The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Love Is A Silent Thief



For Comic Relief; here’s a Doctor Who short story I wrote back in 2004, for the Big Finish anthology Past Tense. It’s called The Thief Of Sherwood, and it remains one of my favourite Doctor Who things that I’ve done. Sadly Past Tense is long out of print, and so is Re:Collections which also included it, as Big Finish no longer have the rights to release Doctor Who short stories in print. As you will see, this story wouldn’t work if read aloud, so there’s no chance of it being released that way either. And, as the rights have reverted, I thought it would be nice to share it. If you read it and enjoy it, please make a donation to Comic Relief.

 

[When it was printed in Past Tense, the editor, Ian Farrington, went to great pains to use the correct typefaces. Unfortunately I cannot reproduce that to full effect here. Please also note: this is the story as delivered; it was slightly re-written in Past Tense to link up to Joe Lidster's story That Time I Nearly Destroyed The World Whilst Looking For a Dress]


The Thief Of Sherwood


“At one time, I suggested giving the Doctor an adventure where he met Robin Hood!” – William Hartnell

--

Radio Times, 19th September 1964:

5.30
DR. WHO
An adventure in space and time
starring
WILLIAM HARTNELL
WILLIAM RUSSELL
JACQUELINE HILL
and
CAROLE ANN FORD
*
The Deserted Castle
by Godfrey Porter
Dr. Who.............................William Hartnell
Ian Chesterton......................William Russell
Barbara Wright......................Jacqueline Hill
Susan Foreman....................Carole Ann Ford
Little John...............................Archie Duncan
Will Scarlet …………...............Ronald Hines
Sheriff Of Nottingham….…Frank Thornton
Maid Marion………….............Judith Denton
Peddler…...…………..………..Milton Johns
Villager……………………….Carl Bernard
Man-at-arms………………………Ivor Colin
Title music by Ron Grainer
with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop
Incidental music composed and
conducted by Harper C. Bassett
Story editor, David Whitaker
Designer, Barry Newbery
Associate producer, Mervyn Pinfield
Producer, Verity Lambert
Directed by, Patrick Whitfield
Is the castle as deserted as it appears? Or is it
a trap for the unwary traveller?

--

Radio Times, 19th September 1964:

DR. WHO
and the Outlaws

We all know that it is impossible to wind back the hands of history - and equally impossible for us to launch ourselves into the realms of future space. Impossible for us - but not for the strange old gentleman of time and space, Dr. Who (William Hartnell) - who has no problem in travelling to far-flung worlds or through time to the dark days of twelfth-century Sherwood.

Such is the setting for Saturday’s instalment of a new tale for the Doctor and his group. Written by Godfrey Porter, the story is essentially a re-telling of the Robin Hood myth - the travellers become involved in a case of mistaken identity which leads them to the dungeons of the infamous Sheriff of Nottingham. The story does not affect the course of history but instead utilises it as a thrilling backdrop for adventure.

--

Radio Times Doctor Who 10th Anniversary Special, 1973:

The Bandits

The TARDIS lands in the dungeons of Nottingham castle. Ian and Susan are captured and brought before the Sheriff. The others are captured by bandits and taken to Sherwood Forest where they discover that Robin Hood is Ian’s double. The Merry Men elect to rescue Ian and Susan but the attempt fails and Robin is killed. The Doctor saves Susan from execution by posing as a monk. Ian gives away all of Robin’s loot.

--

Doctor Who – Story Nine, Doctor Who Weekly 26, 1980:

THE THIEVE OF SHERWOOD

This six part adventure was first shown on BBC television on September 19th, 1964.

The TARDIS has recently journeyed through the fourth and fifth dimensions. From their positions by the controls the Doctor, Susan, Ian and Barbara watch the scanner. They have landed in sheer darkness!

They emerge into a dungeon cell. A skeleton is chained to the wall! “That was a human being. We are on Earth!” proclaims the Doctor. They decide to split up to explore. The Doctor and Barbara go upstairs and discover they are in a deserted medieval castle.

