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The Waiting Game

By Paul Scoones

The occasion of the thirtieth anniversary promotes a widespread nostalgic overview of the show's history, but one era likely to be all but completely overlooked is a period of almost half a decade inmediately preceding this milestone. Not since August 1989 has a television Doctor Who story been made. Rather ironically, it is the very fact of this lack of new stories which makes the period so deserving of attention.

This year-by-year overview, compiled for the most part from the news pages of the highly informative Doctor Who Magazine (DWM), reveals a plethora of unfounded rumours, broken promises and shelved projects. The saga begins even as the last season goes to air in Britain.


Fears for the show's survival were raised even as early as August this year. DWM featured the shock headline 'Programme Cancelled?'. The report stated that outright cancellation was actually considered unlikely, and that the BBC would either commission a new series within the organisation or put the show out to an independent company through BBC Enterprises.

As the year's end approached, sources within the BBC told DWM there wouldn't be any new Doctor Who produced for 1990, and independent production seemed increasingly likely. No announcement was expected before November, but the BBC Head of Drama Series, Peter Cregeen, destined to be a major player in the waiting game, said at an October press conference, 'Doctor Who has lasted 26 years and I can't see any reason why it shouldn't continue'. He wanted to see 'A Doctor Who which will reflect the 1990s'.

The production company Cinema Verity, headed by original Doctor Who producer Verity Lambert, was the first to be rumoured as an independent bidder for the series, and although the company always denied having put in a bid, the rumour persisted for many months.

Other independent companies bidding for the rights to produce the series apparently included Saffron Productions (headed by sixties Doctor Who script writer/editor Victor Pemberton), and Coast to Coast (the people behind the shelved Doctor Who movie). Gerry Davis and Terry Nation also put together a bid to produce the series with financial backing from American companies. The year ended with the BBC Press Office saying that an announcement on the future of the programme would probably be made very soon.


Early in the year it became apparent that there was no longer any certainty that Sylvester McCoy or Sophie Aldred would reprise their roles if and when the series returned, as their contracts were due to expire before any new series could enter production.

Countering all the speculation of independent bids, the possibility existed that the show might still be made in-house. An announcement was optimistically expected in April.

In February Peter Cregeen said 'There will be more changes than people think'; apparently an attempt to quash rumours. By March it was certain that no new series will be made in 1990. Interested independent producers Gerry Davis and Victor Pemberton revealed that they had met with 'a wall of silence' from the BBC. Peter Cregeen was unavailable for comment.

April came and went without news, but although a firm decision was expected by the end of July, the BBC only continued to maintain that they were still fully committed to continuing the series and that the format was under discussion. BBC Enterprises optimistically stated that independent production was now 'almost definite'.

In each of the previous four years, Doctor Who had formed part of the BBC's Autumn TV schedule, but when 1990's lineup was announced to the press on August 2nd, the show was not even mentioned, which seemed to spark the first signs of real worry among followers of the show.

The Doctor Who Appreciation Society (DWAS) proposed mounting a letter writing campaign if a decision was delayed still further.

In October Peter Cregeen expressed concern at the number of rumours about the series' future, but was unable to add anything new - unlike Paul Fox, the BBC's Managing Director of Network Television, who said that the programme was 'dead' as far as the BBC making it was concerned. He also confirmed that the BBC were continuing to consider a variety of independent bids to produce the series.

In late November, a phone-in campaign to the BBC was held. The BBC logged somewhere between 500 and 1000 calls in one day inquiring about the future of the show. Some of the callers were abusive, and opinion was divided on whether the protest had a potentially positive or detrimental effect on the way the BBC viewed the progranme. The DWAS instituted their letter writing campaign, called 'Save the Doctor', which involves sending the BBC letters of comment accompanied by cheques made payable to 'Doctor Who'. Leaflets advocating this course of action were distributed around the world, and were printed in DWM, DWB, TV Zone, Starburst - and TSV. The BBC returned the cheques with a standard letter.

Two starkly contradictory statements were made by representatives of the BBC on December 1st. The BBC Press Office said 'Just because he has not been on for a year does not mean we have closed the TARDIS door on the Doctor', however James Arnold Baker, Head of BBC Enterprises, had this to say: 'The property is an old one, it's had its day and is no longer commercially viable.' Enterprises later distanced itself from Baker's views, but did say that if Doctor Who came back as a TV programme at all it would now not be until 1992.


