DOCTOR WHO - The dynamic duo of Phillip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes

Tom Pheby looks back at the team behind the dawn of the Fourth Doctor's era. One of the most successful partnerships Doctor Who has ever seen, that of Phillip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes. 
It's often the way with popular television shows, that the stars gobble up the accolade and the people working hard behind the scenes often do not get the credit they deserve. With that in mind let's look at two of the behind the scenes heroes that were vital to the success of Doctor Who in the 1970's, Producer Phillip Hinchcliffe (1975-1977) and Script Editor/Writer Robert Holmes (1975- 1977).

If you look back objectively at the body of work, it is arguably the pinnacle of both their careers and the peak of classic Doctor Who itself. It would seem that every so often a partnership develops that enhances and compliments a project, this was certainly the case during their tenure. They spoke at great length before assuming their respective roles, trying to find the direction and style that they were both happy with, and it quickly became apparent that they shared a similar vision for the show. Hinchcliffe said of Holmes "He got what I was trying to do, push the boundaries, make it more adult, more imaginative." So they made Doctor Who slicker with added pace, they made it more visually interesting, and challenged the existing audience with a much darker format than they had experienced before.

The Krotons (1968) - Robert Holmes first televised Doctor Who story.

Robert Holmes had been writing for Doctor Who since 1968. It is generally accepted that he was very interested in the horror genre, but during his early days on the show his work was strictly managed by the previous team of script editor Terrence Dicks and producer Barry Letts. They both favoured a lighter, less frightening, almost sedate version of the show. Dicks would often crop Holmes aggressive lines and consign them to the TARDIS waste bin, feeling that it was inappropriate for a show of that nature. Eventually Holmes was allowed what any writer craves, greater control of the material including the dialogue, although Dicks maintains that the show was poorer for it but it all feels a bit a like sour grapes.

The lighter touch was certainly not the direction in which Hinchcliffe or Holmes wanted their Doctor to follow. After the first series of meetings between the 'New Boys', the ideas kept flowing. Hinchcliffe was quoted as saying "He (Bob) used to say ‘We could do The Beast With Five Fingers or The Curse of the Mummy’ I’d never seen any of these films. Bob was a lot older than me, but I said ‘I think I know what you mean’."

The Deadly Assassin (1976) - This cliffhanger was deemed to severe by Mary Whitehouse.

Holmes worked on his own superb scripts, and after also assuming the position of editor, he would tweak others work where necessary and add to it where needed - not too dissimilar to Douglas Adams, a renowned 'tweaker'. The pipe puffing scribe could hardly wait to inject more gore and menace into Doctor Who, but in doing so he attracted the unwelcome attention of self appointed 'Telly Monitor' Mary Whitehouse. She was regularly offended by anything that didn't include hymns, wildlife or antiques. Terrence Dicks admitted "If there's one thing Mary Whitehouse likes less than sex, it's Doctor Who."

Hinchcliffe encouraged Holmes to expand the Doctor's repertoire and take him in new and exciting directions, and by the second season of their partnership the formula was set in stone. Terrence Dicks commented that "Hinchcliffe egged him (Holmes) on" although I suspect that over simplifies Bob Holmes own contribution and individual desire to move things forward at a gallop.

We can still listen to Hinchcliffes view on his involvement in the show but sadly Holmes point of view is not so readily available having passed away in 1986. It's left to others to reminisce and give us some idea as to what this quiet, unassuming wordsmith was like. Tom Baker fondly said:
"The first few times I met Bob I could hardly see him, he was puffing away on Old Holborn or smouldering Old Shag, potent and powerful stuff. I obviously knew that the scripts were pillaged from elsewhere and he knew I knew. It's not called plagiarism these days, it's called homage."

The Talons Of Weng-Chiang (1977) - As well as the numerous Sherlock Holmes references, the character of Magnus Greel, complete with facial scaring and underground lair, seems to have been inspired by The Phantom Of The Opera.

