My Who: Nicholas Pegg

Dalek man Nicholas Pegg spins his jukebox Doctor Who selections.



The Sea Devils with Jon Pertwee and a sea-devil

The first Doctor Who story I can remember:

The Sea Devils

I'm pretty certain that my earliest memory of Doctor Who is a Sea Devil burning its way into a submarine. I'm not sure whether it was the original screening or a repeat, so it's hard to get a precise fix. Either way, I was too young to be scared. I was simply fascinated. Being scared came later.



The Doctor Who story I see through rose-tinted spectacles:

Planet of the Spiders

Planet of the Spiders - Doctor Who

Each of us has a special place inside where we store up the precious cultural artefacts of our early childhood – the songs and books and fairytales that made such an overwhelming impression on us that we can't ever shake them off, even if we wanted to. With my cynical old grown-up head on, of course I can see that Planet of the Spiders meanders about a bit, and the special effects are hopeless, and the big chase scene is self-indulgent, and the Metebelis Academy of Dramatic Art leaves a little to be desired… but I can gladly, willingly cast all that aside and carry on loving it. In 1974 Planet of the Spiders was just about the most magical, spellbinding, mind-expanding thing I had ever encountered, and to this day it holds me in its beguiling grip. It's right up there with Noggin the Nog, The House at Pooh Corner and The Secret Garden as one of my formative influences.


The Doctor Who story that scared the wits out of me:

Planet of Evil

The Planet of Evil - Doctor Who

There are actually several Doctor Who stories that scared the wits out of me, but this one just didn't let up. From the wizened corpses in the jungle to the army of flickering outlines on the spaceship, Planet of Evil kept on scaring the wits out of me for four whole episodes. It probably looks a bit cosy now, but to this wide-eyed seven-year-old it was anything but. The crackling anti-matter noise is, for me, the most evocatively spooky sound effect in the whole of Doctor Who. And Sarah struggling helplessly as the coffins slide towards the airlock still strikes me as the most horrifying cliffhanger imaginable.


The Doctor Who book that got me through a rugby match:

Doctor Who and the Cave-Monsters

Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters

Scarcely a week goes by when I don't think about re-reading this magnificent book, even though I haven't done so for thirty years or more. As a child I read it over and over again, under the bedsheets, on the school bus, in the back of the car. I only have to close my eyes and I'm sitting on the freezing cold terrace at a rugby match to which my ever-optimistic father had taken me in one of his well-intentioned but sadly doomed attempts to interest me in sport, my little nose buried in Doctor Who and the Cave-Monsters, pondering Malcolm Hulke's thoughts on the folly of blind patriotism while all around me grown men leapt up and down and shrieked like baboons.


The Doctor Who story that confirmed I was a fan:

The Invasion of Time

Doctor Who: The Invasion of Time

'It's the Sontarans!' I whooped aloud to my nonplussed family as the credits crashed in on episode four. I already knew all about the Sontarans from the Monster Book and The Making of Doctor Who, and of course from their previous appearances. At school on Monday, awestruck boys flocked around me to glean my precious pearls of Sontaran wisdom. The following Saturday I watched Doctor Who at a friend's house, and when Stor took off his helmet I indignantly exclaimed, 'Oh, that's not what they look like! That's all wrong!' Ah yes, I'd become a fan all right.


The second most underrated Doctor Who writer ever:

Terrance Dicks

Terrance Dicks - Doctor Who writer

Everyone adores Terrance, but I think his talent as a Doctor Who writer is undervalued and taken for granted. I really admire the neatness and economy of his plotting: in a Terrance story, everything's in focus, and everything's there for a reason. There are no extraneous characters, no waffle or padding – not even in The War Games, amazingly. And I like the strong moral tone in his stories. One of Terrance's recurring themes is 'the end never justifies the means': I think the Doctor even says it aloud in Robot. Terrance likes to use every man after his desert, as Hamlet puts it. In a Terrance story, characters are measured by the extent to which they succeed, or fail, in achieving some kind of moral redemption, and they are rewarded or punished accordingly. And somehow Terrance makes this fabular approach work without ever letting it feel pat or predictable or preachy. I think that's what makes a story like Horror of Fang Rock or State of Decay feel so completely satisfying.