Ian and Susan, meanwhile, meet a pretty young girl called Marion being held prisoner. Ian attempts to force the door to her cell, but the lock is too strong. He heads back to the TARDIS for cutting tools, but discovers that the door to that cell is now also locked. They are not alone…

The Doctor and Barbara reach a nearby village. The houses are all boarded up and the occupants live in fear for their lives.

Back in the dungeons, the man-at-arms who watched Ian and Susan meets with the Sheriff Of Nottingham. “Your plan has succeeded, my Lord!” he says. “The bandits have entered the castle!”

Ian and Susan are shocked when a portcullis drops, trapping them. Suddenly soldiers emerge from every door and passageway. It is a trap!

The Doctor and Barbara attempt to return to the castle… but are caught by a gang of bandits who take them to their hideout in Sherwood forest. “Unhand me,” cries the Doctor. “This is no way to treat a Gallifreyan!”

The bandits identify themselves as Little John and Will Scarlet. Barbara guesses they are being taken to meet Robin Hood! The Doctor is more sceptical. “Robin Hood is a myth. He is no more real than Sherlock Holmes!”

But the Doctor is proved wrong when they arrive at the outlaw’s lair. Their leader, Robin Hood, steps out of the shadows. And he looks exactly like Ian!

--

Doctor Who Episode Guide, Doctor Who Monthly 51, 1981:

THE OUTLAWS (Serial I, 6 episodes)

The Deserted Castle (19th September 1964)
A hushed silence falls over the forest clearing as the Doctor and Barbara await the arrival of the murderous bandit leader, Robin Hood. They are shocked when Robin is revealed to be Ian’s double!

The Thief Of Sherwood (26th September 1964)
Learning that he has Robin prisoner in his dungeons, the Sheriff of Nottingham orders his execution. But it is Ian who is placed in the stocks. The man-at-arms raises his axe…

The Alchemist (3rd October 1964)
The Doctor convinces the Sheriff that he can create gold. But it is a ruse, and using gunpowder, the Doctor blows the door of the workshop off its hinges. But he is knocked unconscious by the explosion, as the flames lick ever nearer.

Errand Of Mercy (10th October 1964)
The Merry Men’s rescue attempt has failed, and Robin and Susan have sought sanctuary in the castle dungeons. But they are discovered by the Sheriff’s guards and Susan is horrified as Robin is run through with a sword.

Ransom (17th October 1964)
Ian (posing as Robin) has agreed to meet the Sheriff to arrange Susan’s release. As he enters the peddler’s shop, he discovers the owner’s corpse and realises that he has entered a trap. The door opens and a shadowy figure approaches Ian’s hiding place.

A Guest For The Gallows (24th October 1964)
In the forest clearing, Ian has returned Robin Hood’s gold to the villagers, and the four travellers have returned to the TARDIS. As the take off sound begins, the Doctor warns of a build-up of “space pressure” outside…

--

Gallifrey Guardian, Doctor Who Monthly 69, 1982

THIEFS RE-CAPTURED!

A television station in Cyprus has returned three prints from the missing William Hartnell story ‘The Theives Of Sherwood’ to the BBC film archive at Windmill Lane.

The prints comprise parts 1, 2 and 4 of this classic adventure where the Doctor encounters Robin Hood and the Sheriff Of Nottingham. Part 6 is already held by the archive, but parts 3 and 5 remain sadly missing, but BBC archive selector Sue Malden remains hopeful of more Doctor Who episode finds in the future.

--
  
Doctor Who – A Celebration, 1983

The Thief Of Sherwood

Billed in the BBC press handout as a ‘thrilling adventure with Robin Hood’, this story followed in the tradition of the serials Ivanhoe and William Tell. However, it was also a sophisticated and witty exploration of how legends might arise.

