Long before Star Trek : The Next Generation attempted to meld psuedo-science and science-fiction together, Doctor Who had already attempted the same thing between 1980-84.
Christopher (Hamilton) Bidmead, a writer and journalist with a keen interest in science, was brought in as script editor to handle Tom Baker’s final season 17. Bidmead also penned the transistion stories; Logopolis, Castrovalva and Frontios.
Bidmead recalled later, in a 1988 review; “Robert Banks Stewart was talking to John Nathan-Turner, who was looking for a script editor. Bob [Banks Stewart] mentioned my name as a writer he’d enjoyed working with, but what he didn’t know was that in the interim I’d been writing a lot of scientific and technical stuff, dealing with computers and gadgetry, which I thought equipped me very well for ‘Doctor Who’ “.
Bidmead’s contribution, was to take Who away from the all out science-fantasy of the Douglas Adams/Graham Williams era years and ground it as a more realistic and serious toned pseudo-science based proposition.
Bidmead later recalled about the state of the show, prior to taking over; “Two things were going wrong. One was the pantomime element, and the other was the element of magic which had come in. Magic is entirely contrary to science and to my mind the Doctor’s view of the world is that he looks at a problem objectively and then tries to apply laws derived from experience to reach a scientific solution.”
It wasn’t a total success though, as ratings dipped but Who’s timeslot was also being tinkered with and it was up against stiff competition in the TV listing with American sci-fi series; Buck Rodgers.
The signature of season 17 – as a whole and previously mentioned episodes; Logopolis, Castrovalva and Frontios was a strong undercurrent of real-sounding science techno-babble.
The “charged vacuum emboitments” plot device underpinned the N-Space/E-Space story arc and the universe itself, in Full Circle – 1980. As the Tardis passes through a door in space into a neighbouring universe.
Tardis-wiki lists the phenomena as, “A Charged Vacuum Emboitment or CVE was a violent pathway between universes. CVEs provided a transit point between N-Space and E-Space.”
In Meglos, the Tardis gets trapped in a “Chronic Hysteresis Loop”, or “timeloop” as the rest of us would call it. In Logopolis, the Doctor puts his Tardis into a “recursive loop”, when the Master materialises his Tardis around it.
A “recursive occlusion” although sounding like a fatal heart complaint, was infact the proper description for the Master’s Castrovalva illusion to trap the Doctor – in Castrovalva – 1981.
Bidmead’s final contribution to Who was Frontios – 1984, a much more straight-forward Peter Davison creature feature episode. After Bidmead’s departure from the series in 1981 – following a dispute over pay, the psuedo-science motif was pretty much abandoned.
Bidmead’s tenure can easily be singled out, as the era of a more serious take on the Doctor and the inclusion of the techno-waffle to underpin this new feel. It was a far cry from the “reversed the polarity of the neutron flow” explanation, that Pertwee’s Doctor used to trot out all of the time. Simply because he liked the sound of it.
Featured Episodes :
Season Eighteen – 1980-81
Season Nineteen – 1982
Season Twenty-One – 1984