Exclusive Interview with Victor Pemberton
Victor Pemberton is the original creator of Doctor Who's unique and iconic Sonic Screwdriver first introduced in his classic serial Fury From The Deep (1968). In an extraordinary life Pemberton actually appeared in a Doctor Who episode playing the scientist in The Moonbase (1967) and later ran his own television production company. He now lives in Spain and has just finished his fifteenth novel.
Fury From The Deep by Victor Pemberton
Incredibly, somewhere down the line, Victor's classic Fury From The Deep was lost, perhaps forever. The tape of the six part serial can no longer be found in the BBC archives, its status now legendary as one of the 'missing episodes' and the story that marked the introduction of the Doctor's sonic screwdriver. "Yes, the dear old sonic screwdriver does date me," recollects Pemberton, "since I first introduced him in Epiosodes 1 and 6 of Fury From The Deep all those years ago."
Tantalisingly, there are two audio versions of the lost episode Fury From The Deep, though sadly neither of these are complete. The first on cassette features narration by Tom Baker (BBC, 1993). The second is a remastered CD with narration by Frazer Hines who originally played Jamie, the Doctor's companion (BBC Audiobooks, 2004). A snatch of audio from the original 1968 broadcast containing the sonic reference can also be found on the More Than 30 Years in the Tardis video (VHS 1994, Director Kevin Davies).
Pemberton's Fury From The Deep, which contains the very first reference to the sonic screwdriver, is about an alien seaweed organism gradually infesting North Sea gas pipelines. Early in the first episode Second Doctor Patrick Troughton needs to open a gas pipe inspection valve. Addressing assistant Jamie he says "Oh well, have to use this." "What's that?" Jamie asks. "It's a sonic screwdriver, never fails" replies the Doctor. The following description is then narrated by Frazer Hines: He activates the wand like device, and seemingly of their own accord, the screws securing the lid of the box rotate cleanly out of their threads. "There we are!" says the Doctor, "Neat, isn't it? All done by sound waves" (source: Doctor Who - Fury from the Deep Audio CD, with Frazer Hines, BBC Audiobooks Ltd 2004.
Fury From The Deep BBC Audio CD & SFX Magazine Free CD
Victor Pemberton still cherishes his own original manuscript of Fury From The Deep and along with cast and crew members recently attended a gala celebration in London to celebrate it's 40th anniversary. Of course it's possible that a tape may still turn up but failing that we have Pemberton's Target book from 1986 which is a novelisation of the classic serial, written with reference only to the original script.
The first reference in the Target book to the sonic screwdriver is on page 11 where the Doctor uses it to open the release valve on a pipeline inspection hatch. "The Doctor was now perched cross-legged on top of the aluminium tube. From the inside pocket of his jacket, he took out what looked like his own version of a screwdriver. Slowly, cautiously, he started to open the small black box..." (from Fury From The Deep, Target Books, 1986).
Victor tells me that he imagined the screwdriver to be one of several tools and objects the Doctor would have about his person, and pull out of his jacket pocket. In the script there is no exact description of the sonic device. So did Pemberton have any input into its design as a prop? "No I didn't have input into the BBC prop" says Pemberton "I just wrote the idea into the script and they took over from there." Credited for Visual Effects by the BBC on Fury From The Deep are designers Peter Day and Len Hutton.
This was entirely usual and in any case Pemberton had been writing before for radio and had a feeling for radio's capacity to stimulate the listener's imagination. His seven part scifi radio serial 'The Slide' (1966) is often cited as the pre-cursor of Fury From The Deep. Curiously this featured the voice of Master-in-waiting Roger Delgado. An audio CD of The Slide under the BBC's Classic Radio Sci-Fi series was released in 2007 and "has done very well" much to its authors surprise.
In fact the recording of The Slide had also been lost from the BBC archives. Pemberton was amazed to be contacted about it after so many years when he was asked if he still had a copy. Fortunately, long-forgotten amongst some dusty old boxes in his garage Pemberton was able to find a recording he himself had made which the BBC were able to dust down and digitally remaster.
The Slide by Victor Pemberton
Hopefully one day Victor will write his autobiography and recount his early childhood growing up in Islington North London, the setting for his novels. "When I was young I was a huge film fan. I had my icons in cinema which I used to idolise and attempt to dress like." As a young man in 1967 Pemberton was lucky enough to fulfill some of his boyhood dreams when he actually appeared in the classic Doctor Who episode The Moonbase in which he plays the part of a lunar scientist on a weather control base under attack by Cybermen.
"Fans still send me photos today of my face all made up with bulging veins! We had to get up at 4am to get to the BBC Ealing Studios for the make up to be done." Victor remembers fondly his days working on Doctor Who; "it was beautifully amateur" and a 'gentleman's club' atmosphere pervaded the set. "We loved it and we were like one big happy family. There was always a lot of fun and games and practical jokes. I had a great time with some great chums, though the moment you had to be professional, you were professional and the job got done."
