I’ve just watched “Time and the Rani” followed directly by “Ghost Light”, the worst story and then the best (arguably) of Andrew Cartmel’s era as script editor. There couldn’t be two stories so utterly different. Andrew Cartmel was a Guest of Honour at the recent ArmadaCon and was interviewed about his writing, and then about Doctor Who. I bought his memoirs, “Script Doctor”, and I’ve just finished it. It’s a fascinating insight. So, I thought I’d watched the first and worst story – and, boy, was it bad – and the one he considered the best. Now, I’d argue (hence ‘arguably’ above) that “The Curse of Fenric” was marginally better, but they are both truly excellent.
Andrew Cartmel sort of inherited Pip and Jane Baker’s opener for Sylvester McCoy and… oh dear. The problem with it was the pantomime attitude to the programme that came in with Colin Baker’s jacket and the introduction of Bonnie Langford’s character. (I’ve met Colin Baker and he even persuaded me to break the law for him, and I’ve a lot of respect for him, and I’ve Bonnie Langford’s signature somewhere.) The issue is that his jacket is loud, therefore he’s loud, therefore Bonnie is loud to compete, everyone else does the same and we’ve ‘behind you’ and the playing of spoons. It’s just hopeless and into this fray comes Sylvester McCoy doing pratfalls and physical comedy.
Andrew Cartmel believes in proper science fiction. His book outlines his attempts to turn the ship and he does so. I was, during Andrew’s spot at the convention, disparaging about his first season in a question, but I was unfair. Even with “Paradise Towers”, the second story, you can see evidence of a better approach, but we were trained by that stage to spot nonsense, so we all looked for it.
Most periods of Doctor Who can be identified by the companion(s). This is the way that the production team stamp their identity upon the programme. Because Mel, Bonne Langford’s character, came from the pantomime style, so the Doctor remained defined by it, but as soon as Ace came on the scene, the whole dynamic of the pairing changed, the 7th Doctor matured and the programme jumped up leaps and bounds. Basically, Cartmel’s Master Plan, as it’s been erroneously called, could make itself felt. There was no Master Plan according to how I understood Andrew during his guest spot, but, I think, a correct attitude to Science Fiction (and writing for that matter). The stories come from a sound idea rather than being nonsense decorated with an “it’s sci-fi so you can do anything you like” attitude. (Was that a Moffat quote creeping in… you know, I think it was.)
Some of the best Doctor Who was the Ace period, Seasons 25 and 26: good solid pure SF with a brilliant companion and a mysterious and manipulative Doctor. It is such a shame that he wasn’t allowed to move forward and give us Seasons 27, 28, 29 and so on. He had a good relationship with a Producer, who trusted his opinion, and a good batch of writers, who understood SF, and had learnt how to avoid certain pitfalls with the way television was made in those days.
Stephen Moffat wrote a forward to “Script Doctor”, but I’m not sure he read the book. Andrew Cartmel would not have allowed the moon to be an egg, etc.