Did you know that Tom Baker and JK Rowling nearly became Doctor Who writers? We look back at the scripts that (almost) made it to the screen…
One man who almost joined the team of Doctor Who writers was David Renwick. To British TV viewers, he is probably best known as the creator and writer of the BBC’s detective drama Jonathan Creek starring Alan Davies, as well as the creator of the 90s comedy series One Foot in the Grave. And whilst it is not unusual for successful comedy writers to find themselves working on Doctor Who (here’s looking at you Douglas Adams and Richard Curtis) David Renwick never moved beyond an initial enquiry.
According to (then) showrunner Steven Moffat, Renwick was approached to join the team of Doctor Who writers. In a recent interview, Moffat said: “He said he didn’t like Doctor Who and he didn’t want to do it. Dead to me…” He added: “He’s not dead to me! I love David Renwick and I love David Renwick’s work. It’s one of those occasions where you want to say, ‘Just let me in the room for ten minutes because I can persuade you that this is your show. A lot of people don’t think it’s their show, Doctor Who, but if you just let me in the room for ten minutes I’ll explain to you why it is.’ But he was just ‘No.'”
Stephen Fry is one of those nearly-Doctor Who writers who actually delivered a script. Penned in 2005, Fry’s adventure was tentatively called ‘The 1920s‘ and revolved around the characters of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, who are linked to one of the King Arthur legends. It was planned as a Tenth Doctor story to be broadcast in 2006.
Alas, 16 years later, we are still waiting for this adventure to see the light of day. Apparently, it was originally postponed because it was too costly to make, and it was hurriedly replaced with the considerably cheaper ‘Fear Her’ which revolved around the 2012 Olympics – and mostly took place on a quiet London street. This was a far cry from the alien planets and Arthurian iconography that Fry had (apparently) originally planned.
At the time, Fry reportedly said: “Unfortunately, I’ve had to pull out of the Doctor Who gig. Lack of time. I couldn’t find three minutes to string together. Barely enough time to go to the lavatory these days, let alone take on new projects.”
Could Stephen Fry still join the team of Doctor Who writers in the future? Well, Russell T Davies is returning as the showrunner, so it’s not completely out of the question…
Tom Baker nearly became the first of the Doctor Who writers to have also played the titular Time Lord – unless you count the ‘fan fiction’ penned by Matt Smith in his preparation for the role, which saw the Eleventh Doctor travel through the cosmos with Albert Einstein.
Tom Baker’s Doctor Who script actually took the form of a movie with the working title of Doctor Who Meets Scratchman (and later Doctor Who and the Big Game) co-authored with his then-companion Harry Sullivan, played by Ian Marter.
In the adventure, the Fourth Doctor and his companions would have encountered a mysterious man known as Harry Scratch, who was hell bent on sowing chaos and destruction. His plan would have involved killer robots known as Cybors, as well as killer scarecrows, the Green God Pan and a giant pinball table – which just happened to be infested with Daleks.
And whilst this ambitious movie never made it to the big screen, Tom Baker did finally become one of the canonical Doctor Who writers in 2019 when he adapted his script into a Doctor Who novel, simply titled ‘Scratchman.’ Perhaps this will become a bona fide TV adventure one day? Who knows, eh? Who. Knows.
Perhaps one of the most famous people who almost joined the Doctor Who writers is the Harry Potter author JK Rowling. Apparently, showrunner Russell T Davies approached Rowling when he was relaunching the series in 2005 to see if she would be interested in contributing a script. But alas – as with David Renwick – this was a brief conversation; Rowling reportedly answered by saying that she was amused by the idea, but simply didn’t have time to write anything.
This is perhaps one of the biggest ‘what ifs?’ of the Whoniverse. Just what would it have been like if JK Rowling had become one of the Doctor Who writers? We may never know. That said, Doctor Who is still on our screens. Maybe JK Rowling will find some time in the future? Or conjure up a spell that will allow her to be in two places at once…?
Interestingly, even though JK Rowling didn’t become one of the Doctor Who writers, Davies continued to be fascinated with the notion of involving her in the show. Having ruled out the possibility of her contributing a script, Davies toyed with the idea of having her star in the show as a guest companion for one of the Christmas episodes – playing herself! The episode would have revolved around an alien creature using some of Rowling’s imaginary creatures against her, creating a host of magical threats for the Doctor and JK to battle their way through on Christmas Day.
Ultimately, however, this idea never came to anything, partly because the Tenth Doctor David Tennant wasn’t too taken with the concept, thinking it sounded too much like a spoof. But the premise was ultimately reworked by Gareth Roberts for the author Agatha Christie (albeit a fictitious version) in the 2008 episode ‘The Unicorn and the Wasp.’
Can you think of any other famous Doctor Who writers who almost wrote for the show? And which of the above would you most like to see a script from? Let me know in the comments below.
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