It seems that when Douglas Adams took over the role of Dr Who script editor in the late 1970s, he made great play of casting around for writers that had never contributed to the series before and who could bring something new to proceedings. Most of these were luminaries of the literary scene – Tom Stoppard and the like – but one was none other…than Richard Stilgoe! Richard Stilgoe writing for Dr Who! Can you imagine such a thing?
Well, yes, and the results would go something like this.
The Doctor (Tom Baker) lands in present-day London on his way to some secret alien conference or other and immediately gets a parking ticket slapped on the TARDIS by a stroppy traffic warden (Patsy Rowlands).
A wry debate about the city’s transport network ensues, ending with the Doctor vowing it’d be quicker to walk, only to find the pavement dug up by the Gas Board. A wry debate about public utilities ensues, with a workman (Robin Askwith) professing his bemusement at having to dig so many holes only to fill them up again. The Doctor agrees, comparing the situation to being caught in a space-time trap, then shambles off leaving the workman scratching his head and looking suspiciously at a bottle of beer.
The Doctor finds he has to board a train to reach his conference in time, but when he gets to the station he is warned by the station-master (Richard O’Sullivan) of “trouble ahead, squire”. “What, Daleks?” stammers the Doctor. “No – pickets!” quips the station-master. A wry debate about industrial relations ensues, resulting in the Doctor charming his way past the protestors with the promise of “free jelly babies and double time on Fridays!”
Once on board, however, the Doctor has to do battle with an even greater foe: British Rail sandwiches. In the canteen he challenges the attendant (Richard Stilgoe) about the quality of his catering. A wry debate about train cuisine ensues, ending in the attendant making an unusual and witty anagram out of the letters DOCTOR WHO and performing a short ditty about Cheap Day Returns on a small pianola.
The Doctor finally arrives at his destination, only to find the Brigadier (Geoffrey Palmer) looking grim. “Sorry Doctor, but you’re too late,” he intones. “The entire place has been overrun – by red tape!” “Good heavens!” cries the Doctor, “is there nothing you can do?” “Afraid not, old boy. This stuff just keeps on coming. Whitehall is spewing it out, non-stop!”
A wry debate about Government bureaucracy ensues, interrupted by the arrival of the local MP (Frank Thornton). “Quick – you must come up with a new law to ban red tape!” pleads the Doctor, “it’s the only way to save the country!” “That won’t do any good,” moans the MP, “Whitehall is completely out of control! Nobody can stop it, not even the most powerful person in the land!”
“What, the Prime Minister?” queries the Doctor. “No,” responds the MP, “Terry Wogan!”
“I wouldn’t be too sure about that,” a familiar voice interrupts. Lord Terrence of Wogan, for it is he, steps forward to assail the group with a wry debate about the foibles of parliamentary democracy and why there’s nobody called Blake in Blake’s Seven. “That’s often occurred to me as well!” quips the Doctor.
Tel sees off the profusion of red tape with a few capricious remarks about men in suits and a sharp cry of “Avast ye!” A TV interviewer (Russell Harty) then appears to ask all and sundry for their comments on what has just unfolded.
“I wish I could have this man on hand whenever I had to do battle with evil!” observes the Doctor of Wogan. “I’m afraid we can’t spare him,” interrupts the Brigadier. “He’s needed to spearhead a forthcoming wry debate about why nobody’s hair blows when it’s windy in Dallas, and why Southfork only has one telephone.”
“Never mind, Doc,” sighs Terry. “Tell you what: next time you get into a bit of trouble with those Daleks, here’s a tip: run up a flight of stairs!”