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Digital Subscriptions > Doctor Who Magazine > 542 > PATHFINDERS IN SPACE


Doctor Who’s early voyages were guided by two very different, but equally influential, figures: David Whitaker and Terry Nation.

Doctor Who may owe its existence to a somewhat prosaic scheduling problem – namely, Sydney Newman’s need to fill that awkward gap between Grandstand and Juke Box Jury – but the BBC drama boss had lofty ambitions for the new show from the start.

One of Newman’s earliest edicts was that the series should be “rooted in reality” and “avoid science-fiction clichés”. He was also known for annotating early discussion documents with considered notes like “NUTS!” So when David Whitaker, a staffer in the BBC’s Script Department, was hired as Doctor Who’s first story editor, it was clear he needed to be on his mettle.

Whitaker was a thoughtful, literate writer; parts of The Crusade, Whitaker’s 1965 attempt to sneak in a Shakespeare history play, are in actual iambic pentameter.

So, for the writers who followed decades later, how much of Doctor Who’s enduring success can be attributed to his careful stewardship as the show took its first baby steps?

ROBERT SHEARMAN: Oh, a huge amount.

He’s the one who turns the premise of the series into something that’s about ideas and moral dilemmas. I’ve just read the prologue to his Crusaders novelisation to get a glimpse of how, from the get-go, he wanted this silly new family series to take its preposterous brief seriously.

PETER HARNESS: If I could sum David Whitaker up in one word, it would be: mercury. I love the fact he has mercury in nearly all his stories. He’s obviously obsessed with alchemy, and sees the whole show, and the Doctor, as a kind of alchemist, which he always seems to be trying to tie together with science. He did more than anybody else to promote the idea that the show could just change overnight: that it was going to be totally different every week, and you just didn’t know where it was going. Mercury being the element of change, I think that’s a very good word to describe him.

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About Doctor Who Magazine

In DWM 542, today's Doctor Who writers pay tribute to the series' pioneers. Featuring exclusive contributions from: Paul Cornell, Sarah Dollard, Matthew Graham, Peter Harness, Pete McTighe, Steven Moffat, James Moran, Rona Munro, Robert Shearman and Toby Whithouse. This issue also includes: • Exclusive interviews with Billie Piper and Camille Coduri ahead of Big Finish’s new audio series Rose Tyler: The Dimension Cannon. • The Robots of Ravolox – investigating Robert Holmes final mystery. • Bonnie Langford answers questions from the TARDIS tin. • 1980s script editor Eric Saward reflects on the troubled production of The Trial of a Time Lord. • The Trial of a Time Lord on trial: could it be Doctor Who’s most underrated story? • The Fact of Fiction explores the 2008 Tenth Doctor story Planet of the Ood. • An exclusive preview of Doctor Who: The Collection – Season 23. • Part Three of Power of the Mobox, a new comic-strip adventure featuring the Thirteenth Doctor and her friends. • The Blogs of Doom, audio reviews, previews, news, prize-winning competitions and much, much more!