang are however still available in first edition - the fact that they have not sold out after four years might provide at least part of an answer to why the series was rested.

The Masters of Luxor, whilst being a stand-alone release in terms of its unique content, was not an isolated publication, as three more titles have followed in moderately quick succession. The first of these was The Daemons in November 1992 - just as the newly recoloured episodes were transmitted on BBC2. This was, as it turned out, just a fortuitous coincidence, since McElroy had actually been planning this volume as far back as 1989, citing it in an interview in The Frame as one of two stories he'd like to do (the other being The Three Doctors). The Daemons was the first volume for which Stephen James Walker provided the background section on the making of the story. Walker's thorough coverage of the subject includes contributions from Barry Letts and Robert Sloman (the writers) and Christopher Barry (director).

Whilst in light of the attendant publicity surrounding the story The Daemons proved to be a good choice, the next story to be selected was, equally in hindsight, not nearly so ideal. The Power of the Daleks was published in March 1993, just a few months ahead of the long-awaited Virgin Books novelisation by John Peel - and also the BBC Audio Collection cassette. It is unlikely that McElroy could have anticipated these releases in time to do anything about it (indeed his choice of story may in part have been dictated by the continued absence of the novelisation), but Titan Books did at least succeed in being first to get 'their' The Power of the Daleks on the shop shelves.

Although all six episodes of The Power of the Daleks are missing, John McElroy did have the audio recordings. In addition he had a full set of off-screen photographs taken at the time of transmission (the photos had been previously published in a special issue of the fanzine Dream Watch Bulletin), with which to adapt the scripts. As with The Tomb of the Cybermen it will be impossible to know for sure whether the script book is totally accurate until such a time - if ever - that the actual episode recordings themselves are discovered. Nevertheless, the book undoubtedly tells the story with greater detail than the BBC Audio Collection version (as the accompanying narration will no doubt only convey essential details of the action), and it will also score over the Virgin novelisation for those purists who like their Doctor Who stories pure and unsullied by novelists' embellishments and Peel's novel certainly has quite a few of these.

Ghost Light is the newest script book at present. At first this seems a rather odd choice of story, given the comparatively recent airing of the McCoy era. McElroy justifies the release in his introduction with his expectation that as the seventh Doctor is extremely popular with a large section of fandom, so ought this book. I have my doubts that this reasoning is particularly watertight, but the book is a very worthy choice for another reason. Coming at the end of the book is a section entitled 'Creating Ghost Light' by the script writer himself, Marc Platt. This lengthy piece goes into some detail concerning the writing of the story, and includes a number of script scenes excised from the final version. The book was released in July 1993.

Further titles in the series are said to include The Abominable Snowmen and The Pirate Planet - both of which are admirable choices, as one is almost completely missing from the BBC Archives and the other is unlikely to ever appear in the form of a Virgin novelisation. In time, the script books have the potential to grow into a valuable and informative reference source for the devoted writers and researchers of the programme.


In the year following the publication of this article, two more script books were published by Titan: Galaxy 4 in July 1994 and The Crusade in November 1994. As with several previous books in this series, the cover artwork for these was by Alister Pearson, Stephen James Walker provided the background section and the books were edited by John McElroy. The reason behind the selection of these titles was that, at the time, not even a complete set of audio recordings were believed to exist for these two stories, making them the least accessible of all the stories with missing episodes. As McElroy points out in the introductions to both books, these two books contain the scripts held by the BBC rather than the transmitted versions usually used for the script books. The script books for The Abominable Snowmen and The Pirate Planet mentioned in the article were both scheduled for publication in 1996 and in the case of The Abominable Snowmen the cover artwork was produced. However Titan cancelled the range and no further titles were published after The Crusade.