The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Heroes And Villains

Sorry I’ve been neglecting this blog. Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on your perspective – I’ve got quite a lot of work on at the moment. I’m not complaining, or even boasting, if anything I’m delighted and intimidated. So much that I’m already getting my deadline stress recurring nightmare. And on top of that I’ve got tendonitis in my left hand. And I did my homework, honestly Miss, but my dog ate it, because I made the elementary mistake of writing it all on dog biscuits instead of paper.

But I have something new to plug. Doctor Who: The Crimes Of Thomas Brewster was released about a week ago by Big Finish productions. I’ve listened to the first three episodes (albeit with some difficulty, as I’m currently deaf in my left ear) and it sounds amazing. Really fast-moving and with very immersive sound design and some strong, funny performances (particularly from Lisa Greenwood as Flip, I predict she will go on to great things).

What’s it about? Well, first and foremost it’s supposed to be big, bold, bonkers fun. There is an overt farce element to the plotline, a lot of comedy, a little horror, a little sci-fi, and if there is a theme, it’s about the fact that almost everyone in the story is pretending to be someone (or something) they’re not. It’s deceptively complicated. It’s my attempt to write something along the lines of one of Russell T Davies season-opening stories, silly, celebratory, spontaneous. I also wanted to write one of those stories where it starts off seeming to be one sort of story and ends up being something completely different, like The Hand Of Fear or The Stones Of Blood.

The other thing I wanted to do with the story goes all the way back to 1983 and the announcement that Colin Baker had been cast as Doctor Who. I remember thinking how great it would be to have a more ‘physical’ Doctor Who, someone who was a man of action, who would get into fights, who’d perform daring stunts and drive fast vehicles; like Jon Pertwee, I suppose, but even more dynamic. And that was a part of Colin Baker’s Doctor Who on the TV, but I always wished it could have been taken further. So The Crimes Of Thomas Brewster is me writing the sixth Doctor as a man of action, a guy who gets into speedboat chases, who jumps off high buildings, who can handle himself in a swordfight with a giant robotic mosquito. Quite a lot of the audios have re-invented the sixth Doctor as more thoughtful, compassionate figure, so I thought I’d try something different, to write him as a hero with a capital H.

To buy it, click here.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Absent Friends

To answer a FAQ that’s been frequently asked elsewhere.

Why isn’t Rory in the DWM comic strip? Is it because the writer doesn’t like him, or the magazine doesn’t like him, or the artists find it difficult to do justice to Arthur Darvill’s nose?

No. None of those things. Brilliant character, fantastic actor. The reasons are as follows.

1) When I started writing the run of 11th Doctor comic strips, back in November 2009, it wasn’t generally known that Rory would become a companion, so clearly I couldn’t have included him in the first story as that would’ve been a spoiler. I’m not sure I knew that he would become a companion, I try to avoid spoilers myself.

2) Ever since then, the comic strips have been a continuous run of stories, allowing no breaks for TV adventures or an unseen adventure in which Rory is picked up. I hesitate to use the word ‘arc’ but it gives us the opportunity to create links and an ongoing narrative elements between stories. Which have proved popular in the past and will hopefully please people this time.

3) Having companions appear and disappear from the comic strip out of the blue is annoying, and makes the comic strips look like that their continuity is subordinate to that of the TV show. Even though that is the case, it’s not healthy to draw attention to it. As a reader I remember being very irritated when the strip incorporated companions like Peri/Ace/Benny etc. for a few stories only to lose them again without explanation.

4) Nevertheless it is important that the comic strips fit into the continuity of the TV show, and now we’ve decided ‘where the comic strips go’ we can’t change it. It’s the gap between Vincent And The Doctor and The Lodger.

And finally, and in my opinion, most importantly,

5) Comic strips are a very different narrative form to television programmes, particularly when those comic strips are limited to telling stories in 10 page chunks. There is a limited amount of room to express character, and if the Doctor had two companions, it would mean they each got a smaller slice of the action and there was even less space for the non-recurring characters. Also, in terms of narrative, it’s trickier telling a story with three leads than with two. I’m sure we’re all familiar with how tiresome it is when writers have to resort to locking secondary characters up for the duration because there isn’t enough story to go round. Not to mention how complicated speech bubbles get once you have three characters talking in the same panel. So given the choice I’d opt for the Doctor and Amy rather than the Doctor, Amy and Rory.

But, of course, all this may change in the future. Who knows.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Scream Thy Last Scream

Plug time. And it’s a three-in-one.

