Malcolm Hulke was a successful writer for radio, television and the theatre from the 1950s to the late 1970s. For television his work included episodes for Armchair Theatre, The Avengers, and Doctor Who, for which he is best remembered. My interest in Malcolm was sparked by coming across a pamphlet he wrote for Unity Theatre in the collection of the Working Class Movement Library. I already knew of him as a writer on Doctor Who and thought I would do some research on him, which was published as a guest post on the Lipstick Socialist blog in February 2013. I then forgot about it until Five Leaves Press approached me in December 2014, wishing to publish the post as a pamphlet, so I revised and expanded the article, and this was published in January 2015.
Malcolm was generally known by friends and family as Mac, so that’s what I will call him from now on in this post. Whilst it was known that Mac was a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) for some time, I failed to find out anything substantial about his time in the party, despite my looking in all the obvious places: the Working Class Movement Library, the People’s History Museum, the Marx Memorial Library, the National Archives and the various histories of the CPGB. This surprised and puzzled me as the CPGB has been heavily researched and written about over the last 20 years or so.
In September 2015 Doctor Who Magazine published an excellent article about Mac written by John Williams, who had managed to find out a good deal about Mac’s time in the party by examining his M15 file, which had been released into the National Archives in October 2014. John’s work has been invaluable in adding to what is known about Mac, and I would like to acknowledge my debt to him in preparing this revised and updated article.
Mac was born on 21 November 1924. When he became known as a writer, he gave away very little about his personal life, except that he revealed that he was “illegitimate” (as it used to be called) in an article he wrote entitled “The stigma you can never escape” which appeared in The Observer on 14 October 1973.
One day when I was 21 I decided to track down my father’s relatives to find out why my recently dead mother always told me never to go near them. This well-to-do couple I found in a vast St John’s Wood flat offered me afternoon tea. As she poured, the lady I thought was my aunt said, ‘Well, where do you think you fit into our family?’. I explained I was the son of her long-dead brother and mentioned when I was born. “That’s quite impossible”, she said, because my brother died two years before then. Do you take sugar? I never called again. It isn’t nice to go round shocking innocent house-holders. When you’re illegitimate you feel completely alone…We are the totally silent minority.
In 1964 he took part in a radio documentary on this issue called Born Out of Wedlock, made by Tony Parker. Mac says of this:
For the first time we learnt we number two millions in Britain alone. Irrational joy filled my heart that I was not alone. But listening to the other 50 voices I realised that most of my people suffer terribly. Being brought up rather oddly, with countless moves to avoid creditors and bailiffs, I had been well prepared to learn of my bastardy. These less fortunates had not. They suffered because they clung to ideas of respectability.
Whilst wary of the modern trait of psycho-analysing a writer’s work solely in terms of their personal experiences, I think it could be argued that one of the themes of Mac’s work is secrecy, deception and illusion. As the Doctor says in “The Faceless Ones,” :”You don’t want to believe everything you see, Jamie.”
When the Second World War broke out he was living in the lakes with his mother, Marian, and her companion, Winifred Boot. Marian died in 1943, and Mac was conscripted into the Royal Navy after failing in an attempt to be registered as a Conscientious Objector. He joined the CPGB in June 1945, not, as he later wrote, because he knew anything about Marxism, but because he had “just met lot of Russian POWs in Norway, because the Soviet army had just then rolled back the Germans.”
Directed by Moscow, the CPGB had opposed the war because Stalin had done a deal with Hitler in August 1939 not to attack each other, but after Germany invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, the party swung fully behind the war, its members setting up Anglo-Soviet Friendship Societies and playing a leading role in committees to increase productivity in factories. The party gained a great deal of prestige when the Red Army held Hitler’s armies at Moscow and then drove them all the way back to Berlin.
Mac and the Communist party
After the war Mac not only discovered that he was illegitimate (as noted above) but also that he did not have a birth certificate and therefore had to apply for naturalisation. His membership of the CPGB led M15 to open a file on him from 1949 owards. By now he was living in Marylebone, London, and for a time worked as a typist at the CPGB’s headquarters in King Street, Covent Garden, but was sacked after the party discovered he had phoned the Home Office from King Street to enquire about his application for naturalisation.
Mac moved back to the Lake District for several years, but remained a member of the party, although doubts had set in. In letter to Emile Burns, who was head of the party’s Cultural Committee set up in 1947 , Mac wrote:
Sometimes I think that many Comrades – and especially those deeply engrossed in party life – tend to imagine, rather hopefully, that the rest of the community, though they may be anti—Communist or anything else, are linguistically well-equipped and polemically astute. What’s more, they don’t always seem to be to realise that most people regard politics as not much more important than football pools or going to the pictures.
