❉ Classic Doctor Who adventures and the stories that inspired them – or did they?
A great man – or was it Ben Aaronovitch? – once said, “Talent borrows, genius steals, Doctor Who lifts it wholesale from the back of a lorry.” Through its history, Doctor Who has treated accessible popular culture as a pick ‘n’ mix stall of ideas and influences to milk at will. But how do those stories that wear their inspirations on their sleeves measure up? We Are Cult cherry-picked a random selection of stories to put it to the test.
Paradise Towers/High Rise
It’s well documented that writer Stephen Wyatt drew inspiration from JG Ballard’s High Rise part of his Shepperton trilogy, in which a state-of-the-art apartment block, locked away from the outside world, goes feudal, with a feral underclass on the lower levels and the petit bourgeouisie upstairs resort to primal decadence and barbecuing dogs (yum yum). Elements creep through, constrained by the Galloping Galaxies budget and tone of 1987 Doctor Who, but it seems to us that Wyatt was more likely inspired by Mary Mungo and Midge and Monty Python‘s “Architect Sketch” (“Are you proposing to slaughter our tenants?”) with a bit of Micky Dolenz’s sci-fi kidcom, Luna, thrown in for the Kang’s pseudo-nadsat.
Robot/The Avengers: The Mauritius Penny
Tom Baker’s first story, by Terrance Dicks, involves the machinations of a group of political fanatics attempting to overthrow the Western world’s governments. 1962 Avengers serial, The Mauritius Penny, by Terrance Dicks and Malcolm Hulke, involves the machinations of a group of political fanatics attempting to overthrow the Western world’s governments.
Says Tel, “I was genuinely unaware of the similarities between Robot and Penny.” Sounds a bit disingenuous given that Harry Sullivan turns up halfway through Robot pretending to be a man from the Ministry, complete with John Steed bowler hat! FYI, The Seeds of Doom also drew freely from another early Avengers, The Man Eater of Surrey Green.
The Pyramids Of Mars/Chariots Of The Gods
Pyramids is often hailed as a homage to “Curse of the Mummy” romps such as Hammer’s Blood From The Mummy’s Tomb, and a lot of fans have fallen for it. A nice bit of misdirection from Hinchcliffe and Holmes – as Alan Barnes points out on DVD extra Serial Thrillers, if that was the intention, Sarah would have turned out to be the spitting image of Scarman’s dead wife or that of an Egyptian pharaoh. The story is more indebted to Erich von Daniken’s Chariots Of The Gods which postulated that ancient civilisations were in fact the work of aliens. A very trendy alternative philosophy in the ’70s that Doctor Who had already flirted with in Colony In Space and Death To The Daleks.
Spearhead From Space/Invasion
Spearhead From Space took a cue or two from little-seen but much mentioned in Who reference tomes 1966 sci-fi film Invasion. Not coincidentally, both stories are by Robert Holmes. Worth a look, if you enjoy amusingly dated parochial Brit sci-fi romps like The Night Caller and From Beyond Outer Space, it’s pretty xenophobic (the aliens are, to all intents and purposes, Asian/Oriental) but the chief connection is that it takes place at a country hospital, as does the first episode of Spearhead. No exhibitions of minor civil servants at Madame Two Swords or gurning strangulation via rubber octopuses.
The Robots Of Death/And Then There Were None
Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None (that’s Ten Little N̶i̶g̶g̶e̶r̶s̶ in old, racist, money) has been often cited as a reference point for The Robots Of Death. In truth there’s nothing much to unite the two stories. The former sees a set of strangers gathered together on an island off Devon randomly picked off one by one, while the survivors search their guilty pasts for a possible reason why, whodunnit, and which one of them could be next. Alternatively, Robots sees a bunch of spoilt, big hat-wearing gits systemically bumped off by their robot serfs all the while unaware that the biggest git of all is conveniently absent for most of the story. A more prominent influence is Frank Herbert’s Dune, whose backstory of rivalling dynasties attempting to corner the market in spice-farming mirrors that of the the sand-mining Founding Families of Kaldor City.
The Deadly Assassin/The Manchurian Candidate
It’s widely claimed that The Deadly Assassin owes a huge debt to The Manchurian Candidate, originally a novel by Richard Condon and then a film directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Frank Sinatra. It’s a load of buggery bollocks, as revealed in spite of itself by an exhaustive (and exhausting) DVD extra, more in line with Kennedy conspiracy theories – hence the pointed use of the acronym CIA for the Celestial Intervention Agency – and more indebted to Frankenheimer’s 1966 thriller Seconds, with its themes of brainwashing and artificially constructed realities.
Doomsday/His Dark Materials
Parallel worlds are an old sci-fi and fantasy trope, and visited in Who-land back in 1970 for Inferno, but it’s something explored in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, which has an affinity with Nu-Who’s questioning playfulness about science and magic that must have struck a chord with avowedly atheistic RTD. Pullman himself considers the tear-jerking finale of Doomsday, with the Doctor and Rose separated by parallel realities, a direct steal from his novels. “I was flattered,” Pullman told Newsround. “That’s how stories work. I borrowed things for His Dark Materials and he took my ending to fit his story. That’s fine.”
Ghost Light/The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Ghost Light is tit-deep in show-offy cultural references, some trenchant – the nods to The Turn Of The Screw, Heart Of Darkness and Pygmalion – and some just plain egregious (the self-indulgent “Who was it who said Earthmen never invite their ancestors to dinner?” demands the unbidden response, “Your former script editor – we see what you did there!”). The biggest influence, however, seems to be Richard O’Brien’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show – the observatory, a smatter of cross-dressing, a cannibalistic punchline to a tense, blackly comic dinner scene and a finale where the house (piloted by its underlings) turns into a spaceship. Poor old Light, his mission was a failure, his lifestyle was too extreme.
In summary: It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it, and that’s what gets results.
❉ James Gent has contributed to several acclaimed publications devoted to cult and popular television including 1001 TV Series You Must Watch Before You Die, You & Who: Contact Has Been Made and is the co-editor of Me and The Starman, coming soon in 2018 from Who Dares Publishing. In 2014, he wrote the biography for the official Monty Python website. James is Editor-in-Chief of We Are Cult and digital marketing & design officer for Torch Theatre.