The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Sunday, 31 May 2009


Watched an ITV documentary about politically incorrect television comedy from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. It was well-intentioned, but lacked any original research or insight. I’m not sure contemporary comedians and actors are particularly well-placed to discuss sociological developments. Instead, we got a load of ‘received wisdoms’ and wikipedia-level facts (is there anybody left on the planet who doesn’t know that ‘Allo ‘Allo was inspired by Secret Army?)

But, by damning old sitcoms for being ‘politically incorrect’ (a nebulous catch-all term which the documentary never bothered to define but which might as well mean ‘as it is doie now’) it was missing a basic point. Which is this:

All sitcoms are about people who are behaving in a way which is unacceptable. That’s what makes them funny. They are about the ‘gap’ between what-people-should-be-like and what-people-are-actually-like; whether that ‘gap’ be in terms of class, gender, age, generation, a position in a family or workplace, or even between somebody’s inner thoughts and their public actions. Sitcom isn’t about creating role-models. It’s about creating profoundly flawed characters who are likeable. We sympathise with their predicament (the sit) but laugh as their flaws lead them to failure (the com). There isn’t any humour in nice people being pleasant to each other (even Friends is about six of the most neurotic and selfish people you could ever meet.)

Which is why the idea that there is something wrong about depicting racist characters is flawed. Since when did sitcom have a responsiblity to shape attitudes? If it does have that responsibility, the only way it can do so is by mocking outdated or unacceptable opinions.

That said, is there any way in which Mr Humphreys was a negative depiction of homosexuality? A few words from someone who puts it better than me.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Where's Captain Kirk?

I’ve never quite managed to be a Star Trek fan. My problem is this. I love the early stories, where they ‘seek out new worlds and civilisation’ – basically, the stories from the original show where they visit a new planet, answer a distress call or encounter something sinister and blurry in space are the good ones. But I can’t abide the stories where they’re not ‘boldly going’ – when they’re running errands for the bloody Federation, going on diplomatic missions, or falling out with the Klingons, the Romulans or those unlikely-looking blue fellas.

Which is my problem with the 80’s and 90’s Star Treks. Apart from a few stories with the Borg where it looked like the people making it might possibly have a clue what they were doing, it was all about them dealing with relatives coming aboard, or Data learning what it is to be human, or playing Sherlock Holmes on the holodeck, or discussing their problems with Whoopi Goldberg in the space bar, with every episode ending not in a dramatic climax but in a tedium of geekobabble. And, where the original show had strong, well-defined and flawed characters, all the latter series’ characters were just a list of Starfleet Qualifications and were about as exciting as a school trip to see how cardboard is made. For me, you see, Star Trek is action adventure.

Which, brilliantly, the new film got right. It’s surprisingly exciting. It’s a little bit disconcerting to have some of the old characters played by good actors for a change – and to have Scotty played with a proper Scottish accent. Okay, so there’s a massively convenient plot co-incidence at the half-way point but it actually does what your man says it’ll do during the opening titles.

J J Abrams has fixed Star Trek.

Friday, 29 May 2009


Went to see the one-man show Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf by Toby Hadoke last night (other bloggists in attendance were Alex and Simon). He’s only been touring it around the world for about four years so I thought it was finally about time I checked it out. Thoughts.

It’s slightly unnerving to watch a show which so closely corresponds to your own personal experiences. I’m a similar age to Toby, we had similar childhoods, similar formative girlfriend encounters and we certainly watched a great many of the same television programmes during the 1970’s. It could’ve been me up there but I wouldn’t have been anywhere nearly as entertaining.

As an example; at one point in the show Toby launches into the familiar fan rant that the character’s name is the Doctor, and not Doctor Who. To Doctor Who fans, calling the character Doctor Who is like going up to a Star Trek fan and saying that your favourite character is Doctor Spock. It's that wrong. And yet, as Toby delivered this rant, I couldn’t help thinking, ‘ah, but in episode two of The War Machines several characters refer to the Doctor as Doctor Who...’

My mental pedantry was interrupted as Toby said, ‘Except in episode two of The War Machines where several characters refer to the Doctor as Doctor Who...’

That’s how exactly the show mirrored my own thought processes.

It was brilliantly funny, and when I wasn’t laughing I was grinning, until the end when Toby’s story became unexpectedly moving. I didn’t cry, just as I didn’t cry at the end of School Reunion either, oh no.

My only criticism is that the show wasn’t long enough. I want to hear more stories. I want more background detail. I think there might be a book in it.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

History Repeating

Went to see Arcadia by Tom Stoppard at the Duke Of York’s last night. Thoughts.

The play’s very self-consciously ‘intellectual’, wearing its learning and thematic complexity on its sleeve. It’s about chaos theory, romanticism, trivia-obsessed literary historians and gardening. Which is all very fascinating. Less fascinating is that it’s also about some people in the early eighteenth century talking about all this and another group of people in the twentieth century talking about all this. So obsessed is it with its own ingenuity there’s very little actual drama, giving the actors very little to do except attempt to make lectures on the second law of Thermodynamics sound spontaneous.

The multitude of themes don’t really mesh together – they’re explored intelligently, but you’d expect comparisons and contrasts to be drawn, you’d hope each idea would be used to reflect light onto the others. Instead, you’re left thinking that all that Lord Byron has to do with iterative algorithms is that Tom Stoppard decided to put them in the same play. It’s a jigsaw puzzle – but one which only adds to the sum of the parts and which ends up looking like a dozen different jigsaws glued together.

Most of the actors did a fine job, if lacking in confidence, though one or two had clearly read the blurb about the play being a ‘comedy’ and were treating it as such, even though, for me, the comedic lines were just another element thrown into the mix for the sake of clever-cleverness. The science bits were also frustrating, from a Maths perspective, as they were all Entry-Level – not inaccurate, but only remotely impressive to people who don’t know all this stuff already.