Holmes was indeed influenced by a great many stories that he had seen and it became clear that he would use them under artistic licence where possible (The Talons of Weng-Chiang being a fine example), but not by stealing or borrowing entire plots, he was after all an accomplished writer, it was the inspiration and springboard for a new adventure in space and time. It's also worth noting that many writers and directors, including people such as Tarrantino, are known to delve into genres and stories, borrowing elements whilst putting a brand new spin on them.

Holmes had built a reputation for writing on many projects whereas Phillip Hinchcliffe was thrust into the producers post at the tender age of 29, but he wasn't phased by this, noting that Verity Lambert did something quite similar. One can only imagine the weight of expectation he must have felt in his first major position in production, yet it was clear that he was sufficiently enthused to make the role a success. Initially his biggest challenge was to gather the necessary support to make the shows he visualised. He recalled his time on Doctor Who:
"They couldn’t get a producer from the BBC. It was a poisoned chalice. It was such a difficult show to produce that they couldn’t get producers to produce it, they couldn’t get directors to work on it and they couldn’t get writers to write it. So little did I know I was walking into the lion’s den! But for me it was fantastic, because it was a highly-rated show that went out on Saturdays."

Revenge Of The Cybermen (1975) - Robert Holmes undertook extensive re-writing of Gerry Davis' original script.

The transition period between Letts & Dicks and Hinchcliffe & Holmes lasted three months, slightly longer than everyone expected, but this allowed for a smoother handover during which time the incoming producer absorbed everything he could about the ethos and technical side of the show. The seasons scripts had already been commissioned by the outgoing duo, it was to be Tom Baker's debut year and would also see the return of both the Daleks and the Cybermen. Hinchcliffe said "I was lumbered with two old bloody favourites in my first spell". A new Doctor plus two huge fan favourites, one of whom had not been seen for seven years, must have made for quite a daunting prospect but none of this could derail their plans or impede the progress they thought was necessary. Both classic enemies were tailored to fit their style, Genesis Of The Daleks was a much darker story than we'd seen from the pepper pots before, and Robert Holmes undertook extensive 'tinkering' on Gerry Davis' script for Revenge Of The Cybermen.

Apart from Hinchcliffe allowing Holmes greater freedom, he would also become Baker's main support and prompted him to immerse himself deeper in the role. Hinchcliffe allowed him creative whims and fancies, giving Baker the freedom to develop 'his' Doctor, this seemed to be a much happier artistic process which greatly benefited the show and it's development, giving it a much wider appeal - as the ratings proved. Perhaps John Nathan-Turner should have taken note of how things could be done, instead of swinging his banjo in the China shop just to make way for a few more tea cups.

Genesis Of The Daleks (1975) - The first appearance of Davros.

Hinchcliffe & Holmes were extremely fortunate to have a first class team working on the show with them. Including the directing skills of David Maloney, make-up artist Sylvia James, mask fabricator John Friedlander (who realised the amazing design of Davros in Genesis of the Daleks) and lighting specialist Duncan Brown. Superb professionals at their disposal to help achieve their brilliant vision. If we look at the resurrected series under Russell T Davis and Steven Moffat, there are comparisons to be made of how they too have fashioned a team that are able to deliver a first class product.

Phillip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes went on to create a number of classic episodes, many which stand as complete pieces of drama and are still enjoyed today. They were responsible for extended story lines, breaking away from the single stories that were often the norm. If you reflect on their back catalogue of gems it's a very impressive list indeed, one which is often considered to be the very best classic Doctor Who era, full of stories that regularly features in lists of top episodes ever made. These works include Planet Of Evil, The Talons of Weng-Chiang, Genesis of the Daleks, The Robots of Death, The Brain of Morbius and Pyramids of Mars. What a legacy!

Script Writer, Poet, Blogger and junk television specialist. Half English, half Irish and half Alsatian, Tom is well known for insisting on being called Demetri for reasons best known to himself. A former film abuser and telly addict who shamefully skulks around his home town of Canterbury after dark dressed as Julie Andrews. Follow Tom on Twitter
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