In 1951 he wrote to the District Secretary to announce that he intended to leave the party, citing as a reason the CPGB’s hostility to the Yougoslavian Communist leader Tito (who had broken with Stalin in 1948), and also its line on the Korean War. It seems that, whilst believing in Communism as an idea, he was less enamoured of actual Communists. He wrote:
Once a man starts wanting to believe in a thing, it’s just about time he really set about some deep thinking…Could it be that Communism is a wonderful idea but that its philosophy is inherited with some not easily definable something that, at least, in present, day society, , tends rather to gather to itself mentalities of a not wholly desirable type?…And if that is the case, and if Communism, managed to gain control in this country, just what sort of people would we expect to find governing us?
M15’s monitoring of the party was very efficient, for just a day after Mac had resigned a letter was sent by Sir Percy Sillitoe, Director-General of M15, to the police in Cumberland advising them of Mac’s decision. Superintendent Baum responded that he suspected the resignation was a trick: “he should continue to receive every attention, as in my view he is a dangerous man and without scruples.”
In September 1951 Mac returned to London, and almost immediately re-applied to join the party. His application was handled by Betty Reid, head of the organisation department. Mac wrote to her explaining that he had found it “impossible to think other than as a Communist “ and that his future aspiration ”was to hold a party card and …I intend to make a published writer of myself – until that goal is reached I do not see my way clear to becoming an active Party member again”. Which seems an odd thing to write if you are seriously hoping to be re-admitted.
Mac’s involvement with the Notting Hill Progressive and Cultural Club, an arts venue run by local party members, but looked upon with deep suspicion by more puritanical elements of the party, including Betty, led to his application being rejected. He carried on badgering the party to let him back, citing his involvement in “squatting, the Savoy picketing, the British-Soviet Society, the 1950 General Election” and telling Betty” I cannot accept your attitude as correct, justified, fair or constructive” which again doesn’t seem very tactful. In the end the party reluctantly let him back in, but he was still being closely monitored by both the police and M15 as he moved from flat to flat around London and ended up lodging at the Notting Hill Progressive and Cultural Club.
Betty Reid retained her suspicions of Mac. In 1953 he wrote to Sam Aaronovitch, then full-time Secretary of the party’s Cultural Committee asking for extra work for the party. M15 recorded Reid asking Aaronovitch to “help put Hulke off.” Mac remained in the party after 1956 when something like a quarter of its members left after the crushing of the Hungarian Uprising by Soviet tanks. He seems to have either left or lapsed from the party in the late 1960s, perhaps when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia. His M15 file after 1962 has yet to be released.
In the 1950s and 1960s Malcolm was very involved with the socialist theatre company, Unity Theatre. Colin Chambers, who has written the history of Unity, says:
The theatre began with irrepressible determination amid the political struggles of the early 1930s that were fought against the savage cuts in state benefits, the imposed means tests, the waste of widespread unemployment and poverty, and above all against the rise of fascism. Four decades later, when the theatre’s auditorium was destroyed by fire, Unity had become a shadow of its former glories. Yes, despite its non-professional status and limited size, Unity made a major and lasting contribution to the British theatre through its own work and that of its members who became professional. It pioneered direct political commentary on stage, in its satires and documentary-based shows and developed a drama that represented working-class life and speech with insight and integrity.
In 1954 Malcolm was listed in the annual Unity report as the production manager. In 1961, to mark the 25th anniversary of the company, he devised, edited and produced a booklet here is drama- behind the scenes at Unity theatre. He stresses that almost all jobs at Unity “can be done, and are done, equally well and equally badly by women as well as men” and ends the pamphlet thus:
Unity is a theatre of ideals. But don’t you be too dreamy-eyed in your approach. Only the very mature, and the lonely, stand the test of time. Some people have even been known to use Unity as a jumping-board for West End theatre work, don’t forgot they may do a lot of good for Unity Theatre in the process. Never store up grievances : take them to the Management Committee. In the final analysis, however, there is only one person who will change and improve unity theatre. You.
He does not seem to have written for Unity himself, which is surprising in view of his later successful career as a writer. Eric Paice, with whom Malcolm worked in the 1950s and 1960s, was also involved with Unity, and did write a number of plays for the company such as The Rosenbergs (1953), Turn It Up (1953) and World On Edge (1956). In 1962 Mac became Treasurer of the Unity Theatre Trust
Mac’s early work on television
Mac began working with Eric Paice, writing for the new medium of television where there was an increasing demand for drama, both on the BBC and, after 1955, on its rival, ITV. Their first success was “This Day in Fear”, rejected by ITV but then taken up by the BBC, and broadcast on 1 July 1958 in the series Television Playwright. The main character is a former IRA member who, having turned his back on the movement, is on the run after betraying a comrade and who seeks safety with the police. The Times described it as “the most arresting yet”, in the series. “The development is most graceful: irony discloses in advance that the courteous and solicitious ‘police’ are in fact the killers but there is no preparation for the bombshell that the protagonist himself is the Republican hero whose death was to be avenged…the revelation of identity kaleidoscopically shakes the disconnected ends of the plot into order.”
They wrote four plays for Armchair Theatre, a series was launched in 1956 by Howard Thomas, head of ABC, which had the franchise for the weekend for the Midlands and the North until 1974. Thomas said that “television drama is not so far removed from television journalism, and the plays which will grip the audience are those that face up to the new issues of the day, as well as to the problems as old as civilisation.”
