The Vague Vengeance of Peter Grimwade
The Grimwade story is an interesting one. Like many of the show’s figures, his career with Doctor Who spans an immense period of time.
His first work on Doctor Who was as a production assistant on Spearhead From Space, with Jon Pertwee. He followed it up with a similar position on The Daemons, also with Pertwee.
From there, he jumped to the Tom Baker Doctor, again, a production assistant and precociously directed the miniature shots for Baker’s first serial, Robot. He was production assistant for Pyramids of Mars, Robots of Death and Horror of Fang Rock, which, if you have to be connected, is a pretty damned good trinity.
In Robots of Death, he achieved a sort of notoriety, when Tom Baker ad libbed ‘Grimwade’s Syndrome’ as the name for a pathological fear of robots.
But he wasn’t just a production assistant. Peter was kind of a jack of all trades. As early as 1969 and 1971, he was getting professional writing credits on productions of Z Cars and Spare the Rod. He was an enthusiastic young man. In the late seventies, he submitted a proposal for a script called Zanedin, which was almost accepted. He took the BBC’s in-house Director’s workshop program.
And he got to know John Nathan Turner, when the two of them were working on All Creatures Great and Small, starring Peter Davison. For Turner, Grimwade was in the sweet spot. Turner wanted to bring new blood into Doctor Who – new writers, new directors, out with the old and in with the new. Sometimes that worked brilliantly, sometimes it was disastrous. But the bottom line, Turner wanted to shake things up. At the same time, Doctor Who was, even then, perhaps especially then, a peculiar thing, not everyone had the hang of it.
With Grimwade, he had a young man who actually had real history of the show, who had worked with Baker and Pertwee on some of their best serials, but was for creative purposes, new blood.
So Grimwade got his first chance to direct: Full Circle, 1980, the first serial in the E-Space trilogy, from Tom Baker’s final season. It’s not bad, it’s a mysterious and moody piece that’s quite well done, though it tends to stand in the shadow of Warrior’s Gate. It’s also known for introducing Adric, as a sort of fish-man evolved to full pseudo-humanity.
That went well enough that he was assigned to direct Logopolis, in 1981, Tom Baker’s final serial. Logopolis was marked by little production crises, the house originally set to be shot in was not available. A police box was in a state of disrepair. Grimwade handled these challenges with aplomb, basically, all that time in the trenches as a production assistant paid off.
In 1982, Grimwade directed Peter Davison’s Kinda, a very unusual story, full of buddhist overtones, with the Doctor and his companions encountering a psychic creature of evil, the Mara, who would possess Tegan. The Mara came back the next year for Snakedance. Personally, didn’t really get into it. But it was both an unusual story and a very well done production.
From there, Grimwade went on to direct Earthshock – and what is there to say about that? Brilliant direction, sterling performances, the surprise return of the Cybermen, it had been seven years since their previous outing with Tom Baker in 1975’s Revenge of the Cybermen, and fourteen years since their last story before that, in 1968’s Invasion. It also featured the death of Adric and the extinction of the Dinosaurs. It was a tour de force.
It was also kind of ironic when you think about it. As a Director, Grimwade had helmed Adric and Matthew Waterhouse’s entry into the Doctor Who Universe, in Full Circle, and then ushered him out in Earthshock.
While all this was going on, his script Zanedin was working its way through the bowels of the system, finally being produced as Time-Flight, a somewhat muddled story of a Concorde supersonic passenger jet being kidnapped into the Jurassic by a mysterious alien force which turns out to be the Master.
Okay, I’ve been waiting to say this for years – But if you’re going to throw a story into the Mesozoic era, there’d better be some fracking dinosaurs! Jurassic, people, Jurassic! I’m not fussy, I don’t need T-Rex. Stick a few sauropods, an iguanadon, a pterodactyl, have a stegosaur lumber through the frame. Throw us a bone! And if you’re not going to throw in some dinos… Don’t go their. Set it in the precambrian, or the ‘earth was a lifeless desert’ or the ‘marshes and slime molds’ era. But don’t go Jurassic, and then screw us out of dinosaurs. Really!
Time-Flight was initially quite well received, but it hasn’t actually stood the test of time very well. There’s some interesting things going on, the fact that the crew and passengers of the Concorde, trapped in a Jurassic world, are mesmerized into believing they’re at Heathrow, that’s odd and creepy. But there are too many negatives. The script has clearly been in the oven far too long, its been polished too much, too many revisions and alterations, it’s gotten mushy. It also suffers from ‘end of season-itis’ – when the budget is mostly blown and everything has to be done cheap and fast.
For me (…. must…. not… rant… about … dinosaurs… again!), the big problem with Time-Flight is ‘Didn’t we just watch this?” Think about it: Mysterious alien enemy which turns out to be a familiar old foe, a mysterious time warp, a detour to the Mesozoic – it feels like the same key elements. It’s like the way McCoy followed Remembrance of the Daleks with Silver Nemesis.
Davison’s first year had been a good year for Grimwade. Of the seven serials of that season, Grimwade had accounted for three – two directed, one written. Maybe too good a year. This was the John Nathan Turner era, and Turner was… Well, a personality. The Baker years had come to be overshadowed by Tom Baker’s ego. The Turner era would see three different Doctors, but the real dominant personality, the real ego of the series, was Turner – brash, domineering, arrogant, indifferent, Doctor Who was his baby. A lot of the desire to throw out so much of the old was to eliminate rivals, to make the show his and his alone. Basically, Turner didn’t really have room for anyone but Turner. So being too successful, too dynamic, too forceful or regarded as a creative force in the show… Well, jealousy started up.
For the next season, 1983, Grimwade had a second script accepted: Mawydryn Undead, a complex time travel story, featuring the return of the Brigadier, the introduction of Turlough, and a strange and tragic group of lost dutchmen.
Grimwade was also slated to direct the final serial of the year, The Return, to feature the return of the Daleks. Unfortunately, labour troubles intervened. The Return was cancelled, literally two days before shooting was to start. Everyone was out of a job.
To console people, Grimwood took the cast and crew out for lunch. Turner wasn’t invited. The intent, we’re told, is that Grimwade had intended to have Turner out for a private supper. That doesn’t seem implausible. But Turner took it as a deliberate insult, and that was that.
The Return eventually made it onto the third year roster, as Resurrection of the Daleks, directed by someone else.
Eric Saward, the Story Editor, whose relationship with Turner was also deteriorating steadily, tried to bring him back as writer for Planet of Fire, Davison’s second last serial in 1984. Planet of Fire, ironically, saw the departure of Mark Strickson, and his character, Turlough. As with Waterhouse, Grimwade had ushered him in, and ushered him out.
Planet of Fire turned out to be a bit of a nightmare. Changing circumstances ensured constant rewrites and very little support. The production was being shot on Lanzerotte in the Canary Islands, but Grimwade was specifically excluded from the junket by Turner. Instead, he was asked to do a location script for a location he wasn’t allowed to visit. Eventually, Grimwade just let Saward rewrite it as he wished.
That was about it. Grimwade submitted one more story, the League of Tancred, which was kicked around for a while, but eventually rejected. But his career and association with Doctor Who was largely over. He wrote novelizations of his three scripts, something Turner had no control over in 1985, but he was largely absent from television, either as a writer or director after 1984.
Peter Grimwade spent most of the rest of his career directing industrial films, which, I suppose pays the bills. But it’s hard to think of it as a preferred career choice. He died of Leukemia at the age of 47 in 1990.
So what did it come down to? Directed four serials with Tom Baker and Peter Davison, wrote three scripts for Peter Davison, wrote three novels based on those scripts, worked production on six of Pertwee’s and Baker’s best serials, and had one unmade script, that’s not a bad career, all things considered. I’m willing to give him a big pass on Time-Flight, it’s a first script, and a lot of what goes wrong doesn’t really fall on his lap. But you have to wonder, he showed a lot of talent as a director and writer, handling very difficult material adeptly, if not for Turner’s ego… What might he have done, what could he have written or directed or contributed to the later floundering seasons of the classic series. But that career was over.
In 1986, Peter Grimwade, revenge came in the form of “The Come-Uppance of Captain Katt.”
Okay – Captain Katt is an incredibly popular space opera on a private television station. The Actor who plays Captain Katt is a beloved celebrity, wildly popular with kids, perpetually in demand for things like supermarket openings, and a gigantic dickhead. Also, someone is trying to kill him. The half hour story switches back and forth between the show and the production of the show, as we find out that just about everyone wants him dead.
“The Come-Uppance of Captain Katt” was written and directed by Peter Grimwade as part of ITV (a rival British network)’s ‘Dramarama’ youth program. Dramarama seems to have been a half hour children’s anthology series – each episode was a stand alone story. “Captain Katt” was the lead episode of series four.
Basically, what Grimwade did was take all his experiences working on Doctor Who, his observations, frustrations, everything, and pour it into ‘Captain Katt’ as a sort of Anti-Valentine. He was pretty honest about it too. If anyone asked him, he’d be quite upfront in admitting he drew on his experiences with Doctor Who.
Is it nasty? Well, there was a limit to how vicious you could be, or how polished. This was a low budget youth oriented one-off program after all, and half an our really doesn’t allow you to develop the characters of a large cast, or really explore the complex premise he sets out. But if you allow for the limitations, it’s definitely got an edge.
There’s no laugh track, instead, you either get the gags or you don’t. Shot as a drama, I think some of the comedy beats are off. Alfred Marks who plays Captain Katt and his alter ego is a human train wreck, utterly self absorbed, insecure, bullying, greedy and grasping, he’s a figure of titanic ego, a man lost in his own imaginary glory. He’s clearly a reflection of Tom Baker in his final year as well as John Nathan Turner. His opposite number is his savage alien companion, Mugwump, played by Ros Simmons, a stand in for hapless companions from K9 to Adric. Watching it, we can’t help but wonder about the rest of the cast and crew, who they represent, what incidents and moments from Doctor Who have been borrowed. It would be great to see an annotated version. It’s a lot of fun.
So check it out….