Still, Jonny goes to an opening night! Tom Stoppard was there! In the bar, some critics were giving it two weeks.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

I Heard It Through The Grapevine

Please start playing the embedded video below before reading the following lyrics:

Ooh, I bet you’re wondering how I knew
‘bout your plans to make me blue
With some other guy you knew before
Between the two of us guys you know I love you more
It took me by surprise I must say
When I found out yesterday
Don’t you know that...

I heard it through the facebook
You were ‘tagged’ so I had to look
At a photo that somebody took
At a party and it left me shook
Honey, honey, yeah

I know a man ain’t supposed to cry
But your status ain’t something I ‘Like’
I scored full marks on your ‘How well do you know?’
And that was just ‘about an hour ago’.
It don’t know why you couldn’t have waited
To change your ‘relationship’ to ‘it’s complicated’

I heard it through the facebook
You were ‘tagged’ so I had to look
At a photo that somebody took
At a party of you in a nook
Honey, honey, yeah

People say believe half of what you see
But I can’t see you ‘cause you’ve ‘blocked’ me
Now I don’t know what you’re up to
Or ‘Which Friends character are you?’
I can’t even try to beat your score
Cos we don’t play Scrabble any more
Don’t you know...

I heard it through the facebook
You were ‘tagged’ so I had to look
At a photo that somebody took
Of you laughing as you cocked a snook
Honey, honey, yeah

Honey honey, I know,
Your top five children’s TV shows...

Oh, I heard it through the facebook...

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Save The World

RIP Simon Oates. Best known, in this house, for playing the character of John Ridge in the early 70’s TV show Doomwatch. According to reports he was 77 – which means he was an incredibly-youthful-looking 38 when the show was first broadcast. I’d’ve had him down as being in his late 20’s.

Doomwatch was a drama series about a government agency assigned to investigate scientific naughtiness – anything from viruses which bring down planes by eating through plastic insulation, to more prosaic threats such as sonic booms, subliminal advertising and, er, jetlag. It started out as a gripping, zeitgeist-surfing drama (albeit one with a shocking level of misogyny, even for the early 70’s)... before, due to budget cuts and a falling-out between the writers (Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis) and the producer (Terence 'Deadly Dull' Dudley) it transformed into a rather dry drama about the mechanics of the civil service.

Sadly the BBC didn’t bother keeping most of it. All that remains is about half of the first series, 3 episodes from the third, and all of the second, but in awful NTSC-conversion blur-o-vision. This is particularly annoying that this means I’ll never see the episode from season 3 which dealt with the consequences of global warming (Flood) or the episodes which dealt with John Ridge’s mental breakdown as a result of lead poisoning from petrol (Doomwatch was occasionally an extremely prescient show).

In each episode, at least before he attempted to wipe out the human race with Anthrax, John Ridge would investigate each threat largely by sitting on desks, chatting up secretaries and buying resentful ex-employees drinks in pubs. Most memorably of all, he would do this whilst wearing a selection of the most colourful and wide-collared shirts ever seen on British television.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Bank Holiday

Today is Spring Bank Holiday Monday. And, as with every other Bank Holiday of the year, our thoughts turn to... what is the bloody point of Bank Holidays?

A statutory amount of leave, yes. Good sensible thing. Everyone taking their day off at once so the beaches, parks and motorways get clogged. Bad foolish thing. What’s the point of having a day off if you can’t enjoy it because you’re surrounded by infants wailing because they’ve just stuck their ice-cream down their pants?

It used to be a thing Bank Holidays were special occasions. ITV would show a Bond movie and the BBC would show One Of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing. Now, looking at the schedules, an alien society picking up our television signals would be hard pressed to tell it was a special occasion at all. Think on!

It would be understandable if the holidays were commemorating specific things, like Bastilles being stormed or independences being declared or even some well-meaning fellow being executed in a much-loved work of historical fiction. But they’re not. Why aren’t we celebrating Shakespeare, Dickens, John Lennon, Charles Darwin or Shane Ritchie? Where’s our excuse for a party?

And why do banks deserve a holiday, anyway? Is counting our money really so exhausting compared to, say, digging up coal or wiping geriatrics? Come on – we’re in a bloody recession – all leave should be cancelled until they sort it out. No more holidays for bankers! I want them working 7 days a week!

What is it with the shortened 10-minute editions of the television news? Is it because fewer things happen on Bank Holidays? Do the hurricanes, famines and earthquakes take a day off? No. Either do a proper 30-minute edition, or – even better – they should only do 10-minute editions of the news from now on.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Mad Dogs And Englishmen

I can understand why ITV would want to advertise it’s ‘ITV Player’ catch-up service during Primeval. But, oh my goodness, what loon decided they should do so by sticking a huge caption on the screen at the end of the episode – just as each episode is reaching its climax! Surely, if they must do this, it would make more sense to advertise a catch-up service at the beginning of the episode? Do they think viewers will sit all the way through an episode and then want to go back and see the one they missed? It should be part of the pre-titles story-so-far montage – a way of saying ‘Here are some clips from last week’s, but if you want to see it properly it’s still available on demand’.

Ironically, if you watch it on ITV player you’ll not only avoid the distraction of the caption, but you won’t have to bother with any adverts! Quite what ITV’s fiscal rationale is for this, greater minds than mine can only dream to speculate.

The BBC, meanwhile, have gone to the DOGs (Digital Onscreen Graphics). The logic behind them bears no logical scrutiny at all – if they were justified on BBCs 3 and 4, they’d be on BBCs 1 and 2. They’d be there during Question Time and EastEnders. Instead they only appear on digital channels – the channels where the channel name comes up on the screen when you select it!

However, just as with the ITV player, if you watch the shows on catch-up – where reminding the viewers from which channel a show originated might be justified – there isn’t a channel-specific DOG at all! If there is a DOG, it’ll just be a BBC DOG. Because, using the BBC iPlayer, you wouldn’t already know it was a BBC show...

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Caroline, No

Saw Coraline today. Thoughts.

