Bits and pieces: Echoes of the past in Eric Saward’s Doctor Who


Image Credit: Paul Hudson (CC BY 2.0, Flickr)

Image Description: The Cyber Controller from Attack of the Cybermen

By Andrew O’Day

During its classic series run, Doctor Who (1963-89) exhibited many examples of postmodern pastiche of novels, films and television programmes. However, there were also other examples of serials which, rather than being intertextual, were intra-textual, echoing previous of the programme’s narratives. As this article will illustrate, this was nowhere more evident than in the serials made under the stewardship of script editor Eric Saward and producer John Nathan-Turner and especially those actually written by Saward, sometimes consciously, sometimes perhaps not so. This turn to the past has been recognised by fans, a group where many are aware of the series’ history, whom the production team wished to appease (often unsuccessfully because of, for instance, the redesign of villains, monsters and sets), and newer fans would come to see the connections. But as well as cutting and pasting previous scholarship, just as episodes were pasted together, this article adds to what has been written. Not only did serials echo the distant past but also other of Saward’s narratives and some echoes may have been as a result of directorial technique.

Television form and memory

Doctor Who’s television form made it apt for containing recurring monsters and characters and echoes of the past. In its classic guise Doctor Who was a long running series consisting of numerous serials of varying numbers of episodes. These serials were placed within seasons (26 in all). Most classic series serials were self-contained (with exceptions such as The Key to Time season in 1978-79 and The Trial of a Time Lord season in 1986) but later serials could reference earlier serials. 

Furthermore, the longevity of the programme led not only to the changes of the central actor (through the concept of regeneration) but also to the arrival and departure of different production team members, most notably producers and script-editors, who made their own mark on the series. One such script-editor was Eric Saward who worked alongside producer John Nathan-Turner in the early 1980s and who also wrote a handful of stories in the same period. This era, once the series was in maturity, was characterised by echoes to the programme’s past.

Here was a long-running series which was concerned with memory as opposed to amnesia. So, for example, in Peter Grimwade’s Mawdryn Undead (1983) when the 1980s Brigadier suffers from amnesia and does not remember the Doctor or the TARDIS and quite clearly states that solid objects cannot dematerialise, (ironically just before a shot of the Doctor unable to dematerialise the ship), he lacks knowledge of which the long-term viewer is aware and that the newer viewer comes to learn. This is not a serial that begins in medias res, unlike many suspense/thriller films dealing with amnesiacs which is enabled by the self-contained movie form. Similarly, the serial is not like television series such as the US A Man Called Shenandoah (1965-66) or Coronet Blue (1967) where the format opens with the central character suffering from amnesia and where the mystery is never fully solved. Rather, ‘it relies on its long running form such as when Fallon Carrington Colby suffers from amnesia later in 1980s classic Dynasty and The Colbys or Clayton Farlow briefly in classic Dallas (Series 12), or Harold Bishop in Neighbours, to give just a few famous examples. In the case of Dynasty’s Fallon, Emma Samms takes over the role from Pamela Sue Martin but the opening titles see Samms in an identical pose, there are flashbacks from Jeff Colby’s point of view re-filmed with Samms and the portrait hanging in the living-room of the Carrington mansion is replaced with a likeness of Samms. In Mawdryn Undead there are flashbacks to the Brigadier’s earlier involvement with the Doctor as the Brigadier regains his memory, just as flashbacks to the past were evident in serials such as Logopolis (as the Doctor is about to regenerate, but which came prior to Saward’s involvement with the programme), Earthshock and Resurrection of the Daleks. So, the long-term viewer’s knowledge of the past pays off and the newer viewer is made aware of the programme’s history. And, as James Chapman observes, the idea of memory is key to the 20th anniversary special The Five Doctors by Terrance Dicks (1983) (2013: 152).

In collaboration with producer John Nathan-Turner, Saward script-edited several serials which paid homage to the programme’s past. Old villains such as Omega (in Johnny Byrne’s Arc of Infinity, 1983), the Black Guardian (in Grimwade’s Mawdryn Undead, Steve Gallagher’s Terminus, and Barbara Clegg’s Enlightenment, 1983), and frequently the Master, would appear,, as would old monsters such as the Silurians and the Sea Devils (in Johnny Byrne’s Warriors of the Deep, 1984), and the Sontarans (in Robert Holmes’ The Two Doctors, 1985) .The aborted Season 23 was also due to feature The Celestial Toymaker, the Ice Warriors and the Autons.  Furthermore, a serial such as Eric Pringle’s The Awakening (1984), which did not feature any old villains or monsters, still echoed the programme’s past, specifically the Jon Pertwee serial The Daemons (1971). Kate Brown notes that the isolation of the village, the awakening of an ancient alien presence and the disruption of a festival all echo this earlier narrative (1997: 72). Added to that is the climatic destruction of the church (Howe and Walker 1995: 138).  This article, however, will focus on the serials actually written by Saward.

