Under Three Hundred

The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Some Other Time

In the third of three little ooh-look-what-I-found-on-my-hard-drive glimpses into the writing of Doctor Who: Touched by an Angel, here are the two original pitches that became the story. Two? Yes, two. When I was invited to pitch novel ideas, I actually sent in five; below are ideas one and two. The third became The Curse of Davros, the fourth was utter nonsense and the fifth, I think, was a pretty strong idea which I still hope to use one day. But anyway, shortly after sending in the five ideas, I had a phone call from editor Justin Richards suggesting I put together a synopses, based on my first two pitches combined, but with the Weeping Angels as the monsters...

Spoilers lurk below so don’t read until you have bought and read the book in question!


Tone: Timey-wimey Sapphire & Steel extremely scary ghost story. Earth, 2011/1925.

You’re in a shop, and spot yourself on a closed-circuit surveillance screen. You see yourself, shot from above, in fuzzy black and white. 

There is something standing behind you. A shadowy, goblin-like creature, the size of a child but with an aged, gnarled face. You turn to look – but there’s nothing there. You look back at the screen – to see that the creature is still there, closer. Looking up at the monitor, looking directly at you, smiling mockingly. You turn again – there’s still nothing there. You look back at the screen – and the creature is perched on your back, as though about to bite.

The Doctor, Amy and Rory arrive in a deserted studio. Something terrible has happened. They discover that the studio was restoring some newly-discovered old footage; the very first television broadcast. But there was something else in that broadcast. A creature, trapped in a recording like a fly in amber. A creature with the ability to move from television to television through wires, tapes and broadcasts. A creature which is now part of a ‘live transmission’, so it can interact with, and kill, anyone who is appearing on a television screen it has access to.

It’s been removing people from existence, leaving them trapped inside video recordings. The Doctor and Amy examine the recordings. They spot the creature, then rewind it for a closer look, only to find it’s not there the second time. They free one of the technicians responsible, a man driven half-mad and terrified of ever being captured by a television camera.

The Doctor is determined to trap this creature again, but then Amy makes a discovery. One of the tapes features a recording of the three of them! The three of them are freed and say they are the Doctor, Amy and Rory’s future selves. Apparently at some point in the future they travel back in time to the invention of the television and end up trapped by the creature. So the Doctor, Amy and Rory have to work out whether the ‘new’ Doctor, Amy and Rory are their future selves – or sinister creations of the creature designed to trick them?

It’s the latter, of course. The duplicate Doctor not only frees the creature, but makes a copy of it, so there are now hundreds of them. It escapes into the outside world – meaning that anyone who is picked up by a closed-circuit surveillance camera is now under threat. Our heroes are trapped, because there’s hardly anywhere you can go without being spotted by a camera. 

How to defeat it? The clue lies in the fact that the creature made duplicates of the Doctor and co., meaning they must have been present at the time the creature was trapped. So they travel back in time to see this moment – and meet John Logie Baird. They also find out that the creature took its form from the first thing seen on television – a melted ventriloquist’s dummy, Stooky Bill. The second people to ever be seen on television are, of course, the Doctor, Amy and Rory.

As people turn on their televisions to see this creature in the background of BBC Breakfast and other shows... it’s up to the Doctor to defeat it by setting a trap in 1925 that will only be sprung in the year 2011.


Tone: Timey-wimey tear-jerking love story with alien robot mantises. Earth, 2011/1983/1999.

Harold Fletcher is obsessed with a mysterious figure from the latter half of the 20th century, a Mr McIntyre. There are four odd things about McIntyre. One, he appeared as though from nowhere in 1983. Two, he vanished in the year 1999. Three, he became extremely wealthy through numerous prescient investments, yet used his wealth to keep the fact of his wealth secret. And four – he looks exactly like Harold’s father. Or an older version of Harold himself.

Harold is in his early 50s and greatly misses his wife Jane, who died around the year 1999. 

