‘The Prison in Space’ is a lost Doctor Who story from 1968. What happened to it, and how come it was never produced?
Doctor Who‘s third season – starring the Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton – was a troubled one. Spanning an incredible 44 episodes, the series put immense pressure on the regular cast and crew, including its writing team. In addition, series regular Frazer Hines (who played the Doctor’s companion Jamie) was considering leaving the programme, but couldn’t decide when, meaning that scripts had to be constantly rewritten or abandoned altogether.
And very little is known about some of these lost Doctor Who stories. Indeed, ‘The Prison in Space’ was commissioned to replace a story of which there is no record, except that it had been planned to fill a gap left by ‘The Dreamspinners’ – another lost Doctor Who serial by Paul Wheeler that hadn’t progressed beyond the first draft of episode one.
But what exactly do we know about ‘The Prison in Space’? Well, it was initially pitched as a comedy; the producer Peter Bryant was concerned that Doctor Who was becoming too serious in tone, and asked writer Dick Sharples to come up with some much-needed comic relief in the form of a four-part adventure that centred on a sexual revolution.
And whilst this may seem an unlikely premise for a Saturday afternoon timeslot(!) ‘The Prison in Space’ is a rare example of a lost Doctor Who that actually made it into pre-production. All of the scripts had been written (and re-written) several times by Sharples; the first draft featured the Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe, whilst the later versions introduced a new companion in the form of Nik, with Jamie having already left the TARDIS crew. Moreover, a director was assigned to the story in the form of David Maloney, who had previously handled ‘The Mind Robber,’ and at least one supporting artist was contracted before it was shelved.
But what of the plot? In this lost Doctor Who story, the TARDIS materialises on a planet ruled solely by women, who have abandoned procreation in favour of extended lifespans. The Doctor and Jamie are quickly arrested by its ruler – President Babs – and are exiled to a prison satellite ruled by Dolly Guards. Zoe, meanwhile, tries to incite a revolution amongst the populace by telling them about the virtues of her own time, where men and women live together in peace. Babs stops her, however, by putting her in a trance that can only be broken by a spanking. (Thanks to Doctor Who: A Brief History of Time (Travel) for the info.)
And if you’re thinking this sounds somewhat inappropriate for a Doctor Who story (or any kind of story, for that matter) then you’re not alone. The humour of this lost Doctor Who adventure was certainly lost on its cast and crew, and thankfully it never went before the cameras. (The scene in which Jamie McCrimmon dressed up as a Dolly Guard to escape the space satellite would become nothing more than a footnote in history…)
However, many attempts were made to salvage this lost Doctor Who story before it was cancelled altogether. The writer Dick Sharples was asked to make even more revisions to his scripts, but he ultimately refused, feeling that he had already done what had been asked of him. And with a gaping void opening up in the Season Six roster, Peter Bryant hastily plugged it with a four part adventure known as ‘The Krotons’ by Robert Holmes. And the rest, as they say, is history.
That being said, it is still possible to enjoy a version of ‘The Prison in Space’ today. In 2009, the audio company Big Finish produced their own version of the story, with Sharples’ scripts being adapted by Simon Guerrier. Of course, the serial is missing its Doctor, as Patrick Troughton sadly passed away in 1987, but Frazer Hines and Wendy Padbury return as his companions Jamie and Zoe. It’s available in a box set that features another lost Doctor Who tale titled ‘The Destroyers’ (starring the Daleks) so it might be worth a listen.
How do you feel about ‘The Prison in Space’? Did the production team do the right thing by cancelling it? And have you listened to the Big Finish adaptation? Let me know in the comments below.
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