The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Only After Dark


It’s delightful having things to plug. Today I shall be mostly plugging my most recent Big Finish Doctor Who audio play, ‘Cobwebs’.

The brief, back in July 2009, was to write a story featuring the 5th Doctor, with his companions Nyssa, Turlough, and in exciting development, Tegan (the actress playing Tegan having only been in one previous Big Finish story).

The normal Doctor Who story structure tends to favour just having the Doctor and his companion, so they can split up and each get paired up with other characters who can explain the plot/situation to them. Juggling three companions and a lead would be more challenging, particularly as it would please neither the fans nor the actors to have any of the characters side-lined, knocked-out or locked-up for the duration. So that kind of dictated, or at least indicated, what sort of story it would have to be – small-scale, with as small an additional cast as possible, where the plot was more about the dynamics between the Doctor and his companions than about the guest cast.

The brief changed a little – originally the plan was to have my story set between ‘Mawdryn Undead’ and ‘Terminus’, with us contriving some way of covering the fact that those stories seem to follow on directly from each other and that Turlough would be working for the Black Guardian (who would not be featuring) and constantly sneaking off to chat to his crystal. My original suggestion was to do a story with Nyssa returning to a seemingly-not-destroyed-after-all Traken. But then the brief changed to being set around 'The Five Doctors', with Nyssa (who had left by that point) returning and/or summoning the Doctor to help her with some problem.

I then suggested a list of possible historical settings – including having the TARDIS crew involved in the Falklands War, as an ‘historical’ – and during the colonisation of Australia – but the brief was to follow on more directly from the events of ‘Terminus’, in which Nyssa departs to treat people with Lazars’s disease on a sort of Nordic space station. Inarticulate grunting monsters and bleeping robots were suggested.

I came up with a story set immediately after ‘Enlightenment’, partly as the brief was now to explain why the Doctor stops trying to take Turlough home and partly because there was no way on Earth I would be writing a story featuring the robot Kameleon. A friend of mine, Craig Hinton, had a theory that the character was cursed and that anyone associated with that character always had bad luck, which sadly seems to have been the case for Craig.

By mid-August I had a vague synopsis, called ‘Cobwebs’ which was more-or-less used as the basis for the story (after going through a second draft) but which began, I think excitingly, with Nyssa in spaceship being attacked by a swarm of SPACE SNAILS. A good idea which I shall have to re-use at some point. The synopsis had a byline ‘A story which out-Moffats Moffat’; I don’t think I succeeded, but it’s good to have a mission statement. It would be ‘timey-wimey’ but it would also MAKE SENSE and have some sort of clever twist at the end which tied it all together.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that my original idea was for Nyssa to have a pet robot called ADRIC, a robot that would be cowardly and clumsy and cause problems. I thought it would be hilarious, if only for the scene where the robot is introduced to the Doctor – ‘You’ve called it WHAT?’ – and also just to for the reaction when the cast list was announced – a story featuring the Doctor, Tegan, Nyssa, Turlough AND Adric?!? But for various reasons, I was persuaded this wouldn’t be such a good idea after all, so the character was re-christened Loki (tying in with the Nordic theme).

I suppose I can come clean and admit that the setting, a claustrophobic research base, a la Aliens, with scientists experimenting on a creature which might provide a cure for an intergalactic plague, was me finally getting to use the basis of a Doctor Who story I’d come up with around 1991 called The Fear, my great novel proposal that I never got around to sending in. But I’m sure my 18-year old co-writer would be delighted that all his work has finally seen the light of day.

The other element I really wanted to include was to write something Philip K Dicky, as I was in the throes of reading all his short stories, and in particular things like artificial intelligences, implanted memories and predestination paradoxes, because, well, because I was trying to out-Moffat Moffat. That element developed during the writing; I named a character Valis as a little acknowledgement.

I delivered a first draft at the beginning of November, and a second draft at the beginning of December (the main note of the first draft being to make Tegan bolshier!). There was a bit of back-and-forth over a scene in episode three which didn’t really work and was far too say-what-you-see, and some more back-and-forth as I was persuaded to cut a scene in which Tegan and Nyssa discuss Nyssa’s love life. A scene which I shall no doubt foist upon this blog at some point.

The recording took place over two days, one at the end of 2009, one near the beginning of 2010, two very cold and snowy days as I recall. Barney had assembled a great cast – I was particularly delighted to meet Raymond Coulthard, star of numerous dramas and comedies of film and television but, to me, he’ll always be Young Scrooge from A Muppet Christmas Carol.

Anyway, it was released a couple of weeks ago, and so far I’ve heard the first three parts, and I think it’s turned out exceptionally well, I couldn’t be happier with it, the characters seem strong, the story feels fast-moving, and there’s a suitably grim atmosphere to the proceedings. It seems to have gone done fairly well, which is always lovely to hear, particularly from people who I didn’t know listened to the Big Finish audios but who chose to pick up this story.

To buy the play, click here. Plug over.

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