Past and present mixed up – The Time Warrior Black Archive

Black Archive

Image Credit: James Ashworth and Matthew Kilburn

Image Description: A copy of The Time Warrior Black Archive, along with a photograph of the author

By Matthew Kilburn

The Time Warrior is the earliest Doctor Who story from which I have any memory of the first broadcast. It’s not Jon Pertwee’s Doctor whom I remember specifically, though I’m sure he was already a familiar figure; and I think by the time the story began in December 1973 (I had turned three late in November) I’d already been bought the Contour album Children’s TV Themes by Cy Payne and his Orchestra, from whose album cover a line drawing of Pertwee stared out above a less recognisable image of Pertwee face to eyestalk with a reddish-pink Dalek. Nor did Sarah Jane Smith initially have a great impact. Instead, I was fascinated by a particular figure, clad in a generally metallic outfit surmounted by what seemed to be a domed head with few features beyond two eye slits. I can’t remember whether the voice I associate with the memory, saying ‘I think it’s some kind of robot,’ was my thought or an observation from Karen, the neighbour in her late teens with whom I was watching. 

Of course, as the end of the episode showed, it wasn’t a robot. Instead the entity’s head turned out to be a helmet. When removed, the features beneath were like nothing I had ever seen. The most disturbing thing, I suspect, was that the features were human, but slightly out of proportion with each other – sunken eyes, enlarged nose, widened mouth, ears small and some distance from the other features of the face, as if cut off and stitched back on. What’s more, this didn’t seem to be something artificial, as I knew it must be, but grown – confirmed, it appeared, by the moving eyes and tongue. 

I’m sure I didn’t watch another episode of the story.

I remember fragments of the rest of the season. I remember the Daleks, shooting at a model police box for target practice. I remember Alpha Centauri escorting Sarah Jane Smith through a corridor on Peladon (although I thought poor amiable Alpha was a different variety of Dalek). I remember a good deal of Planet of the Spiders, not from first transmission but from the Christmas compilation. Nevertheless, none of the creatures I encountered had the same effect on me as Linx. This was a being whose features were so human, unlike the Daleks or Alpha Centauri (if I saw the Ice Warriors on television during 1974 they were entirely unmemorable, likewise the puppet prehistoric reptiles of Invasion of the Dinosaurs), that I wonder whether I feared that I could plausibly grow up into him. This was not an appealing fate. 

I watched more of season twelve, or followed it vicariously from the stairs and from my parents’ summaries as I was often too apprehensive to watch. It’s difficult to say why. Most monsters were not frightening. Robot K-1’s head looked a bit suspicious – what was lurking behind that reddish plastic visor? – but it was on the whole harmless-looking. Even as I was disturbed by Noah, half his body consumed by what two and a half years later I’d read was the larval tissue of a Wirrn (or as Ian Marter preferred in his 1977 novelization, Wirrrn), I was sure the effect was made by the use of a packaging material, which I thought was green netting like my mother’s collapsible shopping bag. The Daleks were tame and harmless and Davros was just a man in a mask sitting in half a Dalek. Styre, however was an even more grotesque version of Linx, his features taunting my childhood sense of identity as a squashed human face. There was something about horror behind something detachable. I remember seeing a trailer for Revenge of the Cybermen and having to be reassured by my mother, both on the day the trailer was broadcast (Saturday, after part six of Genesis of the Daleks? Or Sunday?) and during the week between Doctor Who episodes, that the Cybermen did not take their helmets off to reveal an abomination.

With visual documentation not extending beyond the two monster books, the faces of Linx and Styre grew as symbols of the terror of Doctor Who as my childhood progressed. As I will discuss later in this book, the unmasking of the villain was taken very literally in the period when Doctor Who was script-edited by Robert Holmes. Despite being seven years old, I treated the appearance of the Sontarans at the end of part four of The Invasion of Time as a reason not to watch the next two parts, only returning for the Doctor’s declaration of amnesia and his departure without Leela and the original K-9. At an even more advanced age, fourteen, I was still sufficiently haunted by memories of The Time Warrior and The Sontaran Experiment to feel that watching The Two Doctors and its Sontarans was a significant step, although at the same time I thought the masks worn by Tim Raynham and Clinton Greyn in that story were over-sculpted and stylized beyond usefulness; these were misplaced art pieces, not practical creations intended to combine with an actor’s performance to suggest an alien lifeform. However, that is (largely) a discussion for another article.