Sydney Newman was approached by ABC to become the producer of Armchair Theatre and worked on the series between 1958 and 1962, often seen as its golden period. Newman came to England from Canada, where he had made hundreds of documentaries and had been Head of Drama at the Canadian Broadcasting Company
Newman produced 152 episodes of Armchair Theatre. Many writers cut their teeth on the series. The programme went out on Sunday evenings: the viewings figures often reached 12 million. Mac and Eric’s plays for Armchair Theatre were “The Criminals”, “The Big Client”, “The Great Bullion Robbery”, and “The Girl in the Market Square.” Their other work at this time included three episodes for Gert and Daisy, a comedy series starring Elsie and Doris Waters; an episode for a series called Tell It to the Marines; and an episode for the police series No Hiding Place.
Malcolm and Eric also wrote the scripts for two films: Life in Danger, released in 1959 by Butchers Films (who made many “B movies” in the 1950s and 1960s), and The Man in the Back Seat, released in June 1961 by Independent Artists Studio.
Pathfinders in Space
Sydney Newman commissioned Mac and Eric to write a children’s science fiction serial for ABC, Target Luna, which was broadcast in April and May 1960. Newman’s aim for the programme was to educate young people about science. The series centres on Professor Wedgewood, head of an experimental rocket centre which launches missions into space from Buchan Island, a remote Scottish isle. His children, Geoffrey, Valerie and Little Jimmy, who have come to spend the holidays with him become involved in the project with Little Jimmy being launched into space to replace a sick astronaut. Geoffrey, incidentally, was played by Michael Craze who in 1966 joined the cast of Doctor Who in the serial “The War Machines”, playing the companion Ben Jackson, a sailor.
Hulke was very keen to show a situation in which the different nations of the world unite. “We soon see how the plight of one human being in an Earth-bound rocket catches the imagination of the whole world. Radar stations – Russian, American, British and others – are linked in a global effort to bring the rocket home. Space travel, it turns out, is a great unifying influence among the nations. The old law of the sea becomes the law of space too.”
This was a success with the public and Newman commissioned three sequels: Pathfinders in Space, Pathfinders to Mars and Pathfinders to Venus, which aired between September 1960 and March 1961. The cast was completely revamped with new actors playing both the main roles and the children. There was greater emphasis on science in these sequels. “This is a more ambitious story,” announced Eric, with Mac adding, “We’re steeped in scienography.” In these new adventures the adults, the children and Hamlet the Hamster travel to the Moon, Mars and Venus, encountering amongst other perils lost civilisations, an alien spaceship, sandstorms, dinosaurs and Venusians. In many ways the series, with its pedagogic intention and imaginative story lines, was a predecessor to Doctor Who.
Malcolm’s connection with Sydney Newman continued when he wrote nine episodes for the cult TV series The Avengers, which Sydney created for ABC in 1961. Howard Thomas, head of ABC, suggested to Newman that as the percentage of realistic and gloomy drama increased, their schedules needed balancing with something more lighthearted and sophisticated, something like The Thin Man films of the 1930s, for instance. The Avengers originally starred Ian Hendry as Dr David Keel and Patrick MacNee as John Steed, a shadowy character linked to the security services. It ran until 1969 and evolved over the decade from a crime and spy thriller to a stylish fantasy series, which combined English eccentricity with elements of Swinging London. After Hendry left at the end of the first season, Patrick MacNee took the lead, whilst his partners in the nefarious investigations were in order of appearance; Julie Stevens playing Venus Smith; Honor Blackman playing Cathy Gale: Diana Rigg playing Emma Peel; and Linda Thorson playing Tara King.
Of these nine episodes Mac co-wrote four episodes with Terrance Dicks, whom he got to know when Terrance rented a room in his house and whom Mac asked for help with writing the scripts when he learnt that Terrance, an advertising copywriter, was very keen to write for television. In many interviews Terrance has acknowledged the influence of Malcolm on his career, describing him as his mentor. In 1968, after a spell on Crossroads, Terrance became assistant script editor on Doctor Who and about year later, the chief script editor.
Mac’s life had stabilised. He was now lodging in the house of Betty Tate, a widow and fellow CPGB member who had three daughters. She had read history at Oxford in the early 1930s and joined the party. She married George Tate, who was a historian and journalist at the Daily Worker. George died in 1956, which is why I imagine Betty started taking in lodgers. Mac helped out with her party activities, writing pamphlets for the Socialist Sunday School, selling the Daily Worker, and running fundraising bazaars. Then his mother’s friend Winifred Boot moved to London and she and Mac bought a house round the corner from Betty Tate which they set up as a lodging house, with Mac acted as landlord and general handyman. This is where Terrance Dicks lodged, as mentioned above.
