An Afternoon with Andrew Cartmel – Review – Headrow House, Leeds

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By David Schuster, May 2019

To the right stands a life-sized cardboard cut-out of Sylvester McCoy, in his guise as the seventh Doctor Who. In fact, it looks slightly larger than his actual compact five-foot five-inches. He’s carrying his trademark question mark handled umbrella and sporting a knitted tank top that I’m pretty sure would be unfashionable in any part of human history, past or future. To the left is a (significantly smaller than reality) cut-out of his famous time and space transport, the TARDIS. Between are a large projection screen and two chairs: The stage is, quite literally, set for the second of Who77 Promotion’s popular events themed around the iconic TV series; An Afternoon with Andrew Cartmel.

Cartmel was Script Editor for the long running television series between 1987 and 1989, the whole of McCoy’s tenure as the time travelling adventurer and, despite having had the misfortune to be in the role at a point when the BBC decided to axe one of their most popular shows of all time, the events room of Headrow House in Leeds is full to capacity and there’s an excited buzz as Andrew takes his position. Dressed all in black he’s a vibrant and enthusiastic speaker, with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. His opening sentence; “I’d just like apologise to Phillip Hinchcliffe [the guest at the previous Who77 event] for getting a bigger audience than him,” sets the wryly humorous tone for the interview.

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“Winning formula”

The afternoon follows the same engaging format as the previous Who77 event: An interview with the guest about their time working on the science fantasy series, interspersed with interesting video montages of the episodes they were involved in, an interval for autographs and photos, then a second interview section about their career after Doctor Who, concluding with questions from the audience. It’s a winning formula, with lots of variety and interest, offering insight into the world of creative writing rather than just being for the ardent Whovians. Chris Hoyle has developed into an ideal host, teeing up well researched questions, whilst allowing his guest to run with a subject on which they want to expand.

What then was the issue at the BBC? It would seem to have been misplaced snobbery; very senior figures in the organisation thought that science fantasy was too downmarket for the Beeb, and that feeling percolated down through Broadcasting House in the late 80’. The writer got his first indication of how the show was regarded, when he told a colleague that he’d got the job as Doctor Who Script Editor. “Oh well, never mind,” was the disheartening response.

The British born writer and journalist is best known as the devisor of the ‘Cartmel Masterplan’, a story arc intended to return some of the mystery to the Time Lord’s persona, by hinting at a far-distant past, or as he puts it, “I looked around at the smoking ruins of season 24, and decided that something needed to be done!” Sadly, the show was cancelled before the plan could be implemented, only returning full-time in 2005.

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“Iconic images”

Finally, after working in other television, audio book and magazine roles, Andrew fulfilled his original ambition to become a novelist. Firstly, writing books set in worlds created by other writers, such as Judge Dredd, and the cult 1960’s series The Prisoner, and then conceiving his own Vinyl Detective series, an idea which came to him whilst working on a Hi Fi magazine. However, it’s his anecdotes about the tribulations of working within the BBC that are the funniest. For example, the time a painted backdrop was produced for the set, only for filming to be switched to a smaller studio at the last minute, resulting in noticeable folds in the alien landscape!

“How would you like to be remembered?” Asks someone at the back of the room. “As a creator of iconic images, that remain with you because they reflect the essential humanity of the story,” is his thoughtful response. Judging from the warmth of the audience applause, that’s job done.

The next Who77 event will be held on Sunday 10th November, in Headrow House, Leeds. It will feature actor Terry Molloy, who played the character of Davros throughout the 1980’s. Early booking is advised as demand is likely to be high. For tickets, and information on forthcoming events:


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