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Monday, November 3, 2014

Doctor Who On Influences and the Importance of Details

Part 6 of a series on the Doctor Who story "State Of Decay" by Terrance Dicks.

When they reach this lonely, isolated planet, the Doctor, Romana, and K-9 don't realize that they have picked up an additional companion. Only later, when they have been captured by Lord Zargo and Lady Camilla, and the rebel Tarak rescues them from their cell, do they learn that Adric stowed away aboard the TARDIS. This young boy, whom they met during their previous adventure, has fallen under the thrall of Lord Aukon, who declares him the Chosen One, and intends on making him a vampire too. So, while the Doctor rushes back to the TARDIS, where he and K-9 will study how the Time Lords battled Vampires in the past, Tarak and Romana return to the Tower, heading for the Inner Sanctum.

Romana and Tarak catch the Vampire Lords
having a bat-nap.

Tarak and Romana looked round the dank and gloomy chamber.

Zargo and Camilla lay side by side, stretched out on their backs on the central bier. Presumably they were sleeping, but they might almost have been dead. Only the very slightest rise and fall of their chests showed they were still breathing. Stretched out in their ornate robes, they looked like statues on the tomb of some ancient king and queen.

Tarak stared down at them. "We could destroy them now, while they are sleeping."

"It takes a wooden stake to kill them," said Romana practically. "We forgot to bring one."

--from the novelization Doctor Who and the State of Decay

While Nicholas Pegg, who wrote the Information Text for the BBC DVD release of "State Of Decay," suggests that Script Editor Christopher H Bidmead didn't substantially change Terrance Dicks' story, Dicks and Director Peter Moffatt disagree. The Inner Sanctum, or the Sleeping Vault as Pegg calls it, proved to be a crucial point of contention for Moffatt. Pegg offers this description of the Vampires' sleeping chamber from Bidmead's revised script: "A simple womb-like chamber containing two astronaut-type sleeping cocoons. The white-walled chamber is lit with sinister infra-red lighting--a kind of sterile hell." According to Pegg, this left Moffatt with the impression that the vampires were hatching from eggs.

On the DVD commentary, Peter Moffatt clarifies his position. He tells of receiving Terrance Dicks' draft script, and really enjoying the whole "Gothic thing." But when he showed up for work, and was handed the revised script, he found that Bidmead had "filled it up with high-tech." And "instead of a castle, there was this egg-thing." 

A possible inspiration for Christopher H Bidmead:
The Nostromo's sleeping chamber
in Ridley Scott's 1979 movie "Alien."

Perhaps Bidmead didn't substantially change the narrative and dialogue in Terrance Dicks' story. But it's amazing how much the little details can influence or (in Moffatt's case) confuse us. In a documentary on the making of "State Of Decay," Bidmead likens his story sessions with Dicks to battles in which each opponent faced the other "with daggers drawn." He suggests that such tension and differences of opinion between writers can improve a story. While Terrance Dicks may not look back fondly on his partnership with Bidmead, he gives the Script Editor credit for making one change that improved the story. In Dicks' original version, the castle was just that, a brick and mortar building. Bidmead suggested that the Tower should actually be the Earth spaceship Hydrax, which landed on the planet a thousand years ago. Of course, it seems clear that Bidmead believed the interiors of the Tower should reflect the original infrastructure of the spaceship, Moffatt sided with Dicks in believing that the interior should look like an old, decaying castle. So, in the finished story, nearly all of the original instrumentation and infrastructure has been stripped out, and discarded outside the town that grew up around the Hydrax, and the rebels secreted their headquarters within the dump. The townspeople, no doubt pressed into service, then rebuilt and decorated the interior of the spacecraft in a regal fashion as dictated by their Lords.

Bidmead's primary focus on Doctor Who seemed to be on hard science, technology, and the implications of current societal trends on the future. Terrance Dicks had originally written "State Of Decay" three years previously, for Producer Philip Hinchcliffe and Script Editor Robert Holmes. The latter two drew inspiration for Doctor Who from the popular and influential stories from previous centuries. No wonder Bidmead and Dicks quarreled, when one doctored incoming scripts with a gaze affixed on humanity's future, while the other peered back into the past as he wrote his story. 

If I were forced to name my ten favorite stories from the Classic Doctor Who era (featuring the First through Seventh Doctors), I'm not sure that "State Of Decay" would make the list. But consider this. In three of the seven stories that comprise the twenty-eight half-hour episodes of Doctor Who Season 18 (which were broadcast from August 1980 to March 1981), a significant portion of the action takes place on spaceships. Additionally, the first story , "The Leisure Hive," takes place in the futuristic corridors and rooms of a base on an uninhabitable world. Had "State Of Decay" featured Bidmead's vision of futuristic spaceship interiors, this would have made the story blend in better with the season. As it stands, "State Of Decay" not only differs from the other stories in Season 18, but also from most of the other stories in Doctor Who's classic era. Sometimes it's nice if a individual story is allowed to stand out, and be a little different from the rest of its companions in a series, don't you think?

So, to sum up, I'm happy with "State Of Decay" as it is. Still, I often wish there was some sort of invention, or device, that could show me the stories that should have been made, but weren't. You know, the movies that the filmmakers intended to make, but ultimately couldn't for any number of reasons. Perhaps there's an alternate world out there, where Peter Moffatt loved Christopher H Bidmead's revised script for "State Of Decay," and filmed it in all its futuristic, high-tech glory. Perhaps I'd better build a TARDIS so I can travel to that alternative world, and pick up a DVD of "State Of Decay." Then I could return home and play it on my Region-Free DVD Player. That's assuming, of course, that this alternate world has invented DVDs, and isn't still using VHS Videotapes. 

Gosh, that'd be horrible.

Dragon Dave

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