Generally, it was very good. It’s visually extremely inventive and shows Neil Gaiman’s enviable imagination in full flight. It’s Alice Through The Looking Glass as written by Roald Dahl on one his dark days. There’s even a Sponge and Spiker.

But... quibble alert. The plot, on at least two occasions, comes to a complete halt. As the story alternates between real-world and dream, any time spent in the real-world is going to feel like an unwanted interruption.

The animation is fantastic, but – as I did with The Nightmare Before Christmas – I never really felt involved in the storyline. Maybe part of the problem is that the real-world looks almost as macabre as the dream-world; there isn’t a great deal of contrast between mundane reality and extraordinary fantasy.

Following on from this, because it’s all so tonally (and literally) dark, it does sometimes get all a bit too much. It would’ve been nice to have been given something to laugh at or feel happy about. There’s no humour or lightness of touch – even the attempts at slapstick feel leaden – when, for the scenes where Coraline is enchanted by mouse orchestras and acrobatic divas, it could’ve done with being more Nick Park and less Tim Burton. To be honest, during the ‘comic opera’, I was mentally pressing ‘fast-foward’.

The 3-D effect was okay, and not used gratuitously, but I’m still not convinced by it; it has the quality of those old Viewmaster slides of making everything look like flat cut-outs placed at different distances from the viewer.

And finally – the kids in the audience were extremely well-behaved. Parents, however, who bring their kids into a 3-D film twenty minutes after it’s started, and don’t even bother to give them the 3-D specs... ooh, it makes me cross.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Magic Moments

Out now is the Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition, commemorating the fact that there have been (approximately) 200 Doctor Who stories with a guide to 200 Golden Moments. The end result is extraordinarily thick, heavy and impressive, and I suspect anyone who attempted to read all 100,000 words in one sitting would be reduced to a quivering delirium, such is the overwhelming affection and enthusiasm on display. There’s even a photo of Cassandra from The Myth Makers!

A dozen or so entries were written by yours truly. Wherever possible, I tried to avoid describing the ‘Golden Moment’ and instead go off on as interesting a tangent as possible. I didn’t always succeed but I’m proud of the 500 words on Game Theory I wrote for Destiny Of The Daleks and my article for The Creature From The Pit; a dialogue between Douglas Adams, the story’s script editor and David Fisher, its writer. Quite sensibly, it was edited down, but in the spirit of re-heated left-overs, here’s what was cut:

DOUGLAS ADAMS: Just a couple of little wrinkles to smooth out first. The bit where the Doctor’s falling down the pit, page thirty. Seems a bit ordinary, a bit we’ve-seen-this-all-before. Maybe we could thrown in some comedy business?

DAVID FISHER: Er... how about, he’s hanging onto the side for dear life –

DOUGLAS ADAMS: And a sofa appears out of thin air. A Chesterfield sofa!

DAVID FISHER: Good, yes. Or maybe... he pulls out a book on mountaineering –

DOUGLAS ADAMS: ‘How I Scaled the North Face of the Megapurna! By Oolon Colluphid!’

DAVID FISHER: Yes... or ‘Everest in Easy Stages’. But it’s no good, because...

DOUGLAS ADAMS: It’s in Tibetan!

DAVID FISHER: Yes! So he pulls out... ‘Teach Yourself Tibetan’, and then...

DOUGLAS ADAMS: And then falls into the pit! Tremendous!

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Now That I Own The BBC

I can’t understand any of the arguments against the BBC license fee. Even taking into consideration the employment of Chris Moyles, George Lamb and Jonathan Ross, it’s pretty good value for money.

And it’s not as if commercial television is exactly thriving right now. ITV wasn’t exactly doing great business before the crunchie; now it seems to be trying to come up with a business model for being a TV station without having any TV shows. Channel 4 and Channel 5 may end up merging – hopefully to become Chanel 9 from The Fast Show. Bono estenti! Scorchio!

And Sky television has the inordinate cheek to charge viewers a fee to watch programmes and then show the programmes with adverts! So you end up paying twice! For programmes like Lost, 24, and House which would otherwise be freely available on the BBC, Channel 4 or Channel 5!

The reason why abolishing the license fee makes no sense is this; if all TV is funded by advertising, it means the amount of money available to all channels (including ITV) will drop – because the money available from advertising is finite. Advertising on the BBC won’t increase the amount of funds available; indeed, increasing the channels means the money gets spread more thinly – which could well be why ITV has been the hardest-hit by the advent of digital.

Of course, the BBC isn’t perfect. Some of its deals with outside agencies don’t seem to have been very competitive or deliver good value. Mark Thompson’s plan that the BBC should invest license fee cash in the property market hasn’t exactly paid off. And the BBC has to become more accountable and less apologetic; develop a culture of trust, responsibility and devolved decision-making rather than a culture of fear, ‘compliance’ and top-down management.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Ghost Train

“We only went in there to get out of the rain. It was another grey, drizzly days, with this icy wind coming in off the sea. And the whole place was dead. There was nothing to do apart from hang around in the shelters and eat chips.

I was with Nikki at the time. I say ‘with’, I mean, I was her source of fags. She was well fit - when you hugged her you could feel her ribs - but that wasn’t why I liked her. I liked her because she had this funny way of talking, like she was half-joking all the time. Sarcastic.

Anyway, it was only a quid, so we thought we give the ghost train a go. Just to take the piss, you know? So this old guy put this metal bar over our heads, for safety, and we rattled through these rubber doors into the darkness.

It was totally lame. Not even a special kid would find it scary. It was all coffins and skeletons and green lights. And crappy plastic bats. The lamest part of it all was that at one point we even saw one of the blokes who worked there, a kid of about our age, repairing some of the wiring!

And then we were back out in the wind and rain. We told the old guy about the bloke we’d seen – Nikki thought he might give us our money back. But the old guy checked his cameras and there was nobody in there. Then he showed us this newspaper clipping he had drawing-pinned to the inside of his booth, from about twenty years ago. There was a photo of the kid we’d seen. He was the old man’s son. It said:

Fairground worker killed while working on Ghost Train.”

