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Book Review

Book Cover

Robert Holmes
A Life in Words


Author: Richard Molesworth
Publisher: Telos
RRP: £15.99
ISBN: 978 1 84583 091 5
Publication Date: 29 November 2013

Robert Holmes (1926-1986) is justifiably regarded as one of the best writers that Doctor Who ever had. Creator of the Autons and the Sontarans, Holmes was also responsible for giving the Time Lords two hearts. He penned some of the best loved shows, Spearhead from Space, Terror of the Autons and, of course, the story voted best and most popular ever written for the show, The Caves of Androzani...

Robert Holmes: A life in Words (2013. 443 pages) is a biography of this popular writer by Richard Molesworth. Homes’ influence continues in the show, not only in the characters he produced, or the desire to elevate a show which occasionally plumbed the depths of children’s television, he is directly responsible for a contentious problem dogging the contemporary production staff as he set the limit of a Time Lord's regenerations in The Deadly Assassin.

Holmes has been lauded by not just the fans but also by Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat for his ability to write wonderful prose for his actors to speak. Tall and lugubrious he is fondly remembered by everyone who worked with him. Although his time on Doctor Who saw his love of the dark and macabre reflected in the show, it also brought him into conflict with that bastion of nineteen-thirties, Mary Whitehouse. One can’t help but think that he probably relished this.

Although Doctor Who would play an important part in his life it was not representative of his overall output as a writer. Molesworth has produced only a sort of biography as much that should have been included hasn’t been. There is no real examination of his experiences and how they influenced his writing, many of the details of his family and private life are missing. This may be due to Molesworth’s admiration for the man, or an attempt to let him speak through his writing only. If this is the case then any critique of his work is missing.

This does not invalidate the book as it is packed with information regarding Holmes’ career, although sometimes the exploration of the minutiae of what was publish and how that came about, sometimes threatens to bury Holmes under an avalanche of his own work. Rather than an authoritative biography, the aim of the book is not only to open up Holmes work, but to do it for a particular audience, fans of Doctor Who.

Amongst the plethora of information about the man and his work are dotted the ‘Interludes’, ten in all, reproductions of story synopsis, five of which are from Doctor Who. Holmes also wrote for other genre shows, including Blakes 7, Aliens in the Mind (an audio play well worth seeking), out as well as some of the most popular shows of the sixties and seventies.

Overall, for its limitations, the book is well worth a read for both Doctor Who fans and fans of television history. Holmes was a writer who should have been much more lauded before his untimely demise, but sadly wasn’t.


Charles Packer

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