Landing in the dungeons of Nottingham castle during the time of the Crusades, Ian and Susan are captured by the Sheriff. The Doctor and Barbara meet the less-than-philanthropic Robin Hood, who turns out to be the exact double of Ian. The Doctor plans to negotiate his companion’s release by offering the Sheriff the secret of alchemy. When Robin is killed, Ian substitutes for him and leads the Merry Men in an attempt to rescue Susan before she is executed. The Doctor intervenes at the last moment, posing as the priest giving the last rites, and Ian returns the bandits’ plunder to the villagers, thereby creating the myth of Robin Hood.

--

Radio Times Doctor Who 20th Anniversary Special,, 1983

The Thief Of Sherwood was an intelligently-scripted piece of historical adventure, with Ian playing a dual role, himself and Robin Hood, who was Ian’s double. Robin Hood was depicted as a villain, and when he is killed, Ian replaces him and seals his reputation.

--

Doctor Who – The Thief Of Sherwood, Target Novelisation, Godfrey Porter,  1986

First Extract from the Letters of Barbara Wright

Should I ever return to your front room, Auntie Margaret, what a story I would have to tell! Ever since I was shanghaied into time and space by the Doctor, my life has been a succession of unsavoury disasters. Poisoned by radiation, hailed as a goddess, possessed by an alien brain and let down by a Frenchman, nothing could have prepared me for my current ordeal. Kidnapped by a band of uncouth, unwashed and unshaven bandits, I found myself thrust into their dismal forest lair, a collection of makeshift tents camouflaged by foliage. My wrists were chafed by bondage and my ankles ached from walking the miles from Nottingham to Sherwood. I collapsed at the feet of an exceptionally malodorous figure and found myself at the unfriendly, not to mention business, end of a crossbow. But although I was hungry, tired and soaked to the skin, my spirits remained undampened as I thought of happier times and places, and in particular of your toasted buttered  muffins.

You may recall me mentioning one of my colleagues, Mr Ian Chesterton. You recommended him to me during one muffin encounter as a ‘very eligible young man’. Well, as I looked up I discovered that the figure at the friendly end of the crossbow was the exact double of that very eligible young man. Admittedly his hair was bedraggled and his chin was bearded, and his cheeks were smeared in mud, but otherwise it could have been the Ian with whom you once enjoyed several steaming mugs of Ovaltine.

In my confusion, I asked him in what boys’ play-acting game he was indulging. He responded in a thick brogue that I should not speak unless ordered to. I quickly realised that this was not my Ian, but perhaps one of his less salubrious ancestors.

Despite our predicament, my companion, the Doctor, had lost none of his gumption. He travelled the universe as though inspecting a rather dissatisfactory country garden. Upon learning that the name of our lime-garbed companion was Robin Hood, he tutted like a parakeet. ‘My dear sir,’ ejaculated the Doctor. ‘Whomsoever you might be, you are not Robin Hood. Robin Hood is a character originating, I believe, from the ballads of the late middle ages!’

Robin responded to the Doctor’s outburst pointedly with his crossbow. ‘I am Robin Hood,’ he snarled. ‘The most feared, most deadly outlaw of them all! I pillage, I murder, I show no mercy. Not to the King’s men, nor his citizens, nor quacking old beggars!’

‘Who are you calling old?’ snapped the Doctor. ‘I would have you know I am in my prime.’ His fingered his lapels like a barrister in an Ealing comedy. ‘So you are Robin Hood are you? Hmm. So do you steal from the rich and give to the poor?’

There was an incredulous silence. And then a roar of laughter rocked the glade.

‘Give to the poor, lads?’ he shouted. ‘Why should we do that? We steal from the poor too!’

--

Archive: The Thief Of Sherwood, The Doctor Who Magazine 103, 1985

EPISODE THREE

Ian’s life is spared when the castle receives a new visitor – the Doctor, posing as an apothecary to King John. The Doctor tells him that he is on his way to tell the King of a means to turn base substances into gold. He will grant the Sheriff the secret in return for Ian’s safe release. The Sheriff greedily agrees.