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Don't Say No

Rejection isn’t good – but it’s helpful. I remember a quote, from Michael Frayn’s Clockwise – ‘I can take the despair, it’s the hope I can’t stand’. It’s a bit like that. A definite ‘no’ means you can stop worrying that it might turn out to be a ‘yes’. It’s helpful, in that in means you know that it’s time to move on (though by this point, you’ll have moved on to a dozen different projects anyway – it’s more a case of moving on psychologically. Letting it go.)

Writers have an odd psychology. I’m not claiming it’s unique, it’s probably common to all creatives and elsewhere, but it’s an odd combination of being massively self-critical and massively self-confident. Which sounds like a contradiction but isn’t, because the trick is to alternate them, not do them simultaneously.

In my experience, the best writers tend to be massively confident in their own work – you have to be to get it out there, take the knocks – but the reason why they're massively confident is because they’ve been up to five in the morning the night before agonizing over every syllable. The confidence is born out of massive self-criticism; similarly, the reason why they stay up to five in the morning wondering whether dashes should be semicolons is because they know the end result has to be worthy of the great confidence they’re going to place in it. It’s reciprocal, sympathetic. The greatest writers have both qualties, not only in abudance, but in balance.

Bad writers tend to be either self-critical without self-confidence, and never get anything finished or sent out, or self-confident without being self-critical, and never get anywhere because they assume their first drafts are works of genius when in fact they are a dozen or so re-writes away from being barely readable.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Silent Treatment

You’ll forgive me if I don’t go into too much detail about my current writing projects on this blog. I know other writers do and it can be fascinating and informative - two goals to which this blog can merely aspire.

So why do I keep it all secret? After all, I have lots of projects on the go. More than I can keep track of – I make a list – and more than my girlfriend can care about. Even ‘failed projects’ are simmering away on back-burners, occasionally to twitch zombie-like into life. Nothing ever gets written off; I’m always keen to recycle material wherever possible, because good or bad, like it or not, this is the only world we’ve got.

And the other reason why I don’t like to talk about stuff is because of tempting fate. I’m not superstitious but I think that, like karma, sometimes superstition is a meme that has endured because it's a good guiding principle. Like Sod’s law – it doesn’t exist but sometimes it’s a good idea to act as though it does.

So I won’t announce or discuss stuff I’m writing until the contracts have been signed. In fact, I’ll wait until someone else announces it. Decisions have a nasty habit of getting un-decided at the last minute. And there’s nothing to be gained by jumping the gun. There’s nothing more fate-tempting (well, there are lots of things, but for the sake of rhetoric, let’s pretend there aren’t) than announcing something prematurely. You’ll just look like an idiot if it doesn’t actually happen. You’ll look like Captain Bullshit.

And often the best part of writing is having a marvellous secret. That’s what’s exciting about telling a story – only you know how it ends. As soon as you’ve told someone about it, it loses something.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

People In Europe

In quite an unprecedented development, my top three favourite songs from this Eurovision, Iceland, Azerbaijan and Norway, finished in the top three. Albeit with Norway coming top, but nevertheless I feel this proves that if you were to average out the musical tastes of every person in Europe, you would end up with me – which means that such an exercise would be frivolous and unnecessary.

UK’s dirge-by-numbers came fifth, which proves that this year it was actually a contest about the songs and not merely an exercise in political back-scratching. Apparently. Even though, to be honest, there was the usual amount of countries voting for neighbours and historical allies as there’s ever been. Maybe they should introduce some sort of handicap for countries which have large numbers of neighbouring territories, whereas the UK, being an island, is at a disadvantage because we don’t have any national borders (except around the edge of Northern Ireland) and we have a long and glorious tradition of picking fights with everyone else in Europe. ‘Oi, Belgium? You been eyein’ up my colonies?’

It’s always a surprise quite how many countries are now in the ‘Eurovision’ zone, and quite a few of them seem to occupy that nebulous area (in my mind) between Italy and Greece. You wouldn’t think there was room.

In other news, got to hear to part one of The Cannibalists yesterday. Couldn’t be more delighted. Particularly pleased with the pace and the way the actors have loosened-up the dialogue – I’ve been told my dialogue is too ‘formal’ – and with the sound design creating a suitably menacing and industrial feel. I recall it being an easier write than Hothouse (which isn’t necessarily a good sign – easy usually means you’re not trying hard enough) but the end result is certainly more ‘me’.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Saturday Night

Big night tonight. Eurovision! My tip for the top is Iceland, because they have a cute singer, who can sing, who is singing an actual song with a melody, lyric and a chord sequence and everything - at a time when so many Eurovision songs sound like Holly Valance b-sides. The British entry is, of course, ghastly, being a half-formed idea for a song followed by a half-formed idea for a different song, followed by a chorus that you don’t realise is the chorus until it’s repeated the third time. It puts me in mind of Geraldine McQueen’s ‘The Winner’s Song’ but less accomplished.

But I’m always completely wrong in my Eurovision predictions – if it was down to me, Brainstorm would’ve won in 2000 with ‘My Star’ simply because of the singer’s scary Bob Downe eyes. Hopefully next year Same Difference will get the call.

So I won’t be bothering with Britain’s Got Talent. I don’t know why all those people queue up around the theatres when it’s obvious most of the acts that end up on screen have been solicited by the show’s producers. I find it slightly dispiriting, though, that a show that claims to celebrate the underdog spends so much of its time humiliating the clinically deluded. It’s almost cruel.

Plus there’s the excitement of Primeval. Anomalies! Dinosaurs! Ben Miller!

