Robert Holmes (scriptwriter)

Robert Holmes (scriptwriter)

"This entry is about the television scriptwriter. For other people with the same name, see Robert Holmes (disambiguation)."

Robert Colin Holmes (born 1928 in Hertfordshire; died 24 May 1986) was an English television scriptwriter, who for over twenty-five years contributed to some of the most popular programmes screened in the UK. He is particularly remembered for his work on science fiction programmes, most notably his extensive contributions to "Doctor Who".

Early career

In 1944, at the age of just sixteen, Holmes joined the army, fighting with the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders regiment in Burma. He rapidly earned a commission, and as such became the youngest commissioned officer in the entire British army during the Second World War. The fact that he lied about his age to get into the army was discovered at his commissioning, but apparently the only reaction was by a general who praised him, adding that he had done the same thing himself.

Soon after the end of the war, Holmes returned to England and left the army, deciding to join the police. He trained at the elite Hendon College, graduating the top of his year and joining the Metropolitan Police in London, serving at Bow Street Police Station.

It was whilst serving at a Police officer that Holmes first began to develop an interest in writing as a career. When giving evidence in court for prosecutions against offenders, he would often note the excitement and frantic work of the journalists reporting on the cases, and decided that he would like to do similar work. To this end, he taught himself shorthand in his spare time and eventually resigned from the Police force.

He quickly found work writing for both local and national newspapers, initially in London and later in the Midlands. He also filed reports for the Press Association, which could be syndicated to a variety of sources, such as local or foreign newspapers. In the late 1950s he worked for a time writing and editing short stories for magazines, before receiving his first break in television when he contributed an episode to the famous medical series "Emergency Ward 10" (1957).


Holmes found himself working almost exclusively in television drama after 1957. He began contributing episodes regularly to the adventure series "Knight Errant" before becoming that programme's Story Editor in 1959. He wrote several episodes of another medical drama, "Doctor Finlay's Casebook", before in the early 1960s writing for a range of crime-related dramas: "Dixon of Dock Green", "The Saint", "Ghost Squad", "Public Eye" and "Intrigue" all dealt with law enforcement, and benefitting from Holmes' real-life experiences.

It was in 1965 that he first began writing in the science-fiction genre, when he contributed scripts to "Undermind", a body-snatching drama from ITV. He also worked in film for the first and only time, storylining the movie "Invasion", several elements from which would later crop up in his 1970 "Doctor Who" serial "Spearhead from Space", and which had also been inspired by Nigel Kneale's 1955 "Quatermass II" serial.

"Doctor Who"

The same year, he wrote on-spec an idea for a stand-alone science-fiction serial entitled "The Trap", which he submitted to the BBC. There, the Head of Drama Serials wrote back to Holmes, informing him that they were no longer interested in producing such serials, but that he might have better luck if he tried submitting it to the "Doctor Who" production office. This he did, and had a fruitful meeting with the show's then story editor Donald Tosh; but when Tosh left the programme shortly afterwards, the script was forgotten and Holmes moved on to other projects.

In 1968, after some work on other projects appeared to be falling through, Holmes decided on the off-chance to re-submit "The Trap" (now entitled "The Space Trap") to the "Doctor Who" office, and again found a favourable response, this time from Assistant Script Editor Terrance Dicks. Although there was no slot available for the story, Dicks developed it with Holmes to cover the eventuality of an agreed script falling through. When this occurred in 1969, "The Krotons" quickly went before the cameras and was eventually transmitted as part of "Doctor Who"’'s sixth season.

The story was regarded as a success by the production team, who quickly commissioned Holmes to write a second story for the season, "The Space Pirates". Holmes and Dicks got on very well; when Dicks was promoted to become the programme's full Script Editor, he frequently turned to Holmes for contributions.

Holmes wrote Jon Pertwee's debut serial as the Third Doctor, "Spearhead from Space", in 1970. Between then and 1974 he contributed four stories to Pertwee's five seasons, introducing two alien races who would go on to become famous and recurring "Doctor Who" villains: the Autons and the Sontarans. During the early 1970s he also wrote for another BBC science-fiction show, "Doomwatch", as well as other programmes such as the ATV series "Spyder's Web".

When Dicks decided to leave "Doctor Who" in 1974, it was Holmes who emerged as his most obvious replacement as script editor. He accepted the post, working alongside new Producer Philip Hinchcliffe to bring a new tone and direction to the programme, now fronted by new star Tom Baker.