The Merry Men then recapture Barbara and the peddler. He is forced to tell them about the secret passageway into the castle. Robin decides he will go with Little John to rescue Marion. But in the tunnel they are ambushed by guards. Robin is left for dead.

Little John is brought before the Sheriff and forced to reveal the location of the bandits’ hideout. He is locked up with Ian, who he cannot believe is not his friend Robin.

In the meantime, the Sheriff sends his men to Sherwood to kill the Merry Men. He then visits the Doctor in the castle workshop. The Doctor is about to demonstrate how he will turn charcoal, saltpetre and sulphur into gold. As the Sheriff watches, the Doctor sets light to the mixture. The resultant explosion blows the workshop doors off their hinges and knocks the Doctor and the Sheriff unconscious. The workshop is filled with flames.

--

Interview: Godfrey Porter, Doctor Who Magazine 172, 1991

“After demob, I returned to Oxford to finish my history degree. I studied mediaeval literature, which would later stand me in good stead on Doctor Who.”

Godfrey entered television scriptwriting by an unusual route. “My landlord was working as a writer on a series called William Tell, and in lieu of rent I would occasionally fill in bits of script for him. When he moved on from the show, he recommended me to the producer. So after that I did some scripts for ATV, an adventure series called Longboat which was about the Vikings. That was huge fun, and I edited some shows for ATV, and then along came Doctor Who.

“I had to do it. My kids wouldn’t believe I was a writer unless I did a Doctor Who. We’d all been watching it since the one with the Daleks. I knew David [Whitaker] through the Screenwriters’ Guild, and suggested a Robin Hood story.

“I’d watched William Hartnell, who I thought had been very good in Brighton Rock. I liked him. He was very professional, but he could be short-tempered with less experienced actors. But he was always charming to me. I didn’t realise he was ill, I thought that was the acting.

“The idea was to do a serial set in the past, but to make it a mixture of fact and fiction. To explore how legends might be shaped on the basis of second-hand accounts. For a children’s show, it was quite sophisticated.

After Doctor Who I worked at Rediffusion, writing a series called The Long Arm which was a precursor of Z Cars. I then did some editing work on Compact and a couple of episodes of The Challengers with Dennis Spooner.

Godfrey did submit one more script, during the 1970s. “There was one I wrote called “Doctor Who and the Sprites”. It would have been for Tom Baker, but the script editor at the time wasn’t keen, so I never finished it.”

--

The Discontinuity Guide, Virgin, 1995

DIALOGUE TRIUMPHS

Sheriff of Nottingham: 'You claim to practice alchemy?'

Doctor: 'Practice? Never, my dear sir - I am a professional!'

Barbara: ‘Historians never let facts get in the way of a good story.’

FLUFFS

William Hartnell: 'I will turn these base substances into pure coal!'

TRIVIA

William Hartnell was absent from the recording of episodes four and five due to illness, necessitating a last-minute script re-write.

Each episode was structured so that William Russell’s costume and make-up changes could take place during recording breaks.

GOOFS

The TARDIS landing sound can be heard after it has materialized.

When Robin wakes up after being knocked unconscious, he is in a different tunnel.

After the gaoler has locked Susan in with Maid Marion, the cell door swings open.

Robin’s accent and moustache varies from episode to episode.

Much of the story is historically and geographically inaccurate.

FASHION VICTIM

Robin’s costume is replete with a leather jerkin and peacock-feathered cap.

--
  
Doctor Who: The Television Companion, BBC Books, 1998

ANALYSIS

Perhaps aware that a Robin Hood action adventure serial may be beyond the constraints of Doctor Who’s budget, Godfrey Porter decorated his scripts with occasional vignettes of comical humour – perhaps most conspicuously in the whimsical digression of the Doctor bluffing as an incompetent and hapless alchemist. He also avoided concentrating on the physical action sequences, instead making the story a farce of mistaken identity and an exploration into how modern myths and romances may arise.

