Under Three Hundred

The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Monday, 25 May 2020

Monster Love

The last couple of months have been rather stressful, so of course updating this blog has taken a back seat and been left on the back burner, which has now set fire to the back seat which just demonstrates the dangers of mixing metaphors. Stay safe, people!


Anyway. News. One of the things I’ve been working on over the past couple of months has been Doctor Who: The Monster Vault. It is, I can say without fear of exaggeration, going to be amazing. Yes, there have been Doctor Who monster books before – all the way back to Terrance Dicks’ first one, back in 1975, which was probably responsible for me becoming a Doctor Who fan – so the whole raison d’ĂȘtre has been to make this one different, exceptional, and the best one ever.

Nearer the time I’ll write about how I went about researching the various entries for the monsters but, of course, if you know me you’ll know that I never leave any stone unturned in terms of finding out new facts and in coming up with mad new theories that fit all the facts we are told on screen.

I promise you, you will laugh. You will be amazed. You will doubt for my sanity. 


The illustrations are also – oh, I can hardly wait for you to see them. Everyone is joyous and a thrill. This book will warm the hearts of any Doctor Who fan. It will, I hope, be their go-to cheer-up book, just as The Doctor Who Monster Book was for me, all those years ago.

It’s out on the 22nd October. You can pre-order it here.

In other news, I’m sure you haven’t forgotten to pick up the latest edition of Doctor Who Magazine with the latest instalment of The Blogs of Doom. I’ve done 32 now! And they hoped it wouldn’t last!

Saturday, 11 April 2020

Start Again

To commemorate tonight's 'Lockdown Doctor Who' communal viewing of The Doctor’s Wife, here's an item from the vaults – my Doctor Who story that was cancelled because it was too similar to The Doctor’s Wife.

Tiny bit of background. In 2009 I was asked to write the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip, to coincide with Matt Smith being introduced as the new Doctor. Now, I had some very strong ideas about what to do with the comic strip, one of them being that it should tell the same sort of stories that Steven Moffat would be telling on television. It would also have an arc, about the TARDIS absorbing various life forms across its travels.


So in early 2010 I sent off my plan for what would be the finale of the arc, which you can see below; DWM comic strip editor Scott Gray suggested the idea of making Chiyoko the child of the mutated TARDIS, which I was happy to include. And for the next six months I wrote the first three stories – Supernature, Planet Bollywood and The Golden Ones based on the arc we had worked out.

And then in August, I received an email for Scott saying that he’d just read the script for Neil Gaiman’s upcoming story and it was far too similar to mine – even insofar as having the TARDIS turn into a pretty young woman!

Anyway, I went away and came up with a different ending to the arc, which now formed the basis of two stories, Apotheosis and The Child of Time. Which turned out very well, and The Doctor's Wife was marvellous too, so I have nothing to be cross about.

But I was a bit annoyed, back in August 2010. Entirely my own fault, of course, for trying to tell stories like the ones they’d be doing on television...


COMIC STRIP “ARC” PLAN

At the end of story 1 – The Plague of Paradise, although neither the reader nor the Doctor knows it yet, the TARDIS has been subtly altered by the events on that planet. It has absorbed some of the local wildlife... and is beginning to ‘evolve’.

Over the next year or so – with each adventure, the TARDIS continues to assimilate more life forms into itself, and with each new life form, it changes its nature, becoming more sentient, a living, breathing creature. Added to the mix are some villains and monsters – possibly the Axons! – affecting the way the TARDIS operates. It is growing restless, savage, resentful... and hungry.

Final story – By now the Doctor has realised there is something strange afflicting the TARDIS. It is no longer following his instructions and has instead developed an independent persona of its own. In order to run a diagnostic, the Doctor lands the TARDIS inside itself – only for the Police Box exterior to turn into a monster, with windows for eyes and the door transformed into a mouth!

The TARDIS proceeds to consume itself – creating within its interior a whole world out of all the places it has visited, populated with every life form it has absorbed. Jungles and cities, all inside the TARDIS, all knotted up impossibly in four dimensions. The Doctor and Amy have to fight their way through this surreal labyrinth in order to restore the TARDIS to health and rid it of all the various parasites and mutations it has picked up; it becomes a fight between the psyche of the healthy TARDIS and the psyche of the diseased TARDIS.

