Could you pick a Doctor Who story’s writer from watching it with its credits lopped off? Well, you and I could of course, because we’ve got honorary PhDs in Who from Murwillumbah TAFE. But if for some reason, a new, unseen script fell through a vent in the space-time continuum, without its writer’s credit, could you pick the author?
I think I could do it with Eric Saward, script editor and writer throughout the 1980s. And his 1984 action fest, Resurrection of the Daleks is written in pure Sawardese. I thought I’d pull out a few examples, as part of my post Doctoral research at Wagga Wagga Institute of Technology. So here are:
Seven Saward Signature Dialogue Tells.
- The short, heavily laden question.
Saward has a particular prose style which can be brutally efficient, the grammar of which is so at pains to be correct, it’s awkward. (Not unlike that last sentence.)
Consider his habit of giving characters concise, frank questions to elicit a response from another character. Often these questions try to fit in both a descriptive noun and and active verb. “The escape was prevented?” is an example. The line could be, “everything worked out fine” or “no harm was done”. But in Saward’s style, we find out two things: there was an escape and it failed. In one super efficient question!
Unfortunately, it doesn’t sound like something anyone would actually say. See also, “you have the Doctor?” And “you fear an attack?”. And my personal favourite, from The Mark of the Rani, “you suspect another motive?”
- Answer one question with another.
Resurrection starts this way.
STEIN: Which way?
GALLOWAY: Does it matter?
It’s particularly useful when you want to avoid giving an answer.
STEIN: Where’ve they gone?
GALLOWAY: Where’d you think?
But it’s more likely to be used as a kind of sarcastic rejoinder.
STEIN: Is it dead?
DOCTOR: Would you care to take another look?
Here’s a famous example from The Caves of Androzani.
DOCTOR: You were expecting someone else?
Is this naturalistic dialogue? (You’d venture another opinion?!)
- Neither fever.
This one actually doesn’t turn up in Resurrection, which is remarkable because it’s widespread among stories written or script edited by Saward. It’s the habit of characters presenting the two sides a dilemma, with the second line starting with ‘neither’. Again, grammatically correct, but very clunky. The classic one’s in Revelation of the Daleks.
GRIGORY: You can’t rush this sort of thing.
NATASHA: Neither can we hang around here.
Here’s one from Earthshock.
DOCTOR: You must withdraw your men, they don’t stand a chance.
BRIGGS: Neither will we if those things get up here.
Eventually, Saward seems to be narkily correcting the grammar in other people’s scripts. From Planet of Fire:
FOSTER: Sure isn’t Greek.
CURT: Neither is it Roman.
From The Mysterious Planet:
BALAZAR: It would be murder to kill them.
MERDEEN: Neither can I free them.
DOCTOR: They weren’t hanging about.
PERI: Neither did they look very pleased.
I’d written this off as one of Saward’s idiosyncrasies. So imagine my delight when a corker example of Neither Fever turned up in Doomsday.
ROSE: You didn’t need to kill him!
DALEK: Neither did we need him alive!
Who would have thought it? Russell T Davies channeling Eric Saward!
- Something, isn’t it?
The go to line of dialogue when a character really has nothing to say. “Big, isn’t it?” is the gem of a line Turlough got to say in The Five Doctors. In Resurrection he gets the equally thrilling, “Dark, isn’t it?” And “Impulsive, aren’t they?”
Lines which mean and add nothing. Pointless, aren’t they?
- The awkward way of saying something.
DOCTOR: I must have played truant that day. (Doctor, no one who ever wagged school would say they ‘played truant’.)
TEGAN: He didn’t intend to return. (Or, ‘he knew he wasn’t coming back’. Your choice, Tegan.)
TEGAN: Some other opportunity may arise. (Or, ‘we may find another way to help’. C’mon Teegs, you’re just not trying!)
DOCTOR: However you respond is seen as an act of provocation. (‘Everything provokes them’ would have done.)
STIEN: The Doctor without his companions would be rather incongruous. (Doctor! You’ve abandoned your companions? Incongruous, aren’t you?)
MERCER: Your bile would be better directed against the enemy, Doctor! (Eeeww.)
DOCTOR (mostly the Sixth): I am known as the Doctor. (Don’t get me started.)
- Expressing a laboured preference.
In which one person makes an innocent remark and another turns it into a whinge about what they want.
CALDER: Anyone want some tea?
TEGAN: I’d much rather have the Colonel back.
BRIGGS: You’ve done well, Mister. You’ll get an extra bonus.
RINGWAY: I’d rather have Vance and Carson alive.
A slight twist in Attack of the Cybermen:
DOCTOR: Merely slips of the tongue.
PERI: I rather think they’re slips of the mind.
Before the most wooden example of all in Revelation:
KARA: Please, accept my apologies.
DAVROS: I would sooner accept your money!
At which point everyone laughs awkwardly, and the big mutant head in a jar trying to crack the funnies.
- Lines which conjure peculiarly vivid imagery.
LYTTON: The original plan was to snatch Davros and leave, not dance to his every whim. (Oh no, I much prefer this revised plan. Go on, dance to Davros’s whims! I want to see what they are and see how elegantly these troopers can bust a move in their big Daleky helmets.)
STEIN: With the Bomb Disposal Squad duplicated, the Daleks had people to guard the warehouse who wouldn’t arouse suspicion. (That’s right, because a Bomb Disposal Squad never causes any undue attention! In fact, an old warehouse without a Bomb Disposal Squad would be rather incongruous.)
STYLES: Don’t you get funny ideas? I’d give anything for a glass of cool spring mountain water. (You’ve really thought about that, haven’t you Styles? Between running for your life and taking pot shots at Daleks. Not just water. Not just cool water. Not just cool spring water. But cool spring mountain water. I’m surprised she doesn’t specify which mountain.)
STEIN: I can’t stand the confusion in my mind! (Wow. That’s so strange, ’cause I can’t stand the confusion in my elbow.)
DOCTOR: You’re like a deranged child, all this talk of killing, revenge and destruction. (Look, I’m not here to give out parenting advice, but if you have a child, deranged or otherwise, talking about killing, revenge and destruction, you might want to cut off the red cordial and check their internet history.)
(Or check your DVD collection. They may just be binge watching Saward’s Doctor Who stories.)
LINK TO: The End of Time. Both have flashback sequences! De rigeur for both the Davison and Tennant eras.
NEXT TIME: Geronimo, allons y and Gallifrey stands, it’s The Day of the Doctor.