In an archive on McIntyre, Harold discovers a folder of notes addressed to him, detailing how to find the Doctor... and to inform the Doctor of all his suspicions.

The Doctor is quick to realise the truth. McIntyre is not Harold’s father – he is Harold himself, who has somehow found a way to travel back in time to 1983. But how did he get back there? The Doctor, Amy and Rory head back to 1983 in the TARDIS to discover the answer – little realising they have a stowaway in the form of Harold.

Finding himself in his own past, Harold at first makes the mistake of trying to contact his earlier self/his parents – creating a brief temporal schism. The Doctor warns Harold of the consequences of changing his own past. But that doesn’t mean that Harold (as McIntyre) can’t leave himself notes, because he already has a folder full of such notes which means he has no choice but to do so – and these notes allow him to stay one step ahead of the Doctor.

Except we soon learn that it wasn’t Harold who left these notes for himself. The notes are, in fact, leading him into a trap. Because the temporal schism has attracted dreadful aliens that resemble man-sized robotic praying mantises. They are searching for an anachronistic Time Traveller. Why? Because they want a time paradox to be created, because the resulting energy is just the right sort of energy they need to survive. These are creatures that evolved during the time-war, feeding on temporal energy. They will stop at nothing to force Harold to change history – and have intercepted his notes-to-self and substituted them with their own.

The Doctor, Amy and Rory encounter these creatures and prevent them creating a paradox, but then they are blasted forward in time to the year 1999. There they see Harold/McIntyre, now as an old man. He is wealthy and has spent the intervening years quietly influencing the destiny of his younger self, Great Expectations-style, to make sure his younger self becomes obsessed by this mysterious ‘McIntyre’ figure and thus completes the time circuit.

However, Harold remembers that 1999 was the year his wife was killed – and he can’t resist the opportunity to save her life. But this will cause a paradox – which is precisely what the robotic mantises want to happen and just what the Doctor doesn’t want to happen. Can the Doctor to convince Harold to do the right thing? In the end they do, with Harold prepared to sacrifice his own life, and allowing his wife to die as before, in order to defeat the monsters.

But Harold doesn’t sacrifice his own life. The Doctor instead, as a reward, takes him back in time in the TARDIS to see his younger self meeting the girl who will become his wife for the first time. Harold even has the opportunity to speak to her, though she doesn’t know who he is. Then the Doctor deposits Harold back in the present day, 27-odd years older but wiser.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Touch A New Day

More stuff relating to my Doctor Who novel Touched by an Angel, available from all good booksellers and amazon. This time our saunter down memory avenue takes us back to October 2010, when I prepared a two-page synopsis of the story. It was based on a combination of two ideas I’d pitched (which I’ll share with you in my next blog). What’s interesting about it for me, looking back, are the bits which didn’t end up in the finished novel, or ended up different (I’m very glad I didn’t end up writing the ‘past’ stuff in 1991 rather than 1994)


Tone: Time-wimey extremely terrifying love-story. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll scream.

October, 2011. Since the death of his wife 8 years earlier, Harold Pearson (39), has lived a lonely life, working as a civil lawyer. A battered envelope arrives in the post. It’s from a man called Harry Marshall.... Harold investigates this Marshall person – he’s a shadowy figure who seems to have appeared without trace in the early 90s and vanished in 2003. A millionaire. Who bears a striking resemblance to Harold’s father.  
The only answer can be found by going back in time in the TARDIS to where Harold was sent back to – January, 1991. The baggy era! Having found himself in 1991, Harold is trying to fathom what has happened. He decides to visit his old home, meeting his parents (who died in the mid-1990’s) before going to his old university – where his 19-year-old younger self is about to meet his future wife, Chloe Hart.
In the laser quest zone, the Angels turn their powers on the Doctor and Amy – they quantum-lock our heroes, so they are unable to move if someone is looking at them, while the Angels, under strobe lights, are free to advance. Rory saves them, and finds that Angels are frightened by their own images, for fear of being caught in the glance of another Angel.

