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Robert Holmes: a Life in Words Paperback – 31 Oct 2013
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Telos Publishing description: 'Take "The Talons of Weng-Chiang". Watch Episode One. It's the best dialogue ever written. It's up there with Dennis Potter. By a man called Robert Holmes.' - Russell T Davies 'Go find a list of favourite Doctor Who stories and look for the writer with the most entries! That's our Robert! He took Doctor Who down from space and planets, and slipped all that horror and scariness under your bed and at the back of your hall cupboard.' - Steven Moffat 'One of his great talents was for structure and a non-linear approach to building a story, as well as his unique ability to come up with hordes of weirdly convincing names for aliens that would have put J K Rowling in the shade.' - Robert Banks Stewart 'Bob Holmes was the first writer I ever script-edited. I probably learned more from him than he ever did from me.' - Terrance Dicks 'He was an intelligent, literate writer. There aren't a hell of a lot of those about, you know. And there's one less now...' - Chris Boucher Those who know the work of Robert Holmes will not be at all surprised by the effusive and expansive appreciation in which he is held today by his colleagues, peers, and contemporaries. Whether writing scripts for the far-flung fantasies of Doctor Who or Blake's 7, or for the more everyday gritty reality of Bergerac, Shoestring, Juliet Bravo or Public Eye, Robert Holmes was one of television's most innovative, creative, respected - and least lauded - of talents from the '60s, '70s and '80s. Now, for the first time, this book examines his work in detail. For this is Robert Holmes' life in words ...
Top customer reviews
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.
There is plenty to enjoy and learn about in this detailed biography, for me there was a little too much detailing of plots and outlines for never commissioned TV shows, and that detracted from the narrative of the life of Holmes.
The story outlines used as interludes made navigating through the book a little harder than normal and really should have been appendices, I just skipped through a lot of these unmade TV shows.
Obviously the author had done a lot of research and went-to-town on setting down all possible dates and documenting any missed times for scripts, which became a little laborious. Richard Marson's biography on John Nathan-Turner (Both of whom do feature in this book) is a good example of how to better do this type of biography and concentrate on the narrative of a life and how the writer is trying to tell it.
It got better once on to the subject of Doctor Who and these were the most interesting sections around production battles, script development and BBC practices. I'm not sure I learnt anything more about how Robert Holmes would set about writing a script, there seemed to be little investigation of his writing method and thought processes. It seemed we had plenty of comment from Terrance Dicks, Barry Letts and other Doctor Who production personnel but I thought we could have had more out of them on how Holmes worked as a writer, rather than general debates around the portrayal of violence.
I also thought the book was let down in places by poor proofing, but of interest to those who want to know more about writing for television and certainly a most detailed depiction of a writers' life.
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.