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Bidmead vs Saward vs Cartmel. Who was the best 80's script-editor?

Who was the best 80's script-editor?

Bidmead vs Saward vs Cartmel. Who was the best 80's script-editor? I_vote_lcap22%Bidmead vs Saward vs Cartmel. Who was the best 80's script-editor? I_vote_rcap 22% [ 2 ]
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Bidmead vs Saward vs Cartmel. Who was the best 80's script-editor? I_vote_lcap44%Bidmead vs Saward vs Cartmel. Who was the best 80's script-editor? I_vote_rcap 44% [ 4 ]
Total Votes : 9

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Between Christopher H. Bidmead (The Leisure Hive-Logopolis), Eric Saward (Castrovalva-Trial of a Time Lord) and Andrew Cartmel (Time and the Rani-Survival), who did you rate or prefer as script-editor and who do you think did the best job overall?

This could get interesting.

* I didn't include Anthony Root as he was only a brief fill-in


Saward. Despite the unprofessional way he left the programme and spewed apparent hatred at JNT. Rather dignity in silence and all that.

Then Bidmead. Yes he had some odd ideas - e.g., dematerialising the Tardis and flooding it in the Thames to get rid of the master seemed a tad bit stupid to me - but together with JNT he helped lift the show out of the rut it had got stuck in during much of Graham William's seasons. I think Terrance is a bit hard on him.

I don't care very much for Cartmel or his era.


Cartmel, by miles. Creative, inspired and brilliant.
Then Saward. Dark and edgy, though he didn't seem to get the main character a lot of the time.
Bidmead. Dullard.


I need to reason this out a bit.

I feel like of all three script-editors, Cartmel was the one I was most on the same page with about where things had gone wrong previously, what the show was meant to be, and the wider potential of the Doctor as a more intelligent, ambiguous, machiavellian hero (something we'd not really seen since City of Death).

He also brought some needed new contacts like Ben Aaronovitch, who the show could've done with far sooner. Remembrance really is a surprise victory out of the jaws of defeat, at a time when there seemed less reason to hope than ever.

On the other hand his era was a bit on the sloppy side and sometimes far too complacent and 'right-on' for its own good. Even at its worst though I'd say the McCoy era at least 'felt' more true to the spirit of Doctor Who than anything since The Five Doctors had. And of course Remembrance of the Daleks, Greatest Show in the Galaxy and Curse of Fenric were the something special that made the sometimes shaky era wroth it and made the show feel fresh anew.

Bidmead I'm tempted to vote for because overall his era was the most solid of the three, but frankly the most enjoyment I got out of his era was State of Decay, which also happened to be the one where director Peter Moffatt fought to keep Bidmead's rewrites out of the final script. And on the other hand, had I been watching The Leisure Hive at the time, I think it might've made me give up on the incomprehensible new era and stop watching there and then.

He was dilligent and at least strove for being perfectionist in a way Saward wasn't, but he also had the advantage of inheriting the show when it had been mostly still enjoying its golden age and strongest momentum, so he had it far easier than Cartmel in that regard who inherited a show that had come unglued.

And infact on that note, it was largely because of Bidmead being so difficult that David Fisher, one of the best Williams era writers, decided not to work on the show again, and I strongly suspect had Bidmead stayed on, neither would Terrance Dicks. I also think it was a terribly short-sighted mistake to write a story like Logopolis  as the Fourth Doctor's finale. A send-off which actively undoes so much of the Fourth Doctor's past victories and good work in one go.

I don't think Cartmel would've been that short sighted.

Although I have to say Castrovalva and Frontios make me sad that he didn't stay on and we didn't get the chance to see how he'd develop the Fifth Doctor as a character with seemingly more competence than Saward.

Saward is however for me the worst of the bunch. The Visitation, Earthshock and Revelation of the Daleks show that he can be a decent writer, but frankly as a script editor he was awful. And whilst I used to take his side over JNT and believed Saward when he said he had far too much of a control-freak of a boss to be able to do his job to his best, my sympathies have shifted and overturned since. I think it's less JNT who needed to leave sooner, as Saward. I think the 80's would be instantly more salvageable had Saward just left on The Five Doctors. At best both of them were as bad as each other, and clashed creatively in a way that caused both to double down on their worst ideas and creative instincts.

To a degree I think the most unforgivable things Saward was responsible for (namely Warriors' irredeemable final ten minutes) were done under duress and frustration at having JNT and Ian Levine being unreasonably demanding. But even then Cartmel had some disagreements with JNT and would find creative ways around him that produced something more interesting. Saward just seemed to either become really defeatist or find snide, and spiteful ways around it which just left a hopeless, rotten aftertaste.