About two months later, the novel was officially commissioned, and one of the first things I had to was to write the back cover blurb (which meant that that part of the story, and the name of the love of Mark’s love, were figuratively set in stone). I also had to come up with ‘taglines’ for the front and quotes for the back (quotes from a book I hadn’t yet written, timey-wimey indeed)

Front Cover Tag:  

Whatever You Do... Don’t Look Behind You
It’s All Just A Little Bit Of History Repeating...
In The Wrong Place At The Wrong Time
In The Wrong Time At The Wrong Time


‘It’s not that you can’t change history. It’s that you really, really shouldn’t.’
‘What would you do, if you suddenly found yourself walking around in your own past?’
‘What would you do, if you suddenly found yourself walking around in 1991?’
‘The past is like a foreign country. Nice to visit, but you really wouldn’t want to live there.’

Monday, 14 April 2014

Avenging Angels


About a month ago, I did a signing at Forbidden Planet to coincide with the new edition of Doctor Who: Touched by an Angel being published. I didn’t mention it here at the time, but I plugged it repeatedly on twitter so you have no excuse. And what else can I say about the book? It’s still probably one of the best things I’ve ever written, certainly the best book, the story draws on my own life so is quite personal to me (and was cathartic to write) without ever being autobiographical (or anyone-else-ographical).

Anyway, you can find my original announcement about writing it here, the blog about it being published here (which includes a link to my fabulous Spotify soundtrack playlist) and there’s a deleted scene here. So today, inspired by the brouhaha about twenty years of Britpop, I thought I’d share with you my original notes for the novel.

As you’ll see, it’s more-or-less a list of contemporary references; not because I planned to include them all (though very nearly did, but wise heads who suffered the first draft told me to take them all out, thank you Matt Kimpton) but simply as triggers for my own memories, my own sense of what ‘then’ felt like at the time.

It also, of course, includes several ‘spoilers’ for the book, so don’t read it if you haven’t read the book yet (seriously, it’s been out for 3 years, in two different covers, on Kindle, on CD and in Italian, you have no excuse). And what’s interesting for me, if for no-one else, is all the bits that got changed or omitted along the way (i.e. one of their university friends coming out as gay, another one committing suicide, an appearance by the Angels on Bonfire night ). But the main thing is that in making these notes, it really helped me get to the heart of the characters and put flesh on the bones (sorry about the metaphor crunch); it was incredibly useful for me to write stuff knowing what was going on ‘outside’ of the books remit, both in the world and in the characters’ lives. I recommend it, as an approach.  Anyway, here goes:

Mark Jason Whitaker (born 23 November 1973) and Rebecca Annabel Jones (born 12 August 1974)

1993 May – So Young

Meet at Warwick University, Labour club, mutual friends party, hall of residence. Mark is going out with Sophie Kendall, Rebecca is going out with Dennis McCormack (and called Bex).  Get on really well, each pretends to be single when they both have significant others. Become friends. Dennis possessive, patronising, Sophie jealous, insecure. Bars at WU: Mandela’s Bar, Harvey’s Diner, Loxley in Westwood, Wayne’s World II, Tocil Lake, Saturday whip-round, The Airport Bar, computer rooms near library, Warwick Boar newspaper. Echobelly playing at Saturday whip-round, going to be bigger than Suede or Blur; Oasis played there the previous year, Sophie didn’t think much of them.
Events: FA Cup Final replay, 19 May, Arsenal 2 Sheffield Wednesday 1
Newbury by-election, Norman Lamont ‘Je Ne Regrette Rien’, unemployment 2.9million
Death of Charlotte Hughes. John Major prime minister. Sonia Better The Devil You Know Eurovision party. Adverts Reebok, Hale & Pace Clorets, Weetabix Robin Hood,Tango, Lion Bars, Wayne’s World video, Heineken. Boddingtons.
Shop at Safeway, Kwik Save. Usenet email internet.
Films: Groundhog Day, Indecent Proposal. TV: Press Gang, Men Behaving Badly, The Chart Show, Spitting Image, Going Live. Computer game Sega Megadrive. Mr Blobby. Tongue/lip studs. Shaved patterns on heads. Paintball. Chris Evans on The Big Breakfast. Steve Coogan. Jonathan Ross’ Saturday Zoo.
Other hits: Spin Doctors Two Princes, New Order Regret, REM Everybody Hurts, UB40 I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You

