Robert Colin Holmes (2 April 1926 24 May 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:
- "Spearhead from Space"
- "Pyramids of Mars"
- "The Deadly Assassin"
- "The Talons of Weng-Chiang"
- "The Caves of Androzani"
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, quite a bit of Time Lord mythologynote and some of the best companions. His contribution to Doctor Who cannot be overstated and we're willing to bet at least one of his stories turns up on your top 10 list, probably more. Steven Moffat called him "the man who showed us how to write Doctor Who", while Russell T. Davies lamented how the BBC had no respect for him, and compared the first episode of "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" to Dennis Potter.
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:
- Armed with Canon: He spent a lot of time kicking at things from the Pertwee era that he disliked (like the Third Doctor's Boring Invincible Hero problems and the rampant sexism present in much of the writing) and providing explanations for Necessary Weasel tropes in the show that had been previously ignored (Aliens Speaking English, Walking Disaster Area, Hero Ball). He also retconned Time Lord society into a Deadly Decadent Court of elderly bureaucrats because he disliked the Mary Sue Topia concept that the previous era used, something that is still fairly controversial. He was also the first writer to confirm that regeneration can happen across gender, though he envisioned Time Lord society as a One-Gender Race of men unlike later writers.
- Black Comedy: If his sense of humour wasn't clever wordplay, it was this.
- 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.
- Comic Trio: He often set up his vilains like this, then used them to tell a genuinely frightening horror story. Even when he wasn't using the entire trio, the "character who thinks he's a genius, has some legitimate talent, but actually has no idea what he's doing" was one of his favourite archetypes, and formed the backbone of the Master, the Fourth Doctor (a rare heroic example from him), and virtually all other prominent characters he created.
- 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, deformed grotesque villains and more than a touch of black humour.
- Distinguished Gentleman's Pipe: He was fond of smoking one.
- 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!
- Gothic Horror: His tenure even had a touch of Hammer Horror about it.
- Nightmare Fetishist: His attitude to Doctor Who was essentially, "Let's scare the little buggers".
- Obstructive Bureaucrat: He hated bureaucrats. When he wasn't using them as villains, he was having the Doctor make Take That! zingers at their expense.
- Straw Feminist: Averted most of the time, due to Holmes himself being a second-wave feminist.
- 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.
- Unwanted Assistance: His characters don't stand around and wait for the Doctor to save them, they work on their own solution to the problem. Usually they end up just making things worse (see Doctor Who S6 E4 "The Krotons" and Doctor Who S10 E2 "Carnival of Monsters" for good examples).
- 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 subjected him to a gruelling tax audit because he'd been paid as both an employee and a freelancer for the BBC during his period as script editor). "The Deadly Assassin" is commonly seen as taking some potshots at the ridiculousness of the House Of Lords and the Oxbridge establishment, too.