It is a matter of record that the sixth season of "Professor X" was much less successful than its predecessors. Rudy Vallee, upon seeing the first six scripts, had a documented blowup with Junkin over the content and demanded rewrites. The resultant compromise saw Vince Powell and Harry Driver's three part opener, "A Show of Force," trimmed to two episodes to suit Vallee's demands. The producer would not, however, budge on the second story, "Fairyland Palace," co-written by Anthony Skene and script editor Vance.
The result of cutting huge chunks from "Force" led to a further blowup, this time with its writers. Powell and Driver were not consulted for the cuts and neither writer was willing to lose an episode of work without pay. As a consequence, the writers, who were contracted for a further three episodes, left the show in June. Joining them in protest during the walkout was regular writer Roger Marshall, also contracted for a total of six episodes.
Vance immediately went to work on damage control, taking over the writing of four of Marshall's six episodes himself. These episodes formed "Invasion of the Cyborgs." The other two were postponed until the end of the season, where they would make up parts of what would become a five episode story.
For the remaining three episodes left by Powell and Driver, Vance turned to new writer Martin Worth. Worth had been hired for a two-parter on the basis of his work for the BBC2 science fiction series "Out of the Unknown" and was known to be able to turn out quality material quickly. It was now early July and the cast had reassembled. Time for writing was short.
Now back at work but still unhappy about his scripts, Vallee told Junkin in early August (perhaps while "Invasion of the Cyborgs" was ending its shoot) that this would be his last season on the show. Shaw decided to follow him out, while Susan Stranks left her contract open. This meant further rewrites on an increasingly problematic final storyline.
The first story of the season, Powell and Driver's "A Show of Force," was what can only be described as a routine alien invasion story, again following the "isolated humans under siege" plot, only in this instance the "humans" were alien humanoids befriended by the Professor. The story, already unpopular with the producers and cast, sank in the ratings, starting a downhill trend in season six to a record low of only 4.5 million viewers. The story is also savaged by both critics and fans.
Story two, "Fairyland Palace," was far better and has aged quite well. It featured a return appearance by the villain St. John Squareheart, who "fictionalizes" Professor X and his companions into the novel The Hound of the Baskervilles. The cliffhanger to part one, with Squareheart closing the book and shelving it, remains an all-time television classic. However, Vallee did not like the story at all, and found the Sherlock Holmes subplot (which comprised all of part two and the first 10 minutes of part three) risible and unrealistic. Nevertheless, the story is very highly regarded.
"Invasion of the Cyborgs," which followed, unconsciously set the tone for the "Colonel X" years. The story was written hurriedly by Vance when Marshall left the program, yet remained exciting and fresh while at the same time reusing many concepts from the past. Sir Edward returned, as did Ransbotham-Jjones, now a major general and serving as British liaison to UNTIL, the United Nations Taskforce on Insterstellar Life. The story concerned a Cyborg plan to conquer Earth using the industry of United Magnetics as a bridgehead.
Unfortunately for the series, these two excellent stories were followed by three lackluster tales that further damaged the ratings. Additionally, ITV brought their hugely successful series "The Avengers" into direct competition with Professor X. Now broadcast in color and with a new co-star in the popular Linda Thorson, "Avengers" managed a huge dent in the BBC ratings.
First up to bat against the new threat from ITV was "Oppression," a downbeat tale of an alien totalitarian society from new X writer Martin Worth. Worth was generally new to television, with only two credits prior to Oppression, one an episode of "Out of the Unknown." The story was a daring one and very well-written, but not really suited to the show's more whimsical style. It may, as fans have since noted, have made an excellent vehicle for the seventh Professor, but for Vallee, the tale was almost overwhelmingly dark. Leigh Vance, upon seeing the initial draft scripts and recognizing Worth's talent for fantasy, contracted Worth as previously noted for three further episodes to supplant the ones dropped by Powell and Driver. (It is now known that Powell and Driver's unfinished story would have featured a return of season five's abominable snowmen alongside their American counterparts, the Bigfoot).
"Sky Pirates!," Worth's second venture, was another very well-written entry, this time concerning pirates who plundered an alien planet in their floating airships. Sadly, this episode was marred by some of the most unconvincing special effects and model work the show had seen, perhaps encouraging many viewers to switch over to the higher-budgeted "Avengers." Interestingly, the story was seen to take place over a very lengthy period, as Professor X, Patrick and Tilly spent over a month on a pirate airship, forming the bulk of episode two.
Bridging Worth's two entries was a new Viking adventure from Tony Williamson. "The Dragonships" was the only episode that season to not suffer large amounts of rewriting, but it too was largely unsuccessful. Once again, isolated humans were under siege in this story, although the story did add much to the rich mythology of the Vikings.
In fact, things had slipped so greatly in terms of viewer numbers and appreciation that the BBC cancelled the series in December 1968, as "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the War" was nearing the conclusion of filming. "That's the worst possible way to go out," Martin Shaw recalled. "We'd had two smashing seasons and then the scripts started getting worse...the really annoying thing is that the last story was excellent, the best that year and everyone was so excited to be doing it."
"A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the War" featured a rematch with the Cleric, who was using his technology to try to alter the outcomes of various historical wars. Initially a three part story by Dick Sharples and new writer Don Shaw, the tale was augmented to five in an effort to save funds and end the season on a high note. The process meant huge and constant rewriting, with Shaw working around the clock to craft the ending.
"Initially," Shaw recalls, "we planned to have Professor X return Patrick home and then retire to his London home with Tilly. When they cast a new Professor--and I think they were actually looking--the new team could pick up there, with Rudy Vallee rejuvenated."
With two new episodes to fill and the cancellation of the series, a new conclusion was drafted, one that saw the incorporation into the legend of Professor X's people, the Watchers of planet Chumran. The next major draft had Professor X staying on Chumran, his travels over and Patrick and Tilly returned to their places, and this was how the story's conclusion was rehearsed.
Harry H. Junkin was meanwhile trying to save the series and reverse the BBC's decision. He himself had planned to move on, joining the crew of the BBC's "Paul Temple" series, but felt that there was still much life in the show. Also, as he recounted in a 1988 interview with Starlog, "I certainly didn't want to go down as the producer who killed the show."
Junkin pointed to the higher ratings that occurred whenever Professor X visited contemporary Earth and proposed that a new season should feature a new Professor exclusively fighting alien invasions, much like the famous 1950s "Nightshade" series. Further, the already established characters of Sir Edward, Ransbotham-Jjones and the UNTIL organization could be incorporated into the series as regular entities.
The BBC relented their decision two days before the second season wrapped, and a last-minute rewrite from Leigh Vance saw the Professor leaving Chumran in the SARDIT with Patrick and Tilly back in their own times. Suddenly, the face of the Cleric, still alive despite his apparent demise, appeared on his scanner, warning the Professor that he had won after all. The console of the SARDIT explodes and the Professor is thrown to the floor in the blast. As his ship is engulfed in flames, Professor X again begins to glow...
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Return to The Writer's Guide.
This is a work of fiction. Professor X never existed and none of the names quoted within (in many cases real actors/writers/etc.) ever worked on this series.