1994 June – Don’t Turn Around

Club-night, Friday. Mark living with Sophie, Rebecca (now single), Rajeed and Lucy Fisher. House in Leamington Spa, student digs, terraced house. Night out clubbing at the students’ union, rave music. Marketplace. Mark falls out with Sophie, walks home with Rebecca through campus to get night bus. Drunken kiss. Future Mark comes back, this is first time he sees them, earlier self, Angels in the club and on the campus. Both still in Labour club, have been on demos, also go to gigs together.
Reading Trainspotting, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Yellow pages advert JR Hartley. Michael Barrymore live. Bodum coffee makers. Levis shrink to fit. Olde English Cider.  Portable CD player top present. Films: Four Weddings And A Funeral, The Hudsucker Proxy, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective
TV Brookside Beth Jordach, The Day Today, The High Life, Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush, X-Files Adverts for National Lottery. Wonder Bra. Magic eye pictures. Fridge writing. Cilla Black. Michael Barrymore. Smell Of Reeves And Mortimer. Run up to European elections, after John Smith’s death, Tony Blair, John Prescott leadership election.
Other hits: Let Loose Crazy For You, Grid Swamp Thing, Wet Wet Wet Love Is All Around, Dawn Penn You Don’t Love Me (No No No)

1995 April – Back For Good

Mark still with Sophie, falling out, Rebecca now with Anthony, final year, exams, Lucy now with Jane, lesbian couple. Anthony rugby type, glowing red, cheeks, public school. Mark now in love with Rebecca, Sophie jealous about this, Mark has to deny it, he talks to Rebecca (now called Becky) about his problems with Sophie, just mates, best mates, asks her advice.
Kenny Everett dies of AIDS. Oklahoma city bombing. Adverts Organics, Chicken Tonight, Dime Bars with Harry Enfield. Ferrero Rocher. Cellnet. Reading Virgin Suicides. Internet yahoo, ebay, amazon. Films: Outbreak. TV A Bit Of Fry And Laurie (final series) Supermarket Sweep, Friends, Roseanne, Fast Show. Army surplus clothes, combat boots. Chris Evans morning show Radio 1.
Other songs: East 17 Let It Rain, Boo Radleys Wake Up Boo!, Corona Baby Baby

1996 February – Don’t Look Back In Anger

Wintry weather, living in Coventry, Mark splits up with Sophie at last, she’s already started going out with someone called Daniel. Mark working in telesales/data entry, having graduated, Rebecca doing a Phd in Ancient History (or Rubble).  She’s still with Anthony, not working out, they sleep together, when drunk, Rebecca the next morning says she’s with Anthony, doesn’t want to hurt him, pretend it never happened.
Reading High Fidelity. Docklands bomb DLR. British rail privatisation. Scott Report - Arms to Iraq inquiry – Matrix Churchill. Take That announce split. Diana and Charles announce divorce. Eurostar break down. Deep Blue beats Kasparov. Adverts Eurostar. Eurotrash presenter guy Antoine Des Caunes. Crunchy Nut cornflakes. Mobile phones everywhere from now on. Mercury Phones. Hooch popular from now. Film: 12 Monkeys TV Our Friends In The North, Ballykissangel, TFI Friday, Frasier, Game Sony Playstation, Father Ted, Alcopops, Stack trainers, Floppy White Hats, Inflatable chairs. Eddie Izzard. Mark & Lard in the afternoon. Zoe Ball.
Other songs: Lighthouse Family Lifted, Joan Osborne One Of Us, Robert Miles Children

