Category Archives: Television

Doctor Who and the Communist: Malcolm Hulke and his career in television by Michael Herbert (Five Leaves, £4)

Reviewed by Mat Coward in the new Doctor Who Magazine and reprinted by permission

The Communist Party of Great Britain was never a huge organisation. At its absolute peak, it had 60,000 members and two MPs. But for three or four decades following World War Two it was remarkably influential, in industry, in science, and not least in culture. It was Communists, after all, who invented the Notting Hill Carnival, the folk song revival – and, it turns out, the Sea Devils.

Sometime Communist, and lifelong Leftie, Malcolm “Mac” Hulke wrote two serials for the Second Doctor, and six for the Third. Before creating the notoriously ill-named Silurians, he was responsible, along with his script editor, and one-time lodger, Terrance Dicks, for that extraordinarily adult epic, ‘The War Games’ (1969). It’s probably remembered today chiefly for being the last story to star Patrick Troughton, and the first to name the Time Lords. Those of us who watched it as children usually remember it as “the one that went on for ten weeks, and had no monsters in it.”

But, with its contempt for authority, its anti-militarism, its message that wickedness can be beaten by solidarity, ‘War Games’ is also a perfect example of Hulke’s unapologetically political approach to fiction. ‘Doctor Who’ was “a very political show,” he once said, because it was about “relationships between groups of people.” Even when one group are reptiles, “they’re still a group of people.”

Just as radical in its intentions, and arguably Who fandom’s founding document, was Hulke and Dicks’ 1972 paperback The Making of Doctor Who, the revolutionary book that first transformed passive viewers into active fans, able to watch our favourite programme from backstage, as it were, as well as on the screen.

Surprisingly little is known about Hulke’s life outside television, at least until John Williams’s eagerly anticipated biography appears. Meanwhile, this slim but fascinating pamphlet, written by a professional historian and true fan, serves as a delightful introduction to Mac – the man who did so much to pave the way for a primetime show in which a Silurian enjoying an inter-species gay marriage seems like the most normal thing on Earth.