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Season 27 - What Might Have Been

By Felicity Scoones & Jon Preddle

Sylvester McCoy's availability for Season 27 had been confirmed. Sophie Aldred planned to appear in the first eight episodes. However just as rehearsals were about to begin on Survival, producer John Nathan-Turner was informed that the BBC were not renewing Doctor Who in 1990. As he had always intended, script editor Andrew Cartmel left the series at this point.

What if the fourteen episodes of Season 27 had gone ahead as originally planned and what if Andrew Cartmel had stayed on for another term as script editor? By examining comments from script writers and looking at the direction of Cartmel's three seasons it is possible to discern some of the ideas intended for the unmade season.

Developing the Mystery

Andrew Cartmel began work on the series with Season 24. Surprisingly, he had hardly watched the programme and knew very little about it. The first two Season 24 stories had been commissioned by Nathan-Turner prior to Cartmel's arrival. They did not fit in with 'the mould of Doctor Who as [Cartmel] envisaged it' at that time (DWM 198). Cartmel, a fan of comics, British ones in particular, commissioned the other two stories, Delta and the Bannermen and Dragonfire, presumably to reflect the style he wanted; stories with a comic element and an emphasis on action.

After the Season 25 scripts had been commissioned Cartmel decided he wanted a more sinister mood for the programme. Accordingly the Doctor was to be given an air of mystery (DWM Summer Special 1993). This idea was developed in collusion with the script writers, and Sylvester McCoy and John Nathan-Turner.

Kevin Clarke, writer of Silver Nemesis, originally went to Cartmel with a pitch along the lines of 'Who is the Doctor' (DWM 146). Lady Peinforte's hinting at the Doctor's real identity and the Doctor's refusal to divulge it was the result. The mystery was more successfully promoted by Ben Aaronovitch in Remembrance of the Daleks. Here we see the Doctor implying that he had a role in the creation of the Hand of Omega which in turn raises the question, was he a contemporary of Rassilon? In a line cut from this story the Doctor even claims that he is 'far more than just another Time Lord.' Remembrance is also the story where the Doctor destroys Skaro, an unnervingly sinister action from someone who previously refused to commit genocide in Genesis of the Daleks.

At some point Cartmel, Aaronovitch and Marc Platt set down on paper their ideas about Gallifrey. Their outline was made available to New Adventures editor Peter Darvill-Evans, who incorporated some of its concepts in his 1992 writers' guide. When dealing with ancient Gallifrey the novelisation of Remembrance of the Daleks and Platt's Time's Crucible both refer to the 'great triumvirate', consisting of Rassilon, Omega and the Other. This group is responsible for the triumph of science and technology over the superstition and psychic powers previously dominating Gallifrey. Both books also imply that the Doctor is in some way connected to the other. In DWM 184, Platt confirmed that Time's Crucible follows on 'from ideas that were knocking around the Doctor Who production office during last season. Ideas ... about the Doctor's past, who he is, who he might be in the future ... Gradually our ideas would have leaked into [the TV] stories.' Cartmel and Aaronovitch have also contributed to the book series and it is possible that they have used some of the ideas they had for Season 27 in their novels.

Marc Platt had an idea for a story entitled Lungbarrow. It was set in the Doctor's ancestral home on Gallifrey and focused on his family. This proposed Season 26 story, although providing insight into the Doctor's background, was ultimately intended to pose more questions than it answered. But after Platt and Cartmel had worked on Lungbarrow for eight months Nathan-Turner curtailed the idea, feeling that it 'would be giving too much away too soon about the Doctor's origins.' (DWM 190) Instead Platt reworked certain elements of that script into Ghost Light. Specifically, as Platt says in the Ghost Light script book: 'the house, the villainous housekeeper and the squad of murdering maidservants.'

Season 26 held both the mystery and the sinister air that Cartmel was aiming for. The implication in Battlefield that the Doctor is Merlin is intriguing. Ghost Light is a mood piece with its Gothic environment and zombie-like population. The Curse of Fenric reinforces the idea that the Doctor is an arch manipulator whose trustworthiness is questionable. Death stalks hand in hand with war through this story.

During the Doctor's final confrontation with the Master in Survival the script originally had a line where the Master asks the Doctor what he is. The Doctor's answer is that he is 'not just a Time Lord' (TSV 37). Aware however that Season 26 would be the last season for some time Nathan-Turner requested a rewrite of the final scenes. Rather than add more to the mystery about the Doctor, he preferred to end on a comparatively neutral note.

Season 27

Although, as he had always planned, Cartmel left Doctor Who before Season 27 he did discuss possible new stories with Aaronovitch and Platt. There was of course no guarantee that the new script editor would have even used the proposed storylines. Previous Doctor Who script editors, including Cartmel himself, had written their own writers' guide and, more importantly steered the series in new directions. It seems likely that Cartmel's replacement would have done the same.

DWM 190 gives a few details about story pitches for the new season: 'Platt was keen to bring about the return of the Ice Warriors in a four part serial about the terraforming of Mars. and along with Ben Aaronovitch there were suggestions for two linked serials set in London of the Sixties and the Eighties in which the Doctor would see Ace leave the TARDIS and gain not only a new companion but also a new semi-regular ally who lived on the wrong side of the law.'

According to Aaronovitch in DWM 201, Platt was going to write Ace's leaving story. It was to be set 'either in the Sixties or on Mars.' About Ace's replacement Aaronovitch said, 'we needed someone who was nothing like Ace but had the same qualities. The new companion's father was going to be a gangland boss. We needed someone who was going to be streetwise but wasn't the same as Ace. We wanted that edge of criminality so we decided she was in fact the daughter of this former gangland boss who's gone legitimate and sent her to public schools and finishing schools in Switzerland in order to make her an upper class young lady. Except she doesn't want to mix with aristocracy as she's spent most of her free time hanging around with his former associates, learning how to crack safes'. He also mentioned that writers were considering setting stories in the Sixties because they felt the BBC could do this era well.

It is possible to surmise that had Season 27 taken place as discussed by Cartmel and his writers it would certainly have deepened the sense of mystery surrounding the Doctor. This trend can be seen in the DWM comic strips, some of which are written by Cartmel and Platt. Whether Season 27 would have examined ancient Gallifrey is debatable; this would appear to have been the writers' intention, but as with Lungbarrow the producer could well have blocked it.

This item appeared in TSV 39 (May 1994).