Script Doctor: the Inside Story of Doctor Who 1986-1989, by Andrew Cartmel

Second paragraph of third chapter:

The following Monday, I experienced for the first time in my life the physical shock of seeing my name in print. I was leafing through Doctor Who Magazine and suddenly found I was in it. It said something like, ‘Since the new script editor, Andrew Cartmel, has just arrived, it seems likely that it was the producer who commissioned Pip and Jane Baker.’ Very astute. I was glad that people could work out for themselves that I was not responsible for Time and the Rani.

Another of the many books brought out for the 50th anniversary a few years back, which I am slowly working through. (Can’t find the Douglas Camfield one, annoyingly.)

I found this a really refreshing book. It’s fascinating to read it in contrast with Matthew Waterhouse’s account of the early days of the John Nathan-Turner era, and indeed Richard Marson’s account of JNT’s career and life. Like Matthew Waterhouse, Cartmel was already a fan before being recruited as the script editor for the last three years of Old Who, coinciding with Sylvester McCoy’s time as the Doctor. But he was a bit older, he wasn’t as invested in it, and although this was his first job in television, he already had had a bit of a career and also had a very clear idea of what he wanted to do with Who.

Most of the Who first-person books I have read situate the writer’s experience on the programme in the context of a longer (and often happier) career; this one is unusual in that we get little insight into Cartmel’s life before 1986 or after 1989. But it pays off in terms of interesting detail. One person who looms very large in Cartmel’s narrative who I don’t think I had even heard of before is Kate Easteal, the production secretary, who was clearly crucial to keeping the show together and is almost unmentioned in other writing.

Cartmel gets very much into the weeds of the production of each of the twelve stories produced on his watch, including some interesting gossip on the personal frictions (not least in his own love life), but more particularly on the challenges posed by an unsympathetic BBC hierarchy and a political situation where Cartmel was doing his best to displace various established writers and other stakeholders. Each story is taken as a narrative unit, which means that the book ends up being not completely sequential, as in real life the production of various stories often overlapped. But the payoff is that we follow each story from start to finish, and basically we fans are more interested in how The Happiness Patrol came to be than in knowing exactly what was in the production office in-tray in July 1988.

(Speaking of which, it was a bit poignant to hear of the death of Graeme Curry, writer of The Happiness Patrol, a couple of weeks after I had finished reading this – as I mentioned, I am way behind in bookblogging. He was only 54.)

Anyway, I enjoyed this more than I expected, and learned more than I expected as well, so we can score that as a win. You can get it here.

One thought on “Script Doctor: the Inside Story of Doctor Who 1986-1989, by Andrew Cartmel

  1. I have enjoyed all Tana French novels (In the Woods is the first book of a loosely connected crime series with changing detectives as protagonists) – they aren’t very fast paced and the crime/mystery is not the most complex and twisty out there, but I liked the sense of place she creates and the nicely drawn characters. In the Woods, being a debut, is maybe the weakest of the four I’ve read so far actually, Faithful Place, the third, was my favourite.

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