Wednesday, 15 August 2007

If - "The Herdsmen of Venus"

The first of Peter Adamson's articles on the impact some unmade Who might have had, if they had been made ...
The Herdsmen Of Venus
by Donald Cotton

Donald Cotton's last submission before leaving Doctor Who was Season Six's The Herdsmen Of Venus, sometimes referred to by him as The Herdsmen Of Aquarius. It is the former title which appeals more at the moment, for reasons which will be explained later. All that is known for the time being is that the story was based around the revelation that the famous Loch Ness Monster was one of many 'cattle' of Venusian farmers. Sound familiar at all?
Cotton's input into the series is generally recognised as being on the more humorous side - The Myth Makers has its moments, but these days is nearly known entirely for its overambitious episode title "Is There A Doctor In The Horse?. He was also responsible for The Gunfighters, a comedy which has only recently been defended by some in the fan community after decades of scorn. Against these stories then, "Herdsmen" must be a significant departure. There is possible humour in the revelatory aspect of the monster, but more significant is the possibility Spooner intended the story to be set in space. 'Space' in the Hartnell Era of course means 'the future'; rocket ships and British astronauts. This is just conjecture of course, the Loch Ness Monster's first recorded sighting took place somewhere around the Eighth century AD, so it's possible the story might well have been a third historical for Spooner. Returning to trends of the Hartnell Era however, pseudo-historical adventures with any aliens short of the Doctor, Susan and the Meddling Monk running around simply aren't a feature. The educational bent of the series may have been thrown out of the window by Terry Nation's monster creations, but even by Season Six the idea of a Davisonesque 'aliens in the olde days' romp seems a bit at odds.
The monster-as-cattle idea of course finally found its place in Robert Banks Stewart's Terror Of The Zygons (working title The Secret Of Loch Ness), though it was Robert Holmes who suggested the idea of fitting a story around Nessie in the first place. The rest is history, and it's intriguing that in the realised story the 'cattle' metaphor is worked as far as the purpose of the Skarasen's lactic secretions—'milk' for the Zygons. We can't of course assume that Cotton's story would have taken the same form; being a writer versed more in comedy the Herdsmen themselves could have been most un-Zygon in motivation. The whole concept, an escaped space cow let loose in a (Mediaeval?) Scottish loch could quite well have been the set up for a wonderfully mad cap Hartnell story. Admittedly already the scope is very large setting-wise. Much of Zygon's Highland action was cut to save on location shooting, and perhaps it was for similar over-ambitious writing that Gerry Davis rejected Herdsmen. The mind rebels against any envisaged 1966 BBC attempt at reproducing a working Nessie model. The Skarasen is not remembered fondly, and equally the glove puppets of Who's other Loch Ness story, Timelash.
And so to Venus, for surely if there's anything a Who fan loves as much as yet another version of the 'invaders from Mars' story, it's a mention of Venus. Paul Leonard's Missing Adventure notwithstanding, Venus is never seen in the series, though it is mentioned a fair bit. Indeed, previously the first Doctor and Susan list it as one of their visits made before picking up Ian and Barbara; and of course the third Doctor's more memorable anecdotes included, variously, Venusian Aikido (he is the only biped to have mastered it - another challenge for the BBC costume department?), lullabies, Shanghorns, perigosto sticks, and hopscotch. Interestingly, of those elements only the multi-limbed natives and the hopscotch made it into Leonard's book, though in the series Susan's memories (The Sensorites) also include seas of iron, the element which according to Leonard, was fatal to a Venusian. Tellingly, Leonard has the Venusians being extinct by the Twentieth century, their world finally resembling the hellish planet of boiling acid we know it to be in 'real life'; if Spooner's story was to have been set in the future, then we might have expected an updated version of the model of civilisations hidden under thick Venusian cloud, as in Edgar Rice Burrough's Venus books.
Had the story been made as The Herdsmen Of Aquarius, then naturally we'd have less call for inspection. Like many unmade stories, Herdsmen's exclusion inadvertently allowed Zygon's creation, and as the 'class of 4G' showed in a recent DWM article, the latter story continues to have significant appeal - there's even been a prequel written for BBC Books. No other unmade story comes to mind for whose exclusion would have had effects so far reaching as spanning three seasons. Of course, it's entirely possible that had Herdsmen seen production we might still remember an unchanged Zygons today; it's entirely in the nature of Doctor Who to repeat ideas, reinterpret them and stuff up continuity, and in fact it's what much of the series is all about. To this mind, might I add that even in 1998 we really could do with more space cows?

- Peter Adamson

No comments: