Robert Shearman

Your most well known Doctor Who script, Dalek, was famously written and rewritten to accommodate the Dalek and a mystery “other” alien that Russell T Davies later revealed was the Toclafane from Series 3 – was this version of the script considerably different from the end 100% Dalek product?

Robert Shearman wrote 2005 Doctor Who modern classic DalekWell, it’s not massively different. I think it’s that first Dalek script, the one written before we had those rights problems, which would probably seem further away from what was broadcast than the Toclafane version.

The tone of the story was more like a black comedy, with Van Statten mutating into the Dalek pet he spends all his time ogling in the basement, whilst Mrs Van Statten is trying to break through the Dalek casing and get it to talk – just so, finally, she can ask the Dalek whether her husband ever finds time to mention her. And Adam, the annoying companion, was their son.

The production team, quite rightly, felt that all this larger than life family stuff was getting in the way of the Dalek itself – and somehow losing the Dalek forced me to concentrate on the story and beef it up: I could no longer afford to rely upon the iconography of the lead monster when we had a talking giggling sphere instead.

When the Dalek rights were sorted, it was from that Toclafane script (not that they were called that back then – in a script I so wittily titled ‘Absence of the Daleks’) rather than the original Dalek story that I continued to work.

It was a helpful process, surprisingly. Sometime during the writing of every episode, a writer should be forced to remove the big stunt gimmick on which he’s relying and see whether the story can work without it. Would Earthshock work if the production team had had to use something other than the Cybermen at the last minute? Very probably. Would Attack of the Cybermen? Absolutely not.

Your play “Easy Laughter” caused some controversy – was there an intention to incense opinion or purely push the audience into thinking about the implications of the situation in each of these, or something else?

I was only 22 when I wrote “Easy Laughter”, and I think I was trying perhaps too hard to provoke discussion. It’s a play I’m nonetheless very proud of, but mostly because in spite of itself it works onstage – audiences find it involving and funny. But the idea behind it – that we’re watching a family Christmas, and it slowly dawns on you we’re watching a society not only celebrating the birth of Jesus, but the successful extermination of the Jewish race they believe killed him – is designed to leave a very nasty taste in the mouth. All the more so because the nastier that taste gets, the funnier the jokes.

“Easy Laughter” is usually staged in traverse, where the audience sits on two sides facing each other, so that you’re looking at fellow members of the public laughing at stuff you should be horrified by and you’re called upon to judge your own reaction.

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