Under Three Hundred

The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Monday, 9 September 2019

Infinitely Late At Night

My Rose Tyler: Dimension Cannon story, The Endless Night, has just been released by Big Finish productions. It’s the first story in a box set of four stories, concerning Rose’s adventures as she hops from parallel universe to parallel universe to locate the Doctor (leading up to her finally reaching the right universe in the TV story Partners in Crime). So in a way we know how the quest ended... but, of course, finding the right needle in an infinite haystack can’t have been straightforward, plus there is the question of how Rose came to realise that Donna Noble was of multi-dimensional significance...

I’ve previously blogged about the story here. The process of writing it has already half-faded into the mists of time, which is lovely for me because it means that when I listen to it, it will be like listening to something new and I’ll get to laugh at my own jokes all over again.

My main memory is that I tied myself in geographical knots trying to make it all work, as Russell T Davies’s decision to put Clive’s house in Stoke Newington in the novelisation of Rose had a kind of knock-on effect for everything in my story. There was a lot of ‘Well, if x lives there, then y will have to live there, so that they will have to pass through z’ and so on. Important to get these things right!

There are all sorts of other subtle references and little nods to things in there. I was particularly proud to include an international TV News montage, as no Russell T Davies story is complete without one!

As you might expect, I’m desperately excited to hear the finished product (the trailer here is all clips taken from my story). My story, and the others in the box set, appear to have gone down extremely well so far. So please give it alisten, and if you enjoy it, please ascend to your nearest rooftop and shout it out.

Monday, 2 September 2019

Paperback Writer

In memory of Terrance Dicks. The following is an excerpt from an article written in 2016  for a charity book that has yet to see the light of day. If the book ever gets a release date, I'll delete this article. Consider it a sneak preview.

About a dozen years ago I was at a party somewhere in London, celebrating something to do with Doctor Who. I can’t remember precisely what it was but I celebrated it heartily, drinking until I was very much in that state where the interval between ‘thinking of things to say’ and ‘saying them’ is no interval at all. I remember that Paul Cornell was there with the legendary Terrance Dicks, and he was asking people to talk to Terrance because he was feeling a bit left out. The problem was, everyone was far too intimidated to approach him because although Terrance is a very approachable person he is also, to a generation of Doctor Who fans, something of a God. When somebody is responsible for making you fall in love with literature, of turning you into a voracious bookworm, it’s quite hard to think of what to say to them. When you’re a small child, the names of authors on book covers are burned into the core of your being, you don’t imagine them ever being real people you might get to meet in a pub. Terrance Dicks is one such name, up there with Roald Dahl, Enid Blyton and CS Lewis. His name just transports me back to childhood when I would sit absorbed in his books for hours, re-reading them again and again, my imagination running wild, filling my mind with the stories. Taking them into my heart.

But there Terrance Dicks was, an embodiment of the contradiction in terms that is a ‘living legend’, and he was feeling a bit left out. And so, emboldened by alcohol, I approached him with some other fans – we may have formed a ‘throng’ – and struggled to think of anything to say. For all of us it was a very awkward social situation to be in – and these are people for whom any social situation is very awkward – because all the normal conversational gambits, ‘Hello’, ‘So what do you do?’ ‘How do you know Tom?’ all seem absurd, because this is Terrance Dicks you’re talking to, the name from your childhood, not a stranger.

So instead – this is why I mentioned the alcohol earlier – we just asked him questions about Doctor Who. He took it in good spirits, he knew we were all fans, we all knew he was Terrance bloody Dicks, there was no point in dancing around it and trying to be grown-up and professional. I think, actually, he found it rather flattering. And when it came to my turn, so I asked him the question I have always wanted to ask him, which was; “You know the bit with the chessboard in The Five Doctors, where the secret to how to cross it has something to do with pi? Well – how does that work, exactly?”

