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Digital Subscriptions > Doctor Who Magazine > 526 > THE HOLMES MASTER PLAN


For Season 12 of Doctor Who, script editor Robert Holmes devised a compelling formula that would inspire the series’ 21st-century showrunners.
The Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) fought monsters old and new in his first series of adventures.

Back in 1986, Robert Holmes was asked to contribute an account of his time as script editor of Doctor Who for Peter Haining’s book The Doctor Who File. The three pages Holmes wrote are full of his distinctive wit, and recount an exchange with producer Philip Hinchcliffe while he was busy hammering away to get a script in shape. “First the good news,” said Hinchcliffe. “Arnold Kingfisher’s script’s in.” “Oh, great!” said Holmes. “I knew good old Arnold wouldn’t let us down.” “Now for the bad news,” said Philip. “It’s useless.”

History does not relate the true identity of the writer referred to as Arnold Kingfisher. There are several possible contenders: John Lucarotti, Gerry Davis, Lewis Griefer. Or even – and we include him only for the sake of factual completeness – Terrance Dicks. Because when Holmes was script editor, he ended up rewriting quite a few of the scripts. Entirely from scratch, in some cases. Even when a page-one rewrite wasn’t required, he would still take a pass at every script to polish the dialogue (for instance, on 1975’s Genesis of the Daleks). Together with Hinchcliffe, he came up with the plots of every story and developed the storylines with the writers. In addition, he wrote the key stories that would establish the tone and the format of the rest of the series. He was effectively doing the job of a modern Doctor Who showrunner.

Now, it could be argued he wasn’t the first script editor to fulfil this role. Ever since the series’ earliest days, its script editors (or story editors as they were originally known), had been obliged to rewrite. A great deal of Doctor Who’s first year was the work of David Whitaker, and Donald Tosh has often discussed his extensive revisions of The Daleks’ Master Plan (1965-66). Terrance Dicks got through a lot of typewriter ribbon while script-editing the Jon Pertwee era, especially when he had to rewrite The Three Doctors (1972-73) to reduce William Hartnell’s role and replace Jamie McCrimmon with Sergeant Benton.

Compared to Holmes, however, the show’s previous script editors had a light touch. Holmes admitted that, “It was necessary to do a lot of rewriting, particularly in the first two seasons of Tom Baker, because Philip Hinchcliffe and I were trying to make some pretty radical changes. We knew what we wanted, but it was hard to get it across to the writers who tended, on the whole, to have their own conception of the programme based on what they had seen in the past.”

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About Doctor Who Magazine

TOM BAKER REVISITS HIS FIRST SERIES AS THE DOCTOR IN AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW! As part of DWM’s detailed preview of the forthcoming Season 12 Blu-ray set, Tom Baker reflects on the role that changed his life. Also in this issue... ROGER MURRAY-LEACH An extensive interview with the production designer who achieved the impossible on Season 12 of Doctor Who. THE HOLMES MASTER PLAN How Season 12 script editor Robert Holmes created a storytelling formula that continues to influence the modern series. KEVIN LINDSAY The life and career of the Australian actor who played Styre in Season 12’s The Sontaran Experiment. BREWING UP The untold story of how Doctor Who led a marketing campaign for tea bags in 1976. GEORGIA TENNANT The actress talks about how her life has changed since she made her Doctor Who debut – and met her future husband – in 2008. JESSICA MARTIN Jessica talks about illustrating her character Mags (from The Greatest Show in the Galaxy) for a new Seventh Doctor comic. NEW FACES The second part of a series looking at how new Doctors have been introduced to the public. THE TIME TEAM It’s hankies at the ready as the Time Team watch tearjerking episodes from 1982, 2006 and 2010. THE CLOCKWISE WAR Part Three of a new comic strip adventure written by Scott Gray and illustrated by John Ross. PLUS... The Blogs of Doom, previews, DVD and audio reviews, news, prize-winning competitions and much more!