His career was taking off. Winifred wrote to one of Mac’s brothers in December 1963: “Mac is well but very busy. He is writing a six part serial for television to be produced in early 1964, and has just completed a one hour episode for The Avengers series. Somehow he makes time to see me every day and last week took me to St Martin’s Theatre to see The Sound of Music. It was a lovely evening there back in his lovely car, with the heater on. I wish your mother had lived to see his success.”
The six part serial was for a new Saturday early evening show called Doctor Who.
The origins of Doctor Who
Sydney Newman’s success on ITV led him to being poached by the BBC, who offered a job as Head of Drama: he started work in January 1963. Looking back 20 years later, when interviewed for a BBC oral history project, he described what he found at the BBC.
The material didn’t really cater to what I assumed to be the mass British audience. It was still the attitude that BBC drama was still catering to the highly educated, cultured class rather than the mass audience which was not aware of culture as such . But above all I felt that the dramas really weren’t speaking about common everyday things…”
They needed to come up with a new series for was the late afternoon slot at 5:15 between the end of the afternoon sports programme Grandstand and the start of Juke Box Jury. At a number of meetings in the spring of 1963 Newman and his staff evolved the notion of a mysterious Doctor who could travel in time and space. The aim of the series were educational, similar to Pathfinders in Space, with the remit of teaching its young audience in an enjoyable way about space and history. In its first years the serials alternated between a science fiction adventure and an adventure set during a dramatic historical event such as the travels of Marco Polo, the Crusades, and the St Bartholomew’s Eve Massacre of 1572 (an extraordinary subject for a tea-time children’s serial, although no actual killings were shown).
Newman brought in as producer a young woman he had worked with at ABC, Verity Lambert, which caused a stir as the BBC was then a very male world. Verity persuaded the veteran actor William Hartnell to take on the role of the Doctor. Hartnell had been working as an actor since the 1930s, but was frustrated by the limited roles he was being offered, often as an army sergeant. Verity had been impressed by his part in a recent British film This Sporting Life.
The First Doctor 1963 – 1966
The first episode of Doctor Who was broadcast on 23 November 1963, “An Unearthly Child” which set the scene, introducing the mysterous Doctor and his grandchild, Susan, whose science and history teachers at Coal Hill school , Ian and Barbara, are puzzled by her advanced knowledge on some matters and ignorance on others. They follow her a to junkyard at 76 Totters Lane and burst into what seems to be a police-box, but is in fact a space and time machine, the Tardis, as Susan has called it. The Doctor sets the machine in motion.
In December 1963 Malcolm was commissioned to write a six part serial called “The Hidden Planet” and produced a number of scripts, but in the end, despite several rewrites, it was not proceeded with.
Mac later recalled:
“The Hidden Planet” was about a planet which is the same size as Earth, but on the other side of the sun, and therefore we have never seen it. The Doctor goes to the planet and for obvious reasons the Tardis crew think they are on Earth. But they find things are different. They landed in a field and Susan notices a four-leaf clover, and then they see they are all four leaf clovers. And then other mysterious things happen like birds flying backwards or having double wings, and things of that sort.
In an interview Mac said that the success of the Daleks changed the nature of the show, and it was felt that his serial would not now fit in.
This idea of an identical planet crops up in a later serial “The Tenth Planet”, broadcast in the autumn of 1966, written by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis, in which the planet Mondas appears suddenly in the solar system, a twin of the earth, except that this planet has Cybermen on it who come calling on their new neighbours.
“The Tenth Planet” was William Hartnell’s last serial. He had been suffering from ill-health and in those days Doctor Who was produced for 40 weeks a year, so it was a relentless work schedule. Rather than lose the programme, the programme makers, Innes Lloyd and Gerry Davis, took the bold and quite risky step of replacing the by now much-loved Hartnell with another actor, Pat Troughton, ascribing the change to the Doctor having worn out his old body. As the new Doctor explains at the beginning of “The Power of the Daleks”: “ I’ve been renewed. It’s part of the Tardis. Without it, I couldn’t survive…”
The change of actors worked: the serial continued and remained just as popular.
The Second Doctor 1966 – 1969
It was in this new era that Mac’s first serial for Doctor Who was broadcast in April 1967. this was “The Faceless Ones”, written with David Ellis, whom he had started working with after meeting him at a party. The Doctor and his companions – Ben, Polly and Jamie – land at Gatwick airport and discover that aliens are stealing the identities of young air passengers in order to take over the world, their own planet having been devastated in an explosion. They masquerade as an airline called “Chameleon Tours” whose aircraft go into space to rendezvous with the alien’s satellite. The Doctor defeats them in the end, of course. Sadly only two episodes have survived of the serial. In tone this serial feels similar to an episode of The Avengers.
Malcolm next contribution to Doctor Who was “The War Games”, written with Terrance Dicks, and broadcast between April and June 1969, lasting an epic ten episodes, one of the longest Doctor Who serials ever made. It was written at haste, because, as Terrance admits in interviews, they had run out of scripts and needed something very urgently. He brought in his old friend Mac to help out and they were still writing the final parts when filming had already started on the first episodes. Pat Troughton had decided he wanted to leave the series, as had the actors playing his companions, Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury, and so Terrance and Mac had to find a way of changing the Doctor, but leaving it in the air as to who the next Doctor was to be as Jon Pertwee had not been cast yet.