However, while there is evidence of Saward consciously engaging in postmodern pastiche in his serials, such as when he has spoken of specific examples, some of the echoes to the past which will be considered here were not necessarily intended. Without interview material, we must be wary of committing the intentional fallacy in seeing how Saward’s narratives recall the past. This is a mistake that Fiona Moore, for example, makes, as seen below.

Eric Saward’s scripted serials: Resurrecting Who, resurrecting fan readings

Fans have detected echoes to the past in Saward’s writing which he has sometimes admitted to commemorating. It has become a game of ‘spot the allusions’ as these fans share their observations in print. Some of these fans write for professional magazines and books and others are academics in different fields. Right from his first scripted serial for Doctor Who, The Visitation (1982), Saward echoes the programme’s past. Alan Barnes (2004: 12) argues that the closest antecedent for its content is The Time Warrior (1973-4) by Robert Holmes and proceeds to explain the similarities. Like The Time Warrior, The Visitation opens with an alien spacecraft being mistaken for a falling star as it crashes in rural England, which is considered by the locals to be a bad omen. The parallels continue since just as in The Time Warrior where the Sontaran Linx works alone in the most significant property in the area, using humans under mental control, so too does the Terileptil leader in Saward’s serial, even though other such monsters are seen towards the climax. Similarly, both aliens have an armoured android and in both the Doctor faces execution at the cliff-hanger to part two. In both serials, the alien works on a post-crash strategy. In The Time Warrior, Linx aims to rejoin the space war while in The Visitation, the Terileptil leader, who has escaped from a prison planet, seeks to colonise Earth.

Similarly, Earthshock (1982) echoes the past, in particular previous Cybermen serials. Writer Saward interviewed for Doctor Who Monthly Issue 69, published in October 1982, noted ‘I watched all the old Cyberman tapes still existing and, noting that the Cybermen had physically changed from story to story, and that there were inconsistencies anyway with their history, it was a matter of trying to make sense out of what I could and what was there’ (Howe and Walker 1995: 86). Saward continued: It was quite deliberate that Earthshock was such a collation of everything from The Tomb of the Cybermen…’ (even though he had to rely on tele-snaps since Tomb did not exist in the BBC Archives at the time) (Howe and Walker 1995: 86). The serial begins in a quarry on Earth which bears similarities with the archeological expedition on Telos of this earlier serial (1967) written by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis. Fast forwarding to later in Earthshock and the Cybermen bursting out of the silos on the freighter are images which recall the Cybermen bursting out of their tombs (Howe and Walker 1995: 86) as well a Cyberman emerging from a cocoon in The Invasion (1968) written by Derrick Sherwin (from an idea by Pedler). Meanwhile, the Doctor’s speech about the value of emotions recalls the First Doctor’s that the Cybermen are emotionless in The Tenth Planet (1966), written by Pedler and Davis, and that gold is lethal to Cybermen recalls their previous outing in Revenge of the Cybermen (1975) by Davis (see Martin Wiggins 1995: 18). Wiggins, who is in a minority not liking Earthshock, further notes that there is an echo of the 1960s Cybermen serials such as Pedler’s The Moonbase (1967) and The Invasion where the Cybermen are presented en masse, either marching on the surface of the moon or down the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral (1995: 18).

Resurrection of the Daleks (1984), meanwhile, continues on from Destiny of the Daleks (1979) with Davros on a prison ship in a cryogenic state. But it also echoes other Dalek serials, as noted by Stephen Birchard in TARDIS Volume 9 Number 1 (see Howe and Walker 1998: 454-55). Resurrection recalls Terry Nation’s The Dalek Invasion of Earth (1964) with the Doctor and his companions arriving in a deserted Thames setting, once heaving with activity, albeit here in the present (Brichard cited by Howe and Walker 1998: 454), and exploring a warehouse; the Daleks’ ability to time travel and that they want the Doctor hails from Nation’s The Chase (1965); Davros’s wish to restore instinct and the Dalek civil war echoes David Whitaker’s The Evil of the Daleks (1967) (Brichard cited by Howe and Walker 1998: 454-55); the flashback sequence with the Doctor tied to the operating table recalls Louis Marks’ Day of the Daleks (1972) and the Doctor’s hesitation at killing Davros was a re-enactment of Nation’s Genesis of the Daleks (1975) (Brichard, cited by Howe and Walker 1998: 455). . 

