The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Seven Years

How remiss of me. It’s taken me over a week to plug the latest issue of Doctor Who Magazine. The irony being that I’m responsible for... goes away and checks... 20 pages of it. Which is far too many, clearly, but what can you do? Plus Tom says some terribly nice things about my Eagle-Award-Winning work on the comic strip in the Letter From The Editor and an audio I wrote gets a very positive review and another one gets previewed...  I’m bloody ubiquitous. There is no escaping me.

The reason I’ve taken over nearly a quarter of the magazine is that I’ve contributed two articles, written months apart but coincidentally scheduled for the same edition. The first article is called 49 Up! and like the ITV TV show of the similar name it goes through Doctor Who’s history in seven-year intervals, exploring the state of the show – and television – at the time, what the people making the show were trying to do, what difficulties they were facing and so forth. Essentially it’s a potted history of Doctor Who with a few major omissions (because of the seven-year interval) – so no Patrick Troughton era, no Sylvester McCoy, no Paul McGann movie, no Faction Paradox, no Sabbath, and sadly no mention of Big Finish’s glorious run from 1999-2003 (when their Paul McGann audios were the official continuation of the TV series.) But despite that it covers most of the major turning points in the show’s history, it’s near-cancellation in the early 70’s, it’s high-point of popularity with Tom Baker, the complacency and indulgence of the mid 80’s, Russell T Davies’ fantastic reinvention and the current glossy-and-frantic incarnation under Moffat. It was a bit of a toughie to write, as it required a fair bit of research, making sure my opinions were not totally unfounded, and trying my best to find a new angle on things that have been written about before; for instance, there’s a neat parallel between the show’s origins, where the BBC decide to make the episodes 25 minutes long with a mid-way fade-to-black in order to make the show attractive to foreign commercial broadcasters, and the show’s current international appeal, where it is one of the BBC’s biggest money-earners... but they only own it now because it was created in-house by staff producers, script editors and writers back in 1963. And so on.

The article has gone down fairly well; some people love it, and have very kindly told me so over twitter. Other people aren’t so keen, feeling that the article was unfairly negative on the BBC books (of which I wrote three, but even their books most ardent admirer would have to admit that 1998 wasn’t their finest year) or that the article didn’t tell them anything they didn’t already know. Which is fair enough, I suppose, though in researching it I did try to bring to light things which haven’t been discussed much in the past; the debt Doctor Who owes to the novel Guardians Of Time, for instance.

In my defence, if any defence were needed, I hope that my other article is some compensation, as it’s a Fact Of Fiction on the 2005 story Dalek and is chock-full of facts which have never been made public before. The writer of the story, Robert Shearman, was kind enough to share all the drafts of the story with me, and to consent to an interview, and as a result the feature is probably the most extensive and thorough article ever written about the Doctor Who writing/re-drafting process. No fact has been left unmentioned (though the magazine’s editors did cut a ‘blooper’ that I’d spotted!). In putting together the article I gained a new, deeper appreciation for the episode – an episode I loved – and an appreciation of how much time and effort both Robert and Russell T Davies put into it.  The end result looks effortlessly simple when the process leading to it was anything but.

This is the fifth Fact Of Fiction I’ve done; the fun thing about the feature is that although it’s ostensibly about what-happened-in-a-Doctor-Who-story, in the effort to find out new things I’ve gone on little voyages of discovery about topics as diverse as life in 16th century London and 20th century brutalist architecture, as well as finding an excuse to interview Russell T Davies and to share my many fascinating theories about The Keys Of Marinus. At some point I hope to do a few more; Marco Polo is the next on the list.