The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Living Dead

This week sees the long-awaited release of Doctor Who: The Guardians Of Prophecy, an audio adventure starring Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant. It’s written by yours truly, based upon a very detailed story outline by the late Johnny Byrne, who wrote the Doctor Who stories The Keeper Of Traken, Arc Of Infinity and Warriors Of The Deep, as well as numerous episodes of shows like All Creatures Great And Small, Space 1999, One By One and Heartbeat.

The Guardians Of Prophecy was a story outline submitted in July 1983, at the solicitation of the show’s producer, John Nathan-Turner. The brief was to write a sequel to the 1980 story The Keeper Of Traken, featuring the ‘return’ of the Melkur on a similar world. But when Johnny submitted such a story, as I understand it, it was rejected by the show’s script editor, Eric Saward, for being too similar to The Keeper Of Traken. Which is a great shame because it’s a great story, with a robust plot and lots of great characters and dramatic jeopardy.

Fast forward to February 2010, when I was contacted by David Richardson to ask whether I’d be interested in adapting the outline for Big Finish’s Lost Stories range (a range based around stories that were written but never made during the show’s original run, usually for reasons of budget or the show being hiatused by Michael Grade.) I was, of course, delighted and honoured to be asked, having literally seethed with envy as other people got to adapt classic stories like The Nightmare Fair and Mission To Magnus, and set to work at once.

Initially I was working from a storyline that had been printed in Doctor Who Magazine back in the early 1990s – issue 170, if you care to look – which had been adapted by Johnny Byrne himself. However, the adaption was a little vague, particularly towards the end, and lacked detail, so in adapting it I had to make numerous best-guesses at the authors’ intentions in terms of structure and characters.

However, after I’d written the first couple of episodes, a friend of mine called Sarah Groenewegen mentioned in passing that she had a copy of Johnny Byrne’s original outline for the story, so I frenziedly begged to see it. It was provided, and turned out to be 17 pages of quite detailed storyline, along with notes regarding characters and even excerpts of dialogue. It was ideal. And although I was prepared to scrap everything I’d done and start all over again, it turned out that virtually all of my best-guesses about the authors’ intentions had been correct, which was extremely encouraging. So, although I did add all the new material to the first couple of episodes, I could more-or-less continue from where I’d left off, knowing that my adaptation would be as true to Johnny’s intentions as possible, much more fulsomely and accurately than the article in Doctor Who Magazine had been.

Somewhere on this hard drive I’ve got a very detailed article I wrote at the time about all of the changes I made and why – it’s 1500 words. I’ll post it here at some point, but not just yet as it’s full of ‘spoilers’ and it would be nice for the story to be evaluated on its own merits rather than as an exercise in literary pastiche.

I wrote the story very quickly in early June 2010, partly because of a delay caused by the discovery of the 17-page synopsis, but mainly because I didn’t want to over-think it, and knew that if the story had been commissioned back in 1983 it would have been written in an equally tight time-frame. And because, to be honest, writing in that mid-80’s Doctor Who idiom is second nature to me. As soon as I’d typed ‘No, not the labyrinth!’ and ‘Credulous fool’ I had the tone fixed in my mind, and it was just like typing down an imaginary BBC video playing in my head.

The story was recorded on the 28th and 29th of July 2010. The recording went like a dream. Colin and Nicola were on top form, Graham Cole was superb as Ebbko and I got chills from his Melkur voice, it was just so perfect. Stephen Thorne was terrifying as Malador, Nigel Lambert was both hilarious and heartbreaking as Auga, and Simon Williams was... well, let’s just say that he proved that lots of planets have a Swansea. Throughout the recording, even without the music and sound effects, I could picture every scene as if it had been on TV; the costumes, the make-up, the sets. My goal in adapting the script had been to write something as authentic to that era of Doctor Who as possible, an era for which I hold vast amounts of affection, and so to hear it working even better than I’d imagined was sheer joy.

That was July 2010. Back then, if you’ll remember, Inception was at the cinema, Wikileaks was leaking and I was very nearly two years younger and two stone lighter than I am now. The wait for a suitable gap to appear in the schedule for Guardians Of Prophecy was a long one. When I wrote it, I’d just finished writing The Crimes Of Thomas Brewster and immediately after finishing it I began work on The Golden Ones comic strip, Tales From The Vault and a sitcom called Twenty Years Later which the BBC optioned and which, AFAIK, still remains on someone’s desk waiting to be read (remember that next time you read an interview with a BBC executive moaning about how no writers are submitting stuff for BBC One!). I only mention this to make it clear that it was written/adapted by the Jonny of July 2010, so if people think I did a good job, it’s a good job I did two years ago, almost a year before things like Valley Of Death and The Curse Of Davros, just to give some context into the broad sweep of my career/ongoing literary decline.

Anyway, I have wittered, I have digressed. The point is, Doctor Who: The Guardians Of Prophecy is now out and, having listened to it, it sounds even better than it did during the recording. I’m more proud of it than is seemly and would love for as many people to hear it as possible (on the proviso that they pay to do so!). So please dust down your credit cards, and head on over to the relevant Big Finish page.

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