Doctor Who 50th: “A shiver ran through me the moment I wrote my first line for the Doctor”

Doctor Who audio writer William Gallagher on the thrill of penning his first adventure, Doing Time, for fifth Doctor Peter Davison - and of meeting boyhood crush Sarah Sutton, aka companion Nyssa

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It’s a cliché but it’s true: a shiver ran through me the moment I wrote my first line for the Doctor. It was 2010 and Big Finish had commissioned me to write a short Doctor Who tale for Peter Davison. Professionally, this was an important moment for me because it had taken years to get this far and now I had a contract, I had a deadline, I had a responsibility to deliver a proper Doctor Who story.

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But also personally, it was a very big deal because Peter was my Doctor. Growing up, I’d caught the end of the Tom Baker years but it was Peter Davison who I watched. The Fifth Doctor and also his companion, Nyssa, played by Sarah Sutton. I’m fine with telling you that I had a gigantic crush on her.

I’m just mortified that she found out.

I wrote an audio drama called Doing Time that saw the Doctor being imprisoned for a year and Nyssa having the time of her life on the outside. I had a very good time writing this script and hearing the Doctor and Nyssa’s voices in my head. Then I got to go to the studio and hear their voices saying all this outside my head too.

Peter was the first person I saw at the radio studio. You know that he is of course a pro but I did a good job of pretending I was too. I shook his hand like this was just another project and I’d done a million Doctor Who scripts before.

Unfortunately, just a fraction of a second before we stopped the handshake, Sarah walked past behind him and I saw her. I think I might have gulped. Certainly Peter gave me a wary look and pulled his hand away.

Give me one little bit of credit: I talked to Sarah later to ask specific things about Nyssa. She’s a very difficult character to write for so I saw an opportunity to ask the woman who’d played her for years and I took it.

If you’ve not heard any Big Finish yet, you must: they are extraordinarily well made and it was an honour to get to be part of that. It still is: I’ve written several since and my next, Doctor Who: Scavenger, is out in March 2014.

But as special as writing Doctor Who will always be, nothing can match your first one. Especially when at the end of that recording, Sarah Sutton thanked me for writing such a lovely script.

I like to think I was modest, perhaps suave, maybe a little rogueishly handsome. And not in any way bright red.

William Gallagher writes Doctor Who audio stories for Big Finish. His next is Doctor Who: Scavenger, which stars Colin Baker and is released in March 2014

He has also recently published Self Distract – from Doctor Who fan to Radio Times and Big Finish, available as a Kindle download for £1.93 at Amazon


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