Holmes continued as Script Editor for the next three years, seeing it through one of its most successful eras in terms of both viewing figures and critical acclaim, although the stories he and Hinchcliffe oversaw were criticised for being overly violent or frightening in tone by Mary Whitehouse and her National Viewers' and Listeners' Association.

During this time, Holmes wrote three of his own credited stories for the programme, performed complete ground-up rewrites on at least two other stories (which were broadcast under pseudonyms), and had a strong hand in almost every other script. It was very much his era of the show, although by 1977 he felt that he had done all he could for the programme and decided to leave at the end of the fourteenth season. He was persuaded to stay on for a short while, as Graham Williams had taken over as Producer and it was felt that Holmes remaining would ease his settling in, but halfway through the following season when it was apparent that Williams was now firmly established, Holmes departed, handing over Script Editor duties to Anthony Read.

Nonetheless, Read was quick to turn to Holmes when it came to commissioning scripts for the sixteenth season, being keen to use writers who knew how the "Doctor Who" format was best used and could be relied upon to come up with usable scripts in good time. Holmes wrote two stories for the season, but after its broadcast in 1978 he did not return to the show for some six years.

During this time he wrote for various series, such as the BBC science-fiction show "Blake's 7", on which he had been offered the Script Editor's post when it began in 1978, but declined as he had only just finished his role as such on "Doctor Who" and was not keen to go back to such strenuous work so quickly. Instead, he recommended writer Chris Boucher, who he had used on "Doctor Who", to the Producer, and thus it was Boucher who in turn commissioned Holmes to write for the show. One of the most notorious moments in the series occurred in Holmes' episode "Orbit" in the fourth season of "Blake's 7", when Avon stalks Vila in a shuttle wanting to throw him off the ship. Other programmes Holmes worked on in the late seventies and early eighties included the police series "Juliet Bravo" and an adaptation of the science-fiction novel "Child of the Vodyoni", which was screened as "The Nightmare Man" in 1981.

In 1983, the then-current "Doctor Who" production team of Producer John Nathan-Turner and Script Editor Eric Saward sounded out Holmes about returning to the show to script the planned twentieth anniversary special, due for broadcast that November. Although Holmes had an unhappy time attempting to find a workable story using as many elements from the show's past as Nathan-Turner wanted and he eventually gave up on the assignment (the special was eventually scripted by Terrance Dicks), it did lead to a friendship between Saward and Holmes and eventually a commission to write a regular story for the twenty-first season.

"The Caves of Androzani", as the story came to be titled, was Holmes's first script for the programme in six years, and is generally regarded by fans as being one of the best in the show's entire twenty-six year run. It saw the killing off of the Fifth Doctor as played by Peter Davison and his Doctor's regeneration into Colin Baker's Doctor.

After writing "The Two Doctors" for the twenty-second season in 1985, Holmes was asked to contribute the first four and final two installments to the special fourteen-part story Nathan-Turner and Saward had conceived to span the entire twenty-third season: "The Trial of a Time Lord". Production of the season was far from smooth, however, with tensions between Nathan-Turner and Saward, a lack of faith in the production from BBC executives and Holmes himself falling ill. He was particularly upset at comments made by BBC drama executive Jonathan Powell regarding his opening four episodes, although he agreed to pen the closing two episodes of the season. However, he died in May 1986 after a short illness, having written only part of the first of the final two episodes. Part Thirteen was completed by Eric Saward while Part Fourteen was written by Pip and Jane Baker.

His last work to be broadcast was an episode of the detective series "Bergerac", another show script-edited by Chris Boucher, transmitted in 1987. He did little work outside of television, although he did novelise his script of "The Two Doctors" for Target Books in 1986. It was the 100th "Doctor Who" novelisation published by Target Books.

Robert Holmes' work on "Doctor Who" was discussed in a documentary, "Behind the Sofa", produced by Richard Molesworth, and which appears on the DVD release of "The Two Doctors".

Russell T Davies, writer/producer for "Doctor Who"'s 21st-century revival, praised Holmes' talents, saying "Take "The Talons of Weng Chiang", for example. Watch episode one. It's the best dialogue ever written. It's up there with Dennis Potter. By a man called Robert Holmes. When the history of television drama comes to be written, Robert Holmes won't be remembered at all because he only wrote genre stuff. And that, I reckon, is a real tragedy." [cite news |first=Richard |last=Johnson |title=Master of the universe |url= |work=The Sunday Telegraph |date=2007-03-11 | page=1| accessdate=2007-03-12 ] Davies has also mentioned that Holmes' story The Ark in Space is his favourite story from the original series.

"Doctor Who" scripts


External links

*imdb name|id=0392025|name=Robert Holmes

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