The most underrated Doctor Who writer ever:

David Fisher

David Fisher, Doctor Who writer

I'm not saying he's better than Terrance – just that he's even more overlooked. He nailed exactly how Doctor Who worked in the late Tom Baker period: he's a master of that particular, gently heightened style of incident, character and dialogue. The Stones of Blood and The Androids of Tara are masterpieces in that respect, and beneath all the bombastic production and blaring music, so is The Leisure Hive. And it's a fallacy to assume that City of Death was entirely the work of Douglas Adams, genius though he was: the surviving paperwork proves beyond doubt that much of it is David Fisher's, and he deserves a lot more credit for it. And it's not Fisher's fault if some of the monsters and effects in his stories turned out a bit ropey. Which brings us neatly to…


The story that I was wrong about:

The Creature from the Pit

Doctor Who: The Creature from the Pit

By the end of 1979 I was teetering on the brink of adolescence. If I'd had the good fortune to be the perfect age to live through the Philip Hinchcliffe era, the downside was that I was exactly the wrong age for the Douglas Adams period: I was both too old and too young for all that archness. I was stuck in the middle, insecure, not wanting to risk ridicule. Everything good about that season was drowned out by the gales of mocking laughter from those very boys who'd been so impressed by my Sontaran expertise only eighteen months earlier. To my shame, I joined the pack in sneering at those stories and wishing the departing production team good riddance. I even had a letter published in DWM in which I snottily declared that The Creature from the Pit was the worst story ever. Eventually nature took its course and my bits dropped, so I'd like to take this opportunity to apologise to The Creature from the Pit. I was completely, stupidly, immaturely wrong. Like all the stories in that season, it's clever, vivid, original, and brilliant.


The story that everyone else is wrong about:


The cybermen in Earthshock

Peter Davison and Beryl Reid are as reliably excellent as ever, and the bit where the Cyberman gets fused into the door is pretty cool, but I'm afraid that's about the best I can manage. Sorry. It's honestly my least favourite story of that year, and I promise I'm not just trying to be contrary. It contains some of the most incredible dialogue ever allowed on television. "Small but important components would be discovered smashed," remarks Professor Kyle conversationally. If anyone said that to you in real life, you'd think they were very peculiar. And in any case, what are we to make of this fascinating backstory? Are we to assume that the Cybermen programmed their androids to spend a couple of weeks sneakily smashing Professor Kyle's theodolites when nobody was looking, before deciding on a murderous change of tack? It's all rather baffling.


The story that is just extraordinary:


Doctor Who: Kinda

It's just extraordinary. Extraordinary. I think everyone in their right mind agrees that the script and the performances are superb, but there's always been an apologetic undertow, a sort of 'Oh well, never mind' attitude about how it looks. Personally, I love how it looks. I wouldn't change a thing about it. Not the studio floor, not the puppet snake, not the cardboard boxes, not nothing. It looks to me like Doctor Who colliding headlong with that glorious, intelligent, unapologetically studio-bound Play for Today ethic. It looks like I, Claudius and the BBC Shakespeare series. What the hell is wrong with that? I love Kinda just the way it is, and I give thanks for the culture that created it. And did I mention that it's just extraordinary?


The best 'classic Who' story to show to a non-fan:

The Time Warrior

Doctor Who: The Time Warrior

This is something that obsesses Doctor Who enthusiasts, isn't it? Which old story should you use to 'turn' a Not-We? The trouble is, it's a doomed fantasy. You can't turn a Not-We: if you could, they'd already be Among We. The best you can hope for is to find something that will entertain them. 'Marginally better production values than usual' should not be considered a useful criterion. It won't mean diddly-squat to the uninitiated, and angsty fan favourites like Pyramids of Mars and The Caves of Androzani run the risk of boring them to tears. Trust me, I've tried. What they need is a light, sparky story with good acting, fruity dialogue, a decent monster, a minimum of continuity baggage, and a twinkle in its eye. The Time Warrior hits all the right buttons.


The best Doctor Who story I've never seen:

The Myth Makers

Doctor Who: The Myth Makers

I'm fascinated by this story. Perhaps even slightly obsessed. My mother was a great classicist, and I was steeped in Greek mythology from a very early age, so I suppose I was always going to be attracted to this one. I love the way that The Myth Makers manages to be erudite as well as entertaining. There are scholarly jokes in there that casually punch way above the standard weight of sixties Doctor Who. Donald Cotton is another of the show's great underrated talents. His novelisation of The Myth Makers is as perfect a Doctor Who book as you'll find. He wrote another wonderful novel for children called The Bodkin Papers, narrated by a parrot picked up by Charles Darwin on the Beagle expedition. It's witty, clever, educational and genuinely funny – just blissful. Do yourself a favour and find a copy. Anyway, The Myth Makers: long lost, and all we have are a great soundtrack, a smashing book, a couple of 8 millimetre film trims and half a dozen photographs. Oh please, somebody, find it.


