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Doctor Who VI.[19-22]: The Prison in Space

November 16th, 2011 (11:34 am)

Richard Bignell's second published collection of unproduced Doctor Who scripts is The Prison in Space by Dick Sharples, commissioned by producer Peter Bryant and script editor Derrick Sherwin for the 1968/69 season. It was to have followed The Invasion on screen, but was abandoned not long before recording was to begin, with a director already appointed (David Maloney), casting having begun and costume and set design in progress. The Krotons replaced it.

From these scripts it's not difficult to see why The Prison in Space was dropped. The first episode has an uncanny otherness to it which had echoes of the earlier years of Doctor Who as produced by Verity Lambert and John Wiles, before Innes Lloyd (mistakenly credited as the producer of this story on the back cover blurb) moved towards a less reflective monster-of-the-week action-drama format. The garden in which most of the first episode is set is easy to visualize along the lines of the zoological section in The Ark, and the idea of a society where universal female suffrage has led to the end of war but also the redundancy and subjection of men appears intended to ask some light-hearted but searching questions of conventional gender roles. Unfortunately the serial does not deliver, because it is unable and unwilling to depart from comic stereotypes and the reinforcement of the chauvinist attitudes of its period. It is heavily reliant on familiar comic types, from the hapless working-class hero who somehow gets the girl, to the grotesquely libidinous older woman. It includes some genuine horror: depending on how it was executed, the mechanical brainwashing of Zoe in the 'Silver Maiden' could have traumatized child viewers. Zoe's conditioning, though, is notoriously undone by Jamie making good his threat to 'larrup' Zoe from The Wheel in Space, subjecting her to "A (REALLY HARD) SPANKING", undermining the drama and credibility of what has gone before.

There are other uneasinesses too. The prospects of the Doctor using technology stolen from the Dominators a few stories before to copy a method of mind control used by the Cybermen in The Invasion and then threaten the population of Earth with nerve gas in order to win male suffrage are highly distasteful to say the least. The 'dolly-guards' in their black microskirts and cleavage-displaying uniforms, together with Jamie himself swapping kilt for microskirt as he drags up, help confirm the sort of prejudices which Doctor Who, with its mission to broaden the horizons of the Saturday teatime audience, was set up to overcome.

The Prison in Space has good moments - I agree with Jonathan Morris, who reviews the story in one of the appendices, that Patrick Troughton would have excelled in the scene where the Doctor uses copper wire to build an abstract sculpture as part of his 'occupational therapy' while imprisoned - and might have quietly made some impact on Doctor Who lore, with the Doctor putting himself into suspended animation for part of one episode as he would with frequency in the 1970s. Other appendices include Brian Hayles's storyline for his first attempt at a second Ice Warrior story, The Lords of the Red Planet, and Andrew Pixley's summary of the chaotic production history of season six. The scriptbook of The Prison in Space is a valuable exercise in the documentation of Doctor Who history and reveals much about the attitudes of those who were making it at the end of the 1960s; the story itself is a failed experiment whose failure to reach the screen surely had beneficial effects on Doctor Who's longevity.

Also posted at http://sir-guinglain.dreamwidth.org/464447.html.


Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: November 16th, 2011 10:48 pm (UTC)

I thought Farewell Great Macedon was excellently produced and I'm a fan of the under-rated season six, but your review does not encourage me to spend getting on for £20 on this book (not to mention reading a book with that cover on the Tube).

Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: November 16th, 2011 10:50 pm (UTC)

I'd recommend its purchase as an example of how Doctor Who can go wrong - it's not as philosophical or intellectual as Farewell Great Macedon, but stands tribute to Bryant and Sherwin and their willingness to experiment.

Posted by: daniel_saunders (daniel_saunders)
Posted at: November 16th, 2011 11:09 pm (UTC)

Well, if my financial situation dramatically improves, and I get through lots of the worthier books on my 'to buy' and 'to read' lists...

(Deleted comment)
Posted by: parrot_knight (parrot_knight)
Posted at: November 18th, 2011 08:20 pm (UTC)

I don't think we missed much; what Sharples delivered was untransmittable as Doctor Who even under the exhausted experimentalism of the Bryant and Sherwin regime.