By this time, Peter Cregeen was identified as the man with the power to decide the future of the show. He confirmed that discussions with 'several independent companies' were continuing, and said, 'It's been a highly successful series in the past and we are considering how it should be made in the future, so that it retains its popularity.'

The 'Save the Doctor' campaign gathered momentum, with the BBC apparently having received cheques totalling 7,500 pounds. British fan clubs also organised a petition for the show's return.

It was rumoured that the BBC were waiting for the film rights to expire, and another rumour was very strong in March that a full announcement of a return to production was imminent, sparked by speculation at the BBC's postponing a special videotape for which Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred would have reprised their roles to link segments of the unfinished story Shada. It was thought that the BBC were about to introduce a new Doctor and did not want the old pairing used. About this time it was also suggested that if the series were to come back, any new television stories would be held back for 1993 to coincide with the 30th anniversary.

On May 11th, the BBC finally confirmed that the next series would be independently produced. This was made in response to rumours that the show was gone for good, sparked by an auction of Doctor Who costumes. There was still no news of when it will return however.

When it was learnt that Shepperton Studios were gearing up for production on an undisclosed, independently-produced SF series in 1992, it was hoped that this might be the first sign of a new series. The rumour was perpetuated by an 'inside source' at the studios, but nothing ever came of it.

The BBC announced in early July that independent production would start in 1992, but no company was named. This was greeted with mixed reactions, ranging from sheer delight to outright scepticism. Former producer Derrick Sherwin revealed that his independent production company had put in a bid but had not received a reply from the BBC. Terrance Dicks, speaking on the undecided fate of the series, offered the following advice: 'Never put down to conspiracy that which can be explained by incompetence.'

One of the strangest rumours involving independent bids emerged in July with the news that an unknown actor called David Burton was publicly advertising himself as 'the new Doctor Who'. Burton was later linked with independent film and TV makers, Handmade Films, who had made an unsuccessful bid for the show in 1990.

Another failed bid - by production company Naked Eye - was disclosed around the same time. Their proposal was for a 2.4 million pound series consisting of 12 half hour episodes which would then be edited into six 'feature film' stories for overseas sales, particularly the USA. The press claimed that Tom Baker would have returned as the Doctor, but this later proved unfounded.

At the BBC's Autumn Drama press launch Peter Cregeen said that 'It will come back as a new and vital part of the schedule.' He also said that discussions with independents on the series' future were still taking place.

The BBC released a statement at the end of August. Reports of a 1992 series now seemed premature. The BBC was still in the early stages of negotiation, and a full series would probably not begin screening until 1993. The statement, issued by BBC Drama publicity officer Alan Ayres, read as follows:

'There is no question of Doctor Who being abandoned. It is an important programme and when the time is right it should return. However, the show's popularity over the years has waned in the United Kingdom, with an average audience of four million. In a competitive market environment, where BBC TV Drama is required to produce a wide range of programmes at an economically viable price, one cannot continue to support a programme that is not able to achieve a target audience.

'A decision was taken to rest the programme for an extended period so that when it returns it will be seen as a fresh, inventive and vibrant addition to the schedule - rather than a battle-weary Time Lord languishing in the backwaters of audience popularity.

'Doctor Who is too valuable a property for us to relaunch until we are absolutely confident of it as a major success once again.'

This statement alarmed many fans who viewed it as yet another delaying tactic by the BBC, and at this stage, a group of fans launched a new protest against the BBC - they would take the Corporation to court for failing to make Doctor Who. Spokesperson for the Doctor Who Action Committee was lawyer John Giacobbi, managing director of Entertainment Law Associates (the firm coordinating the legal action). Giacobbi was interviewed on New Zealand's National Programme Radio station in October. The interview was transcribed in full for TSV and later quoted in DWM. Giacobbi explained that the legal attack was based in part on the premise that, as the viewers provide for the BBC's funding through the licence fee system, the corporation had a fiduciary duty to produce what the viewers wanted. The money to finance this legal battle was to be raised by fundraising ventures, beginning with a raffle of unique items from the show's history. The raffle was later changed to a competition.

Meanwhile, the DWAS began the 'Target Who' campaign which named certain specific influential people to send letters to on predetermined dates.

At this time, a fresh rumour of an independent bid surfaced, this time from an American conglomerate of TV production companies. Their proposal was apparently to make 'X-rated' versions of the series for USA cinema release with Rutger Hauer as the Doctor. The stories were to be produced in an episodic format suitable for television viewing, with new material added for subsequent film distribution.