Fiona Moore has also traced echoes of Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln’s The Web of Fear (1968) in Resurrection of the Daleks which she cleverly calls a Resurrection of Fear. Moore points out that both are sequels, though the first occurs some 40 years later and the latter 90 years later; that in both the TARDIS crew find themselves in the grip of an external power which forces them into a location on the periphery of the action; that both feature an old enemy of the Doctor’s; that both feature an eerie London backdrop (the Docklands in the latter and the Underground and Covent Garden in the former); that in both the TARDIS crew meet a squad of soldiers investigating alien activity with a female scientific advisor; that in both the Doctor is urged to stay and help since he is the only one who knows how to fight the aliens; that the twist of Stein as a Dalek agent echoes Staff Sergeant Arnold as vessel of the Great Intelligence; and that the mind control of Kiston echoes that of Travers. Moore also notes that certain images in Resurrection echo Web. For example, the death of the flat-capped vagrant at the beginning of Resurrection echoes the corpse of the news vendor at the start of Web; Turlough discovering the bodies of the gassed disfigured space station personnel recalls the Doctor and Victoria finding web-covered corpses of soldiers; the Daleks spherical visualiser device echoes the Yeti’s spheres; in both someone uses silver protective gloves inside a transparent case to examine an alien object; and Tegan wearing a white plaster on her forehead in the latter echoes that of the injured Staff Arnold. Moore also points out that some points in Resurrection of the Daleks distort or reverse ideas from The Web of Fear. For instance, the Movellan virus is only fatal to Daleks whereas the web was fatal to humans; there are two groups of potentially friendly military figures (Mercer’s crew and Colonel Archer’s) as opposed to a scattered party of the regular army; and the battle between the army and the Yeti in episode four is echoed by the different battles at the start of Resurrection, at the cliff-hanger to part one and at the end of the serial. Moore also notes that the Doctor, Jamie and Anne reprogramming the Yeti spheres is paralleled by Davros reconditioning the Dalek troopers and Daleks. Moore, however, labels The Web of Fear as a source for Resurrection of the Daleks, yet while there are definite echoes, we must be wary of authorial intent on Saward’s part. Moore makes the completely absurd unsubstantiated point that UNIT is not mentioned in Resurrection since it was not established until after The Web of Fear.

Resurrection of the Daleks further echoes ideas from Saward’s own Earthshock. Barnes (2008: 46) citing a regular contributor to Doctor Who Magazine, The Watcher, from 12 years previously in Issue 236, points out that like Earthshock, Resurrection begins on Earth with the guarding of a concealed weapon, sees the Doctor travel to a spacecraft where halfway through he is taken prisoner by a human traitor, and ends with a person being blown-up on the spacecraft in the process of defeating the monster.

Knocking down walls: Attack of the Cybermen’s heritage

Two serials from the 1985 season were written by Eric Saward: Attack of the Cybermen, credited to Paula Moore, and Revelation of the Daleks, but it is the first which recalls the past most strongly, even though ‘Revelation’ revisits the Dalek civil war of Resurrection and much earlier The Evil of the Daleks (Howe and Walker 1998: 484). As has been noted, there are echoes of previous Cybermen serials in Attack of the Cybermen. Ian Levine, who has claimed co-authorship (something Saward denies) said: ‘What we both agreed we wanted to do…was take all the bits that had really worked from Cybermen stories of the past and put them together into one magical story that would have all the fans salivating in their seats’ (Levine 1998: 4). The 1986 destruction of the Cybermen’s home planet Mondas in The Tenth Planet forms the basis of the Cybermen wishing to avert this (Levine 1998: 4; Howe and Walker 1998: 470); Attack echoes The Moonbase where people are walking around under Cyber-control (Levine 1998: 4); the presence of the Cyber Controller and tombs on Telos (however different) echo The Tomb of the Cybermen (Levine 1998: 4; Howe and Walker 1998: 470); and the Cybermen in the London sewers recalls The Invasion (Howe and Walker 1998: 470. In addition to these echoes of earlier Cybermen serials, there is a return to the very first Doctor Who serial with the appearance of the (misspelt) I M Foreman 76 Totter’s Lane junkyard (Wood 1998: 18; Howe and Walker 1998: 470), and there are echoes of Saward’s own earlier serials, dealing with Cybermen or otherwise. Lytton and his fellow policemen, along with incidental music, for instance, recall Resurrection of the Daleks (Wood 1998: 18; Howe and Walker 1998: 470), and there is the repeat of incidental music by Malcolm Clarke from Earthshock (see In-Vision 79, p. 20) along with the similar line at the end of part one (‘Destroy her, destroy her at once’ in place of ‘Destroy them, destroy them at once’) (see DVD Production Notes. Other ideas may or may not have been intended.