I first watched The Time Warrior right through in 1989, when the BBC Video was released. I can’t remember my reaction beyond admiring the production, which to my serious eighteen-year-old self seemed, in performance, writing and design, so much more sure of itself and its audience and less mannered than the Doctor Who of Sylvester McCoy’s day. The prehistory of the book, though, was about to become an Oxford story. At the still-young Oxford University Doctor Who Society, I became embroiled in arguments of varying levels of seriousness about when the Earthbound adventures of Doctor Who were set. The Time Warrior was particularly taxing. I ended up expounding one theory in unexpected circumstances when, early in 1992 during my final undergraduate year, I was at a dinner attended by my prospective postgraduate supervisor. I didn’t drink alcohol at the time, unusual for attendees at a formal meal such as this one. ‘Do you smoke?’ asked my potential supervisor. I said no.

“So, what are your vices?” asked my potential supervisor. 

Doctor Who!” chorused one of my tutors and a postgraduate student a couple of undergraduate years above me (already then emerging as a leading scholar and now herself a professor of urban history).

I was in a hole, I decided; but stopping digging is not always the best option, depending on how one manages the spoil and what one finds as excavation advances. So I landed upon historical Doctor Who stories, and outlined the issues as I understood them when I was twenty-one, getting through splutters of disbelief that there could be anything described as ‘character development’ in Doctor Who, and talked about The Time Warrior, where its setting might be accommodated historically, and possible influences upon the script. I don’t think I necessarily acquitted myself in the eyes of the rest of the table, but it was not the first time I had to make a defence not only of Doctor Who, but of television as something that invited study. Someone then said I should write a book about The Time Warrior. This is not the book I would have written over a quarter of a century ago, of course; but it owes something nevertheless to that conversation. 

About ten years ago I made some notes towards and wrote out a chapter structure and some text for a book on Doctor Who and history. This later turned into a collective enterprise as I learned of a similar plan from two classical historians, Tony Keen and (Oxford Doctor Who Society veteran) Penny Goodman, and we agreed to join forces. We have not yet managed to launch this work, although we came very close early in 2014 when I got as far as making contact with a publisher, only for my then-new job to become all-consuming. The advent of The Black Archive, which was announced by Obverse Books during 2015 for launch early in 2016, suggested an opportunity to get some of my ideas about Doctor Who and history out there. 

Remembering my dinner conversation of early 1992, The Time Warrior seemed an obvious choice, a decision buttressed by my interest in the Third Doctor’s relationship with history. The past was largely somewhere the Third Doctor talked about having visited, as for much of the Jon Pertwee period the Doctor was exiled to Earth. He reminisced about meeting Edward VII in Paris, his friendship with Horatio Nelson, or a conversation with Napoleon. However, just as the monsters from outer space came to the Doctor, so did the monsters from Earth’s past. These were, for the most part, invented prehistoric creatures, Silurians and Sea Devils or Dæmons, representatives of the mythical civilization of Atlantis in The Time Monster or anonymous individuals plucked briefly from their time streams in that story and Invasion of the Dinosaurs

The Time Warrior, at the start of Jon Pertwee’s fifth and final season of Doctor Who, was the first story in which Pertwee’s Doctor spent any length of time in a documented historical period. While the precise dating of The Time Warrior falls under what Terrance Dicks calls on the DVD commentary track ‘masterful vagueness’, the story does have a sense of historical change, recognising the threat to established order when the authority which has maintained a monopoly of force is weakened or challenged by an unexpectedly greater power, or the disruption caused to established societies when an outsider arrives with more advanced technology. Robert Holmes had spent several formative years fighting across Burma in the Second World War and the original storyline has Linx speaking in jargon drawing from that used by American forces in south-east Asia in the Korean and Vietnamese conflicts. The latter was grinding slowly towards its close in 1973 and informed Holmes’s juxtaposition of modern, historical and futuristic elements. Likewise Holmes’s sense of the Middle Ages was shaped by fiction, particularly through Hollywood cinema. I thought this would make an enjoyable book for me to write and for others to read.

I was further encouraged when I discussed the book at an M.R. James conference in March 2016. The conference was held in Leeds, co-organised by Dewi Evans (another ODWS alumnus) and attended by, among others, Penny Goodman, former ODWS president James Brough, and Holly Matthies, all of whom encouraged me to pitch, James reminding me of how far Linx is a parody of the Third Doctor. However, the Black Archive was still in its early months and there were no guidelines as yet for approaches. It was not until December 2016 that I took things further, when I attended that year’s Missing Believed Wiped at the BFI in London. Ian Potter, whom I’d first met at a University of Manchester conference on Doctor Who back in 2004, reintroduced me to James (Jim) Cooray Smith, whom I’d first met in 2002 when I was helping Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore at a signing event for their Kaldor City CDs. At the end of a conversation with Ian, Jim and several others about recent discoveries of old television, I mentioned to Jim – whose appointment as a joint editor of The Black Archive had been recently announced – that I would be taking advantage of the imminent open submissions period and sending a proposal.