1997 December – Angels

Run up to Xmas, Mark working in administration for Housing Association in Coventry, Rebecca away, Mark now with another girl, Kathy, not really working out. Depressed, is this all life is, but then his future self starts helping him out and improving his life (somehow!). Bumps into Rebecca in the shops, she’s now engaged to Anthony, congratulations, going away for Christmas, Mark going back to his parents, his dad’s not well, might have to spend Christmas in hospital, difficult time.
Britannia decommissioned. Reading Bridget Jones Diary. Kyoto protocol. Adverts Royal Mail. Megane Classic.  Allied Dunbar. Churchill Insurance. Carphone warehouse. Sony Minidisc. Internet websites start taking off. Reading Island of The Day Before Umberto Eco. Film posters: Titanic, Tomorrow Never Dies, in cinema Bean, Good Will Hunting. TV Robot Wars, Channel 5 first year, Fifteen To One, World In Action, This Morning With Richard And Judy, Computer Game Tomb Raider, Nintendo 64, Teletubbies, Henna tattoos, black-rimmed spectacles, mini rucksack bags. Tamagotchi, laser pens. Lily Savage, Jack Dee.
Other songs: Spice Girls Too Much, All Saints Never Ever, Teletubbies Say Eh-Oh!

1998 August – Perfect Ten

Rebecca and Anthony have split up shortly before going on holiday to Rome together, so Mark, who split up with Kathy back in February, around the same time as his father’s death, agrees to go with her. They’re sharing a room, visiting sights, doing the tourist thing, platonic. Future benefactor still helping him out, wallet stolen by Trevi Fountain, finds another, Angels in the Capitoline Museum, late evening, they see the sun setting over the forum, remark that for the first time both of us are single, shall we fix that? Kiss, fall in love, this is the moment their story begins. Rebecca is now called Rebecca.
News: Iraq disarmament UNSCOM teams; Monica Lewinsky Bill Clinton news breaks. Improper physical relationship. Opal fruits become Starburst. Internet Google starts. Reading The Beach, reading What A Carve Up by Jonathan Coe. Film: The Truman Show, There’s Something About Mary TV So Graham Norton, Time Team, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, South Park, Ally McBeal, Harry Enfield, Zoe Ball in mornings.
Other songs: Boyzone No Matter What, Stardust Music Sounds Better With You, Corrs What Can I Do

1999 November – Love’s Got A Hold On My Heart

Mark and Rebecca moving in together in flat in Kensal Rise, North London. Still very much in love. Renting a place near the station. Saving up for a wedding. All very stressful, moving house, but they’re okay, not falling out. Fireworks night. Angels visible on the street, in adjoining garden. Millennium approaching.
Gary Glitter in news. London eye in position. Christmas present, first three Harry Potter books. Mars probes lost. Adverts Woolworths. C & A. Cocopops. Barclaycard.Vodafone. Sony camcorder. Natwest. Kit Kat chunky introduced. Reading Underworld by Don DeLillo: Films: Fight Club, The World Is Not Enough, posters Sleepy Hollow, Stuart Little. TV Walking With Dinosaurs, Cold Feet, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, Can’t Cook Won’t Cook, Sex And The City, Pokemon, Folding scooters, Red Bull, text messaging, Bill Bailey, Ali G.
Other songs: Len Steal My Sunshine, Melanie C Northern Star, William Orbit Barber’s Adagio For Strings

2000 November – One More Time

Mark and Rebecca’s wedding in a church in a village near Chichester, where Rebecca’s parents live. Friends from university include Rajeed, Lucy and Jane, Dennis McCormack (now gay) plus other work friends of Mark’s, now working for a solicitor’s office (thanks to future self) and earning enough for a mortgage. Mark misses father, his mother is there, alone, plus siblings. The angels attack etc. during the reception in a marquee in Rebecca’s house – her dad’s the vicar, they live in the vicarage, a house with massive lawn etc. Rebecca now working for academic publishing firm based in Camden.
Michael Douglas marries Catherine Zeta-Jones. Raid on diamond at Millennium Dome. Adverts Budweiser Frogs, have a say in London Mayor. One2One. Direct Line. Wassup advert. Northern Lights by Philip Pullman. Cinema Meet The Parents, Bedazzled, Charlie’s Angels. TV BBC Breakfast starts, BBC News at Ten, Family Guy, Spongebob Squarepants, The West Wing, Ant & Dec.
Other songs: Madonna Don’t Tell Me, Toploader Dancin’ In The Moonlight, Coldplay Trouble