In “The War Games” the Doctor and his companions, Jamie and Zoe, lands in the midst of what appears to be the First World War. The Doctor tells Jamie:“We’re back in history, Jamie. One of the most terrible times on the planet Earth.” But then they discover that other wars from history such the Roman invasion of Britain, the Mexican Revolution and the American Civil War are taking place in different zones. They are not on Earth at all, but on another planet where the war games are being run by an alien race so that they can create an invincible army to conquer the galaxy, assisted by a renegade Time Lord, the War Chief.
The Doctor, his companions and a motley army of rebels from different zones defeat the aliens, but the Doctor then has to summon the Time Lords, an idea that Terrance and Mac came up with. They put him on trial for interfering on his travels and not standing aloof. The Doctor defends himself :”All these evils I have fought, while you have done nothing but observe! True, I am guilty of interference. Just as you are guilty of failing to use your great powers to help those in need!” The Time Lords accept his plea, but exile him to Earth with a new identity.
In this story Mac and Terrance show war as violent, brutal and pointless, controlled by ruthless leaders who place no value on human life whatsoever and who, whilst apparently on different sides – German, British, Yankee, Southerner – are in fact all working together. They add to this by not giving the aliens any names, only titles such as “The Security Chief” and “The War Lord”, while we never learn the name of their planet which is only ever referred to as “The Home Planet”. The serial seems to draw on Peter Watkins’ drama documentary about a nuclear attack on Britain The War Game and also Joan Littlewood’s theatre show Oh What A Lovely War. The writers go one further by showing that by combining together the soldiers can defeat their rulers, now that looks distinctly like Mac’s touch.
The serial attracted the lowest audience of Patrick Troughton’s last season in the role, just 4.9 million. In the years since, however, it has attracted greater appreciation. Its my personal favourite of Mac’s serials for Doctor Who.
The Third Doctor 1970-1974
Doctor Who was re-born in 1970, and re-established itself as a Saturday teatime must-see for a new generation of young people. This was brought about by a number of factors.
Firstly the producers of the series opted for a new story line, anchoring the Doctor on Earth as a scientific advisor to UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce), a quasi-military outfit first encountered by the Second Doctor in “The Invasion”. UNIT was led by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, who had first appeared as a regular army officer in “The Web of Fear”.
Secondly, the inspired choice of Jon Pertwee as Troughton’s replacement, a surprise to many as he was principally thought of as a light comedian. (You can still hear him on Radio Four Extra in The Navy Lark). Interviewed in 1994, he said “I wanted to play him straight, to be a figure that the children believed in, who have enough faith in the Doctor to say the Doctor will do it, he will look after us and we’ll be all right under his wings.“
Thirdly, the new series was driven forward by script editor Terrance Dicks, and the new producer Barry Letts, who formed a close creative working relationship which was instrumental in popularising Doctor Who to a fresh audience over the next four years
Finally the new series was filmed in colour which allowed a whole new look, although it was not without problems when the screen showed less than convincing monsters.
Mac contributed six serials in this era, serials which often had a political dimension. Terrance Dicks says:”What we never did was commission a Doctor Who with a political message but nonetheless if you look at it there is a streak of anti-authoritarianism in all Mac’s work: he doesn’t trust the establishment.” Barry Letts concurs: “You could be pretty certain that anything that he wrote would have an underlying political message which we didn’t mind because we liked stories to have a reason.”
Mac himself said of Doctor Who: “It’s a very political show. Remember what politics refers to, it refers to relationships between groups of people. It doesn’t necessarily mean left or right…so all Doctor Who’s are political, even though the other group of people are reptiles, they’re still a group of people.”
“The Silurians”, broadcast January-March 1970
UNIT is called in to investigate why an underground atomic research centre – seeking to provide cheap, unlimited power – is suffering problems with their energy supply and experiencing mysterious attacks. The Doctor discovers that they have accidentally awakened an ancient race, the Silurians, highly intelligent reptiles who ruled the earth millions of years before the evolution of the human race. They had gone into underground hibernation when they believed an approaching asteroid would destroy all life on the surface – and never woken up. Despite the best efforts of the Doctor to broker a peace, suspicions on both sides prove insurmountable. The Silurians want their planet back, the humans are fearful of this alien invasion from within.
Mac says he was asked to do something in caves and that in science fiction there are only two stories. ”They came to us or we go to them and I thought, they come to us but they’ve always been here”.He explores a number of themes in this serial, including the threat posed by unfettered scientific research, relationships between races and the military mind-set which believes that violence can solve all problems. The Doctor makes several attempts to persuade UNIT that they should not attack the Silurians, arguing that “they may not be hostile”. When Doctor first encounters a Silurian, he tries to communicate with it, asking it“what do you people want, how can we help you, unless you tell me what you want the humans will destroy you.”