‘Don’t bother,’ he said. ‘Send it to me anyway.’

So, I spent a lot of the Christmas period working on a document outlining my argument for a book on The Time Warrior. It’s a sign of my perfectionism and my wish to write for the series that I could never complete the pitch to my satisfaction, and eventually sent an unfinished version to Jim at his request in February 2017. He commissioned it despite my reservations.

My work on the book didn’t get very far during 2017. I undertook some desktop research on the career of the story’s director Alan Bromly, whose work on this story and on Nightmare of Eden (1979) has customarily not been well-regarded. I was able to find out more about his background and his earlier career than I’d seen collected before, although in the end most of this proved to be extraneous to the finished book. I also spent some time in the Bodleian with boxes of the magazine John Bull in an attempt to find influences on the story from Robert Holmes’s early career, but was unable to pin down very many with the exception of a particular magazine cover from 1957 which might have lingered in Holmes’s memory from the period he was working on the title. In September 2017 I spent a day at the palace of programme documentation that is the BBC Written Archives Centre, Caversham, where I made copies of the production files and camera scripts – the scripts which lay out the position of each camera in the multicamera video studio shot for shot, and which include the versions of dialogue and directions used as the actors went into the studio to perform on set. 

A few months later, after I mentioned The Time Warrior project on Twitter, a collector contacted me to say that they had copies of the rehearsal scripts. A transfer was duly made, for which I remain very grateful. It became clear as I looked at them that these represented a much less polished edit. There were hints of a different version of the serial which suggested that Terrance Dicks’s anecdote of his hacking down the scripts over a weekend to meet Alan Bromly’s reservations was close to what actually transpired, while there were tantalising glimpses of other possible realisations of Linx.

I did some work in November, exploring the influence of Henry Fuseli’s painting ‘The Nightmare’ on Linx’s mask and other elements of 1970s Doctor Who design, but then other events intervened and I didn’t get back to writing until February. During this time I had an interview for, was offered and accepted a research contract which I confidently said I’d start in May. How hard could writing a Black Archive be? I had significantly underestimated the task, as it transpired, largely because of my own ambitions for the book, the many layers brought to The Time Warrior by the writers, actors, designers and other people who worked on it, and the need to balance other commitments.

I was lucky in that my academic visitor status at the History Faculty at Oxford gave me access not only to the physical university libraries, but also to online databases including newspapers. Project Gutenberg, the Internet Archive and the Hathi Trust are all useful, as are online booksellers, especially secondhand ones. As a result of this process I have two more copies of the novelization of The Time Warrior than I did before, as my battered first edition (bought in Foyles, Charing Cross Road, London, in August 1978) was joined by a first edition in better condition and by a ‘blue spine’ edition from the early 1990s (actually a 1984 reprint with its original cover and price removed and the new cover and price attached). However, this also created a problem of selection in several areas, for example, covering Gothic literature as applied to The Time Warrior. As the book grew – I’d expected to write 30-35,000 words at most, only for the manuscript to exceed 48,000 – I realised that I could easily have written 100,000 words on the story, though perhaps not to as great an effect as the shorter length. 

A significant change for the book came in April when James Cooray Smith stepped back from editing, and Paul Simpson took over. Paul is a writer, editor and musician with several books of his own both in the mainstream and genre fields. Among his many activities is the editorship of the website Sci-Fi Bulletin. He’s been involved in Doctor Who fandom since the 1970s and brought a sharp eye for inconsistencies, over-speculation, and referencing. One exchange led to research which has affected a future Black Archive, not written by either of us, and which led to me ordering up two boxes of mid-1960s Playboy to the Bodleian, under the dubious gaze of a librarian, in search of an article by Arthur C. Clarke. Such are the routes of Doctor Who research. 

My deadline for the book had been 1 April. I’d changed that to 1 May; in the end, I delivered during August and spent the rest of that month and much of September frantically adjusting the book to the requests of Paul, his fellow range editor Philip Purser-Hallard and publisher Stuart Douglas. Several sections were removed or heavily trimmed to be able to fit my text into the maximum length for the book, and I also found I needed to write a less perfunctory conclusion than I had provided initially. I’m immensely pleased that Paul, Philip and Stuart were able to get the book out at the start of October, on schedule, despite my extreme lateness. 

A number of people helped with the book in one way or another, and the acknowledgements cover not only information and commentary but various kinds of reassurance. The process was exhilarating as well as tiring and perhaps the most personal thing I’ve written to see print. In an odd way it represents a skein of more than four decades of my life. (My father has tracked down my first infants’ school teacher, and sent her a copy.) There’s more to be woven yet.

Copies of The Time Warrior Black Archive can be purchased from Obverse Books through this link

Tides 42 is, at time of publication, available to buy through this link

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