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In a DWM exclusive, Mark Gatiss, Gareth Roberts and Clayton Hickman talk us through their 2001 pitch to… bring back Doctor Who!

"I remember the dark times,” says Mark Gatiss, with a dramatist’s flourish. “When you’d go into WH Smith and there were TV Zone, Starburst, all these magazines. Almost as an instinct I would leaf through them. It was all American series. SeaQuest, Stargate, Deep Space Nine… they were all the same shows. The same cast shot; just change Roy Scheider’s head for someone else.

“I was thinking, ‘I just want something a bit more John Wyndham-y, a bit more curious…’”

As one century ended, the likelihood of Doctor Who coming back to TV felt more remote than ever. In 1998, the BBC had launched sci-fi drama Invasion: Earth. Its publicity flagged the show – gritty and well resourced with a rumoured £750,000 per episode – as everything Doctor Who was not. Writer Jed Mercurio, who’d later go on to create Line of Duty, sourly opined, “a certain Time Lord should be consigned to the dustbin.”

A glimpse of the pitch!

But imagine. Just imagine a certain Time Lord did return. As the twenty-first century arrived, so again did the TARDIS, to spill the adventurer out onto our TV screens. Same old Doctor, but also brand new. Regenerated! Reinvigorated!

Of course, you don’t have to imagine, because that’s precisely what happened in 2005, thanks to Russell T Davies, Julie Gardner and Phil Collinson. But in 2001 (around the time Russell would meet Jane Tranter, Controller of Drama Commissioning at the BBC, and get talking about the kind of projects he’d like to tackle) another trio were ruminating on how to resurrect our hero.

“Oh, I feel like Verity Lambert trying to remember The Rescue!” laughs Clayton Hickman talking to DWM today. “It’s been 15 years, but people still ask us about this. I think Mark mentioned it, just once, in a DWM interview. But Doctor Who fans have long memories, of course.”

So why has it taken until now to talk about it?

“I guess it seemed, I dunno, a bit presumptuous. Almost like saying, ‘Here’s what you could have had’, when, frankly, what we actually got was beyond incredible. But I guess enough time has passed that it now feels more like some little quirk of history. And at last people can stop asking!”

While Mark Gatiss and Gareth Roberts were both writing for the second series of the short-lived reboot of Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) (BBC1, Saturday nights, starring Tom Baker – plus ça change), Clay was working as assistant editor on DWM. For years, the three friends had been kicking around concepts for TV projects. But it felt different this time…

“I recall us having a chat around Mark’s house,” Clay says. “We were going, ‘Every time anyone tries to come up with something that’s a bit like Doctor Who it’s just never as good. So why don’t we do Doctor Who?’”

In fact, this wasn’t the first time such a notion had occurred to Mark, who admits – in the company of one Steven Moffat – he’d often be found at industry parties, “badgering people, like the late, great, [producer] Geoffrey Perkins (because we only knew comedy people) saying, ‘Why can’t we bring back Doctor Who?’ We’d try and be very erudite about it. It was always a bit drunken, and they’d look at us slightly baffed.”

This was a frustrating endeavour...

"Doctor Who had become the victim of a kind of legend of wobbliness and naffness. I used to think, ‘If only someone in a position of power could accidentally stumble across The Deadly Assassin and go, ‘God, this was marvellous!’”

Now there was a chance. Mark was enjoying success as part of comedy troupe The League of Gentlemen, who’d won a BAFTA for their first TV series.

“I was emboldened by the arrogance of youth, and obviously the BAFTA. I thought, ‘Well, it’s not an obvious way in, but I know enough people now to get a hearing at any rate – we should put something together.’ So that was the beginning.”

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About Doctor Who Magazine

The biggest issue ever to celebrate 500 editions of DWM! Contents include: Interviews with Tom Baker, Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat; a message to readers from new companion Pearl Mackie; a letter from the Doctor; a 20-page celebratory comic strip, The Stockbridge Showdown by Scott Gray, drawn by a host of guest artists; an exclusive look at Mark Gatiss' 2001 pitch for Doctor Who; Peter Capaldi answers questions once put to William Hartnell; Fact of Fiction on The Day of the Doctor; competitions to win HUGE prizes; a bonus 116-page section looking back at the history of DWM, featuring every single cover and commentary from the editors; plus News, Reviews, Coming Soon, Wotcha... and LOTS of surprises!

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