Robert Holmes. Even just the name is magical to Doctor Who fans of a certain age. The most prolific DW script-writer of the original series, he was also script-editor for the first three and a half years of Tom Baker's reign - a period when the series was going from strength to strength.
Whilst Robert Holmes - A Life In Words does concentrate on his contribution to Doctor Who (about 60% of the book is dedicated to his DW work) there's still plenty of interesting detail on his other writing. He was script-editor on Shoestring and a writer on the effective follow-up Bergerac, as well as contributing scripts to popular series such as Blakes 7, Emergency Ward 10 and Public Eye.
Like his previous book, Wiped! Doctor Who's Missing Episodes, Richard Molesworth has done a great deal of research, here he's dug deeply into the BBC written archives in order to unearth plenty of previously unrecorded information. So we can read about Holmes' unmade script for Doomwatch, and the reasons why it didn't get produced, as well as his pitches for various other programmes which never made it into production.
Doctor Who wise, amongst many items of interest there's scene breakdowns for Terror of the Autons, Carnival of Monsters and The Time Warrior as well as his initial DW pitch, The Space Trap, which caught the eye of Terrance Dicks and eventually resulted in a commission to write The Krotons, his first script for the series.
With contributions from his colleagues as well wry comments from Holmes himself (via fanzine interviews) this is a first-rate book about the professional life of someone who regarded himself as nothing more than a "hack writer" but whose work continues to be enjoyed today, and I've no doubt will entertain many people for countless years to come. This is a fascinating read and comes highly recommended.
For many readers (including me), Robert Holmes' professional `Life In Words' could probably be summed up by just two: `Doctor' and `Who'. (Or alternatively, `Blake's' and `Seven''!) In this excellent book, Richard Molesworth broadens our horizons by exploring the range and volume of Robert Holmes' television work over a quarter of a century. This included writing and/or script editing for ratings-topping series from `Dr. Finlay's Casebook' to `Shoestring' and `Bergerac', various soaps such as the long-running `Emergency Ward 10', and many shows in the mystery / adventure genre.
This is a fascinating, comprehensively researched book with an appendix listing Robert Holmes' TV writing credits. It's a long and varied list and Richard Molesworth brings the material to life with entertaining descriptions, analysis and many contributions from new and archive interviews with friends and colleagues and (through archive fanzine interviews) Robert Holmes himself.
Any `Doctor Who' fan will enjoy the story of the creative process behind many of the show's best scripts, with selected storylines and scene breakdowns. The proposal for `The Time Warrior' must be one of the most entertaining received by a lucky script editor; it nicely illustrates "Bob" Holmes' sense of humour that we saw in his many scripts - and his expertise; the first draft of the story is very close to the final broadcast version.
Also included are here his many projects and proposals that, for one reason or another, didn't make it to our TV screens. As regards `Doctor Who', these included a spin-off series starring that pair of Victorian heroes Henry Jago and Dr. Lifefoot from his masterpiece `The Talons of Weng-Chiang', (still the finest story in 50 years of `Doctor Who'), and what would have been a brilliantly audacious ending to `The Trial of a Time Lord'.
The book also covers the many controversies ignited by `Doctor Who'; certainly, Robert Holmes wrote the only television programme that ever really scared me! It was 1971, the first time I'd watched `Doctor Who' (aged 6) and I encountered the plastic horrors of `Terror of the Autons'! The book explores how that story caused more fuss than any other to date, with many complaints (not just from the usual sources), and even criticism in Parliament, while Robert Holmes said of some aspects of that script "I did make a mistake ... and I learned not to do it again."
So it seems I'd started by watching what was at that time the scariest, most controversial `Doctor Who' ever made and it didn't put me off! Years later I realised that many of my favourite stories were written by Robert Holmes or had his input as script editor. Many consider that the classic show reached its peak during that period from 1974 to 1977; his exceptional contribution is of course explored here in detail.
We then discover how in the years that followed, the new team did call on Robert Holmes again, with what some saw as mixed results during the `Key to Time' season. Personally, I'd place even `The Power of Kroll' above some later stories by others, in fact above one entire later season! If it's not his greatest story, it is, as we learn Robert Holmes himself said of `Doctor Who' "good, clean, escapist hokum, which is no small thing to be."
But that modestly underestimated the quality of his best writing: Autons waiting in the shop windows, Li'Hsen Chang scheming in Victorian London, Sutekh glaring green rays from behind his mask and Sharaz Jek raging for vengeance in a cave on Androzani Minor. And always, somehow, the Doctor (and good) wins through.
`Robert Holmes: A Life In Words' is a superb exploration and celebration of the writer who created such unforgettable characters and stories.
Robert Holmes (or Bob as he apparently preferred to be called) is a very familiar name to me from Doctor Who and Blake’s 7. His other work I am not so familiar with. But this book is a brilliant opportunity to get to meet the man behind some absolutely fantastic tv serial stories, and I leaped at the chance to read it.
Bob Holmes was obviously a man who lived a simple life, yet who was filled with the power to imagine and create for the tv screen in a way few can. The imagination required to create the worlds and creatures of stories such as, among others, The Krotons, Spearhead from Space (the Autons!), The Ark in Space, Pyramids of Mars (one of my top five all-time Doctor Who stories), The Brain of Morbius (another favourite), The Caves of Androzani (another favourite), as well as the amazing blend of Victoriana and Asian culture that is The Talons of Weng-Chiang is a winner in my book. Besides all the Doctor Who scripts that he was involved with, he also worked on Blake’s 7, Bergerac. Some of his other work I am not familiar with (being in New Zealand and not having seen them) such as Emergency Ward 10. But clearly Mr Holmes was a man that producers and directors knew, respected and trusted to bring the goods to whatever situation he was required to write for.
