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TRIAL & ERROR

”Well, we tried.” In the final part of a candid interview, 1980s script editor Eric Saward recalls the drama of Season 23, on and o_ screen…
The Doctor (Colin Baker) fights for his life in The Trial of a Time Lord (1986).

In February 1985, the BBC axed Doctor Who just a few weeks before recording was due to start on the show’s 23rd season.

“I think we were all a bit stunned – by how it’d happened, why it’d happened – because Season 22 had been… not bad. Some of it was quite good,” claims Eric Saward, Doctor Who’s script editor at that time. “And I’d started work on 23. The ideas were beginning to flow. And then we were damned. We were closed down and expected to dump what we already had.”

Maybe the BBC’s decision was financially motived. Or perhaps, as the then-powersthat- be have admitted, they just didn’t like Doctor Who very much. “The people who make it have got rather complacent,” the Controller of BBC1, Michael Grade, told the press that September, “and [the show] lost a lot of its imagination, a lot of its wit, and was relying far too much on straightforward, on-the-nose violence…”

“Some people even say, to this day, that I was responsible,” exclaims Eric, now 74 and chatting to Doctor Who Magazine in his west London local. “I think, ‘You’ve no idea how the BBC works. The last person you can blame for the hiatus is me. I would have been right down the list of those whose opinion mattered.’”

Still, the Sawardscripted finale to Season 22, Revelation of the Daleks, almost became the programme’s last-ever serial. Then news of Doctor Who’s cancellation leaked, and the wave of media coverage, tabloid backlash and fan outrage forced Eric’s superiors at the BBC to backtrack. The Beeb announced that there would be a 1986 series after all, just a little later than planned – airing in the autumn, rather than January – and for a “greater number of weeks”. In reality, Season 23 was curtailed to 14 25-minute episodes – almost half the length of Season 22.

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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!