For instance Cartmel said how it was JNT who objected to a scene in Remembrance where the Doctor was meant to take out a Dalek with a bazooka. I don't *think* it was the scene where Ace ended up doing that instead, but rather the final confrontation with the Black Dalek where the Doctor ends up convincing it to self-destruct instead. But Cartmel was frustrated and thought it'd be perfectly sensible and right for the Doctor to do so against that enemy.

And I imagine that same kind of scenario was happening with Saward during Season 21-22 where he would have to abide by some pacifist notion about the Doctor against all common sense, and find some of the sloppiest loopholes to justify the villain's demise happening, hence in Attack of the Cybermen and Vengeance on Varos we see the Doctor cause quite a lot of death by reckless, accidental calamity instead. Which really didn't sit right because it made the Doctor seem careless and the villains too clumsy to be a genuine threat that needed to be so ruthlessly dispatched.

The thing is, Cartmel is right. The Doctor would be smart to resort to the gun in that scenario. But to a degree, having that rule against him is not necessarily a recipe for disaster. Infact it made for more interesting television in stories like Remembrance, in which because the Doctor abstained from guns and other conventional weapons, it raised the suspense of wondering what masterplan or ace up his sleeve he had instead. And having him seen to resort to a gun would spoil that intrigue.

Unfortunately under Saward, we didn't get that intrigue maintained and we didn't get that anticipation (with the one exception of The Five Doctors). We just got the Doctor shown up as, frankly unfit for purpose.

And it's not that the Doctor can't be fallible or can't fail or even leave some loose ends unresolved. Some of the best stories have shown that (Inferno, Genesis of the Daleks, Horror of Fang Rock).

The problem is.... if Genesis of the Daleks or Logopolis were never followed up and there was never closure to the hanging threat of the Master or the Daleks still being out there, or the Doctor's failure, it wouldn't necessarily be a problem because both those stories served their purpose of being a test of character that taught us something about the Doctor.

In Saward's era, again that's only really true of The Five Doctors and Caves of Androzani. Elsewhere the Doctor (particularly the Fifth Doctor) under Saward is an undeveloped programmatic cipher who doesn't develop over the series at all, and doesn't seem to have a purpose anymore. And so the failure stories don't work as tests of character so much as tests of how soulless and stubborn a cipher he can be, and how much our patience with the character is being squandered. And as such there's no reassuring sense of him still being a champion in an ongoing fight. Colin's Doctor was slightly different, but then I think that was largely down to Colin's better, sharper ideas for the character than Saward's.

And I think when fans talk of the McCoy era renaissance, that's what they really mean. That there's a story and character growth and character tests for the Doctor and companion again. So that the show does end on a good note where even if Remembrance and Survival aren't a final end to the Daleks or Master, they're still a good test of the Doctor in which he comes out strong, and so the ongoing fight remains hopeful.

Some of Saward's failings and excuses are shocking. He said he couldn't really see much room for character development in an air hostess like Tegan. This despite the fact that the Entebbe hijacking had only been five years ago, and presumably this meant Tegan would've had some training on how to handle hijacking/hostage situations, which would be brilliant to utilize in particular action base under siege stories, but never is.

He also said it was necessary to just forget the death of Adric and move on quickly with the next adventure by having the Doctor suggest a cheer-up visit to the Great Exhibition. Even though the next adventure, Time-Flight, as a contemporary Earth story would've been the perfect grounds for the Doctor to decide to take a mourning Tegan home to wonder whether she wanted to leave and give up this dangerous life.

Saward also loses points for being a poor, neglectful nurturer of the rare writing talents he managed to bring onto the show. It shocked me infact to learn that it was him who wasn't happy with Enlightenment, and presumably him that decided not to bother taking up any of Barbara Clegg's future submissions.

I think all things considered though, I'm gonna go with Bidmead as the best. I have to go with the strength of the pudding here, and his had a more thoroughly stronger constituency than the others.


1. Cartmel, The McCoy era is one of my favorite eras of the show and part of that is down to Cartmel's improved writing with a lot of interesting ideas and new storylines.
2. Saward. Although his time had a few crap stories here and there, I don't find his era as bad as a lot of people make out and we get some great stories, my only flaw with him is that the past references could be a little too much.
3. Bidmead. Although I enjoy Season 18, his script edits at times felt rather lecture-esque rather than entertainment, and while his ideas were interesting, he remains the weakest of the three IMO.

Rob Filth

Rob Filth
1. Saward for me. Had JNT not hamstrung him with inexperienced writers and shit directors I think he might have been on par with Holmes.

2. Bidmead. I liked his harder sci-fi approach and there are lots of interesting concepts and themes to his stories, but ultimately they are let down by sleepy synth music and a lack of action.

3. Cartmell. Although his era should be recognised for taking a bolder more experimental approach, it is my least favourite era. Plots and character motivations seem nonsensical. His attempts at trying to add intrigue to the Doctors character by making him an immortal god is why we got the fucking shite Tennant era and characterisation.

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