After Doctor Who was cancelled in 1989 by the BBC, many attempts were made to revive the series, but there was one that almost happened, the work of John Leekley. A few years back, a groups of fans tried to recreate it as The Chronicles of Doctor Who, an audio drama series…
American writer, director and producer John Leekley is perhaps best known today as the Executive Producer/Writer on the HBO Original Series Spawn, for which he received a Primetime Emmy Award, and as the creator, writer and Executive Producer of the series Kindred: The Embraced for Fox Network, a cult favourite on the web.
His official web site notes he started his television career as Co-Producer, writer and creator of the landmark eight-hour CBS mini-series The Blue and The Gray (CBS), starring Gregory Peck as Abraham Lincoln, based on the novel of the same name, that he authored. Among other credits in film and TV, John also served as Writer/Producer for several highly regarded movies including In the Company of Darkness and was the creator of the dark supernatural series Wolf Lake for CBS.
John also wrote the screenplay The White Rose, a true story of college students in Nazi Germany who formed the only national resistance movement against Hitler and the Gestapo.
In the early 1990s, Leekley was commissioned to write a pilot episode and series bible that would revive the series, which would have been produced by Amblin Universal, who requested Philip Segal, who went on to produce the TV Movie, work with him.
What’s known as The Leekley Bible was intended to be the starting point of a new Doctor Who series – essentially a reboot of the series, reinventing Doctor Who with only the core concepts and mythos intact. The Doctor Who Companion web site notes Leekley’s main aim was to set up conflicts and add a quest for the hero.
Intriguingly, for those who’ve been watching the current series of Doctor Who, as Christopher Morley notes here on Warped Factor, Leekley planned to redesign the Cybermen as ‘Cybs’- a more piratical take on the original. They would have appeared in several stories, including a remake of Earthshock, Tomb Of The Cybs – in which the Master was to have awoken them from their freezing tombs, The Cybs (basically Cybermen on Mars), and The Outcasts – which would see them attacking the outcasts of Gallifrey
After the Bible was written, Leekley scripted Fathers and Brothers, the intended pilot episode of the series, a loose adaptation of Genesis of the Daleks, in which the Master kills Davros and creates the Daleks to control the Universe, a story featuring “Spider Daleks”. In the The Nth Doctor a Doctor Who reference book published by Virgin Publishing and iUniverse, Jean Marc L’Officier notes Leekley’s ideas met with a poor reception, and was removed from the project in September 1994.
“His ideas are a strange mish-mash of years of Who history with his own additions,” notes Drew Boynton over on the Doctor Who Companion, “and just seem bizarre, especially in light of how successful and true-to-form the show is today.”
The TARDIS Fandom web site notes some elements of the Leekley Bible, like the Doctor’s father being named Ulysses, were later used in the BBC Eighth Doctor Adventures.
Back in 2017, a group of fans led by writer Jaden Zagor set out to bring the Leekley Bible as an audio series, The Chronicles of Doctor Who, produced by Robin Kilmister, and went as far as creating a series trailer and issued a casting call for the series, but the project appears to have been abandoned.
Robin tells downthetubes the plug was pulled due to “lack of drive, lack of good equipment.
“We started, got the first script done, started making it but it just slowly fell apart and I wasn’t happy with what we were making. Part of me hopes to go back and do it properly but that won’t be for a while.”
Leekley, noted the team, decided to start the whole Doctor Who universe from scratch, but his changes were controversial, details of its development scarce. Jaden and Robin proposed The Chronicles of Doctor Who as a very loose audio adaptation of that series bible, spilt over two volumes of ten stories, focusing on the alternative origins of this universe’s Doctor.
A wiki page set up by the team describes Gallifrey as a distant world, far off in the deepest recesses of space. “To the universe, Gallifrey is legend. To the Doctor, it is his last chance of redemption…
“After the Master is appointed the title of ‘Lord-President’ of Gallifrey, it’s revealed that the Doctor and the Master were closer than they previously thought. Now, the Doctor is on the run from his own kind, searching for his long-lost father so he can redeem himself and save Gallifrey from his warmongering Brother…”
In this proposed series, which ignored all continuity and would have rebooted the Doctor Who from scratch, similar to what was proposed for some of the rejected reboots of the show in the 1990s, the Doctor and the Master are revealed as brothers – and that the Time Lord Borusa is their Grandfather.
Today, Jaden and Robin are working on an audio drama of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Temple – more details here.
John Leekley has continued with work with futuristic and SF themes. These include a feature film script City of Night, a story story that revolves around the survivors of a world wide plague, who gather together in the Bowery of New York City, forming a new minority in America at the bottom of society, with their own mysterious night culture, the gangsters who rule it, and the cops who try to take it back.
CBS re-released a boxed set of the complete series for Kindred: The Embraced, with new drama John wrote and directed, as well as a re-cut feature length version of the pilot.
John is also the best selling author of fiction and non-fiction books, co-writing Moments: The Pulitzer Prize Photographs with Hal Buell and co-writing and editing Reflections on the Civil War, the last book by famed historian Bruce Catton. He has just completed the manuscript for his next novel, Jazz Men, the story of the Jazz era from 1900 to the 1920’s, set in New Orleans, the river boats, and amidst the mobsters of Chicago.
Last year, John released Our Wild Savory Kitchen, an eBook written with his wife, script writer Rebekah Leekley. They also have a food blog of the same name, inspired by Diana Henry’s Crazy Water Pickled Lemons and Patience Gray’s Honey From a Weed.
There is much more about the behind-the-scenes struggles of the Doctor Who TV Movie in Regeneration: The Story of the Revival of a TV Legend, by Philip Segal and Gary Russell.
The book includes a wealth of pictures, including sketches, storyboards and screen-tests none of which have ever been seen and examines a number of aborted story treatments and scripts. and chronicles the BBC’s seven-year struggle since cancelling the series in 1989 to develop it as a US co-production.
It offers a fascinating glimpse in microcosm of the politics of television and the BBC in the 1990s, as well as the creative development hell of making what turned out to be only a one-off TV movie with Fox in the United States.
• Buy Regeneration: The Story of the Revival of a TV Legend (Amazon UK Affiliate Link)
Over the course of the more than five decades during which Doctor Who has been in production, there have been many scripts and story ideas for the programme which never made it into the recording studio. Some were unsolicited and unexpected submissions, quickly dismissed by the production office of the time. Others underwent extensive development, only to be derailed at the very last minute.
Shannon’s site offers information about every known Doctor Who Lost Stories, including a synopsis of the plot and comprehensive behind-the-scenes details.
• Doctor Who: Stories from the Scrapheap – The Lost Eighth Doctor Series – article by Christopher Morley
With thanks to to Charlie Kirchoff and Brian Uiga who sent me down this rabbit hole of Doctor Who continuity today!