Meanwhile, I have to plug it again – be warned, I’ve got a few things coming out over the next few months so this won’t be the last time this happens - is my Doctor Who audio adventure The Cannibalists. It’s about robots. It’s not a comedy but it has funny bits, hopefully. It’s not a horror but it has scary bits, hopefully. And it’s not a treatise on existential semantics but it has thoughtful bits, hopefully.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Help The Aged

In my previous post about the Optimum Population Trust, I was just getting started on the issue of pensions before I ran out of words. So, continued.

The pensions gap is a real problem. But, as even a child would realise, the idea of increasing the nation’s population in order to pay for it is not a long-term solution; it just means the population will have to increase yet further to pay the pensions of the next generation, and so on. And an increasingly densely-populated country means a drop in people’s quality of life in all manner of ways; not just through finding the queue at the post office is longer but in having to live with increased crime and in the more authoritarian society that results from it.

The problem’s come about because the average life span of people in the UK has risen while the retirement age has remained the same. It’s a direct result of cleaner air, better diets, massively improved healthcare and the fact that only freaks with a death-wish continue to smoke. Even the fact that we’re all lardies of ever-increasing girth isn’t mitigating the trend.

The solution, as even a child would realise, is to raise the retirement threshold. Not a popular move, but a necessary one. It was originally set as five years below the average age-of-death; it should be raised to that level now. My idea is that retirement becomes a more graduated process – with, say, ten years of semi-retirement before you’re entitled to a full pension.

There’s not really any sensible alternative. Most people of my generation are resigned to the fact they won’t be able to retire at sixty-five. But most of them expect to be in full health and capable of work at the age of sixty-five too.

Thursday, 14 May 2009


(Following on from yesterday's blog about me thinking Phil Daniels, and not Phil Davis, would be in Doctor Who And The Fires Of Pompeii, I give you...)


Veni vidi vici is the ipso facto status quo in the town what is known as... Pompeii!

A pyroclastic flow can be avoided if you take a route straight through what is known as...Pompeii!

Evelina’s got second sight, she’ll get enlisted by the Sybilline Sisterhood, they love a bit of it! (Pompeii!)

Who’s that Time Lord Doctor? You should try the hypocaust, mate, get some exercise!

All the people, so many people
And they’ll all get buried alive, buried alive in their... Pompeii!

I get up when I want, except on Wednesdays, when I get rudely awakened by an ominous rumbling (Pompeii!)

I put my toga on, have a glass cup of wine, and I think about leaving the villa (Pompeii!)

I visit the baths, I sometimes visit the brothels too, they give me a sense of enormous well-being (Pompeii!)

And then I’m happy for the rest of the day, at least until it starts to rain down volcanic ash and pumice onto my asphyxiated twitching corpse

All the people, so many people
And they’ll all get scorched alive, scorched alive in their... Pompeii!

Pompeii! Pompeii! Pompeii! Pompeii!

It’s got nothing to do with Steve Lyon’s
The Fires Of Vulcan, you know.

Pompeii! Pompeii!

Or those canon arguments which go round and round and round and round...

Pompeii! Pompeii!

All the people, so many people
And they’ll all get buried alive, buried alive in their... Pompeii!

All the people, so many people
And they’ll all get petrified, petrified in their... Pompeii!

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

The Robots

Coming up on Saturday, available online at about the same time as Primeval on ITV (which, after a wobbly start this year, has really come into its own) and Eurovision 2009 (Graham Norton better not talk over the songs or there’ll be trouble)... is another Doctor Who story by me, available from Big Finish!

It’s called The Cannibalists. It stars Paul McGann, Sheridan Smith, and guest stars Phill Jupitius, Phil Davis, Nigel Lambert, Teddy Kempner, Oliver Senton, Charlotte Fields and Beth Chalmers. I’ll witter in other blogs about the writing process – if I remember – instead I’ll just say that I’m greatly looking forward to hearing it. Unusually – and excitingly - I’m in exactly the same predicament as Big Finish subscribers; not having attended the recording, all I’ve heard of it has been the trailer. Though I have read the script, I’ve no idea what people will make of it; I think it might be one of those stories that people either love or hate, or are indifferent to, or quite like or quite dislike.

Reading back the script, my only regret is that I didn’t write more female parts. I’m always moaning about other writers doing this... then I go and do it too.

Phil Davis, you’ll remember, has been in loads of things; BBC 4’s recent The Curse Of Steptoe, Whitechapel, Quadrophenia, Vera Drake and of course Doctor Who And The Fires Of Pompeii. Although for some reason I’d mis-read the pre-publicity for this story (writtenby the talented James Moran) and spent the whole episode waiting for Phil Daniels to turn up. That’s Phil ‘Kevin Wicks out of EastEnders’ Daniels, famous for appearing alongside Phil Davis in Quadrophenia and as Terry in Time Gentlemen Please. And doing the narration to Blur’s Parklife... so, by way of a tribute...

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Love In An Elevator

The Great Space Elevator, written back in February 2008, was an attempt to write the most Patrick Troughton-y story possible. Not as a pastiche or parody, more a homage. As The Rutles are to The Beatles. An attempt to recapture that white-heat optimism of the 1960’s, when Eagle comic would feature cutaway diagrams of colonies on the moon. It’s one of my favourite Doctor Who things I’ve done, it was written in a great swell of warmth and nostalgia and love, and I think the end result, the reading and the music, was terrific. I’m particularly pleased with the review it received from The Space Elevator Blog.

And it did turn out very Patrick Troughton-y. The main complaint being that it was too similar to certain TV stories, which is fair enough, though my reaction tends to be, ‘Oh, you thought it was too much like story a. So you missed all the bits where I was ripping off story b then... not to mention stories c, d and e...’

The story doesn’t really have a framing device as such. It did have one in the initial synopsis – something to do with Victoria dictating the story into a tape, so that a hundred years later, the tape would pass into the hands of a character from the story, who would then know what to do when the events described came to pass. A bit like Blink. Which might be why it didn’t come to pass.

Instead the story was simply Victoria attempting to preserve her memories on tape, as they were all she had left of her adventures. Kind of bittersweet. However, the final script was overlength, and the main cut, as far as I can tell, was to the intro, losing some references to Victoria’s televised adventures.