The whole story takes place within the confines of the TARDIS, a nightmare kingdom representing its mental landscape. At the end, of course, the Doctor cures the TARDIS and returns it to normal, with all the malignant elements safely ejected into the time vortex.

Additional idea for the story, March 2010:

The other idea I had for the story (well, it's quite a way away, I'm taking my time!) was that the inside of the TARDIS would contain a city, like Bruegel's depiction of the Tower of Babel being constructed, where all the outer walls are Police Box panels and where all the inner sections resemble the TARDIS interior, the console room and so on. That would be all part of the 'inside the corrupted TARDIS' story.

(I later used this idea in 'Prisoners of Fate'!)

Monday, 30 March 2020

Starry Eyed

To commemorate tonight's 'Lockdown Doctor Who' communal viewing of Vincent and the Doctor, here's an appreciation of the story I wrote for Doctor Who Magazine back in 2017, as part of an article listing 20 Amazing Things About Steven Moffat's Doctor Who. The issue is still available digitally, very cheaply, from Pocket Mags and I blogged about it previously here.



VINCENT AND THE DOCTOR

A very simple idea lies at the heart of Vincent and the Doctor. Anyone who has ever lost someone in tragic circumstances, particularly where they have taken their own life, or gone suddenly and too soon, will find themselves feeling that a terrible injustice has been perpetrated. It just seems so monstrously unfair that they should die without knowing how much they were loved. And in that situation, you can’t helping thinking that if only they had known then maybe things would have been different.

That’s why Vincent and the Doctor is so powerful and moving. It’s about that desire to put things right. It’s a blatant piece of wish-fulfilment from its writer Richard Curtis, who has made a whole career based on wish-fulfilment of one kind or another. With Vincent Van Gogh he chose the perfect subject, because of the immense gulf between how lowly he was regarded when he lived, how much he suffered, and how highly he is now regarded. It’s all beautifully expressed the scene where Vincent hears that he is regarded not only as the greatest artist who ever lived but also as one of the greatest men.


Yet it doesn’t change anything. He still kills himself. The story gives us the wish-fulfilment of ‘If only they had known’ and shows us that it wouldn’t have solved Vincent’s mental illness, that it is, sadly, not so easily overcome. But it’s a story anyone can relate to; just as Amy wants to see all the paintings Vincent would have gone on to paint, fans of John Lennon and Kurt Cobain, for example, want to hear all the songs they would have written. And anyone who has lost someone will regret that that person will now miss out on so much; they will never get to meet new-born nephews or grandchildren, they will never share another Christmas, they will never get to watch new episodes of Doctor Who that they would have loved. They will never know how much they were loved.

But this article is supposed to be about Steven Moffat. Because he didn’t write it, because parts of it are so Richard Curtis-y that you can imagine somebody going on to say “...because love actually is all around”, you could perhaps be forgiven for underestimating Steven’s contribution. But even when his name isn’t in the title sequence of an episode, Steven’s ideas and sensibilities will have shaped that episode every step of the way; from deciding which writer to hire, maybe giving them an idea for a story or deciding which of their ideas to take forward; giving notes on every outline and draft; sometimes even writing the final draft. Vincent and the Doctor is pretty much all Richard Curtis, but even then, there are odd moments – the scenes addressing the ongoing ‘arc’ of Amy forgetting Rory – that sound like Steven Moffat. Maybe they were, maybe they weren’t, maybe we will never know. And even once the script is finished, Steven’s influence doesn’t end there, in fact his influence is greater, as he gives notes on every edit of the story. In collaboration with the writer, the director, the producers and executive producers, yes, but as show-runner he has the ultimate responsibility.

And Vincent and the Doctor is a case in point, because there was so much material shot for it and the first assembly of the episode was so over-length, that the story was effectively given an extra rewrite (or at least heavily script-edited) in the edit suite. Somebody took the decision to excise a subplot about the Krafayis being a monster from the Doctor’s childhood and a subplot about the dead girl’s mother and instead to focus on Vincent’s mental illness, and that somebody would have been Steven Moffat.

In short; great stories don’t just happen by accident. They happen because the guy in charge knows a great story when he sees one.