‘What makes this story is Robin’s characterisation’, documented Gary Russell in the second issue of Shada dated January 1981. ‘William Russell gives one of his finer performances in the dual role of Robin and Ian, making Robin an unsympathetic and callous treat. The only drawback is the “trouble-up-at-t’mill” accent he adopts.’

The production, whilst not perhaps revisiting the glories of the preceding historicals, was quite good. The finished product is polished if lacking in scale, though Barry Newbery’s detailed and richly-textured sets are deserving of being singled out for special attention.

All things considered, whilst not an undisputed classic, ‘The Thief Of Sherwood’ is something of a curate’s egg.

--

The Time Team, Doctor Who Magazine 285, 1999

EPISODES 046 TO 053

The Team have assembled at Peter’s for another eight exciting episodes of monochrome magic. As Peter sends young Harry to bed, Clayton, Jac and Richard return to the edge of their seats, where they had been left sitting by the previous instalment, Errand Of Mercy.

‘Robin Hood is dead!’ gasps Clayton. ‘But he can’t be! He was a real historical figure, like Marco Polo and the Scarlet Pimpernel!’ Jac corrects Clayton. ‘No, he’s fictional. That’s what this story is all about. And the Scarlet Pimpernel wasn’t real either.’ ‘He was,’ protests Clay. ‘If he’s not real, then who killed The Hunchback Of Notre Dame?’

Peter returns with a cheeky dry chardonnay. ‘What I like about this story is that you’re always watching it with a view to how the mythology built up afterwards. Very clever’ ‘It is very self-referential,’ agrees Jac. ‘The story is almost a post-modern deconstruction.’ Richard breaks his silence. ‘I wish there were more monsters. And there is too much talking about stuff that we don’t get to see.’

For Ransom, it’s back to the crackly tape recording. Jac has some reservations. ‘The Sheriff’s plan makes no sense. When he learns the whereabouts of Robin’s den he sends all his guards to destroy it, leaving the castle unguarded.’ ‘He does only have two guards, to be fair,’ muses Peter.

Ian returns to the hideout where the Merry Men are not feeling quite so merry, believing their leader to be dead. Until Ian dons the legendary feathered cap. ‘It’s very touching seeing Ian reunited with Barbara,’ says Jac. ‘She was obviously attracted to Robin, as he was Ian with a bit of rough thrown in, but with Ian it’s true love.’

The Sheriff’s latest nonsensical plan is to exchange Susan for Robin. The venue is, conveniently, the peddler’s shop. ‘Everything happens in that shop!’ snorts Peter. ‘I’m surprised he keeps that secret passage of his secret, what with everyone popping in and out all the time!’ ‘It is good to see him back, though,’ says Jac. ‘He is a wonderfully devious character.’ ‘Yes,’ adds Clay as a packet of Wotsits explodes over his lap. ‘Milton Johns, you’ve been gone too long.’

But when Ian enters the shop, he discovers the peddler has peddled his last. Ian ducks for cover as a cloaked figure enters the shop…

‘It’s Billy!’ shout the Team in unison at the beginning of  A Guest For The Gallows. ‘But where has he been for the last two episodes?’ complains Peter. ‘The last we saw of him he was coughing and falling through a window into the castle moat!’

--

Archive: The Thief Of Sherwood, Doctor Who Magazine 332, 2003

A Guest For The Gallows

The Doctor warns that Ian has walked into a trap. Sure enough, the Sheriff’s guards emerge from the secret passage. The Sheriff decides to execute Susan in the village square the following morning. Returning to the camp, Ian, Barbara and the Doctor learn of the Sheriff’s plan from Maid Marion. Still posing as Robin, Ian strikes a bargain with the villagers.

The next morning, Susan is brought before the gallows and a priest administers the last rites. However, before the execution can begin, the villagers and the Merry Men attack and the priest reveals himself to be the Doctor. The Sheriff flees, deciding that it would be safer to join the crusades.