It all seems so long ago. Like another life; as though it all happened to somebody else. Another girl called Victoria Waterfield. Sometimes it feels like it was a dream, or a story, like I was Alice, caught in the land through the looking-glass. But it wasn’t a story. It was real. It happened, every second of it. They were the most exciting days of my life, the most vivid, the most terrifying. Those adventures didn’t happen to another Victoria Waterfield. They happened to me.

That’s the secret I’ve kept, all my life. Because now, I am another Victoria. I’m a wife, a mother; a grandmother soon. I’ve created a new life for myself; a new family. And I’ve never told them, not once, about who I truly am. They’d never believe me, for a start! I wouldn’t believe me. And I’ve told them too many other stories - I made up a whole other history for myself… it’s too late to tell them the truth now. After all, they love the person they think is me.

Sometimes even I think it was a dream. Because nothing remains of those days. Nothing, except my memories, and they’re fading fast. The only links I have with my past are these tapes. If I can’t tell my stories to anyone else, I can at least tell them to myself. So that when I have forgotten, I can play them back, and imagine that the girl in those stories (was) -


-(but) with darker skin, deep-set eyes, and his hair swept across to one side. He had an accent I couldn’t quite place – Spanish, perhaps, or (South) –


-(split) open, like a membrane of plastic, and these creatures emerged from their icy tombs… huge, lumbering men of steel, with blank faces (and) -


-(claws) scrabbling at the cave wall to reach us. Jamie stepped forward with his sword, but the Yeti wrenched it out of his hand (and) –


-(is) a story I could never tell. Because this story concerns the future. The story of when the Doctor, Jamie and I visited the Great Space Elevator…


Monday, 11 May 2009

I Wanna Rule The World

There are many things wrong with politics today. But you know what the main problem is? It’s being run by the fans.

Used to be, back in the days of cloth caps, spangles and a British economy, that politicians would be people who had made something of themselves in life. They’d be in their fifties, sixties, and would’ve already had a career in the real world, whether it be as doctors, lawyers, teachers, councillors. The idea being, they would have already proved themselves, had success in life, demonstrated leadership and integrity, and would bring those qualities and real-world experience to the House of Commons.

Nowadays politics is run by people who grew up wanting to be politicians. They joined debating societies or political societies at university – I knew some of these people, and they were intolerably vainglorious even then – before becoming researchers or political-party envelope-stuffers or lobbyist consultants, before having licked enough adhesive flaps to be rewarded with a seat of their own.

I mean, for William Hague, the whole experience of being Tory leader was an extended edition of Tonight’s The Night With John Barrowman. It’s the same for David Cameron. The only job he’s ever had was Person Responsible For Disastrous Commercial Decisions at Carlton – remember OnDigital?

The Labour lot, sadly, aren’t much better. Their all-women shortlist policy seems to have resulted in a load of condescending, preening Henriettas being foisted upon us. Every one unfit for public office. Even worse is the policy of promoting unelected business-chums into the Lords and parachuting them into the cabinet – how humiliating it must be for all the backbench MPs to know that their leader considered them all so incapable he had to Get Someone In. All that envelope-licking, all that time-serving... only for someone else to get the job!

Sunday, 10 May 2009

So Young

I was out jogging the other week to discover that my usual route was barrier-taped off, and a very helpful policewoman advised me that perhaps I should go a different way. A few days later, I laboured my way up that street again... to pass a streetlamp adorned with flowers and cards, and one of those yellow Police signs indicating there had been a fatal accident on the road about half an hour before I’d tried to jog up it. A kid, I expect.

Regarding the flowers and cards; I absolutely sympathise. I suppose it could be argued that this way of commemorating places of tragedy is a recent tacky development, but it’s not. I remember, visiting Crete, wherever there had been a fatal road accident the family would build a shrine at the roadside, often with photos of the victim, details of the accident, and, most movingly of all, flowers and candles regularly replenished by the victim’s families. Can you imagine a more effective warning to other motorists? You’d often find several shrines clustered around hairpin bends and sheer drops. And beside broken sections of safety barrier (which indicated how ineffective the safety barriers were).

Further down the same road, a few years ago, I’d seen a kid get run over by a bus, just outside HSBC. He wasn’t killed or hurt. He’d tripped whilst running across the road with his mates – and the bus powered straight over him, with him lying safely between the wheels. And then he got up and started laughing about it, as though he’d just performed a particularly spectacular stunt (which, to be fair, he had). Though possibly not one he’d be willing to repeat. Personally, though, I was shocked, terrified, and furious... this idiot just didn’t realise how bloody lucky he’d been.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Say Hello, Wave Goodbye

Whilst running across Blackheath the other day - oh, how is my jogging going? It’s going very well, thank you for asking, I’ve now built up my fitness to a point where I can do a lap of Greenwich park, now please don’t interrupt again or we’ll be here all day – whilst running across Blackheath some kind souls in a parked car gave me an encouraging wave. Which was nice.

I’m not used to be waved at. Jeering, yes, that happens occasionally, usually from kids, and I think, ‘Oh, twenty years, and you’ll either be suffering as I am or you’ll be so fat you’ll look like the “before” picture on an exercise DVD.”

But waving is delightful. It’s a thing we grow out of. When I was a kid, every day was like being in The Railway Children. You’d be encouraged to wave to passing trains, boats, planes. Any sort of vehicle. On school trips, on the back seat, you’d be waving to any following motorists. In fact, sometimes you’d give them your whole repertoire of amusing hand gestures.

But now... waving is rare. I daresay it’s because parents now worry that if their children wave to a passing train, one of the passengers might a paedophile who would derive some ghastly pleasure from seeing a child motioning in a welcoming fashion.

We need more waving. We need more spontaneous displays of friendliness. People saying ‘bless you’ when you’ve sneezed. Offering you a tissue. Asking you if you’re alright after you’ve just been run over. And yet... sometimes, on the train, I’ll resist the urge to offer someone a polo, because I’m afraid they might take offence, they might misconstrue the offer.