In the end his efforts end in failure when the Brigadier orders the destruction of the Silurians’ base. The Doctor says : “…that’s murder. They were intelligent alien beings. A whole race of them. And he’s just wiped them out”. Mac gives the Doctor’s companion, Dr Liz Shaw (Caroline John) some good lines. When the Brigadier asks her to look after the phones, she snaps back, “I am a scientist, not an office boy.” In 1970 the Women’s Liberation movement was beginning to make its voice heard.
“The Ambassadors of Death”, broadcast March– May 1970
This was originally written for Patrick Troughton by David Whitaker and then had to be rewritten for Jon Pertwee. Mac inherited the script after David Whitaker had given up on it. The serial very much harks back to the first Quatermass serial of 1953 with its storyline of astronauts from a British space expedition to Mars who vanish as they return home. Instead three alien ambassadors land on Earth and are kidnapped by a cabal of politicians and military men, who force them to carry out a series of robberies. The Doctor and Dr Liz Shaw eventually defeat Carrington. the leader of the conspiracy, rescue the aliens and avert a war. This theme of an establishment conspiracy occurs in a number of Malcolm’s serials. Another theme in “Ambassadors” is paranioa about aliens, fear of the Other.
It’s probably my least favourite of Mac’s work and I don’t think it overcomes the problems of the storyline, although it is enlivened by some of the set piece action sequences with the stunt company Havoc, and also a chase sequence with Liz Shaw, which ends with her running across Marlow Weir, a place I know well as I went to school in the town.
“Colony in Space”, broadcast April-May 1971
In this serial The Master steals information about a Doomsday weapon which could destroy the universe. The Time Lords pluck the Doctor out of exile on Earth and send him into space to stop him. He and his companion, Jo Grant, arrive on the planet Uxarieus in 2472, where a group of colonists (who with their long hair and clothes resemble a Californian commune) are building a new society. There is also a native race, the Primitives, who are telepathic and never speak. A mining company, IMC (the Interplanetary Mining Company), lands an expedition and plots to expel the colonists and extract the mineral wealth, using a robot to make attacks on the colonists and blame it on giant reptiles. The Master also arrives in the guise of the Adjudicator. The Doctor learns from the Guardian of the Primitives that they once had a very advanced civilisation which was destroyed by the radiation from the Doomsday weapon At the end the weapon is destroyed by the Guardian, the Master is defeated, and the mining company is sent packing.
There is a strong storyline in this serial about the environment and the rapacity of international (or rather interplanetary) mining companies. The colonists have left Earth because of a population and environmental crisis which is killing the planet. The leader of the mining expedition, Dent, states that “what’s good for IMC is good for earth. There are one hundred thousand million people back on Earth and they desperately need all the minerals we can find.” The Doctor responds, ” What those people need, my dear sir, are new worlds to live in like this one. Worlds where they can live like human beings, not battery hens.” The other theme is the threat of nuclear destruction which in the 1970s seemed very real as the USA and the Soviet Union squared up to each other, each armed with colossal nuclear arsenals.
“The Sea Devils”, broadcast February-April 1972.
This serial brought back the Silurians, this time under the ocean Exploration for oil in the Channel has re-awakened another group of Silurians in a base under the sea who begin to attack shipping. The Master makes contact with them, offering an alliance to destroy the human race. The Doctor goes down to their undersea base in an attempts to broker a peace, but this fails when a bumptious politician, Walker (“Parliamentary Private Secretary”) orders an attack. Finally, the Doctor defeats the Master while the Sea Devils’ base is destroyed.
The storyline echoes the first Silurian story with attempts by the Doctor to reconcile the two races
ultimately failing and ending in violence. A key scene occurs in the Sea Devils base when the Doctor argues for peace, a typical piece of writing by Mac.
DOCTOR: Your people went into hibernation and abandoned Earth to its fate.
SEA DEVIL: Our astronomers predicted that a great catastrophe would end all life on the face of the Earth.
DOCTOR: Yes, but the catastrophe that you predicted never happened. And the apes that you left behind on the surface to die became man.
SEA DEVIL: You know our history?
DOCTOR: Yes. Yes, I’ve encountered your people before. That is why I want to prevent a conflict that can only end in your destruction.
SEA DEVIL: We shall destroy man and reclaim the planet. Already we have begun to sink his ships.
DOCTOR: Yes, and already more ships are being sent to hunt you down.
SEA DEVIL: The submarine? We have captured it.
DOCTOR: You may win a few victories to begin with but eventually you’re bound to lose.
SEA DEVIL: There are many thousands of our people in hibernation in this base. We have other colonies hidden all round the world. We shall be the victors in the war against mankind.
DOCTOR: But there’s no need for a war. Why can’t you share the planet?
SEA DEVIL: That would be impossible.
DOCTOR: The depths of the sea and those areas on Earth where man cannot live can be yours.
SEA DEVIL: And man would agree to that?
