The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

The Greater Good

First of all, here's a screengrab of the most exciting moment from last night's episode of Doctor Who.

The advert for my book! It's been on TV after the Doctor Who title sequence, therefore it is canonical.

Secondly, a brief update on the Virgin Media situation. I still have yet to receive the refund cheque they promised and send round a tech team to remove the cable they dumped outside my flat. It's been a month.

And thirdly, a thing I meant to post ages ago but forgot. It's my Mission Statement from the Doctor Who story Deimos/The Resurrection Of Mars. I wrote it as kind of a prelude to a synopsis; not so much saying what would happen in the story but what it would be about thematically. I think this approach worked out very well so I'm now wondering why I've never done this sort of thing before or since.

Contains spoilers for the Big Finish Doctor Who stories Deimos and The Resurrection Of Mars. It was written 15 April 2009, at a point where some parts of the arc had been worked out, and some hadn't.


This is not a synopsis. It’s just some thoughts.

Episodes 1 and 2 concern the ICE WARRIORS who are preparing to invade MARS. It’s at some not-contradicting-established-continuity point in our future, after The Seeds of Death and Red Dawn. Humanity is aware of Ice Warriors but believes them to be now extinct. We have now established a colony city on Mars, of about 300,000 souls. Living in biodomes, with terraforming in its early stages. The Ice Warriors, having frozen themselves in a comet, or on one of the moons, have returned and now wish to take back their home world.

That’s the first two episodes – the Doctor and his companion, let’s call her Tilly, arrive as the Ice Warriors are establishing a bridgehead on the moon of Deimos (or a space station). All hard sci-fi action-packed space battles, with the Ice Warriors gradually taking over the moonbase. Until at the end of episode 2, the Doctor has evacuated all the remaining humans from the base (possibly by using T-mat?) and has set primed explosives throughout the base ready to explode, powerful enough to destroy the moon. He’s not on the moon by this point and is able to detonate the explosives by remote control.

He gives the Ice Warriors an ultimatum. Leave and find a new home planet – or he’ll blow them up. It’s their choice. The Ice Warriors decide to call his bluff.

And then, end of episode 2, there’s another message. It’s Lucie. She’s on the moonbase, hiding from the Ice Warriors! If the Doctor sets off the bombs, he’ll kill her. So he decides not to... meaning that there is now nothing to stop the Ice Warriors launching their main attack on Mars! Oh f**k!

• MAD IDEA – Could Lucie’s return come as a complete surprise? If there’s no pre-publicity – or the pre-publicity suggests that she joins in the next story – then this cliff-hanger could come as a brilliant, out-of-the-blue, WTF moment.

• EVEN MADDER IDEA – Could the fact that this is a four-part story come as a surprise? Maybe the pre-publicity could have it down as a two-part story, so the listeners will think, nearing the end of episode 2, they are approaching the conclusion of the story – when in fact they’re not! Maybe this could be achieved by announcing the next 2 episodes as being another story by Jonathan Morris, one which sounds really dull, so no-one will be disappointed that it doesn’t exist. Or maybe just another story with the same cast ‘set on Mars a short time later’.

This is where things get interesting. Paul McGann’s always saying he wants to do stories which explore the nature of the Doctor and why he does what he does. And that’s what this story is going to try to do.

It’s about the dilemma the Doctor faces at the end of part 2. Because he’s the guy – the only guy – who is not prepared to sacrifice someone else for the greater good. While he’s happy to put his life on the line of others, he is not prepared to ask someone else to give their life on his behalf. As far as he is concerned, the only acceptable number of casualties is zero.

That’s what’s different about him. He’s not prepared to make the calculation of one-life-for-many, because he knows that if he’s prepared to let one person die to save millions, then he would be prepared to let a hundred people die to save millions, he would be prepared to let a hundred thousand people die to save millions. He refuses to do the maths.

Why? Because that’s the difference between him and the bad guys. The bad guys will always justify killing in terms of ‘the greater good’, in terms of a long-term benefit. And the Doctor remembers that he used to be like that – he used to ‘manipulate’ events, he used to make ‘masterplans’ – and realised that he was turning into the very thing he was fighting against. He was becoming a monster... and ended up travelling alone, because he knew that if it came to it, he would even be prepared to sacrifice one of his companions.