As the villagers celebrate, Ian rewards them for their help by handing them the bandits’ gold. From now on, the bandits and villagers will work together. Marion says her farewells to Ian and promises to keep Robin’s memory alive. It will be her love-struck and ill-informed accounts of Robin Hood that form the legend.  Inside the TARDIS, the Doctor sets the controls for 1964, but the fault locator warns of a build up of space pressure outside…

In Production

A Guest For The Gallows was recorded the following day at Riverside Studio 1, on Friday 25 September; main recording took place between 8.00 and 9.45pm.. The episode began with a re-enactment of the previous week’s cliff-hanger, but without Milton Johns reprising his role. The opening title captions were superimposed over eight feet of 35mm stock film of woodland taken from The Norman Conquests. A recording break was scheduled before the execution sequence to allow Hartnell to change into the priest’s habit, and a second break allowed the regular cast to move to the TARDIS set.

Unfortunately the fight sequence caused some parts of the cramped set to visibly shake! The Sheriff’s escape on horseback utilised the footage that had been pre-filmed at Ealing nine weeks earlier on 35mm. The TARDIS dematerialisation was achieved using an inlay effect, and the episode ended with the caption ‘Next Episode: Planet Of Giants’.

During editing, a single cut was made to A Guest For The Gallows at the end of the rescue sequence to remove a shot of a collapsing scenery flat! This removed the final lines from the scene where it is hinted that the Doctor may leave Earth without Barbara or Ian. ‘You promised to get them home,’ replies Susan. ‘You made that promise to me, too, grandfather.’

The Thief Of Sherwood was previewed in a half-page Radio Times feature headlined ‘DR WHO and the Outlaws’; illustrated by a photograph of Robin, Susan and the Doctor. The serial was praised in The Daily Sketch, whilst a letter in Junior Points Of View indicated that the historical inaccuracies of the serial had provoked a lively classroom discussion.  The Morning Star was more critical, wishing for a return of the ‘villainous Dalek creatures from outer-space’. The BBC board of managers were concerned about the storyline seeming too frivolous, and Kenneth Adam, Director of Television, said that his three-year-old daughter thought history adventures were silly because ‘you always knew they would end happily’.

Early episodes of the serial ran opposite the end of the ITV shows Thank Your Lucky Stars and Hawkeye And The Last Of The Mohicans (ATV London). The ratings were weak at first but improved due to the earlier nights and the move to a 5.30pm time slot. 

The Thief Of Sherwood was marketed by BBC Enterprises as a set of 16mm film recordings. Australia purchased the serial in May 1965 and rated it ‘A’, though after removing the sequence of Robin’s death it was revised for ‘G’. It was first broadcast in November 1965. The serial was also purchased in 1965 by Hong Kong, Jamaica, Nigeria, Singapore and Zambia. In 1966 it was sold to Cyprus, Kenya, New Zealand and to Saudi Arabia in the early 1970s. By 1974, BBC Enterprises had withdrawn the story from sale and the prints were junked.

On Wednesday, 17 August 1967 all six 405-line master tapes were cleared for wiping. The BBC Film Library retained a 16mm print of A Guest For The Gallows, and in 1982 Cyprus returned episodes one, two and a slightly trimmed print of episode four. A complete fan-made audio recording survives, along with some poor quality silent 8mm extracts filmed off-screen from the Australian transmissions. These include clips of the Doctor preparing the gunpowder and the Sheriff questioning Barbara. A version of A Guest For The Gallows with an Arabic soundtrack also exists in a private collection.

In 2004, The Thief Of Sherwood was cleaned up by the BBC’s unofficial Doctor Who ‘Restoration Team’ and released on a BBC video, with linking narration by William Russell substituting for the missing instalments.

With thanks to the Time Team and Andrew Pixley, to whom this story is dedicated.

If you have enjoyed this story, I would be delighted if you could make a donation to Comic Relief. .

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