Under Three Hundred

The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

The Girls Of Amsterdam

Happy new year, dear reader. As you can see, updating my blog more frequently has not been one of my new year’s resolutions. I haven’t done any news years’ resolutions because, basically, I got everything right in 2015 and see no room for improvement.

Anyway, stuff to plug! First off, I must implore you all to rush out and buy the latest Doctor Who Magazine as it contains two things by me; firstly, a ‘Fact of Fiction’ on the classic 1974 tale Death to the Daleks and secondly an appreciation of the classic 1968 tale The Wheel in Space.

Doing the ‘Fact of Fiction’ on Death to the Daleks was great fun, because I love the story, it’s pretty robust plot-wise as you would expect from Terries Dicks and Nation, and (I hope) I managed to find out some interesting new stuff about it. Doing these features involves what I believe proper academics call ‘close reading’ – looking at a camera script and working out what is implied by things like missing pages, mis-numbered scenes, different typefaces, handwritten notes and so on. And with each ‘Fact of Fiction’ I set myself a little challenge – in the past I’ve tried to identify stock footage of rocket launches and so on – and for Death to the Daleks my challenge was to identify the Peruvian temple that Terry Nation was referring to in part three. It’s a combination of two – one of them is this one which I trust you’ll agree looks a bit like the Exxilon city.

I’m also quite proud of my guesses as to possible sources of the names Railton and Parrinium – and for hopefully laying the ‘Doctor Who and the Exilons’ myth to rest. I have a couple more 'Fact of Fiction's in the pipeline, so keep buying the magazine.

With The Wheel in Space article I came up against an unusual challenge. When I was asked ‘Which story would you like to write about’, I suggested The Wheel in Space because I have lots of interesting opinions about it. But then, in preparation for writing the article, I checked to see what I’d written about it before in the Second Doctor Missing Episodes special – and there were all the interesting opinions I was going to write about! So I had to come up with more interesting opinions about The Wheel in Space, which fortunately is not difficult as it is ceaselessly fascinating. Initially I had planned to do 2000 words just on the opening episode but didn’t quite manage it.

So there you go. People have said kind words about both features so it looks like I’ve got away with it again.

What else? Well, I’ve a few Big Finish releases coming up. February will see the release of the third series of Vienna, which I script-edited and fiddled about with, which consists of three terrific stories by Ian Potter, Guy Adams and Steve Lyons. Lots of weird and wonderful alien worlds and mind-boggling sci-fi concepts and action and adventure. You can order it here – it’s probably worth it just for the cover:

You can also listen to the trailer here.

March will see the release of Doctor Who: The Paradox Planet, starring Tom Baker, Lalla Ward, Tom Chadbon and Simon Rouse amongst others. I shall plug it at greater length nearer the time but suffice it to say I am extremely proud of it, it was a thrill to do, to have an opportunity to pay tribute to Tom, Lalla, Graham Williams and particularly Douglas Adams, and when I listened to the trailer (which can be found here) I was immediately carried back to the autumn of 1979 and could visualise the sets, costumes and special effects. You can pre-order it here (you’ll need to pre-order Legacy of Death too, as that’s the second half of the story).

Most importantly, sometime later this month my next Doctor Who audio adventure by Big Finish will be released. This is The Waters of Amsterdam, featuring everyone’s favourite fifth Doctor, Peter Davison, along with his companions Tegan and Nyssa. I’ve heard the first episode and director Jamie Anderson has done a terrific job with it, he’s got the tone just right – it has a sort of lightness of touch to it, to give the characters and emotion a chance to breathe. Story-wise it’s a bit of a departure, I hope, something a bit different, because although there are alien monsters and time travel and stuff, I think the story’s structure has a (deliberately) unusual shape and the emphasis is much more on the characters’ relationships and emotional journeys. I mean, it’s lovely to do stories that open with episodes of the Doctor and his friends exploring a deserted spaceship, I’ve done a few of those in my time, but it’s just as lovely, every now and then, to tell a story which doesn’t do what people expect, which veers off at hopefully unexpected tangents. And I’m particularly proud of some of the scenes later on with Rembrandt, hopefully I will do him justice, I look forward to hearing the rest of it!

The other thing that cannot be emphasized too strongly is this; Don’t worry, it will fit in with Omega and The Burning Prince and The Elite. I even sent the script to Nev Fountain to check! Although it’s never actually stated anywhere that Omega takes place shortly after Arc of Infinity, that’s what everyone thinks because of the production code it was given, so I have respected that. It all fits, I appreciate how important that is!

So, please buy it, you can order it here and listen to the trailer here.