...Then I got home and discovered my shorts had split up the back. Ho ho ho.

Friday, 8 May 2009

We Are Hungry Men

Recently joined the Optimum Population Trust. At last, an organisation which is prepared to address the issue of over-population in a practical, apolitical manner. Quite simply, this world ain’t big enough for the seven billion of us, and if the number of humans continues to rise, there are bad times just around the corner.

The obvious example is that of Ethiopia. Twenty-five years ago, as a result of a civil war and a famine, they discovered they didn’t have enough food to feed the population of 44 million. Now that country has a population of 80 million; a population with an average age of 22. What’s going to happen the next time there's a famine?

I only used Ethiopia because it’s a familiar example; it’s the same story all over the world. It’s nobody’s fault; it’s human nature, an evolutionary impulse, for us to breed and have more children than they can feed. The only solution is a voluntary one, as a result of better family planning, increased availabilty of contraception (and the end of religious/superstitious objections to its use) and equal rights for women so they have an opportunity for a life beyond child-rearing.

In the past, this subject has got bogged down in racism or anti-immigration sentiment. When clearly racial bigotry and anti-immigration sentiment are both consequences of the pressures of over-population; as the world’s population grows, so the animosity between neighbours will rise. In a world with spare capacity, there would be greater freedom of movement and less inequality of opportunity.

The other problem is the pension gap; the idea that we can solve the problem of paying for my generation’s pensions by increasing the country’s population. But all this means is that none of us will get a seat on the bus in our old age.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Telling Tales

Past Tense - The Thief Of Sherwood – My favourite of my short stories. The idea, which felt original (though I daresay it’s been done before elsewhere), was to tell a story via its reviews, episode guides, novelisation, behind-the-scenes features and other secondary material. The way Doctor Who fans experience the lost episodes. It meant I could have lots of fun recreating the styles of old Doctor Who Weekly features and gleefully taking the piss out of David Howe’s writing style in The Doctor Who Television Companion. It’s one of my most labour-of-lovey Doctor Who things – it’s the one I like to read myself occasionally.

(Extremely kindly, editor Ian Farrington selected this story for the ‘Best of’)

A Christmas Treasury - The Clanging Chimes Of Doom – Inspired by that dreadfully over-earnest line from Band Aid, a story which (quite inadvertently) commemorated the anniversary of that recording. I recall the word-count was shorter than usual, hence the ending being even more rushed than usual, and I had to remove the names of any specific pop stars which was a shame. But it was fun, not too bad.

I did get asked a few more times, but I found I was running out of short-story ideas (particular Christmassy ones) and the time I took to write them meant I couldn’t really justify the time spent. I’m not moaning about the fee – it would be very generous if it took me a day to write a story but I always ended up taking longer. And it was frustrating that so many of the toys of the Doctor Who universe – the monsters, the worlds and characters of past televison stories – were off-limits. And Ian kept on turning down my idea of editing a humorous short story collection, ‘A Universe Of Laughter’. Can’t imagine why.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009


Inspired by Simon Guerrier’s detailed retrospective on his short stories in the Big Finish Short Trips collection, I thought I’d shamelessly copy and do a quick guide to my opus fruits... it’s not as long as Simon’s, but feel the quality.

A Universe Of Terrors - Mauritz – With these stories, I always tried to make them proper adventures, with beginnings, middles and ends. There have been plenty of excellent short stories written about small boys getting caught up in Doctor Who adventures, or character vignettes, but... but that’s a pretty good reason for not writing any more.

Mauritz was a horror story, but one rooted in the ‘Maths’ feel of the stories script edited by Christopher Hamilton Bidmead, Warrior’s Gate, Logopolis, Castrovalva. It’s a Gormenghasty tale, set in a sort of Maurits Escher castle – hence the title. It was written from the point of view of Adric – what was I thinking? – but I think it worked out pretty well, it seemed to capture the era and people said very kind things. I have a sneaking feeling though I may have accidentally stolen the entire plot from an idea for a story that Robert Shearman once told me.

Life Science - Lant Land – For some reason, probably my fault, this was written in approximately the same amount of time it takes to read it, at the last minute, and I didn’t have the faintest idea what the story would be before I wrote it. Hence the resulting pointless, flailing-about-randomly mess. Shame, really, as it involves one of my favourite Doctor Who teams, the fifth Doctor, Tegan and Turlough, and lovingly details their mannerisms. But I’m sorry for anyone who bought this collection expecting another Jonathan Morris masterpiece because they would’ve been very disappointed. Still, the rest of it was good.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

What's In The Box? (See Watcha Got)

Back in summer 2002 I moved house down from Kilburn to where I am now. I remember, it was a sweltering, dazzlingly sunny couple of days, and during the course of shifting my stuff I tried all three routes – north circular, south circular and across the middle – and they were all utter sods. I think there were roadworks at Trafalgar Square which trapped me in the mall for three hours. Never again.

Anyway, at the time, in the spirit of creating a new life – approaching my 30’s, becoming single again, giving notice on my job and starting out on a new career – I took all the stuff from that time, put it in a bag, and put the bag in a box, and put the box in the back of cupboard, never to be opened again.

Well, I opened it this weekend – looking for school photos to stick up on Facebook. All sorts of memorabilia from another life! Lots of Erasure nick-nacks – passes, stickers, cocktail shakers. Tickets to TV show recordings, plays and concerts. Hundreds of those free postcards that Trinity Street used to send out in the mid-90’s – I kind of miss them; after all, it’s always nice to get post even if it’s just from the Kula Shakers letting you know they’re going to release another single.

And lots of photos of me and my ex, which I’m not quite sure what to do with. I could bin them. I could see if she wants them. I’d rather not go there. Besides, they might come in useful one day, for the middle eight pages with photos in my autobiography. So instead I did what anyone else in my position would do – I put them back in the bag, back in the box and back in the cupboard.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Carry On Clangers

Time for another moan. Carry On films. Bloody Carry bloody On bloody films.