Plug one. The second series of Jago & Litefoot has been released by Big Finish. It comes as a box-set featuring four adventures with the Victorian Investigators of Infernal Incidents, as so splendidly portrayed by Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter. The box-set comprises of the adventures Litefoot And Sanders by Justin Richards, The Necropolis Express by Mark Morris (no relation), The Theatre Of Dreams by me, and The Ruthven Inheritance by Andy Lane. I’ve given my story a listen and can assure you that it maintains the extremely high standards of production of the first series and that I am absolutely delighted with it. If it goes down well, who knows, maybe they’ll ask me back to write another one. Order it here.

Plug two: The 430rd issue of Doctor Who Magazine is hitting newsstands. It features part one of a two-part comic strip written by me called The Screams Of Death and drawn by the marvellous Dan McDaid. It looks absolutely stunning, all terribly atmospheric; it’s set in 19th century Paris and is a more-or-less traditional gothic story. I daresay I’ll witter on about the themes and inspirations at some later date. Suffice it to say there’s a fair old whack of Trilby by George Du Maurier in there, along with one or two or maybe even three references to Tintin. Buy it and be chilled to the core.

Plug three: The Big Finish website has just announced the forthcoming release of my Dark Shadows audio adventure, The Blind Painter, starring Roger Davis as Charles Delaware Tate and Nicola Bryant as Eloise. I’ll be plugging it again nearer the time. The story is a spooky character piece. Dark Shadows, if you’re not aware of it, was a supernatural soap opera broadcast in the US during the late 1960s, the sort of show destined to become a cult. What it lacked in production values it more than made up for with spooky thrills and some outrageous plots; an average episode is liable to feature ghosts, vampires, werewolves, warlocks, witches, time-travel, parallel universes and gypsy curses. Order The Blind Painter here.

Plug four. My next Doctor Who audio play, The Crimes Of Thomas Brewster, will be out later this month... oh, I did promise I’d only do three plugs. Maybe some other time.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Vote You

Bit of politics. But it’s not party politics, so that’s okay.

Why the Alternative Vote system is a bad idea. I’ll go through the arguments in favour of it and explain why they’re wrong.

* The current system is unfair and does not deliver proportional results.

Nor does AV. If the last election had been held using the AV system, the resulting seat numbers per party would have been virtually identical.

* AV is the first step towards proportional representation.

No, it’s a sidetrack. The Lib Dems were given the opportunity at the election to form a coalition with Labour in return for a referendum on full proportional representation. Instead, they opted for a coalition with the Conservatives in return for a referendum on AV. Entirely their prerogative, and other factors were, of course, involved. But a referendum on the voting system doesn’t create hunger for yet more referenda. It takes a problem, marks it ‘solved’ and puts it back on the shelf for a generation. I’m in favour of proportional representation, for a second house at least. A vote in favour of AV makes that less likely; whereas if AV is rejected, a referendum for PR remains a possibility.

* AV will encourage more people to vote.

How? Safe seats will remain safe seats. Narrowly-contested seats will remain narrowly-contested; if people aren’t prepared to vote when a government has a small majority, and where their local MP doesn’t even have a majority, then switching to AV won’t persuade them. In fact, given that AV would mean more MPs getting elected that simply tow the party line (see my final point) it would actually make politics less interesting and vibrant.

* AV is fairer.

How can a system be fair where somebody who votes for an extremist no-hope-of-getting-elected party gets more votes counted than someone who votes for a mainstream party? If you vote Labour or Conservative, chances are you’ll only have one vote and your second, third preferences won’t get counted. The current system is flawed, of course it is, but it’s transparently flawed. Everyone knows what the flaws are and votes accordingly. But I’d say the principle of one vote per person, each person having an equal say irrespective of their voting preference, is sacrosanct. AV would do away with that and would mean that, in elections fought between two popular parties, the outcome could be decided by the allegiance of the followers of the third, least popular party (cf 2010 General Election result).

And finally, and most importantly

* The current system is flawed because MPs can get elected without getting an overall majority of the vote.

This is not a fault. This is a feature. MPs getting elected without an overall majority is a good thing. Why? Because an MP who doesn’t have an overall majority knows that their constituency can quite easily get rid of them at the next election, so they’re going to work bloody hard to make sure they get re-elected. Their first loyalty, their top priority, is going to be working for their constituents. Whereas MPs who have overall majorities (which would always be the case with AV) owe their election to their allegiance to a political party, so their first loyalty and top priority is going to be towing the party line*. AV would make it less likely for independently-minded, locally-responsible MPs to be elected and instead just encourages lobby fodder who are only interested in climbing the greasy pole by sucking up to their leader. You want your MP to care about whether your local hospital stays open, the standards of your local schools, police force, businesses, environment? Then don’t vote for AV.

* This is also a problem with PR, which is why it should only be used for the second house.