The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Two Minute Warning

Oh goodness. Haven’t written a blog for ages. How remiss of me.

It’s particularly remiss because in the last few weeks I’ve had a couple of Big Finish audios released. Which is terrifically exciting, as I’m sure you’ll be aware if you follow me on twitter where I have been puffing them up without interruption.

The first to be released was Doctor Who: Protect and Survive, an adventure for the 7th Doctor (Sylvester McCoy), Ace (Sophie Aldred) and Hex (Philip Olivier). It guest-stars Ian Hogg, Elizabeth Bennett and Peter Egan (probably best known for leaning over a garden fence with a mug of tea saying ‘Hello, Martin’ in Ever Decreasing Circles). As the title may suggest, it concerns the prelude and aftermath of nuclear war, despite being set in early November 1989 when, as I’m sure all you history buffs know, a nuclear war didn’t actually take place. So something is mysteriously amiss...

Nuclear war is kind of an obsession of mine. Not a good one, not a constructive one, but more the source of a great number of nightmares. When I used to live in Lewisham there was a train that would sometimes go past with a thunderous bang just as the first brilliant beams of dawn were breaking through my bedroom window, and every time that happened, I woke up convinced that the world was ending and that I had no more than a dozen seconds left to live. And then I woke up properly and remembered that no, it was that train going past again, and that perhaps I should move.

But I think most people who grew up in the 70s and 80s have a fear of nuclear war. It’s probably exaggerating to say it was an ever-present threat but it was occasionally present. TV dramas like Threads and The Day After didn’t help, nor did all the documentaries making it clear that in the event of a nuclear war, the people killed in the explosion would be the lucky ones.

It’s a grim and depressing subject, and one that personally terrifies me, so why did I choose to write about it? Well, I hoped that it might be therapeutic and lay the ghost a little bit (in the same way that Touched By An Angel made me feel a little less angst-filled and regret about my time at university). And partly because I thought it would challenge me. And it did. It was incredibly difficult to write. Just to sit down and go to that grim and depressing place was an effort. And to avoid my normal habits of sticking in comic relief and instead concentrate on the characters, on keeping it small-scale, intimate, claustrophobic. 

The other main influence was Waiting For Godot and the works of Harold Pinter, to attempt to write a Doctor Who story in that particularly bleak, minimalist idiom, with that feeling of the otherworldly and isolation. Where characters are talking but where the meaning is obscure or absurd, where people are trapped in repeating rituals.

I’ve listened to the first half and it is quite difficult to listen to. No, not difficult. Harrowing. Because the cast, the director and the sound and music guy have all elevated and amplified the content of the script so much, really bringing out the emotion, the sense of dread, the terror, that it’s actually pretty bloody terrifying to listen to. Particularly if you have a particular fear of nuclear war. That’s the big irony; I write down my nightmares, other people turn them into plays, and then I listen to them back and my nightmares become even more terrifying. So not remotely therapeutic after all.

But that’s what I was aiming for, so I can’t complain. I’m very proud of it, it’s a very strong drama, and all those hours of mentally putting myself in that grim and depressing place to write it seem worthwhile. It was difficult, but quite often the things that are difficult turn out to be the best, because you’ve had to work harder.

Doctor Who: Protect And Survive can be ordered here.

The second audio to be released was Dark Shadows: Operation Victor, which was thankfully much more fun to write. It concerns everyone’s favourite immortal, Quentin Collins, being despatched on a mission into Nazi Germany in 1945 to investigate some mysterious experiments.  Like all of Dark Shadows, it’s a spooky, camp romp along the very edge of good taste, drawing on all sorts of pulp horror movies and stories. It’s a lot of fun, full of outrageous twists and turns, and again the cast, director and sound guy have all played a blinder.

(For more on Dark Shadows, please check out issue 41 of Vortex which features an article about the story.)

Dark Shadows: Operation Victor can be ordered here.