Tuesday 30 October 2018

Derrick Sherwin

I was sorry to hear of the death of Derrick Sherwin today. He was script editor during the latter part of the Patrick Troughton era, before becoming producer of Doctor Who for a short period. His passing leaves only one of the "Classic Era" series producers still with us - Philip Hinchcliffe.
He started off as an actor, with small roles in film and TV throughout the 1950's and early '60's. His Equity Card allowed him to take on the small role of the commissionaire in the UNIT car park in Spearhead From Space, after the extra hired proved unsuitable, and I'm sure he is one of the comatose victims of the Cyber-Hypnotic signal in The Invasion.
He was always a joy to listen to or watch on the DVD commentaries and documentaries for the stories he was involved with, as he was always pretty forthright in his views and told it like it was.
He joined the programme as script editor on The Dominators, at a time when the show was in a state of crisis. Troughton was very unhappy with the scripts, and with the working conditions in general. Sherwin did not like the Lincoln / Haisman story, and he had the final two episodes rewritten to become one, greatly upsetting the writers and potentially having them block the story being broadcast all together. With the series now an episode short, Sherwin stepped in and wrote the first part of The Mind Robber - an episode which is widely regarded as one of the best of the era.
It was Sherwin who decided to restructure the programme to make it more Earthbound, building on the Doctor's relationship with the military as seen in The Web of Fear. He wrote The Invasion, from some ideas put forward by Kit Pedler, and so introduced the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce - promoting Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart from the Yeti story to Brigadier. The plan was that stories set on contemporary (or near future) Earth would be cheaper but this did not quite pan out - The Invasion ending up quite an expensive story to produce. He is on record as saying that "jellies in outer space" did not really interest him, and he didn't think the viewers were that keen either.
The final year for Troughton saw a number of scripts go down, sometimes very late in the day. Things weren't helped by Frazer Hines' changing his mind about when he was going to leave the programme. Sherwin's assistant, Terrance Dicks, was nurturing a story by Robert Holmes which had been rejected by another series, and this became The Krotons. Dicks was then asked to do some serious rewrites to The Seeds of Death, with Sherwin becoming producer in all but name. This was the last story of the B&W era to feature alien creatures, partly due to cost. A planned story about a planet dominated by women was mercifully dropped, and Robert Holmes stepped into the breach with his space western The Space Pirates. Sherwin then officially became the producer. With no scripts left in the pile, and 10 episodes left to fill, he commissioned Dicks to write the massive The War Games to see out the incumbent Doctor and the B&W phase of the show. Dicks turned to his old friend and mentor (and one-time landlord) Malcolm Hulke to co-write.
As well as creating UNIT, Sherwin was responsible for the creation of the Time Lords, and the whole backstory for the Doctor which underpins the series to this day.
With the series under threat, Sherwin was also working on replacement ideas, including one revolving around an RAF base in the Far East. Once it was known that the series would continue into colour, Sherwin took the decision to have the Doctor exiled to Earth and working alongside UNIT full time. He cast Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor. Pertwee was unhappy to learn, on his first day in the job, that the man who had given him the role was leaving. Before he went, Sherwin saved Spearhead From Space when it was threatened by a strike - making it entirely on film and on location. Had he been allowed to make the entire series in this way, he may have fought to stay on the show, but he was reassigned to help the struggling Paul Temple series, and his replacement was Barry Letts.
As it was, Sherwin only ever produced two Doctor Who stories, but they were key ones, and his role as script editor was a significant one for the history of the programme.
Unafraid to be controversial, he became quite bitter towards the series in recent years, complaining about a lack of recognition for his contributions in his final DWM interview. I think he had a point.

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