2001 May – Don’t Stop Moving

Where Mark works, there’s a fire, and he’s caught in the blaze, after helping one of the older partners. They’re trapped together, with the Angels outside – visible to Rebecca – and the fire engine arrives. Future Mark has arranged a way of helping his former self, he loses consciousness, the Doctor and company help him escape in the TARDIS after he’s knocked out. Angels in the building whilst it is on fire, waiting for a paradox. Future Mark’s folder is destroyed in the blaze.
John Prescott punches a protestor for throwing egg, end of foot and mouth crisis.  Reading Timeline by Michael Crichton. Films Bridget Jones Diary, posters for The Mummy Returns and Shrek. Gets a DVD player for the first time. TV At Home With The Braithwaites, Big Brother, The Weakest Link, I Love The 80s. Frank Skinner. Sara Cox.
Other songs: Geri Halliwell It’s Raining Men, MOP Cold As Ice, Sugababes Run For Cover

2002 April – Fell In Love With A Girl

Mark and Rebecca still good, Mark’s doing extremely well in his job, looking at buying a place, Rebecca’s now got a lecturing job at UCL, thinking of children, trying but no luck yet, Lucy and Jane have adopted a baby, Dennis has settled down, Rajeed killed himself around Christmas, drinking problem. Apart from that, all very positive, though Mark has had an affair at work, complicated. Rebecca has been in a road accident, knocked over by a taxi, broken shoulder bone, otherwise fine, Mark worried about her crossing the road.
Queen mother’s funeral. Ipods launched. Reading Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman. Film Ice Age, ET re-release, The Time Machine. TV Footballer’s Wives, The Office, 24, Alias, What Not To Wear, Peter Kay, V Graham Norton. Digital radio.
Other songs: Travis Flowers In The Window, Will Young Evergreen, Natalia Imbruglia Wrong Impression

2003 April – Out Of Time

Mark and Rebecca still trying, no luck, have moved and have bought a place in Crystal Palace. Mark is at home, working, while Rebecca is visiting her parents in the village near Chichester. Dropping hints about grandchildren, Mark has ended affair, nothing really happened, Rebecca has been having bad headaches, undiagnosed... and driving home one night, she is killed in a road accident, head-on collision with a lorry. Funeral the following week.
Gulf war – Saddam Hussein’s statue toppled, Baghdad captured, British forces take Basra. Human genome completed. Film Bend It Like Beckham. TV The Osbornes, Spooks, Top Gear, Harry Hill’s TV Burp
Other songs: Christina Aguilera Beautiful; Busted Year 3000; Blue You Make Me Wanna 

2011 July – No title

Mark is now a partner of the legal firm, thrown himself into his legal work, doesn’t quite make connections with women, has been on dates but no luck, still friends with Rebecca’s family, move on say his friends – Sophie is back in Mark’s life, she’s divorced, but there’s nothing there. Few friends, still hasn’t got over the shock, still misses Rebecca every day, thought it would get easier, living on his own in a flat in Honor Oak Park overlooking London, looking towards centre of town, Shard etc. People tell me it’s been eight years... it doesn’t feel like eight years. Has a photo of her on his desk, talks about her in the present tense, bit young for you, this was taken a while ago, oh I get it, my wife’s the same, once they get that ring on their finger they let themselves go. Gets a Chinese takeaway. Still in contact with Rebecca’s parents and younger sister Claire.
Newsreaders – check as and when.

Tomorrow I'll post a few other bits and pieces from the early stages.