The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Friday, 11 February 2011

You're History

Time to dash to your nearest branch of WHSmith’s, because there’s a new issue of Doctor Who Magazine out. This month it hasn’t been polythene-bagged, so you can read it in the newsagents absolutely free. But don’t do this, please buy it and take it home, it’ll take at least a couple hours to read the whole thing.

My contributions are the script for the comic strip, the second and conclusive part of The Screams Of Death, where all the Trilby-homage-ing gives way to a bit of Victor Hugo, all very gothic and grand opera, and a ‘Fact Of Fiction’ article about the classic 1987 Sylvester McCoy adventure ‘Paradise Towers’.

I say classic largely out of a trying-to-be-ironic habit of referring to all of the old Doctor Who stories that way (it’s a thing, to dull to explain) but partly because I do, in all honesty, hand on heart, actually think the story has a lot to commend it. It’s not particularly highly-regarded by Doctor Who fans in general, indeed, there are only about a dozen stories less-well highly-regarded, but that, I suspect, is largely down to some quite bizarre production decisions made on the story (even by the standards of mid-80’s Doctor Who) and a couple of misjudged, mannered performances, rather than the script, which is very original, funny, scary, dramatic and well-structured.

It’s quite a challenge, doing one of these ‘Fact Of Fiction’ articles, which concentrate on the fiction of the story rather than the behind-the-scenes production; it’s more about the writing than who played which monster. The challenge is partly in trying to retain one’s sanity whilst being so immersed in the detail of one story, and partly in trying to come up with new things to say, and uncover new ‘facts’, about a story which has already been subject to the scrutiny of Andrew Pixley, David Brunt and others. So I’m quite proud that the article does contain a few new bits of information about the story’s content and its context, and in writing it I learned a lot about Brutalist architecture, whilst re-reading High Rise by JG Ballard and The Ballad Of Halo Jones by Alan Moore, and reading for the first time, The Castle by Franz Kafka. That’s one of the best thing about this writing lark, all the weird places it leads you. I mean, previous projects have had me reading up on Charles Darwin, the Glorious Revolution, Victorian spiritualism, funfairs, railways and river-scavengers, the Trojan war, Mary Shelley and the romantic poets, all the latest scientific theories regarding time travel and evolution, the composition of Mars and its moons, space elevators, folklore, the Battle of Spion Kop, the Battle of Waterloo, the complete life and works of William Shakespeare and Dickens, the Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang, and, most recently, the social history and pop culture of the 1990’s and early 2000’s.

Regarding the last one, yes, I was there at the time, which is an advantage, but you’d be surprised how much you forget - and because a lot of readers will have also there at the time, you have to make doubly sure that you get it right. Fortunately there are sites like BBC Cult which are an invaluable resource of such information; unfortunately the BBC is planning on deleting them, and many others containing large amounts of content generously provided by the general public, such as H2G2 and WW2 - The People’s War. Just as deleting files off your own PC doesn’t save you any money, this won’t save the BBC a penny, and is potentially an act of cultural vandalism if not in the same league then in the same mindset as throwing away all those episodes of Top Of The Pops, Doctor Who, Hancock’s Half Hour, Not Only But Also, The Likely Lads, Dad’s Army and, possibly the greatest tragedy of all, dozens and dozens of other shows that no-one ever mentions because they’ve never heard of them because they were thrown away. Anyway, that’s what the BBC plan to do with a hundred odd of their websites, because the guy in charge of the BBC’s website policy doesn’t seem to understand what a top-level-domain actually is and as part of a fatuous and counterproductive exercise to look like they're cutting costs. For more info on what's happening, I recommend this blog.

There are also some other features in the magazine but I didn’t write those, you’ll have to buy the magazine to find out.