The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Bad Guys

The latest issue of Doctor Who Magazine is out around now, ish, and amongst many other wondrous things it contains a little article by me about the Daleks’ greatest masterplans. It was a fun piece to write and research, and looking at all the stories in sequence gave me a new appreciation for just how good some of them are (Power Of The Daleks and Genesis Of The Daleks really stood out) and how consistent and logical the Daleks’ development throughout the series was. Of course, a few things leapt out at me – it’s bizarre that in The Daleks’ Masterplan they don’t recognise the Doctor, for instance, and the time-travel logic of Day Of The Daleks doesn’t bear close scrutiny – but on the whole  I’d say that Daleks have always brought out the best in Doctor Who and have participated in the best stories.

The other interesting thing for me - without wishing to get all ‘The Writer Speaks’ – was to look at each of the Daleks’ stories from the villains’ perspective and see how much sense they made that way around. Because I think in the best stories the antagonists’ storyline is as strong and logical as that of the protagonist. The antagonist should have a clear goal, and should be taking the shortest possible route to reach it, and should the protagonist get in the way, they will do the simplest and most effective thing to overcome the protagonist. In short, everything that applies for the protagonist applies for the antagonist, because, as far as the antagonist is concerned, they are the protagonist and the protagonist is the antagonist. If you follow my meaning. Everyone is the hero of their own story. Even the villain. Particularly the villain.

I don’t think it’s necessarily a route to better stories but certainly, if a story isn’t working, one possible way of ‘debugging’ it might be to look at it from the bad guy’s point of view. Because weak stories tend to result from villains’ having overcomplicated, illogical, arbitrary plans; villains taking a route from a to b via the rest of the alphabet or behaving conveniently stupidly. The most memorable example I can think of is in The Man With The Golden Gun, where Scaramanga has James Bond at his mercy, but instead of shooting him in the head and dumping the body over a cliff, he enrols him in kung-fu college. It makes no sense and undermines both the villain and the hero; the villain is undermined because he’s an idiot, the hero is undermined because he hasn’t managed to defeat an idiot.

It also tends to happen when a story isn’t being generated by the conflict between the protagonist and antagonist’s goals, but where it has been constructed out of set-pieces or other considerations, or where a story has been started before the antagonist’s plan has been decided, and so their plan ends up being an afterthought, cobbled-together out of unresolved plot threads, where every loose end and coincidence is explained away as being part of their implausible scheme. But the best evil schemes are those that are best-laid, calculated, rational and efficient. And villains should be defeated by the hero’s virtues, not through their own shortcomings and carelessnesses (because otherwise, you’re left wondering if it was necessary for the hero to be present for the villain’s plan to fail).

Anyway, DWM 447, out now, buy it, it has lots of Daleks on the front.

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