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60 Years of Doctor Who. Part 5: The Fifth Doctor

By Matthew Kresal

Following Tom Baker. A tough ask.

Picture Courtesy Big Finish Productions.

When Tom Baker left Doctor Who after seven years (a record still unsurpassed more than forty years later), it wasn’t clear if anyone could fill the role he’d left such an impact upon. Perhaps that helps explain why producer John Nathan-Turner turned to a younger and more unorthodox choice: Peter Davison. A rising star in British television, Davison’s three seasons in the role helped ensure life for the series after Tom Baker, but also left several unproduced serials in its wake. Among the most intriguing was The Elite , finally realised as an audio drama in 2011.

The Elite’s origins lie in one of the broadcast serials of Davison’s tenure as the Time Lord. Barbara Clegg, a writer for TV and radio since the 1960s, had penned the serial Enlightenment for Doctor Who’s 20th season in 1983, becoming the first woman to write for the series. With Enlightenment being a successful production, both with the show’s production team and with audiences, script editor Eric Saward invited Clegg to submit storylines for other potential serials. While Clegg would pitch to Saward and his successor Andrew Cartmel through the next few years, none of her proposals made it beyond the storyline stage. Clegg’s novelisation of her TV scripts for Target would be her only other contribution to the series.

At least until more than a quarter of a century later.

In 2008, Big Finish Productions (the UK-based company producing Doctor Who audio-dramas and spin-offs since 1999) began a new range of releases under the banner of Doctor Who – The Lost Stories . Initially focusing on unmade stories from the era of Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor, the company’s attention soon turned to the unproduced scripts from other Doctors. Davison’s Fifth Doctor would be the focus of a trilogy of releases launching the range’s third season in late 2011, including a fleshing out of one of Clegg’s pitches, The Elite.

I'd forgotten just how eccentric Dr Who's outfits had become.

Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

If Clegg’s script for Enlightenment, with its tale of immortal beings using sailing ships, their crews plucked out of time, to race through Earth’s solar system to relieve their boredom and for the titular prize, was high concept, then The Elite was closer to Doctor Who’s typical fare. As pitched by Clegg, The Elite would open with the TARDIS landing inside a domed city embroiled in a protracted war with the population being very young, including the military led by twelve-year-old General Aubron. The TARDIS crew would join forces with a rebel group exiled from the city for being either not intelligent enough or too old, eventually leading to a raid on the High Priest, who has brought advanced technology and this fascistic state into being.

If you’re a Doctor Who fan, some of these story details might cause a sense of deja vu. And rightly so, given Clegg’s twist in the tale would be for the High Priest’s identity to be that of a lone crashed Dalek, more than two decades before Robert Shearman would use a similar premise at the heart of the episode that reintroduced audiences to the iconic monster for Doctor Who’s revival. More than that, Clegg’s pitch, with its domed city and child soldiers, also echoed Dalek creator Terry Nation’s original script for Daleks! Genesis of Terror , which became 1975’s Genesis of the Daleks . And, much like the changes to Nation’s script that saw the soldiers and military leaders made significantly older, the difficulties of using child actors on such a large scale likely played a role in Saward’s rejecting the pitch (as might have been Saward’s work on a Dalek script of his own that became 1984’s Resurrection of the Daleks ). By exploring the Dalek’s effect upon society, Clegg’s pitch also echoed David Whitaker’s use of them in later 1960s serials such as The Power of the Daleks . Clegg’s storyline offered a revisitation of old ideas while approaching the series’ most iconic monster in a new way, making it a Dalek story ahead of its time.

Saward’s rejection for TV would prove to be a godsend for Big Finish’s audio range decades later. To bring the story to life on audio, writer John Dorney expanded and finessed Clegg’s 1980s pitch into a full script. In discussing the process in the CD extras, Dorney’s work largely followed what Clegg herself might have done if Saward had commissioned it for TV. Among them was aging the city’s population from their teens into their twenties, altering proposed scenes such as the Doctor visiting the city’s military academy to fit the older age group. The portrayal of the Dalek as the High Priest, with the clash between the Dalek’s religious order and the military forces, was something that Dorney explored in fleshing out the storyline, including shifting the reveal to an earlier point in the plot. Combined with matching the tone of other serials from the Davison era that Saward script edited with an emphasis on action and pace, the resulting script is a highlight of the Lost Stories range, highlighting how to bring such storylines to life with a mix of authenticity and sympathy for the source material.

A case of mistaken identity. At least he was dressed for the part in Black Orchid.

Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

That sense of authenticity and sympathy is also apparent from its realisation. The Elite was among the earliest Big Finish audios to reunite the early Season 20 cast, though one might never know that listening to it. Both Davison and Sarah Sutton as Nyssa had been playing their roles on audio for more than a decade before The Elite’s recording, and their sense of their characters is apparent throughout, which comes in handy given what happens to Nyssa in the second half. Janet Fielding’s Tegan neatly rounds off the trio, set shortly after her return to the TARDIS in the serial Arc of Infinity , offering moments of comic relief alongside friendly combativeness that (unlike what could happen on TV) never crosses into outright hostility between her and the rest of the TARDIS crew. The supporting cast around them is solid, including Nicholas Briggs as the High Priest, Joe Coen as the now older General Aubron, and Joannah Tincey as the educator Stemp. The icing on the cake is the sound design and music from Kelly Ellis, which works as hard as Dorney’s script to bring to life what was done on TV during this Doctor’s era.

The Elite stands, with its script and production, as among the highlights of the Lost Stories range. Even with the work that Dorney put into fleshing it out from Clegg’s storyline, there’s a sense of a Dalek story that would have stood head and shoulders above many of their 1980s serials. Like Farewell Great Macedon for William Hartnell’s Doctor, The Elite offers a taste of the Davison era as it might have been, yet was destined not to be.

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Matthew Kresal is author of the SLP book Our Man On The Hill.


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