Robert Holmes

Born: 2nd April 1926 (as Robert Colin Holmes)
Died: 24th May 1986 (aged 60 years)
Episodes Broadcast: 1968-1971, 1973-1979, 1984-1986


Born in Tring, Hertfordshire, Robert Holmes lied about his age in order to join the Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders during World War Two, and ultimately became the youngest commissioned officer in the British army. After demobilisation, Holmes joined the Metropolitan Police Service in London, but an interest in courtroom reporting prompted him to quit and pursue a career in journalism. This, in turn, led him to write short stories and edit the John Bull fiction magazine. Then, as television took its toll on the publishing industry, he decided to try his hand at writing for the new medium.

In 1959, Holmes broke into television as the story editor on Knight Errant Limited. He soon established an active career as a writer, sometimes under the pseudonym “William Hood”, with credits ranging from Emergency -- Ward 10 to Dr Finlay's Casebook to No Hiding Place. During 1965, Holmes was working on two science-fiction projects: a movie called Invasion and an idea which he submitted to Shaun Sutton, the BBC's Head of Serials. Sutton suggested that it might be suitable for Doctor Who, and Holmes began working with story editor Donald Tosh on “The Trap”. However, he soon became preoccupied with commissions for Public Eye, and the adventure was abandoned. Three years later, Holmes was cleaning out some old files when he came across the unused storyline. Feeling it still had value, Holmes resubmitted “The Trap” to the Doctor Who production office, and it was broadcast as The Krotons at the end of 1968.

Holmes created the Sontarans for 1973's The Time Warrior

Holmes soon found himself contributing regularly to Doctor Who. After “The Aliens In The Blood” was rejected, he instead wrote The Space Pirates, the penultimate serial for Patrick Troughton's Second Doctor. In 1970, Holmes introduced Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor in Spearhead From Space, for which he created the Autons. The following season, sequel Terror Of The Autons saw the debut of the Master and Jo Grant. Two scripts later, Holmes created the Sontarans for 1973's The Time Warrior, which was also the first adventure for Sarah Jane Smith. Away from Doctor Who, Holmes was writing for shows like Doomwatch and The Regiment.

In 1974, Robot was not only Tom Baker's first story as the Fourth Doctor, but also marked the start of Holmes' tenure as Doctor Who script editor. He and new producer Philip Hinchcliffe shared an affinity for spooky, Gothic-infused Doctor Who adventures, often cribbing liberally from classic sources. Holmes found himself frequently having to perform major surgery on scripts in order to bring them up to scratch, but the result was an era often viewed as a golden age for the programme. In 1976, Holmes' The Deadly Assassin stoked particular controversy -- both with the public at large due to its violent content, but also amongst the Doctor Who fan community for its reinvention of the Time Lords as a corrupt and moribund society. Meanwhile, 1977's The Talons Of Weng-Chiang featured two beloved supporting characters in the form of impresario Henry Gordon Jago and pathologist Dr Litefoot, who would later star in a long-running series of audio dramas from Big Finish Productions. The Jago and Litefoot duo was just one of several examples of semi-comic double-acts Holmes would employ to delightful effect in his Doctor Who scripts.

Holmes' last credit as script editor came on 1977's Image Of The Fendahl, by which time Graham Williams had taken over as producer. Nonetheless, he would contribute three further adventures over the next two years, including The Ribos Operation, which led off the Key to Time season-long story arc and introduced the Time Lady Romana as a new companion. Holmes and Hinchcliffe also developed a science-fiction show called Lituvin 40, which failed to materialise. Holmes refused an offer to serve as script editor of Blake's 7, but did write several episodes. During the late Seventies and early Eighties, he also contributed to programmes such as Jukes Of Piccadilly, The Nightmare Man and Into The Labyrinth, while script editing Armchair Thriller and Shoestring.

In 1983, Holmes reluctantly accepted an offer to write the Doctor Who 20th-anniversary special

In 1983, Holmes reluctantly accepted an offer from Doctor Who script editor Eric Saward to write the programme's twentieth-anniversary special. However, Holmes was always notoriously unhappy with the prospect of bringing back existing characters and monsters, and his “The Six Doctors” was soon abandoned in favour of Terrance Dicks' The Five Doctors. Nonetheless, the renewed contact with the Doctor Who production office led Holmes to write Peter Davison's final story, 1984's The Caves Of Androzani. He followed that with another multi-Doctor story, this time successfully completed, in the form of The Two Doctors in 1985. Holmes also wrote the novelisation, published by Target Books the same year; his only previous attempt at writing for the range had been The Time Warrior in 1978, for which he completed only a prologue before giving up and turning the project over to Dicks.

Holmes was meant to write a story, provisionally entitled “Yellow Fever And How To Cure It”, for the original version of Doctor Who's 1986 season. However, when all plans for the year were overhauled, Holmes instead wrote The Trial Of A Time Lord (Segment One), the four opening episodes of the season-long story arc. Sadly, this was a deeply unhappy experience; not only did Jonathan Powell, the Head of Series and Serials, deliver a scathing criticism of the draft scripts, but Holmes was battling a worsening case of hepatitis. He was also supposed to write the final two episodes of the season, but he completed only the first half of The Trial Of A Time Lord (Segment Four) before succumbing to his liver ailment on May 24th, 1986. Although written before his last Doctor Who work, Holmes' final television credit came on a 1987 episode of Bergerac.

After his passing, Holmes would be acknowledged as arguably the greatest writer of twentieth-century Doctor Who. His The Caves Of Androzani was a frequent winner of Doctor Who polls, often vying only with 1975's Genesis Of The Daleks, which Holmes strongly influenced in his role as script editor. Russell T Davies, who revived Doctor Who in 2005, intentionaly paid homage to Holmes' work by echoing elements of Spearhead From Space in his premiere episode, Rose. In 2013, Telos Publishing released a biography entitled Robert Holmes: A Life In Words by Richard Molesworth.

The Krotons
The Space Pirates
Spearhead From Space
Terror Of The Autons
Carnival Of Monsters
The Time Warrior
The Ark In Space
Pyramids Of Mars (as Stephen Harris)
The Brain Of Morbius (as Robin Bland)
The Deadly Assassin
The Talons Of Weng-Chiang
The Sun Makers
The Ribos Operation
The Power Of Kroll
The Caves Of Androzani
The Two Doctors
The Trial Of A Time Lord (Segment One)
The Trial Of A Time Lord (Segment Four)
Script Editor
The Sontaran Experiment
Genesis Of The Daleks
Revenge Of The Cybermen
Terror Of The Zygons
Planet Of Evil
Pyramids Of Mars
The Android Invasion
The Brain Of Morbius
The Seeds Of Doom
The Masque Of Mandragora
The Hand Of Fear
The Face Of Evil
The Robots Of Death
Horror Of Fang Rock
The Invisible Enemy
Image Of The Fendahl

Updated 17th July 2020