The Doctor Who story I watched with a future friend:

Terror of the Autons

The Terror of the Autons

I was one of the thousands at Longleat over that muddy Easter weekend in 1983. Among the various wildly over-subscribed attractions was the absurdly tiny and cramped 'cinema tent' which showed old stories, one from each Doctor. Like most people back then, I had no access to pirate videotapes, so this was impossibly exciting. The screening I managed to squeeze into was Terror of the Autons. I sat in the front row. Everyone cheered when Roger Delgado appeared. Then we cheered when Jon Pertwee appeared, and when Katy Manning appeared – and so on, all through the roll-call of regulars. We even cheered when Bessie appeared. It was joyous. Many, many years later I discovered that Gary Gillatt, now a good friend but then a total stranger, was in the front row as well. For all we know, we might have been sitting next to each other. Funny old world.


The first Doctor Who legend I worked with:

John Woodnutt

John Woodnutt

One of the lovely things about being an actor is that you occasionally find yourself working with people you admired as a youngster. One of my first jobs after leaving drama school was a production of Oscar Wilde's An Ideal Husband at Plymouth Theatre Royal, and among the cast was that wonderful actor John Woodnutt, who of course I remembered as the Duke of Forgill and the Draconian Emperor, and also as Mr Craven in the superb BBC adaptation of The Secret Garden which, in 1975, meant just as much to me as Doctor Who. In our play, John was playing Lord Caversham, the formidable, harrumphing old father of the young dandy: it was the kind of part John excelled at in his later years. And my God, he was a good actor. An awful lot of ethereal twaddle is talked about acting, but without a firm foundation of straightforward practical technique, it's a house built on sand. And John was a dazzling technician. When I wasn't on, I used to stand in the wings and watch him. Lord Caversham has one particular line, just after his son has delivered one of those glittering Wildean quips, which goes: "Do you always really understand what you say, sir?" Now, forgive a generalisation, but one of the basics of stage acting is that you don't tend to pause at the beginning of your line. After all, the audience doesn't know it's your line next, so in most cases a pause between lines is just dead space that kills the momentum. But rules are there to be broken, and I remember John saying to me one day in rehearsal, "That's a very special line. It needs a pause beforehand to get the laugh." Audience reactions vary enormously from one night to another, and never more so than in comedy. But John, with his decades of experience, sniffed out each individual audience, and instinctively and immaculately recalibrated the length of that pause every single night – and he never failed to get a massive laugh on that line. He was a brilliant, brilliant actor. And a dear, kind, lovely man too.


The Doctor Who story I watched with Doctor Who:

The Unquiet Dead

The Unquiet Dead - Doctor Who

One evening while we were shooting the Bad Wolf story, Phil Collinson arranged a screening of two of the new episodes at the hotel where we all stayed in Cardiff. After a hard day's shooting, everyone piled into a function room: cast, crew, Phil, Chris Eccleston, Joe Ahearne, and together we watched the not-quite-completed edits of The Unquiet Dead and Dalek. For most of us, it was the first we'd seen of the new series: our first chance to hear the music and see the opening titles. And it was thrilling. Dalek was terrific, of course, but I'll always have an especially soft spot for The Unquiet Dead: it was the first episode we saw that night, and it was a magical experience to sit there in that hotel function room, laughing and clapping along with everyone and, for the first time, fully realising what an amazing thing was about to happen.


The story that is so gob-smackingly good that I can't even begin to sum up my thoughts in a flippant little paragraph, so I might as well just tell you the title and move on:

Turn Left


The Doctor Who story that blew my mind a little bit:

Doctor Who: Davros in The Stolen Earth/Journey's End

The Stolen Earth/Journey's End

It all happened a few years ago now, but to this day, I can be going about my quotidian business and suddenly it hits me: I worked with Lis Sladen on Doctor Who. I'm in a Doctor Who story with Lis Sladen. I have to pinch myself and check I didn't dream the whole thing. The wide-eyed seven-year-old who thrilled to Planet of Evil would have popped with amazement at the very idea. I'm a lucky man.



Nicholas Pegg



My Who: Nicholas Pegg
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