Doctor Who writer who introduced the sonic screwdriver

Born: October 10, 1931;

Died: August 13, 2017

VICTOR Pemberton, who has died aged 85, was familiar to Doctor Who fans first as an actor, in the non-speaking role of a scientist who is turned into a Cyberman, before returning to the science-fiction drama as script editor and the writer responsible for introducing one of the Time Lord’s legendary gadgets.

In 1967, during Patrick Troughton’s era as the second incarnation of the Doctor, Pemberton played Jules Faure at a weather control station in The Moonbase story, which featured an early appearance by the Cybermen.

He then joined the programme as assistant script editor. By the time he came to work on The Tomb of the Cybermen (1967), he had been promoted to script editor.

Although he then left the BBC to freelance as a writer, he contributed the 1968 Doctor Who story Fury from the Deep, which signalled Deborah Watling’s departure as the Time Lord’s companion Victoria Waterfield – but, more significantly, the creation of his sonic screwdriver.

The multifunctional tool became a useful device for the Doctor to use against his enemies and, despite being dropped a couple of times throughout the programme’s history, it resurfaced and the design has been modified over the years.

Victor Francis Pemberton was born in London, son of Oliver, a ticket collector on the London Underground who had been wounded in the First World War, and Letty (née Elizabeth Edginton).

He was always keen to write but, on leaving Highbury Grammar School, had to turn down the offer of a job as a junior reporter on the Daily Sketch because his headmaster refused to let him have time off to attend shorthand classes. Instead, he worked in Fleet Street delivering mail for a timber magazine.

This was followed by a short spell in Twentieth Century-Fox’s London publicity and printing department. Then, during national service in the RAF, he organised entertainment shows and presented a record-request programme.

In 1961, while working as a clerk in a travel agency, he wrote his first BBC radio drama, The Gold Watch. It was based on his father being refused a pension after retiring early on being diagnosed with kidney cancer

To enable Pemberton to give up his day job and continue writing, a BBC television producer offered him work as an extra at £5 a day. His radio plays and serials included The Beano (1962), Ziggie (1965), The Fall of Mr Humpty (1975), Night of the Wolf (1975) and Jubilee (1977), and in 1970 he scripted episodes of the soap Waggoners’ Walk.

Three plays about his parents’ relationship over more than six decades were broadcast as the trilogy Our Family in 1989. He turned it into a novel published a year later, the first of his 15 books of nostalgic fiction set in London.

His science-fiction radio serial The Slide (1966) was commissioned by Peter Bryant, who became Doctor Who’s story editor and invited Pemberton to work on the programme. That drama was the basis for Fury from the Deep, which he later novelised (1986). Another book, The Pescatons (1991) emanated from a Doctor Who story he scripted as an audio-only drama in 1976.

His writing for ITV children’s programmes included episodes of the 1971 run of Timeslip and the 1972 series Ace of Wands, as well as 1972-3 scripts for The Adventures of Black Beauty. He also created Tightrope (1972), about a schoolboy involved in espionage.

Pemberton wrote and, from the second series, produced the British segments of Jim Henson’s Fraggle Rock (1983-7). It was his idea to introduce a lighthouse keeper – initially Fulton Mackay – as presenter.

In 1987, he set up Saffron Productions with his partner, actor-director David Spenser, who as a child starred in Just William on radio. With Pemberton producing, they made documentaries for the BBC’s Omnibus series about theatre actress Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies (1988) and comedian Benny Hill (1991), as well as others for ITV and Channel 4.

Spenser died in 2013, seven years after he and Pemberton married near their Costa Blanca home.