As well as his writing skills, Bob lived a full life, being in the Army and the Police Force, and having a loving family. It may seem that his name is not as well-known as his work would merit, but I would say that those who have watched episodes or stories written by Bob Holmes both know, remember and cherish his memory and his work, and will do so for a very long time hereafter. This book is a wonderful memorial to Bob’s life and work, and is clearly written by someone who wanted the opportunity to showcase all aspects of Bob’s life and work for future generations, and for those of us who remember with affection those classic episodes, especially Doctor Who. Some photos would have been nice in this book, but perhaps there were copyright or logistical issues; I don’t know. But just would have been nice to have a visual dimension to the book, as well.
on 30 November 2013
Robert Holmes was one off the stalwarts of British television from the 1960s to his untimely death in the mid 1980s, his work comprising many stories for Doctor Who, Blakes Seven, Juliet Bravo and more. His stories had humanity, depth and interest and remain amongst the best loved.
This book tells the story of this great writer through his work and is more of a biography of his work, than a full biography of the man, but as a fan of his work, and an admirer of the writer, I would rather read of how a story he wrote came to be, how it came to fruition on the screen, than about personal problems at home.
This book sings the right songs, it fills the right gaps and it makes an excellent tribute to this great man.
on 14 August 2014
Really good book. Lot of new information here, especially about the character of Bob Holmes. Not the easiest of men to get along with at times. But an extremely creative man who really understood what DW is and should be. A man whose knowledge terrified JNT and puts the current shower to shame. If only we had someone of his talent and skill in charge today.
on 21 March 2015
I really enjoyed reading about Bob Holmes time as script editor of Doctor Who. I also discovered a series he wrote that I watched when I was ten years old. This book was very interesting in places.
However, it was padded out with quite a few script storylines that were never even shown. I found myself skipping these. Also, it is a shame the book did not show much of how Holmes went about his writing, ie his method of working.
Overall though, I enjoyed this book.
on 2 October 2014
Understandably this focuses in particular on Holmes' contributions to the Doctor Who TV series and pretty much exclusively on his work as a writer. There is little about what made Holmes tick as a person.
on 12 April 2014
A real page turner from start to finish on one of the true legends of classic Who,learnt much about the man himself and the stories he write,hopefully another book on a classic writer appears soon!!!!!!
on 31 December 2013
When I suggested volumes on authors like Holmes would be welcome in my review of the recent Terry Nation biography, I never expected it would happen. But now thanks to Richard Molesworth and Telos Publishing, here it is.
This book does exactly what it says on the tin, telling Robert Holmes life story through his writing never forgetting the close association with Dr Who. There are some brief glipmses into his personal life e.g. his career in the Police and chat up line to future wife Pat Watson "Hi Watson, I'm Holmes!"
We learn of the gradual move to TV writing through magazines etc. and his brief connection to films. In this book for you learn of his pseudonym William Hood, his 1st writing and script editing jobs and that his next most prolific number of TV scripts to Who was carbolic soap opera "Emergency Ward 10." The Holmes' family archive was opened to Molesworth which has enabled him consult scripts & storylines that Holmes kept copies of and where none exist he publishes loglines from TV listings so as far as possible we get a feel for many of the scripts he wrote.
As well as Who he looks at scripts for Blake's 7, Shoestring and Bergerac plus forgotten shows like Jukes of Piccadilly & attempts by Holmes to sell series concepts of his own.
There are a few occasions where he was unable to obtain scripts etc. or definitive answers to whether this or that thing actually got written, a case in point being his script for Blake's 7 series 3. Fortunatley though, these are in the minority.
The main meat of the book is of course his writing and for 3-4 years of Tom Baker's tenure, script editing for Dr Who. We get the story of how Krotons could have been a Hartnell story but for Donald Tosh leaving the script editing post and eventualy came back as his 1st Who script in Troughton's time.
Molesworth provides analysis of Holmes' work for the show and whether you agree or not I'm sure you'll find it interesting, e.g old Showman Vorg & young companion Shirna in carnival of Monsters may have been a parody of Jon Pertwee & Katy Manning hidden in plain sight!
There are plenty of other contributors e.g. Robert Banks Stewart who wrote Who scripts for Holmes (he also provides the forward) Who producer Philip Hinchcliffe (admitting he pressured Holmes to write Who scripts because he knew they'd be good) and many more. For some no longer with us and this includes Bob Holmes himself, archive soundbites give us their view.
There are storylines for shows he worked on the best being his Sontaran recommendation for a posthumous citation that served as a storyline for Time Warrior & Lewis Griefer's mad storyline for the original Pyramids of Mars (you'd have to get the Big Finish producers very drunk to persuade them to do it as a "lost story"!).
We also learn that he planned to include Jack the Ripper & the Duke of Clarence in his unfinished Trial of a Timelord conclusion.
Who ends up as a good way to trace Holmes' career jobbing writer for Troughton, trusted writer for Pertwee, main writer and script editor for Tom Baker then back to trusted writer for Davison and Colin Baker.
It turns out that having Whooed himself out a little by his final 70's Who The Power of Kroll (not heped by creative differnces with his successor script editor Anthony Read) a nasty characterisation went round the Beeb that he was "burned out". Despite pressure though, he was still hired for shows like Blake's 7.
He kept an eye on the show when he was away even writing a congratulatory letter about a fan produced magazine.
We learn who he viewed as the defnitive Doctor and that he wasn't too happy with Who as it was done in the 80's.
A bittersweet observation is that not getting as much work as before when he returned to the show he needed Dr Who as much as it needed him.
In all, a very good work on the career of my favourite Who writer and I recommend it to anyone who has particularly enjoyed the work of Robert Holmes.
I hope the coming work on Kit Pedler will be as enjoyable.