Thursday 15 August 2019

Inspirations - Full Circle

The first Doctor Who story to be written by someone who had actually sat down and watched it on TV was The Sensorites, by Peter R Newman. The stories prior to this one had been commissioned, and the writing begun, by people who had yet to see the first episode air - or by people who were already part of the production team. Assuming he had liked what he had seen, you could argue that Newman's story is the very first one written by a fan. However, Full Circle is the first story to have been written by someone who was a fully paid up member of organised fandom (which in those days meant the DWAS - Doctor Who Appreciation Society). Teenager Andrew Smith had been writing sketches for comedy shows in his native Scotland and had also contributed a story idea to the Doctor Who office. Script editor Anthony Read had given him very positive feedback and lots of ideas for developing his talent further without actually commissioning him, and Douglas Adams also took a serious look at his contribution. When Christopher H Bidmead took over the role, and discovered that the script cupboard was bare, he looked at some of the material that had been submitted before he arrived, and Smith's storyline caught his attention. At the time it was called 'The Planet That Slept', and it dealt with complex evolutionary processes on an alien planet. There were modern humanoids and seemingly different primitive people, and the twist would be that one race were the descendants of the other.
Smith was invited to London to discuss his story with Bidmead in person, and it was only then that the script editor realised how young he was - which only made him more impressed with the contribution. Smith hadn't yet turned 18.

Whilst the scripts for Season 18 were being developed, John Nathan-Turner had decided that he wanted a new companion. Lalla Ward had already agreed to leave the show before the end of the season - generally unhappy with the changes which JNT was making anyway. There was also the complication of her tempestuous relationship with her leading man. There would be days when they didn't talk to each other in studio other than to deliver their lines, and you will spot occasions when Tom Baker avoids eye contact with Ward. JNT's new companion would be another male one, envisaged as a sort of outer space Artful Dodger. He is, of course, the streetwise pickpocket from Dickens' Oliver Twist. It was Bidmead who came up with the name Adric - an anagram of Dirac. Paul Dirac (1902 - 1984) was a renowned theoretical physicist.
JNT, Bidmead and Barry Letts together cast Matthew Waterhouse in the role. He was working for the BBC in a junior admin role at the time and had only very limited acting experience. He had just featured in To Serve Them All My Days, the BBC's adaptation of the 1972 R F Delderfield novel about an English public school at the time of the First World War. This lack of experience would have consequences later. The way that the season was organised meant that Waterhouse actually filmed his second appearance first - State of Decay. His hair hadn't grown back since getting it cut short for the Delderfield drama, so he had to wear a wig for his first outing as Adric.
Like Andrew Smith, Waterhouse was a teenager, and also a Doctor Who fan. JNT had initially been very happy to engage with the DWAS but was starting to become wary of them, and he quizzed Waterhouse about the extent of his fandom - concerned he would act as a mole within the production team.

Last week we mentioned the conflict between science and religion in relation to the Savants and Deons in Meglos, giving the opposing views on Creationism and geophysical science as an example. The plot of Full Circle revolves entirely around evolutionary processes. On the planet Alzarius sits a huge Starliner spaceship, which crashed here some decades before. The crew came from another plant named Terradon (as in Earth-like) and look just like human beings. They are governed by a trio of elders known as the Deciders. Everyone is tasked with preparing the ship for its return to Terradon. Every 50 years or so the planet's orbit results in a period known as Mistfall, when toxic gases rise from the swamps, and at this time everybody takes refuge within the Starliner. They stay locked up inside until after Mistfall passes.
In the closing moments of Meglos, Romana had received a message from the Time Lords summoning her back to Gallifrey. She was supposed to have gone back home after the Key to Time affair. The Time Lords never actually sent her on that mission, so the White Guardian must have squared it with them later. The TARDIS is on its way home when it passes through a CVE - a spatial distortion of some sort - and ends up in a pocket universe which gets dubbed Exo-Space, or E-Space. The TARDIS lands at Gallifrey's co-ordinates, but they have really arrived on Alzarius, as it has the same co-ordinates as the Time Lord homeworld but in the negative.
It was Bidmead who proposed a story arc for Season 18. JNT was resistant, as he had seen the limitations this format had imposed on the making of Season 16. You couldn't easily swap the running order of stories, for instance. He was eventually talked round but agreed to a small arc only, of just three stories.

Mistfall is a comin' in, and the Doctor and K9 witness amphibious bipedal creatures emerge from the swamps. Smith had envisaged the Marshmen as being basically humanoid, like Neanderthals, and was surprised to see that the designers had made them look more monstrous. He spotted straight away the inspiration for them - Creature from the Black Lagoon.
The Creature was the final monster to join the pantheon of Universal Studios' horror creations. The film was released in 1954, long after the classic Universal monsters had all met their final match against Abbot & Costello. It made use of the 3-D gimmick to reasonable effect. A fossilised claw is dug up beside the Black Lagoon, somewhere in Amazonia, and a scientific party sets off to find more remains - only to discover that one of the creatures is far from extinct. The film spawned two sequels, with diminishing returns, but the original is great. It was the inspiration for the Oscar winning Shape of Water, directed by Guillermo del Toro.

As well as the Terradonians and the Marshmen, there is also a species of giant spider on the planet. The Doctor examines tissue samples of each over the course of the story and makes a startling discovery. They are all genetically the same. The Starliner hasn't been here for a few generations, it's been here for thousands of years. The original crew were killed by Marshmen, and the current lot are actually the evolved descendants of those original Marshmen. The spiders form part of the evolutionary process via a toxic bite.
The Doctor has also noticed that the Starliner people have been replacing perfectly good parts on their ship in their preparations for the great Embarkation back to what they think is their home. He discovers that the Deciders have been keeping the truth from their people. The ship could take off any time, but they have lost the first page of the instruction manual and don't know how to lift off. The Deciders are Procrastinators.
Adric has only his older brother Varsh for family, and he gets killed by the Marshmen. Earlier, Adric had mentioned a premonition that when the Starliner left he would not be on it, nor would he still be on Alzarius. he decides to stow away on the TARDIS once the Starliner has finally departed. The Doctor, Romana and K9 set off to find a way back into their own universe.
This story's effort to incapacitate K9 is by having its head knocked off by a Marshman. Oddly, it is active when needed to run around on location, but is unused when it comes to the studio where it operates better.
Smith submitted other ideas to the show, including a Sontaran story, but never wrote for the show again, despite Full Circle getting very good reviews. He went on to join the police force in London, but has recently returned to writing full time. He has had stories produced on audio for Big Finish, including that unmade Sontaran story.
Next time: fangs ain't quite what they used to be for Terrance Dicks' aborted Season 15 vampire story, which was derailed by Count Dracula himself...

1 comment:

  1. I've just rewatched it and it occured to me the story is almost an inversion of the section in Restaurant At The End Of The Universe where Arthur Dent discovers that instead of being descended from primates on Earth humans are descended from the passangers of a crashed spaceship. I checked the date Restaurant the book was published and it was 2 months after Full Circle was broadcast (not sure whether this was a radio broadcast first like the first book?) , but as you stated Smith and Adams did meet so maybe one idea influenced the other.
    My other main takeaway from rewatching is just don't think too hard about where the marsh spiders are supposed to fit into the evolutionary process, your head will hurt.