07 octubre 2013

47 to 50 - A talk with Andrew Cartmel (I)

Doctor Who has had a good amount of people guiding its steps, even if they wrote scarcely few or even no actual scripts. These are the script-editors: the classic series had 15 of them, starting with David Whitaker (1963-64), Dennis Spooner (1964-65) and Donald Tosh (1965-66), who covered the whole First Doctor run and the start of the Second Doctor adventures, to Andrew Cartmel (1987-89), who was in charge of the whole Seventh Doctor era as last script-editor of the original series. Andrew kindly accepted to be interviewed by Look! Up in the sky!

Let's start, in a sense, in the end: do you remember the circumstances, around 1989, when you first were aware or told there was not going to be a 1990 season for the series? Was there a general sense it was another temporary stop, like before the "Trial of a Time Lord" season, or something more permanent?
We were left completely in the dark. JNT [John Nathan Turner, the series producer from 1980 to 1989] had the impression that it was going to be suspended... though he didn't know for how long.

So, essentially, until "Survival" was broadcasted (and McCoy's special final speech was recorded, due to Nathan-Turner's suspicion), nobody knew anything? You were threading plots and preparing next season, and AFTER "Survival" you were told, "no, next year's season is suspended"?
The dialogue I wrote ("There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, where the sea is asleep and the rivers dream; people made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there's injustice, and somewhere else the tea is getting cold. Come on, Ace, we've got work to do") was recorded during the filming of "Survival", which was the second last story to go into production (the last one was "Ghost Light"). So at that point JNT knew that we weren't going to be renewed as usual, and that there would be some kind of delay or interval... though we didn't know for how long.

At this time my head would have been full of "Ghost Light", which was yet to be recorded. I wasn't thinking very far ahead. John was thinking more far ahead, because he was aware we weren't going into production for the next season as normal.

Ok, let's leave that strand of the story there. We got you, JNT and the team without a next season to work with. Let's go back to your arrival to the series. For what I've read, I understand you were searching for an agent to make your scripts get to the BBC, and when you got one instead you ended being offered the script-editor job?
Not as straightforward as that. I was sending out scripts to all the UK TV companies, including the BBC. I was getting some nice feedback, but no firm offers. But the BBC was sufficiently impressed with my work to invite me to join a group of aspiring writers who were being nurtured in an institution at the BBC called the Script Unit run by Tony Dinner. Other writers in the group included Ian Briggs, Malcolm Kohll and Robin Mukherjee. There I discovered (Malcolm Kohll told me) that I could also send my scripts to agents, as well as broadcasters. I did, and soon got an agent. My agent sold some of my scripts and then, later, got me an interview for the post of script editor of Doctor Who. (My agent was a friend of JNT).

What was your personal relationship with the series at that moment?
I was born in London, moved to Canada when I was 5 and moved back to the UK when I was 15. I had almost never watched Doctor Who. I had vague childhood memories of the first Dalek story --where they unscrew the top of the Dalek and the black blob slithers out... Unforgettable! I also had some of the early annuals. One with Hartnell on the cover and a Dalek annual. And I read these.  

I may also have seen some of the comics in TV21 [originally called TV Century 21, this magazine printed the "The Dalek Chronicles" comic strip between 1965-1967]. But I had never watched the series and was otherwise only aware of it as part of the cultural background, "out of the corner of my eye", so to speak.

You wanted to write and ended script-editing. Did it allow you to develop your creativity in the way you wanted? What is, in fact, the job of a script-editor?
Script editing is sort of like meta-writing. You chose the writers, develop the stories and work with the writers on them. And it's very creative. In a way I was writing by applying the writers and their imaginations.
I like to compare it to Harvey Kurtzman at EC comics and the way he'd work with his artists. He'd do the layouts and then get these great artists to draw them.Or like Duke Ellington, who composed for a big band with specific soloists in mind, so he would assign certain parts to a virtuoso like Johnny Hodges knowing that he was the perfect man for that part. Thus I would use Ian Briggs to do some brilliant character writing.

Has that currently been subsumed by the "showrunner" figure?
You are right. In effect, as a script editor I was like a show runner these days.

We'll keep talking with Andrew Cartmel on part-2 of this interview, where we'll tread with him through the rights and wrongs of his time on Doctor Who, and his views on the current series and who the Doctor really is.

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