Robert Holmes (1926–1986) was a British screenwriter best known for his stint on Doctor Who
: he wrote 18note
stories between 1968 and 1986, and served as script editor from 1975-1977.
These aren't just any
stories though. Included in his work are somenote
of the all-time classics of the show, including:
Yep, this is the guy who gave us the Autons and the Sontarans... and, as if that weren't enough, wrote the first appearances of the Master, and some of the best companions.
Many of his plots have a formula - crippled super-villain tries to regain power - but they vary widely from that initial idea. Holmes was very fond of Those Two Guys
: many of his stories are advanced by a double act of supporting characters. His Holmesian Double Act in "The Talons of Weng-Chiang", showman Jago and police pathologist Litefoot, were so popular that a spinoff was briefly considered, and eventually realised in 2010 by Big Finish
. He died before he could finish "The Ultimate Foe
"; it would require others to finish that one off. It's also a shame that we never got to see "Yellow Fever and How to Cure It", a story planned for the original Season 23, which would have featured the Master teaming up with the Nestene Consciousness in Singapore.Doctor Who
wasn't the only British science fiction institution Holmes wrote for. He was offered the script editor's position on Blake's 7
, which he declined, recommending Chris Boucher
for the job. He eventually wrote four episodes for that series, including "Orbit," where Avon stalks Vila through a shuttle in order to throw him overboard to save weight
Holmes joined the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders in 1944, and was actually the youngest commissioned officer of the entire British Army
in the Second World War, having lied about his age to join. After the war, he became a London policeman
. His contact with court reporters led him to leave the Met and become a reporter himself, and eventually a television writer. A spec script sent to the BBC led to his first scripting job for Doctor Who
, Season 6's The Krotons.
Tropes in his work include:
- Bloodier and Gorier, Darker and Edgier: Along with producer Philip Hinchcliffe, he was responsible for Doctor Who's "gothic horror" period in the mid-Seventies, and really tested the limits of what they could get away with.
- Creator Thumbprint: Those Two Guys, massive body counts, boundary-pushing horror, general cynicism sometimes to localised Crapsack World levels, aliens referring to Earth humans as "Tellurians", Getting Crap Past the Radar fart gags and more than a touch of black humour.
- Everybody's Dead, Dave: In at least three of his stories, he butchered nearly all his guest cast. In "The Caves of Androzani", the only person to make it off Androzani alive is Peri - he even kills the Fifth Doctor!
- Old Shame: He wasn't particularly proud of The Power Of Kroll and didn't think the effects would work (he was right), not to mention resenting the over-arching "Key To Time" arc. This is why it is generally regarded as his weakest episode.
- Those Two Guys: And frequently so well-written they became pretty popular. Some of the more popular examples include showman Jago and police pathologist Litefoot (They Fight Crime!), con artists Garron and Unstoffe, and mercenary Sabalom Glitz and his incompetent assistant Dibber.
- Writer on Board: Occasionally quite obvious, though rarely detrimental to the plot. The Two Doctors made the Doctor a vegetarian like Holmes (and this actually held for twenty years). The Sun Makers was a jab at the Revenue office (because they were taxing Holmes as both an employee and a freelancer for the BBC). The Deadly Assassin is commonly seen as taking some potshots at the ridiculousness of the House Of Lords.