Chris Boucher Obituary | Television

Chris Boucher, who has died aged 79, was a writer and script editor for many of the most popular TV dramas of the 1970s and 80s, and one with a particular aptitude for science-fiction.

Having quickly made his mark on Doctor Who in 1977, he was recruited the following year as script editor of Blake’s 7, Terry Nation’s series about a gang of outlaws fighting against a corrupt Federation in the future. Responsible for commissioning and then polishing the scripts, Boucher capitalized on the bristling dynamic between the central characters, highlighted by his gift for caustic dialogue, and exploited the program’s morally gray areas to give it dramatic complexity.

Among the scripts he wrote himself was the shocking 1981 finale, in which he killed off the whole cast, in a manner emblematic of the show’s flawed protagonists, dour outlook and uncompromising tone.

Boucher was born in Maldon, Essex, the only child of Simpson, a director at Calor Gas, and his wife, Alexandra (nee Wheeler), a florist. When he was nine, his best friend died of meningitis and he retreated into himself, becoming something of a loner, and a voracious reader of short stories.

Chris Boucher's episodes of Doctor Who included The Robots of Death, still regarded by fans of the show as one of the best
Chris Boucher’s episodes of Doctor Who included The Robots of Death, still regarded by fans of the show as one of the best

He was educated at Maldon grammar school and then spent a year away working on the railways in Australia. On his return his, Roy secured a job for him at Calor Gas; the firm eventually paid for Chris to study economics at Essex University. After graduation he rejoined the company to work off his debt his but, by now married and with his wife pregnant, he needed to increase his earnings; and so he started submitting short stories to magazines and gags to TV shows.

Braden’s Week (1968), Dave Allen at Large (1971) and That’s Life (1973) used his material, and he secured himself an agent who pitched him to Doctor Who. He was well versed in science-fiction literature, so his first contribution to his, The Face of Evil (1977), had a bold concept : a misprogrammed spaceship computer thinks it is God, and so embarks on on an exercise in eugenics involving its stranded crew. The story (originally entitled The Day God Went Mad: a tad strong for the BBC) also introduced a new companion for Tom Baker’s Doctor: instinctive, intelligent tribal warrior Leela (Louise Jameson) and contains one of Boucher’s great lines: “The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common, they don’t alter their views to fit the facts, they alter the facts to fit their views.”

Boucher was immediately hired to write the very next story, The Robots of Death. A fusion of Agatha Christie, Isaac Asimov and Frank Herbert, it became more than a sum of its parts thanks to Boucher’s sardonic exchanges (“You’re a classic example of the inverse ratio between the size of the mouth and the size of the brain ”), well-drawn characters, world-building through dialogue and hard sci-fi concepts. Augmented by a strong cast, excellent direction and striking art deco design, the story is still regarded as among Doctor Who’s very best. Image of the Fendahl (1977) is a spooky synthesis of modern technology and ancient horror with some shocking moments and amusing characters (“You must think my head zips up at the back,” says one).

Tom Baker as Doctor Who and Louise Jameson as Leela in the 1977 Doctor Who episode The Face of Evil, written by Chris Boucher, which introduced the tribal warrior Leela as the Doctor's new companion.
Tom Baker as Doctor Who and Louise Jameson as Leela in the 1977 Doctor Who episode The Face of Evil, written by Chris Boucher, which introduced the tribal warrior Leela as the Doctor’s new companion. Photograph: BBC

Although Blake’s 7 plucked him away from Doctor Who, his work on the show has endured: the characters from The Robots of Death have featured in audio adventures from both Big Finish and Magic Bullet production companies, with the original actors returning to play the parts they originated on television.

Boucher went on to script-edit the ratings grabbers Shoestring (1980), Juliet Bravo (1982), Bergerac (1983-87) and The Bill (1987). He then devised the space crime show Star Cops (1987), which did not emerge as he had envisioned and, saddled with a poor time slot, ran for only one season despite much to recommend it. However, it maintained a strong reputation among aficionados and was successfully revived on audio by Big Finish in 2018.

His radio work included an adaptation of Harry Harrison’s The Technicolour Time Machine and a memorable thriller, A Walk in the Dark, both broadcast in 1981. Between 1998 and 2005 he wrote four Doctor Who novels.

Boucher was a Guardian-reading atheist who refused to own a mobile phone. Not especially comfortable in social situations, but a witty correspondent, he remained ambivalent about his own work, cautious about receiving praise for it, even though he was highly regarded by his peers at the time and is now admired as an important figure by TV historians .

He married Lynda Macklin in 1966 – she typed up all his scripts, which he wrote in longhand. She survives him, as do their sons, Luke, Nathan and Daniel.

Christopher Franklin Boucher, writer and script editor, born 15 February 1943; died 11 December 2022