Attack of the Cybermen also echoes the earlier serial Revenge of the Cybermen. In the former serial, the human Kellman appeared to be working for the Cybermen but was in fact allied with Vorus from the planet Voga. Kellman lured the Cybermen onto Nerva Beacon, which orbited Voga, by murdering members of the crew using Cybermats, seemingly to put the Cybermen in the position to attack the planet of gold, a substance lethal to them. But, in reality, Kellman did so in order that Vorus could fire his rocket at the beacon, thereby destroying the Cybermen. Similarly, in Attack of the Cybermen, the humanoid Lytton may at first appear to be allied with the Cybermen but is in fact working for the alien Cryons against the silver giants. The difference is that we are ultimately meant to feel empathy for the deceased Lytton, as suggested by the Doctor’s closing words, whereas we were positioned against Vorus, and hence Kellman, whom we were told had brought the wrath of the Cybermen upon Voga.

There are also echoes of Bill Strutton’s The Web Planet (1965) in Attack. While the Cryons and the Menoptra are different in appearance, the Cryons icy creatures and the Menoptra butterfly-like insects (Phil Newman on Facebook), Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore have noted that the female Cryons who flutter their hands and circle around Barbara recall the Menoptra. Stevens and Moore note that the Cryons were originally intended to be male but that in the televised serial there is an erotic lesbian subtext to their movements towards Peri, in place of her many monstrous male stalkers. This may have been a directorial decision and little to do with Saward. But Stevens and Moore do not take the parallel further. Just as the Menoptra’s planet Vortis was taken over by the Animus and the Zarbi, the Cryons’ planet Telos has been taken over by the Cybermen. There are other examples of a planet consisting of two races, one benovelent and the other antagonistic, such as Thals and Daleks on Skaro, but Attack’s Cryons recall the Menoptra most strongly.

There are also echoes of the past in Attack in the idea of Stratton disguising himself as a Cyberman so that he and Bates can act as escort and prisoner to get into Cyber Control even though this plan is ultimately abandoned. This was very much a Terry Nation trope. In the first Dalek serial (1963-4), Ian Chesterton gets inside a Dalek casing so that he can act as escort to the prisoners of the Doctor, Susan and Barbara. In The Dalek Invasion of Earth the disguise of Robomen as escort is taken so that the rebels can get close enough to the Daleks at the flying saucer to use bombs against the metallic monsters. And in the much later story Planet of the Daleks (1973) characters are disguised as Spiridons and take a Dalek with them so as to appear prisoners (a point noted by Ian Bayley and Chuck Foster on Facebook).

Attack of the Cybermen echoes the Doctor’s attempts to repair the TARDIS’s Chameleon Circuit from the final Tom Baker serial Logopolis (1981) by Christopher H. Bidmead, but also mirrors the Peter Davison serial Arc of Infinity, written by Byrne yet script-edited by Saward. As in Arc of Infinity, in Attack of the Cybermen there is an initial TARDIS interior scene of the Doctor making repairs in an open roundel, accompanied by his female assistant (here Peri instead of Nyssa). The principle is the same even though in Arc of Infinity the Doctor was repairing the scanner’s audio link rather than the Chameleon Circuit.

There are also echoes of Saward’s own earlier work in Attack of the Cybermen in addition to those already noted from Earthshock and Resurrection. The DVD Production Notes make clear that the fake walls in the sewers in Attack recall the fake wall in the manor house of The Visitation. But what is not noted is that Stratton’s luring the Cyberman towards him so that he can overpower the silver giant recalls Tegan’s luring the Miller into a trap in the final part of that earlier serial. There are also further echoes of Earthshock. The presence of workmen Bill and David in the London sewers who fall victim to a Cyberman at the beginning of Attack recalls the different fate of crew members Vance and Carson moving through the freighter in Earthshock. Finally, the ending of Attack with Lytton stabbing the Cyberman which then oozes green slime recalls the Doctor attacking the Cyber-leader’s chest plate with the gold edge of Adric’s badge in Earthshock; the Doctor firing at the Cybermen using their gun recalls the Doctor shooting the Cyber-leader multiple times in Earthshock in the TARDIS (though Colin Baker wanted to pump shots into the Cyber-controller to emphasise the Doctor’s darker side); and Lytton’s death recalls Adric’s in that serial, Stein’s in Resurrection of the Daleks and prefigures Orcini’s in Revelation of the Daleks with in all cases there being a gigantic explosion.


As can be seen, many intriguing links have been made between Saward’s Doctor Who and previous of the programme’s serials in magazines such as DWM, Celestial Toyroom and In Vision, and in the DVD Production Notes. Here those links have been assimilated to show a common pattern in Saward’s work, recognised by fans, even though some echoes may be accidental. It is also important to note that in attributing an ‘Eric Saward signature’ there are links between his own scripted narratives. As well as assimilating what has already been written about Saward, links between Attack of the Cybermen specifically and previous serials have been made for the first time. Furthermore, Saward’s work has been theoretically placed in the context of television form and notions of memory. Saward’s echoing the past is very germane later with serials first having been released on commercial videotape and now on DVD. Finally, it is worth pointing out that narratives later than the Saward era, like Ben Aaronovitch’s Remembrance of the Daleks (1988), script-edited by Andrew Cartmel and still produced by Nathan-Turner, involve a turn to the postmodern (see Moore). Amy Holdsworth also notes that the programme is a window on the culture that created it and she intriguingly examines the museum in episodes such as the new series Dalek (2005), by Robert Shearman, and Steven Moffat’s The Big Bang (2010), as a space for an encounter with the series’ history and its re-imagining (2011: 127-29).  

I thank Richard Harris and Dr Anjili Babbar for their encouragement, to Amy Reiswig for reminding me of my origins, and Dr. Matthew Kilburn, Phil Newman and Tim Harris for archival material and for their comments on ideas raised in this article which has led to revisions.

The double issue of Tides 45/46 is, at time of publication, available to buy through this link


Barnes, Alan, ‘The Fact of Fiction: “Restoration Team”: The Visitation’, Doctor Who Magazine 339 (2004): 12-19.

Barnes, Alan, ‘The Fact of Fiction: Resurrection of the Daleks’, Doctor Who Magazine 401 (2008): 46-53. 

Brown, Kate, ‘Recreations and Re-Enactments’, In-Vision Doctor Who: The Awakening 72. Edited by Anthony Brown, London: Jeremy Bentham, 13-15.

Chapman, James, Inside the TARDIS: The Worlds of Doctor Who, 2nd edition, London: I.B. Tauris, 2013.

Holdsworth, Amy, Television, Memory and Nostalgia, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

Howe, David J. and Stephen James Walker, Doctor Who: The Television Companion, London: BBC, 1998.

Howe, David J. and Stephen James Walker, Doctor Who: The Handbook – The Fifth Doctor The Peter Davison Years 1982-1984. London: Virgin, 1995.

Levine, Ian, ‘Return to Telos’, In-Vision Doctor Who: Attack of the Cybermen 79, Edited by Anthony Brown, London: Jeremy Bentham, 1998, 4.

Moore, Fiona, ‘Resurrection of Fear’, Celestial Toyroom 494.

Stevens, Alan and Fiona Moore, ’32 ½ Stupid Things about Attack of the Cybermen (And 17 ½ Cool Ones’, Celestial Toyroom 390.

Wiggins, Martin, ‘Earthschlock’, In-Vision Doctor Who: Earthshock 60, Edited by Anthony Brown, London: Jeremy Bentham, 1995, 17-19.

Wood, Tat, ‘The Cryon Game’, In-Vision Doctor Who: Attack of the Cybermen 79, Edited by Anthony Brown, London: Jeremy Bentham, 1998, 18-19.

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