His reply was typically concise, consisting of five words: “I”, “have”, “no”, a word that I’m sure you will be able to fill in yourself, and “idea”. He went on to explain that he’d just made it up as a puzzle that the Doctor and the Master would be able to work out, and that it was probably too complicated for mere mortals to understand.

Anyway, having broken the conversational ice, I suddenly found myself talking to Terrance Dicks. Or at least, he was staring at me, as though to say “Is that it or do you have any more?” So I had to rack my brains for another thing to ask him. My brains came back empty, which is how I ended up asking him:

“You know, Terrance, when you were writing the Doctor Who books in the late 70s, do you ever wish that you had been given more time to do them?”

“No, not really, I felt I always had enough time -”

“No, I mean, that you were limited, in the number of pages that you had to tell the story, that you couldn’t do a better job –”

Terrance was now looking at me with great amusement. “A better job?”

“I mean, no, the books were still great, but with say, Doctor Who and the Image of the Fendahl, don’t you wish that if you’d had more pages you could’ve done more with it –“

“You know,” said Terrance. “Nobody ever mentions Doctor Who and the Image of the Fendahl. I remember thinking I did a really good job with that, that it was one of my best ones.”

“No, I mean, I enjoyed it too, but -” And then I ground to a halt. The other fans in the throng – which may have included Paul Cornell and Steven Moffat, amongst others – were shaking with laughter as they had watched me break the conversational ice and plunge into the frozen lake below. 

“I think maybe you should stop digging,” said Paul, throwing me a lifebelt. 

And that is the story of the first time I met Terrance Dicks.

I’m sorry if I was rude to you, Terrance. But on other hand, you gave me something that you’ve given countless readers over the past forty years. You gave me a good story.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Stories of Old

Last week (I am never up-to-date with my updates) there was a new Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition, devoted to the novelisations published by Target Books in the 1970s and 1980s. My contribution to this, quite frankly, wonderful publication was an introduction. In the space of 3000 words I had to give a potted history of the books and explain their appeal. Obviously both subjects could easily merit much more detailed and comprehensive articles, but such articles have already appeared elsewhere so, for this, I decided to include a few personal memories (as examples of how all Doctor Who fans of a certain vintage associate the books with moments in their childhood), and dedicated a chunk of my wordcount to stuff which hasn’t really been covered elsewhere; the books’ literary style, and how their content shifted over the decades from writing novelisations for ‘casual viewers’, kids who watched Doctor Who on telly who might need the basics introduced to them, to ‘dedicated fans’ who wanted accurate novelisations of old adventures they didn’t have on video and expanded novelisations of the recent adventures they did have on video. Thinking about it now, that is best illustrated by the shift from the books having ‘Doctor Who and the’ titles to having ‘Doctor Who hyphen The Title of the Story’ titles. I wish I’d thought of that when I was writing the article! (There’s also a gradual shift from having child-enticing covers in the 1970s showcasing the monsters to fan-accommodating covers in the 1980s consisting of photo-referenced heads floating in a vortex). 

I also included a box-out on something else which has never really been brought up, which is how the Doctor Who novelisations fitted into the history of novelisations as a sub-genre. Because when they started, there were a few other novelisations of shows like Timeslip already on the shelves, and then later, as you move into the late 1970s and the 1980s, there’s a whole load of books offering new stories and novelisations of TV series, from sitcoms like The Good Life and to Porridge to Grange Hill and EastEnders. I mean, one overlooked thing about the Doctor Who novelisations shift to ‘photographic’ covers in the early 1980s meant that they were being brought into line with the other TV tie-ins being published at the same time. Plus that was the era of novelisations of Hollywood movies, just before video recorders came in and rendered the whole idea moot. 

Sadly I didn’t have room for all that, or to go into detail about the dull and complicated history of the hardback editions, or to mention the amusing misprint in Doctor Who – Delta and the Bannermen. However, I still found plenty to say, and all the other aspects of the novelisations – their covers, how the differ from the TV stories, plus the Discovers books and other spin-offs are all covered elsewhere in the magazine. Only £6.99, available from all good newsagents!