A Drunken Epitaph

The Fan Can looks back on one of the great unmade Doctor Who stories.



THE DOCTOR: Hello, my name is the Doctor. I'm a time traveller, and I'm an alcoholic.


Jon Pertwee as the Doctor passed out in the TARDIS

The above line is taken from the draft script of A Drunken Epitaph, a lost Doctor Who story that never made it to the screen, to the relief of many who came to know of its existence. It was penned by aspiring television writer, Theo Lambert, back in the days when unsolicited script submissions stood a chance of being considered for production, and when the upper echelons of television land were often tipsy and made extraordinarily impulsive, creative decisions on a whim or fancy.


It is unlikely that the average Doctor Who fan will know anything of the tale. The Fan Can had heard vague rumours over the years, mostly at conventions, about a nearly made script that had been dropped due the startling nature of its content. These rumours we immediately disregarded as incredible after hearing that the story would have been a turning point in Who history, portraying the Doctor as having had a long-term substance abuse problem. Ridiculous.


However, just some three months ago we were contacted by Theo Lambert's mother, Hattie, who had come across just such a script in her Ealing home, along with letters of correspondence between her son and the 80's Who production office. These letters proved that, in 1986, on the strength of his original submission, Theo Lambert had been formally commissioned to write a four-part story, A Drunken Epitaph, which had been completed, but eventually rejected as unsuitable for the show.


Two doctor's on the lash

Hattie arranged for a meeting between Theo Lambert and The Fan Can to discuss the matter. She warned us that his life had very much imitated his art, and that her son was an extremely heavy drinker. But he was agreeable to our request for an interview provided we paid for a few rounds at his local watering hole in Soho. We met him there the next day, and over a few beers conducted the following interview:


The Fan Can: Why did you ever think the Doctor might be an alcoholic? And why write a story about it?

Lambert: Hang on; let me think. I watched the show from the beginning, you know, and always thought that Hartnell guy was off his face, never getting his words out in the right order and stuff. Old, grey before his time. I was even suspect about his relationship with Susan Foreman. Was she even his grandaughter? But that's a whole other story, and not something I explored in A Drunken Epitaph.


And the Second Doctor?

Oh, he liked a tipple. You could tell that from the way he acted and spoke, like, but I think he mostly kept a lid on it till that nasty business in The War Games. That was the turning point. He was shouted at and ridiculed by his own people, his friends were taken away from him, then to top it all, his face is changed and he was exiled to Earth. Small wonder that the first time we see the new Doctor he's falling from the TARDIS, pissed out of his skull.


And what of the Third Doctor? Not exactly over jocular, was he?

Him? No, that was sad; the start of five years of secret drinking. Behind the TARDIS doors he'd be making some volatile brews, the equipment for which blew up in many a story, while pretending he was trying to fix the thing. Always coming out of a smoking police box, he was, after downing some lethal alcoholic cocktail. Jo Grant did her best, but that big-nosed misery was beyond helping. His tenure ended as it had started, didn't it, with him collapsing arseholed out of his own TARDIS.

Colin Baker as Doctor Who passed out in the TARDIS


The Fourth Doctor was pissed all the time, we take it?

Nah. He started out a bit depressed, then went all manic, but had great support from his girlfriends. Sarah Jane, Leela and Romana kept him off the bottle. And the Fifth Doctor took up cricket as a diversion, of course.


You wrote for the Sixth Doctor, didn't you? Where's the evidence that he had fallen off the wagon?

Have you watched The Twin Dilemma? It's all there in episode one: appalling mood swings, bad taste in clothes and dreadful domestic violence aboard the TARDIS. He tried to strangle Peri, for God's sake. Post regenerative trauma, my arse. He was back on the bottle.


So what happens in your story, A Drunken Epitaph?

It's been a long time since I looked at it, but I know I set it on the Planet of the Oenophiles, intergalactic dealers in highly addictive fine wines. There's a sub-plot about the Doctor imbibing too much before delivering the eulogy at the funeral of an Oenophile friend of his. He messes it up, and this is what makes him sign the pledge, admit his problem, and defeat the Oeniphiles' plans of universal conquest using their booze. Someone must have liked it at the time, and I was paid for several drafts. But they got shit-scared, I guess, and it was dropped..


Would you consider writing for the new show?

No. I've tried to watch it, but there's not a trace of the alcoholic character I once wrote for. I don't know who he is anymore.


Theo Lambert, thank you!


Neil Humphries



A Drunken Epitaph
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