DOCTOR: There’s a chance. Wouldn’t it be better to try for a peace, than to launch yourself into a war that you cannot possibly win?
SEA DEVIL: I will consider what you have said.
DOCTOR: Let me return to the humans, and I will endeavour to make a peace for you.
SEA DEVIL: Perhaps it would be possible.
“Frontier in Space”, broadcast February – March 1973
The Doctor and Jo land in the C26th where the Earth and the Draconian Empire are on the verge of war after a series of attacks which each blame on the other side. It turns that the Master, in alliance with the Daleks, is seeking to provoke a war, and then move in unimpeded to conquer the galaxy. The Doctor finally convinces the humans and Draconians of the real threat and a joint expedition defeats the Master. Sadly this is the last time that Roger Delgado played the Master as he was killed in car crash in Turkey later that year.
This storyline is surely shaped by the Cold War when the United States and its allies confronted the Soviet Union and its allies. Both sides possessed vast arsenals of weapons, including nuclear weapons, and, on a number of occasions, came very near to war. The Doctor tells the Draconian Emperor:”..fear breeds hatred, your Majesty. Fear is the greatest enemy of them all, for fear leads us to war.” Mac shows how mutual suspicions can be manipulated, but also that they can be overcome.
It’s a very ambitious serial with scenes set on Earth, the Moon, Draconia and also on a number of spaceships, while the Doctor goes on spacewalk at one point.
Mac makes the President of the Earth a woman, quite a forward thinking idea at this time. However he also indicates that this is a repressive society as the Doctor encounters members of the Peace Party held in the Lunar Penal Colony. Finally I love the line that Mac gives to one of the Draconians: “The ways of the Earthmen are devious. They’re an inscrutable species.”
“Invasion of the Dinosaurs”, broadcast January-February 1974
Mac’s brief was to come up with a story showing dinosaurs wandering around London.
The Doctor and his companion, Sarah Jane Smith (Lis Sladen), land in a deserted London placed under martial law and learn that dinosaurs have re-appeared, forcing the evacuation of the population. They discover a conspiracy of politicians, scientists and army officers who, concerned for the destruction of the environment and the threat of nuclear war, are planning to return the earth to what they believe will be a pre-industrial “Golden Age”, using a device called Timescoop. The planet will then be repopulated by an elite group who have been fooled into thinking that they are in a space ship going to a new world, but are in fact are sealed in an underground bunker awaiting “the New Earth”. The Doctor defeats the conspirators, sending the leading scientist, Professor Whitaker, and the Government minister, Grover, into the distant past after the Doctor has, of course, reversed the polarity of the Timescoop.
This was perhaps Malcolm’s most openly political storyline, which can be seen as a critique of some elements of the environmental movement of the 1970s, who believed that industrial society was killing the planet, and that only a revolutionary change in society and its forms of production would suffice.
Captain Yates tells the Doctor, “They’re going to roll back time. The world used to be a cleaner, simpler place. It’s all become too complicated and corrupt.” The Doctor counters by saying, “Take the world that you’ve got and try and make something of it. It’s not too late.”
Mac also includes a socialist slant on the environment crisis, giving the Doctor a speech at the end in which he says that at least Grover “realised the dangers this planet of yours is in, Brigadier. The danger of it becoming one vast garbage dump inhabited only by rats…Its not the oil and the filth and the poisonous chemicals that are the real causes of the pollution…Its simply greed”
Mac says of this serial: “Sometimes people with very good, altruistic ideas can overlook the main issue, that’s really want the message was.” You could perhaps also interpret this as a critique of the Communist Party sealing itself off against reality.
Jon Pertwee left in 1974 to be replaced by the then unknown actor Tom Baker who went on to play the Doctor for seven years. Philip Hinchliffe took over from Barry Letts as producer, while Robert Holmes took over as script editor from Terrance Dicks. Together they built on the existing success of the show and took it to new heights of popularity, but in quite a different direction. Mac wasn’t asked to write for the show again.
The Making of Doctor Who, Target’s Doctor Who novels and other books
As we have seen from his pamphlet on Unity, Mac had a strong interest in explaining how drama was produced. In 1972 he and Terrance Dicks wrote The Making of Doctor Who, described by Gary Russell as “the most important piece of work in the entire history of Doctor Who publishing.”
The book looks back to how Doctor Who was started and developed, as well providing a précis of all the episodes up that point. It also explains in a straightforward way how the show is produced and filmed. Nowadays this kind of information is instantly available on the internet, whilst “Making of” programmes, such the sadly missed Doctor Who Confidential, lay bare the production techniques. In the predigital age, however, the book was groundbreaking and was seized on by fans, keen to know more about their favourite television programme.
The popularity of Doctor Who led to the publication of novels based on the TV serials, beginning with Doctor Who and The Daleks, written by David Whittaker, which appeared in 1964, published by Frederick Mueller. In 1973 Target books began publishinga new series of Doctor Who novels, many of them written by the original scriptwriters. Mac wrote seven novels for Target, six of which were based on his own work, the other one was The Green Death, written by Robert Sloman. The two remaining stories he had written for the series, “The Ambassadors of Death” and “The Faceless Ones”, were turned into novels by Terrance Dicks after Mac’s death.