"Many fans insist that I am an actor, but really as an extra on the set I was able to sit and watch. I learned how Doctor Who worked which then made it easier to write scripts for it." Writing Fury From The Deep in an entirely freelance capacity he was invited back on set during its production. Peter Bryant the producer insisted that Pemberton come along to the filming of the episodes, something unusual in those early days. Whereas Pemberton's original script refers to a seaweed like creature, the special effects team came up with the idea of using foam. "On occasion they sprayed so much foam in the studio it really did get out of control!"
"I haven't followed the progress or use of the screwdriver since the BBC took it over as their own," says Pemberton. "It is my creation and, though I'm not at all bitter, I would like recognition as the original creator of the sonic screwdriver."
The profile of Pemberton's involvement with the sonic screwdriver was raised recently when the author was contacted out of the blue by a reporter from the UK tabloid newspaper The Sun. Under the banner headline 'BBC Screwed Me Sonically' Pemberton is quoted as follows "I'm really upset the BBC are making a fortune from something that I invented. They cannot even be bothered to credit me, let alone give me any cash. I feel exploited. In the sixties you didn't really think about ownership rights and things like that. So now while they get lots of cash, I get nothing" (The Sun 8th May 2008). Later The Sun even ran a crossword puzzle question 'What is the name of the author who created the sonic screwdriver and didn't get paid for it by the BBC?' to which the answer naturally was Victor Pemberton.
Pemberton's case contrasts sharply with that of fellow Doctor Who writer Terry Nation, creator of the Daleks, whose surviving Nation Estate have full rights over the use of Nation's original creations. Every time the Daleks appear and on every Dalek Toy or replica produced the Nation Estate receive royalty payments. At the time of writing Pemberton received a fee for writing the episodes and that was it. Since then, the sonic screwdriver has become a much-loved and iconic part of Doctor Who, appearing countless times and many Sonic Screwdriver Toys and prop replicas have been made over the years, though Pemberton has received neither recognition nor royalties. The legal concept of intellectual property rights, though now firmly established, was then very much in its infancy. Pemberton states simply that the matter "is in the hands of his agent".
Pemberton modestly attributes the inspiration for the sonic screwdriver simply to "the writer's need to write and create" and reflects on his interest in radio and the importance of sound in both The Slide and Fury From The Deep.
"I'm not in any way a fan of the current series though," says Pemberton, "I've always seen the Doctor as a less animated, more mature 'uncle' figure. I do feel that the sonic screwdriver is sometimes used as an aide to move the story along rather than a legitimate prop."
Though he doesn't own one himself, Pemberton is surprised at the variety of uses the sonic screwdriver has been put to and marvels at all the variations. We have seen Sarah Jane Smith's sonic lipstick, the Master's laser screwdriver and recently Professor River Song's sonic screwdriver, all based on Pemberton's original creation.
"When I sat down to write Fury From The Deep I had no idea what the future impact of the sonic screwdriver would be. For quite a while it slipped out of my consciousness, but now its taken on a whole new level of importance. Its all beyond me, its quite extraordinary. I am thrilled, delighted and surprised at the longevity of my creation the sonic screwdriver" says Victor, adding "the fans have been very kind to me and I would say to all Doctor Who fans around the world thank you for your incredible level of interest in my writing and for all your wonderful messages of support over the years."
Though it makes no reference to the sonic screwdriver or the Doctor, Victor Pemberton's latest novel is called 'When the Swallows Come Again' and will be out in September. He's already planning his next book.
Victor Pemberton's last writing for Doctor Who was the 1991 Target novelisation of his audio play Doctor Who and The Pescatons (1976) which featured the voice of Tom Baker. Whether Pemberton will be involved with Doctor Who again is uncertain.
"Many of the old timers," Victor reminds us, "are not around any more. Dear old Terry Nation [creator of the Daleks] and Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis [co-creators of the Cyberman] who I worked with are sadly no longer with us. But I'm going to hang on for a bit longer if I can. A lot of fans ask me if Fury From The Deep, because its a lost episode, will ever be remade. First of all there would have to be somebody interested in doing it. But if they wanted to redo it, the story would still hold today."
Doctor Who Classic Comics Telesnap Archive of Fury From The Deep by Victor Pemberton
Thanks also to Hoosier Whovian for pics, references and questions, Dex Antares Number One Sonic Fan & to Neil for more sonic questions
Fury From The Deep, Victor Pemberton, Target Books 1986
Doctor Who - Fury from the Deep (Audio Cassette), with Tom Baker (narration), BBC 1993
Doctor Who - Fury from the Deep (Audio CD), with Frazer Hines (narration), BBC Audiobooks Ltd 2004
More Than 30 Years in the Tardis, Director Kevin Davies, VHS 1994
The Slide, Victor Pemberton, BBC Classic Radio Sci-Fi Audio CD, 2007
The Sun, BBC Screwed Me Sonically, 8th May 2008
Doctor Who and The Pescatons, Victor Pemberton, Argo Records LP, 1976 & BBC Audio CD, 2005
Doctor Who - The Pescatons, Victor Pemberton, Target Books, 1991
SFX Magazine, Future Publishing, 2005
Doctor Who Magazine & Doctor Who Classic Comics, Telesnap Archive inserts, Fury From The Deep, Marvel Comics UK Ltd, 1994:
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