One other thing I should mention is that I’ve been working on the Doctor Who: The Complete History partworks, providing new synopses for all the different stories. Which has been more interesting than you may think – there’s a hell of a lot of discipline in boiling down each episode to just 300 words, and in the process I find I often come away with a new-found appreciation of just how clever some stories are – The Day of the Doctor, for instance – while sometimes I discover that stories I had previously admired fall apart when you subject them to close scrutiny (I’m not saying which ones).

The books themselves are truly stunning, absolutely magnificent and quite definitive, so I thoroughly you recommend you avail yourself of them here.

It’s a little odd for me, plugging these articles and stories, partly because I wrote the Tom and Lalla stories quite a while ago – in June 2013 – and partly because all this stuff is, for me, a fun sideline, as my focus is on my other main writing project which is, for the moment, not something I want to talk about. When and if I have anything to tell you, I shall be tweeting about it from the rooftops. But rest assured, I am doing other stuff!

Thursday, 19 November 2015

That Green Gentleman (Things Have Changed)

More deleted scenes, this time from Hothouse, released way back April 2009 and written even wayer back in April and May 2008. If you haven’t heard it, it starred Paul McGann and Sheridan Smith as the Doctor and Lucie and guest-starred Nigel Planer (!) and Lysette Anthony (!). Which are four good reasons for buying it, which you can do here.

I’ve blogged elsewhere about the story here (part one) and here (part two) and put up the synopsis of the storyline Blooming Horrible, which after four or five reworkings became Hothouse. My main memory of writing the story is that I wanted it to be an eco-thriller set a few years in the future, non-specifically inspired by a drama called Black Easter from 1995. Hothouse is sadly prescient in the same way that Black Easter is, depicting a future where Muslim refugees are desperate to enter Europe which has closed its borders, being smuggled in by criminals and sold into slavery. I also thought it would be interesting to have a villain that was an ‘eco-fascist’ – someone who wants to save the planet and is prepared to kill in order to do so. I’m not sure how effectively that came across but that’s what I was aiming for.

The problem with the play – and a fair criticism it received – was that it didn’t do much new with the Krynoid monster itself; I did try to break new ground but the modus operandi of the monster did rather predicate the plot, because you want it to do all the cool Krynoid stuff in The Seeds of Doom and to remain consistent with that story. But I think – I hope – there’s enough new stuff elsewhere in the story to make up for it. And I had fun putting in an incredibly obscure in-joke to Tom Baker’s appearance on Animal Magic and naming a character Christina Ondrak after a friend from Austria.

Anyway, deleted scenes! The following are bits that got cut from my first draft.

Originally Alex Marlow wasn’t a rock star, he was an ecologist, as Hazel explains:

(EXPLANATION) Alex Marlow. Nobel prize-winning ecologist. Made a name for himself travelling the world, rescuing endangered species. Now he’s moved into politics, fronting ‘The League of Nature’. Claims he wants to save the planet.

About time somebody did. The human capacity for denial and groundless optimism...

Since the tragedy in Dhaka, the group’s profile has increased dramatically. Over eighty million paid-up members. And, as far as we can gather, their subs have been pumped into this place, The Hothouse.

So you don’t think he’s using it for conservation?

If he was, why keep it quiet? The guy’s not exactly a shrinking violet. But he’s been paranoid about keeping this place off the radar...

This exchange from part two was rewritten, it was a bit too formal in the first draft, though I like the ‘politically correct’ bit:

Tough decisions, Doctor, tough decisions! I have no argument with the human race, but the current population just isn’t viable. I don’t want billions dying of thirst in some Malthusian catastrophe. Humanity needs to be pruned back to a... sustainable level.

You make mass genocide sound like horticulture.

Similar principle. Say, a hundred million individuals...

(SARCASTIC) Right-thinking, of course.

Oh, of course. (JOKING) Don’t want any riff-raff in our garden of Eden, do we? (SERIOUS) No, I was thinking more of a random cull – a life lottery, if you like - with a view to maintaining ethnic biodiversity. I’m nothing if not ‘politically correct’.

Let me get this straight. You want me to find a way of making the Krynoids remain ‘human’ - in mind, if not in body...

If you could. And I’d do it soon... needn’t remind you, your friend’s life is at stake...

But apart from odd lines here and there, I didn’t cut much from the first draft; instead, the second draft was when I added all the stuff about the Doctor having become disenchanted with humanity after spending centuries with a bunch of clams in Orbis.