And we learn, that’s why he likes to have human companions travel with him. So he can never become that man again. So he can never forget how much one life is worth. So whenever he’s given the choice to let one person die to save millions, he’ll never be prepared to let that one person die, he’ll always, always find another way. Because he’s found out the hard way that ‘evil’ is nothing more than somebody believing that the ends will justify the means.

But this story is where this high-minded outlook comes back to bite him on the bum! Because in parts 3 and 4, the Ice Warriors launch their attack on Mars – and endanger the deaths of thousands of innocent people. Innocent people who would’ve lived had the Doctor been prepared to sacrifice Lucie’s life.

The Doctor is confronted by survivors who have lost their families, who blame the Doctor for not being prepared to let Lucie die. Worse, he’s confronted by Lucie herself, who now has the loss of hundreds of lives on her conscience.

So not only are the people of Mars arguing that the Doctor should’ve thought of ‘the greater good’, but his companion – the companion who he saved – is arguing with him about that two. Real emotional drama!

But this theme, of ‘the greater good’, feeds into the story in two other ways. Firstly, in the conclusion – there’s a landing party of Ice Warriors on one of the Mars colonies, with the Doctor, Lucie and Tilly, when Grand Marshall Izal gives the order for the whole colony to be destroyed. The Doctor tries to argue with the Ice Warriors trapped with them in the colony that now that their leader is prepared to sacrifice their lives, they should join forces with him against that leader. But the Ice Warriors refuse! They’re happy to die for the greater good.

Somehow that gives us the climax of the story, as the Doctor is once again confronted with the dilemma of having to choose between the life of his companion(s) and the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocents. And he finds a third way. Not sure what it is yet, but it’ll be devastatingly clever. The point being, the Doctor’s way is right – and that anyone who is prepared to let innocent people die for the ‘greater good’ is wrong.

Secondly, this theme feeds into the explanation of how and why Lucie happens to turn up at the end of episode 2! You were probably wondering if I’d get to that. Because Lucie has been brought there deliberately to prevent the Doctor from defeating the Ice Warriors invasion of Mars. Why? I’ll explain.

If the Doctor defeats the Ice Warriors, then they will abandon their attempts to reclaim Mars and instead they will establish a ‘New Mars’ on a second world. Not an uninhabited world. A world currently home to a peace-loving race, who I’ll call the Zogs. According to their ‘established history’, the Doctor’s defeat of the Ice Warrior invasion of Mars leads directly to the Ice Warrior’s colonisation of the planet Zog – and the total extermination of the Zog race.

So, as a last-ditch attempt to prevent this happening, the Zogs have enlisted one of their number – or a passing time-travelling Doctor-surrogate who I shall call Brian - to travel back in time, in a rough-and-ready Zygma-powered time machine - to prevent the Doctor from defeating the Ice Warriors, so that the Ice Warriors conquer Mars and never go on to destroy the peace-loving Zogs.

And the best way Brian can think of sabotaging the Doctor’s plan is to find his best-loved companion and stick her in the middle of it at the most crucial moment to prevent the Doctor from pressing the button that would destroy the invasion fleet. So Brian has travelled back to 21st century Europe, found Lucie whilst she’s on holiday, befriended her (Brian appears totally human) and transported her to Mars, centuries into the future, under the pretence that he’s been sent to fetch her by the Doctor because he needs her assistance.

This means the whole idea of why Lucie appears out of the blue at the end of Part 2 isn’t a coincidence, but is actually the point of the story. Because Brian and the Zogs are, of course, also acting for the ‘greater good’ in their way – they’re prepared to let 300,000 humans die in order to save a whole world.

This is all very vague and train-of-thought at the moment, but I think this might be an exciting and dramatic idea, to tell a story where the Doctor’s principles put him into conflict with not just the villains, but also the villain’s victims and his companions. To make the whole story about the Doctor’s moral choices, and why he does what he does, and why he’s the guy who’s not prepared to give up one person’s life in order to save thousands. Because, as the events of the story will make clear, that’s what makes him different from the bad guys.

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