In a month of tragic deaths in the UK artistic community, Friday brought news of a death in the Doctor Who family. Robert Banks Stewart, writer and producer of many hit shows, and inventor of the Zygons died Friday at the age of 84.
Banks Stewart was born in Edinburgh in 1931. He began writing at any early age and won a Burns essay prize. He left school at 15 to pursue a career at a newspaper, the Edinburgh Evening Dispatch. But even then, Banks Stewart was most interested in writing for television.
Banks Stewart was attracted to science fiction from an early age. In the 1950s, he became a story editor and a scriptwriter at Pinewood Studios. He helped shape such TV series as Danger Man, Top Secret, and The Avengers. Going on to write several episodes of Arthur of the Britons for HTV.
His signature script reflected some of the local legends of Scotland. Using some of the folklore from the Loch Ness Monster, he went on to invent a shape-shifting creature. He called his creature a Zygon and set the story in Scotland. His 1975 episode of Doctor Who, Terror of the Zygons, was an instant classic and widely regarded as one the greatest of the Doctor Who episodes. Zygons are an alien race of shape-shifters from the planet Zygor, and they can take on anyone else’s appearance. But the subject they copy must stay alive, which can lead to some complications. The Zygons crash land into Loch Ness in Antiquity and their Skarasen a creature which provides them with milk) invades a conference in London. The Fourth Doctor and UNIT prevent the Zygons from taking over, and only the Skarsaren is left behind in Loch Ness. The Zygons have long been a favourite of fans and are the favourite monster of David Tennant, the Tenth Doctor.
The Zygons made a return to Doctor Who in the 50th-anniversary episode, The Day of the Doctor. A team of Zygons had been waiting since the Elizabethan era to wake up in 2013 in London. They plan to invade the Black Archives at the Tower of London, which has a trove of alien artifacts. Kate Lethbridge-Stewart threatens the Zygons with annihilation, and it takes three Doctors – the Tenth, Eleventh, and War – to contain them and a truce is negotiated.
The shapeshifting menace returned again during a season 9 two-parter, The Zygon Invasion/The Zygon Inversion. Where they have been living peacefully on Earth until a radical group threatens to break the truce between humans and Zygons. The truce faces catastrophe, until the Twelfth Doctor, Peter Capaldi, pleads with the Zygons to understand the necessity of both groups living in peace. Once again, the Zygon threat is calmed.
Their appearance has not just been limited to the screen. There have been features in spin-off novels, audio, figures, and comic books. It is a singular achievement to have created such an enduring part of the Doctor Who universe.
Banks Stewart soon followed with The Seeds of Doom (1976). This six episode serial presented a world in which alien seeds pods found in Antarctica turn humans into a Krynoid, a weed that attacks and eats animals. This series is also considered one of the strongest in the first generation of the Doctor Who.
Banks Stewart continued an enormously successful writing career after his Doctor Who work. He wrote and created many shows, notably two detective series, Shoestring and Bergerac, which is set on the isle of Jersey. Bergerac was a mess— a heavy drinker, recently divorced – but his character was so likable that the show lasted 10 years.
His career had several other notable hits. He was the producer for the first series of Lovejoy, a show based on Jonathan Gash’s books about an antiques dealer who is also a con artist. He adapted and produced Darling Buds of May for Yorkshire Television in 1991, which starred a then-unknown beauty named Catherine Zeta-Jones and British favourite David Jason. Most recently, at age 81, Banks Stewart penned a memoir, To Put You in the Picture.
Banks Stewart leaves behind four children and an unforgettable legacy of stories.