In an interview Mac explained how writing television scripts was different from writing novels:
Remember that in a story you have really have two stories going at once, the good guys and the bad guys. On television you don’t do very long scenes, especially in show for younger viewers, people get bored. So therefore you cut from the good guys to the bad guys and from the bad guys to the good guys. In a book this would be very annoying… so you start each chapter with “Meanwhile…. “ Also when you have a book to write you suddenly realise you think can make this better…
Malcolm’s Doctor Who novels are more than just a straight retelling of the story using the original script. He often adds in extra scenes or references, sometimes alters the plot, and awards even minor characters a backstory and character. In The Cave Monsters, for instance, he gives the Silurians personal names eg Okdel and begins with a prologue showing the intelligent reptiles bidding farewell to their world as they enter the shelters. In The War Games he adds the following scene:
They passed through several corridors, glanced into study rooms and kept seeing men dressed as officers from the armies of world history. They even saw two young women dressed in blue slacks and shirts with scarlet neckerchiefs and blue berets. “The Spanish Civil War”, the Doctor said quietly , “Women fought in the frontline there”.
Interviewed for On Target , a special feature on the DVD release of “The War Games”, writer Gary Russell, says of Mac:
The best legacy he has left us, apart from a canon of fantastic Doctor Who stories, both on TV and in book form, is his inspiration. I know from talking to other authors of Doctor Who books that he is a huge inspiration on everybody’s style of writing. Everybody sees that thing in Malcolm Hulke’s books and goes, that’s why I want to be a writer.
Ben Aaronovitch, whose parents were both in the party, writes in his introduction to his novel of his own Doctor Who serial “Remembrance of the Daleks“ that he was given a copy of Mac’s novel Doctor Who and the Doomsday Weapon (which was based on “Colony in Space”) by his mum. He says, “She approved of Hulke because she knew him through the party…which outweighed the fact that it was science fiction – a genre she despised.”
Mac wrote another book Writing for Televison, published in 1974. In this he drew on twenty years of writing experience to explain the craft involved and also gives practical advice on the industry such as the need to get an agent. He naturally encouraged young writers to join the union, the Writers Guild of Great Britain. The book includes a number of examples of scripts, including an extract from the Doctor Who serial “Carnival of Monsters”, written by Robert Holmes, with a comment from Robert in which he says:
Doctor Who releases a writer from his normal mental straightjacket. He can, for once, leave the padded cell of reality and fantasise through eternal time and space. It is an enjoyable and refreshing exercise.
Mac’s other work
In 1972 Mac was the script supervisor on a series called Spyder’s Web, produced by ATV, which starred Anthony Ainley (later to play The Master in Doctor Who), Veronica Carlson and Patricia Cutts. This featured a shadowy organisation, responsible to the government, who take on cases too hot for the police to handle. They masquerade as a documentary film unit, based in Soho. The writers included Robert Holmes, incidentally, who wrote many scripts for Doctor Who.
Mac wrote six episodes for Crossroads between 1972 and 1974. This was a daily soap opera, set in a motel in the Midlands, which was broadcast by ATV (and later Central) between 1964 and 1988. It was very popular with the public, achieving ratings rivalling that of Coronation Street in the mid 1970s, but was consistently derided by the critics for its production values (there were never any re-takes), cheap sets and increasingly improbable story lines.
In Writing for Television Mac explains that to cope with the volume of output required, there is a storyliner and four writers who are assigned scenes. He quotes producer, Reg Watson
Over the years…we tackled subject like broken marriages, illegitimacy, divorce, malnutrition, mental health, alcoholism, kleptomania, fraud, murder, loneliness, gambling, cruelty, bankruptcy, childless couples, in-laws, big business, vandalism, abortion, anti-smoking, child-stealing, religion, education, bigamy, farming, the canals of the Midlands, cookery, travel, fashion, prisons, prostitution, illegal immigrants, teenagers, old age, death, local government, nursing, pollution, manslaughter, drunken driving, paraplegics, romance, respect, humour and happiness. I am grateful to Crossroads because it broadened my horizons and gave me an insight into many social problems I may otherwise have ignored.
Ronald Allen, who appeared in “The Ambassadors of Death” and “The Dominators”, was a regular actor in Crossroads. Mac write several Crossroads novels, by the way.
Malcolm died on 6 July 1979. Terrance Dicks recalls that, as a convinced atheist, he had left orders that there was to be no priest, no hymns or any other ceremony at his funeral and that therefore his friends sat by the coffin not knowing what to do. “Finally Eric Paice stood up, slapped the coffin and said ‘well cheerio, Mac’ and wandered out. We all followed him”.
The final word must surely go to Terrance. he was “a very kind and generous man”.
If you would like to comment on this post, you can either comment via the blog or email me, fopsfblog@gmail.