They’re awful, aren’t they? Truly, truly dreadful.

Well, most of them. The first few, in black and white, have proper plots, actual drama, and could even pass for Ealing Comedies. And maybe, at a push, the Cleopatra one, the Cowboy one and the Khyber one might have some good things about them, but...

...the rest. Oh, how tiresome they are. Crap, sub-Benny-Hill-in-the-80’s gags. Puns! Innuendoes! Slapstick! All written without a trace of wit or creativity. There are even feeble attempts at satire, albeit from a right-wing, middle-class laughing at the working-class perspective. And breasts, demonstrating the old strip-club adage that if they’re not laughing they should be letching.

Seedy. That’s the word. And I think the only reason they’re popular is because they tie into that we-like-Britain-being-a-bit-crap mentality. The whole ‘lets go to a closed-down seaside resort for a rainy bank holiday and stare at where the sea meets the shingle’ mindset. The whole, brown, 1970’s-ness of it, like wallpaper with that interlinked hoops design. The grim stench of failure.

But what really annoys me about them is what a waste they were. Kenneth Williams, Sid James, Charles Hawtrey – these guys were phenomenal actors. Watch them in anything other than a Carry On film and they’re sublime. In a Carry On film, they’re desperately trying to salvage the material. Mugging and cackling and camping. And the same goes for Bresslaw, Babs, Connor, Sims, Howerd, Dale, Castle & Jacques. All stars squandered on trash.

These nails in the British Film Industry coffin-lid are endlessly repeated, despite the fact that they are less funny than most other British comedy films (and television) of the time. Despite the fact that they epitomise all that was bad about the 1970s.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Too Much

I remember, I think it was something to do with a Big Finish short-story-writing competition of a few years ago, being asked to give advice on writing. As I’ve said before, I have very little advice to give. The best thing an aspiring writing can do is stop bloody aspiring and get on with it.

But here’s a tip I’ve found useful. Always try to write a little bit too much. Not far too much too much – that would be too much. No, ideally you want to be about ten to twenty percent over, so that you have to edit whatever-it-is down and be merciless. That way, you’ll end up with a piece exactly the right length which is much, much better than it would’ve been if you’d written it to length.

Over-writing liberates you. It gives you the confidence to cut stuff which isn’t quite good enough (it’s all saved on another file, just in case). The more crap you cut, the better the end result will be. Because if it’s a comedy script, the rule is, that comedy script will be exactly as funny as the worst joke contained therein. You want that worst joke to be as good as possible, so you’ll write a script which is four or five pages too long... and then chop the gags you’re not sure about until you’re left with just the ones that actually make you laugh.

I can’t think of a thing I’ve written which hasn’t been overlength and then had to be edited down by about a fifth. It works. You’ll end up cutting stuff that you won’t even notice is missing. It’s easier to cut than to rewrite and, boy oh boy, it’s easier to cut than it is to pad something out. That’s a bugger.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

The Director Never Yelled Cut

Every now and then, through the webbysphere, you’ll hear a call going out for extras. Come and be in our film or telly show, someone will say. Be a zombie for a day, it’ll be great fun!

This is bloody disgraceful. People like Charlie Brooker should know better.

If you're making a film or telly show want a crowd scene, then you should budget for professional extras. If you can’t afford them, don’t script the scene. Every time the call goes out for amateur volunteers, professional supporting artists are being put out of work. And if you want to be a professional extra, then undermining the profession you intend to join is not a great way to start.

Oh, but that’s how film and telly work, you might say, and you’d be right. But if a problem exists that’s doesn’t mean it’s okay to collude with it. Yes, it’s nigh-impossible to get into telly or film unless you’re prepared to do hours of hard, unpaid labour, whether it be gaffertaping down cables or tapping out scripts, but that's no excuse. It’s the reason why Lenny Henry moans every few years that there are no black faces working behind the scenes in telly; it’s not due to racism, it’s because it’s prohibitively expensive to get into telly unless you have independent means, as you’ll be expected to work long hours for short return and, if you want to train to become a telly director, you’re gonna need a spare twenty grand in your pocket.

Think of that the next time you see an advert for extras. If a professional company is making a product for a financial return, everyone who works on it should get paid. Anyone who works for nothing is putting somebody else out of a job.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Business Is Business

I don’t watch The Apprentice. But I thought I’d blog about it anyway.

Apparently it involves Sir Clive Sinclair or someone else to do with shite 80’s office equipment. He sits behind a big shiny grey desk in a big shiny grey office. He looks a bit like Sid James with designer stubble. There might be some other people sitting next to him, not sure. A Greek bloke and a bored slouchy lady.

Then what happens is that wannabe business people come up to him - over-groomed, sanctimonious, oleaginous public-school Nigels - and suggest ideas for products he might want to invest in. But each of the panellists has a buzzer that makes a red ‘X’ light up, like on Family Fortunes, and three ‘X’s and the person has to leave.

After that, Sir Clive sends the people who have got through the auditions out to come up with new products – like, say, a new type of nasal hair remover – and flog them to unwitting members of the public. Or they have to pitch them to him again, not sure. Anyway, it always goes ‘totally pear-shaped’.

Then he gets each contestant to bad-mouth the others and apportion blame for why the whole Nostril-Shave-O-Matic scheme backfired. This is the good bit. It’s usually accompanied by the theme tune from Apocalypse Now and we get to see a helicopter fly around the London gherkin. But not quite as good as the next bit, which is when Sir Clive points at one of them and says ‘You’re fired, kyakyakyakya’.

And then Ant’n’Dec, or Dermot, or someone, has a chat with the loser, who also gets interviewed on BBC Breakfast by Bill Turnbill and Susanna Reid. Which is the only way I know about what happens on this show. That and from watching comedy spoofs.