The second stage of the 'Target Who' campaign advised all fans to send Peter Cregeen a Christmas card requesting the return of the show as a Christmas present.

Of all the many reported proposals by independent companies, the one which fired the hopes and imaginations of fans the most was a bid by a company unofficially called 'Dark Light Productions'. Dark Light had the support and involvement of DWM staff in an advisory capacity, and as such the publication gave this bid maximum publicity. The company was confident of learning whether or not its bid had been successful early in 1992, and if so, a pilot episode for transmission at the end of 1992 was to be produced immediately - test filming had apparently already been carried out - with a full series in 1993. Their proposal was for three seasons of 50 minute episodes with a new Doctor.

Plotlines and designs for sets and monsters had already been prepared, and the pilot special was said to feature updated Cybermen and the destruction of Gallifrey. Writer Adrian Rigelsford and director Graeme Harper - who were later to work on the aborted Dark Dimension project - were on the Dark Light team.


Dark Light Productions' plans for the series caused much discussion and many rumours among fans, prompting the prospective producer, Alan Jonns, to release a couple of statements setting the record straight. The first, dated 10 March 1992, presented the facts: 'no episodes have been filmed; no actor has been signed on as the Doctor; any form of contracts with the BBC are still unsigned.' Jonns also confirmed that test work had been carried out, that they did have a Doctor in mind (widely believed to have been Brian Blessed, although this was never confirmed), and that they had 'a team of established writers and acclaimed directors'. Jonns' second statement, dated 10 April, said that decisions regarding the show were still in the hands of the BBC, and that the show needed to change to some extent if it was to survive in the current hostile market of TV production.

Meanwhile, the Action Committee's 'Save Doctor Who Campaign' changed its tactics during April. The Grand Prize competition came to a close, with the news that they had not raised enough money to sustain a legal bid over the length of time it would take to win the case. Instead they decided to invest the money raised into a major press campaign via newspapers and magazines, and prepared for a big press conference in London during May. This never eventuated.

The latest focus or the Target Who letter writing campaign was Alan Yentob, Controller of BBC2 and a supporter or the show.

The first reports from BBC Enterprises that a new Doctor Who adventure might be made for the 30th anniversary emerged at the end of 1992. The Home Video department were rumoured to be considering the possibility or producing a special one-off story. Both BBC Home Video producer David Jackson and Head of Video Production Penny Mills were keen supporters of Doctor Who and were apparently spurred on by the sales successes of video releases.

This news was shortly followed by the first reports of a Jon Pertwee Doctor Who radio production, which of course became The Paradise of Death.


News reports about The Paradise of Death dominated the early months of this year, whilst initially positive expectations of a BBC Enterprises special dwindled to the point where, in its 200th issue, DWM said the project was 'officially cancelled'.

In March-April, Alan Yentob, the newly appointed BBC Controller, appeared on two separate BBC television shows and promised to reassess the future of the show. Yentob professed that he was a keen supporter of the show, as evidenced by the Doctor Who repeat seasons he had initiated.

April also saw a BBC Enterprises press launch for the Doctor Who Thirtieth Anniversary, at which BBC Video head Tony Greenwood reaffirmed Yentob's claim that the show was still under consideration, This event sparked a wave of interest in the show, and seemed to have provided the final 'push' required to get something in production in time for the anniversary.

In early June, the news broke that the special was going ahead, fast-tracked for transmission on television in late November 1993, with a video release to follow. Alan Yentob and Tony Greenwood were keen supporters or the project, which was to be a ninety minute story called The Dark Dimension, starring all of the surviving Doctors. The script had been written by Adrian Rigelsford and the director was Graeme Harper - both of whom had been involved in the Dark Light bid a year earlier. The producers were Penny Mills and Peter Cregeen.

The good news was short-lived however. On July 9th, the disappointing announcement was made that the production was now off. David Jackson of BBC Video said that 'due to the restrictions of our budget and the time available the production has been cancelled.' The press claimed that a dispute over the size of the roles given to the Doctors had caused the cancellation, but in truth the actors had not been contracted at the time of the cancellation, and the decision had come about apparently as a result of internal BBC wrangling over which department should make the show.

As the show celebrates its thirtieth year existence, there are still faint hopes of a re-mount for the special in some form - possibly as a video-only release with fewer Doctors, but nothing is definite. The waiting game continues...

This item appeared in TSV 36 (November 1993).

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