After that, the story went through another draft, as I hadn’t included (because I hadn’t known about) the idea that the Doctor would not remember Lucie, so they would need to regain each others’ trust. This draft wasn’t by me; it was by Alan Barnes, Nick Briggs and Barnaby Edwards. To be honest, I was grateful to be spared another round of notes, and they are all very accomplished and experienced writers who’ve written loads of great Doctor Who stories so their changes were all good ideas which I was perfectly happy to take the credit for! But even writing this I’m kind of overstating things; looking at the script now, most of the changes are to scene directions, the end script is still 95% me; the only bit that was substantially rewritten was the section where the Doctor and Hazel sneak into the base in the back of a lorry, just to make the action clearer, and the only new scene was the final scene with the Doctor and Lucie in the car. Which includes the only bit of the story that bugs me – the reference to the Eight Truths doomsday cult. Not because there’s anything wrong with it, it’s a clever bit of setting-up for a story later on in the series, it’s just because in my head Hothouse is set forty or fifty years in the future, whereas the story called The Eight Truths is set in the present day. But I don’t think anybody has ever noticed so I’m not going to complain about it either!

But then the story went through one more draft, by me! In this draft I added the element of Alex Marlow being a Sting-ish ex-rock star, to make him more interesting/distinct from Harrison Chase; I remember having fun trying to come up a plausible name for a rock band that hadn’t been used. Hence ‘The Experts’. I also added the bit about the space-time telegraph to explain why the Doctor had turned up. But again, looking through the script now, it really is just odd words and sentences here and there – just me rewriting bits of my own stuff that sounded clunky. So no deleted scenes, I'm afraid!

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Perfect World

Another voyage down the yesteryear ship canal, this time Doctor Who: A Perfect World. It’s a one-episode story that was released with Time Reef by Marc Platt back in September 2008 and was written in January of that year. As usual, if you haven't heard it, buy it now.

It was a very quick turnaround, for some reason, going from synopsis to finished script in about two weeks. Looking at the synopsis, the big difference was that originally the aliens were multi-dimensional beings called Zinebil; Nicholas Briggs suggested making them more mundane and functional which is how they ended up being dimensional plumbers, which is far more interesting. Amazingly, one of them was played by Nicholas Farrell, a great actor who has been in everything, and who was happy to ‘muck in’ in the studio after being cast for Time Reef.

The brief for this episode was to write out the character of Thomas Brewster, created and introduced in The Haunting of Thomas Brewster. It must have been a verbal brief because I can’t find any emails about it. Anyway, I decided, or it was suggested to me, to write out Brewster by having him fall in love. The story was written partially from personal experience based on a relationship from several years earlier and mostly from wish-fulfilment. At the time I’d written a few romantic comedy sitcom scripts and so a love story came very easily (I think, though to be honest this was all so long ago I’m guessing).

Looking at the script, I think it holds up okay, it’s very sweet and the characterisation is good, but I’m not sure it works as a Doctor Who story. Maybe that doesn’t matter, maybe it’s good to occasionally subvert the format, but I can’t help feeling it would’ve been better if the story had been told in a more Doctor Who-ey way. But I love this bit, it's both heartfelt and deeply silly:

Because… life isn’t perfect. Take away the opportunity to get things wrong and you take away the reason for getting things right. Being human is all about the mistakes, the imperfections, the failures! Burning the toast! Losing your keys! Getting off at the wrong stop! For some people, small, pointless blunders are what life is all about!

What is quite nice is the way the script echoes elements of The Haunting of Thomas Brewster, for instance by having Brewster meet Connie on Southwark bridge. Which leads us to the only cut bit (this is cut by me, from the first draft, before anyone else saw it), where they go to a cafe and chat over coffee:

Yeah. And you know what the best thing is? Men have stopped going around with big, bushy beards.


But think about it. This world, right, people have spent hundreds of years working to make it better, fighting wars for a better future, suffering (from) –

Look, I know what you're going to say, and you're right, but... I don't know... It just doesn't make facing tomorrow any easier.

And, er... that’s it. Apart from odd lines here and there, I didn’t cut much from the script before I handed it in as a first draft, and then – after script editor Alan Barnes had added a few bits, such as Connie’s phone call to her mother in the penultimate scene – that was it!

Oh, and a reference to Heat magazine became Celeb Goss, because references to real-life brands are problematic, and the following bit got changed, a pity because it was one of my favourite lines:

What could be wrong with that?
I've gotta go - you're all... 'pod people' from the planet Benetton!

Of course, Thomas Brewster would later return in The Crimes of Thomas Brewster, in which we learn that Connie, the love of Brewster’s life, has met an arbitrarily tragic fate. But that’s another story...