The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Into The Valley

For the last couple of days, I’ve been a recording studio somewhere in Kent, for the recording of the Doctor Who story ‘The Valley Of Death’, starring Tom Baker as the Doctor and Louise Jameson as his companion Leela. Normally with these things I have to keep all my excitement under wraps until they’re announced (sometimes months or even years later), but as this story has already been announced I can write a blog about it and sound a fanfare from the rooftops.

The story is an adaptation of a story outline written by Philip Hinchcliffe, who was the producer of Doctor Who for the first three years of Tom Baker’s run, and who was responsible for stories like Genesis Of The Daleks, The Seeds Of Doom and The Talons Of Weng-Chiang. My understanding is that the story was an idea that would probably have made it onto television screens had Philip remained as producer for a fourth year; however, by the time it was pitched to Douglas Adams in 1978, the show’s budget had been substantially reduced, so a story which might have been practical a few years earlier was no longer viable.

This is the second ‘lost story’ I’ve adapted; in both cases, my approach has been to remain as true as possible to the original author’s intentions. That said, had the story been made back in 1978 it would have developed during the scripting process, and would have had a substantial input from the show’s script editor, so I felt I had a little leeway in changing the details where it would serve the story, to make the end result as exciting and dramatic as I could.

The Valley Of Death is very much a Boy’s Own adventure in the tradition of Edgar Rice Burroughs and H Rider Haggard; it’s easy to imagine it being filmed by Amicus or Hammer in the mid-70’s. What I love about it is that the narrative keeps changing location and subject matter; structurally, the Doctor Who story to which it is most similar is The Hand Of Fear; it has that quality that the final episode is about something entirely different from the opening instalment!

I think it’s a lot of fun, very colourful and imaginative, with room for lots of humour as well as some weighty dramatic confrontations. It will probably come as quite a contrast to the other story that is in the same Lost Stories box set, The Foe From The Future by John Dorney (script edited by me, and based on a storyline by Robert Banks Stewart). The Foe From The Future is, I think, going to be regarded as a classic, as John has written a fabulous script with lots of action and grisly death. I think it will go down well with fans of stories like Pyramids Of Mars and Image Of The Fendahl.

The recording went terrifically well. Tom Baker has a formidable reputation but he was an absolute joy in the studio; professional, meticulous, full of suggestions, and really engaging with the material and having fun with it. Louise Jameson was equally marvellous, portraying Leela with great integrity. There were moments, many moments, when you could close your eyes and imagine you were hearing a story recorded in 1977. Yes, of course, people’s voices sound a little older than they did back then, but I felt the magic. My fan-sense was all a-tingle.

How do I feel about writing a story for my favourite Doctor, writing for the Doctor I watched on television when I was 6 years old, the Doctor who made me a fan of the show in the first place? It’s an honour. It wasn’t a childhood ambition, but only because I would have to have been an insanely ambitious child to think I would ever get the chance to write for Tom Baker’s Doctor.

The Valley Of Death will be released in January next year, with The Foe From The Future as a Lost Stories box set which can be pre-ordered here.