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Obituary: John Lucarotti (1928-1994)

By Phillip J Gray

The death of John Lucarotti from spinal cancer on 20 November 1994 was another sad passing among those prominent in the early history of Doctor Who, following the untimely death of Jacqueline Hill in 1993 and Peter Cushing and Roy Castle this year.

Lucarotti was born in England on 20 May 1928 and spent time in the Royal Navy, working later for Imperial Oil in North America. Having worked extensively for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in the 1950s, including scripting an eighteen-part series on the life of Marco Polo, John Lucarotti returned to Britain and was established firmly as a writer by the early 1960s. His work included City Beneath the Sea and Secret Beneath the Sea for ABC TV. He wrote several episodes of The Avengers: The Far Distant Dead (1961), Killer Whale and Death à la Carte (both 1963).

Lucarotti was living in Majorca when he was approached by David Whitaker to write for the newly-established Doctor Who. As well as his Doctor Who stories Marco Polo and The Aztecs in 1964 and The Massacre in 1966, Lucarotti also submitted a story outline to Robert Holmes in 1974, but this fell through; the story was called The Ark in Space; Holmes completely rewrote it but retained the title. After his early involvement with Doctor Who John Lucarotti wrote two other stories for The Avengers: The White Elephant (1964), and the superb Castle De'ath (1965). He then worked on the BBC's The Troubleshooters (aka Mogul) and on other British television programmes. Lucarotti later spent time sailing and for the past few years had owned and operated a restaurant in London. He novelised The Aztecs and Marco Polo for Target in 1984 and The Massacre in 1987. In 1991 Lucarotti wrote several items for Doctor Who Magazine, elaborating in particular on his abandoned storyline about Eric the Red and Vikings.

Sadly, of John Lucarotti's contributions to Doctor Who, only one story remains. But if the calibre of writing and acting in The Aztecs are anything to go by, Marco Polo and The Massacre would have been excellent. The remaining photographs from these two stories are tantalizing glimpses of what we might have been able to enjoy. I for one would gladly trade a good deal of the greatly overrated Patrick Troughton era for the sight of Susan in the Cave of Five Hundred Eyes, or of the Doctor, Ian, Susan and Barbara at the palace of Kublai Khan. Or to see William Hartnell's reputedly scene-chewing performance as the Abbot of Amboise with such British greats as Joan Young and Andre Morell in The Massacre, which I think would have us all re-evaluating our opinions of Hartnell as an actor. So it is to The Aztecs we must look as an indication of John Lucarotti's contribution to Doctor Who.

In my opinion The Aztecs is the single greatest character drama in the programme's history. From Barbara's struggles with Autloc and Tlotoxl to stop the practice of human sacrifice, through the Doctor's charming dalliance with Cameca and Ian's encounters with the proud and ambitious Ixta, The Aztecs is glorious. The acting is uniformly brilliant and the historical setting vivid and compelling. Perhaps I am somewhat biased: the story does focus a great deal on one of my favourite companions, Barbara, and her realisation that taking part in history does not mean one can change it. John Lucarotti's excellent script is translated beautifully by the actors and the production team leading to a real high point in the series' history.

John Lucarotti contributed greatly to the development of Doctor Who in its early years, most particularly in developing the character interplay between the Doctor, Ian, Susan and Barbara, the result being that they were the most realistic and well rounded characters to inhabit the programme. It is regrettable that much of his contribution apparently no longer exists.

The Avengers Programme Guide
Doctor Who - The Sixties
Doctor Who Programme Guide (3rd edition)
The Times obituaries early December 1994

This item appeared in TSV 42 (January 1995).