The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Too Busy Thinking About My Baby

And so this is Christmas, and what have you done...

Well, at last I have a spare moment, so it’s time for a long-overdue blog. I make no excuses, but the short-and-the-tall of it is that I’ve been very busy over the last few months. Terrifically busy. Early starts and late shifts and everything. In fact, since the last blog I’ve written over 4 hours’ worth of scripts, plus rewrites of other scripts, script-edited over half a dozen others, plus a DWM Fact of Fiction, a review, plus all the introductions, synopses and a telesnap commentary for the DWM Missing Episodes – Second Doctor volume 2. Oh, and I started work on another two scripts and wrote an introduction to a reprint of one of my novels. Plus some other bits and bobs I’ve forgotten.

So you might understand why, at the end of the day – whenever in the early hours that may be – I’ve been disinclined to tap out a blog. Plus my life has undergone a fundamental re-assignment of priorities, so blogging has been bumped down the list *.

So what have I missed? Well, I’ve had two Big Finish Doctor Who audios released. The first was a Companion Chronicle called The Ghost in the Machine starring Katy Manning as Jo Grant with Damian Lynch as Benhamin Chikito. It’s a spooky, claustrophobic tale of tape recordings developing a life of their own, a bit Sapphire & Steel, a bit The Stone Tape, and whatever remains must be original. Katy is superb in it, Louise Jameson did a fabulous job directing it, and it seems to have gone down quite well. It’s my last entry in the Companion Chronicles range (which is being brought to an end) and one of my best ones, though what I’m most proud of is the diversity of styles and subjects that I’ve covered, from hard sci-fi to history to comedy to psychological horror to Rod Serling tribute to ghost story.

And I get to name-drop Katy Manning and Louise Jameson in the same paragraph. Jo and Leela. Sometimes my life is like the eight-year old me is having a particularly vivid Doctor Who-themed dream. Maybe that’s what it is.

The Ghost on the Machine can be ordered here

The other Big Finish Doctor Who audio was The Space Race, a story set in November 1963, in the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, then part of the Soviet Union. I wasn’t overwhelmingly confident of my script for this one, to be honest I thought I’d messed it up, but nevertheless it seems to have gone down quite well, for which I give all credit to the stars, Colin Baker and Nicola Bryant, the director Nicholas Briggs, noise wizard Howard Carter and the rest of the cast, particularly Samantha Béart who did a fantastic job brining pathos to an outlandish role. The story deliberately starts off very Quatermass, very switches-and-oscilloscopes, and then does something completely different. There are some serious ideas in there, some cutting edge hard-sci fi (or what I think passes for it!) and I was so proud of each of the three cliff-hangers I was dancing around the room when I wrote them. But a few critics have pointed out that it is, essentially, a bit of a shaggy dog story and I can’t really disagree.

The Space Race can be ordered here. I previously blogged a little about it here.

Whilst those were being released another story was being polished and recorded, namely Psychodrome, starring Peter Davison as the fifth Doctor, along with his companions Tegan, Nyssa and Adric. Yes, Adric is back, portrayed by Matthew Waterhouse. As I grew up with a picture of Adric on my bedroom wall (the one of him in his spacesuit from Four to Doomsday, naturally) it was a massive thrill to finally get to write for the character. It’s always a thrill to write for the fifth Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa so this was extra-exciting for me. As for the story, well, it’s a strange one, different from pretty much anything I’ve ever done before, or that anyone has ever done before in Doctor Who at least. The starting point was to tell a Big Dumb Object tale like Rendezvous with Rama. The end point was somewhere else entirely. It’s set early on in the run of fifth Doctor stories – between Castrovalva and Four to Doomsday, chronological-shelving-fans – and addresses a few of the tiny bumps in continuity between those stories, by showing the four TARDIS travellers getting to know and trust each other, and to learn a little bit more about where they are all coming from and take stock. But it’s also about a lot more than that, and to say any more would spoil the surprises.

Psychodrome can be ordered here.

Since I last blogged the fiftieth anniversary of Doctor Who has been and gone. Wasn’t it all marvellous? Watching An Adventure in Space and Time I started crying when the Daleks turned up and didn’t stop until the end. Peter Davison’s The Five(ish) Doctors was hilarious. And Steven did a fantastic job with the anniversary episode, rising to the challenge of impossible expectations by pulling out all the stops, switching off all cynicism and engaging his LITTLE BOY FAN BRAIN. Which is the only way to write these things, I find, with punch-the-air excitement, with boldness, and with love.

Apart from The Space Race, my other small contribution to the jamboree was a 6-page article for the anniversary edition of Doctor Who Magazine, an article called The Wonder of Who setting out to define, once and for all, the indefinable magic of Doctor Who. It was commissioned as a feel-good piece and basically I just wrote why I, personally, love the show and hope that others felt the same. I think I did a pretty good job, no doubt I’ll add it to this blog when the dust has settled, and even though it wasn’t listed in the magazine contents I like to think it was singlehandedly responsible for that issue of the magazine being the biggest-selling edition since the early 1980s. But then, I like to think a lot of things.

That magazine also contained a Fact of Fiction on the story The Five Doctors, which I wrote back in September (so it doesn’t fall under the things-I’ve-done-since-the-last-blog rule). As it’s one of my favourite Doctor Who stories it was sheer joy to write about it and point out all the little things I’ve noticed over the last thirty years, including an Amazing Moment that no-one else have ever spotted, the source of the phrase ‘A man is the sum of his memories’ and all my theories about quite how the Easy as Pi chessboard might work. There was a lot to say about the story so it ended up being a very long article, as I also sought out the great and the good from the world of Doctor Who for their favourite moments, including Terrance Dicks, Peter Howell, Mark Gatiss, Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat amongst many others. So maybe that article was also the reason why the magazine sold so well. Maybe I’ll do a similar one for the 100th anniversary on The Day of the Doctor, if I’m still here (I’m sure Doctor Who and Doctor Who Magazine will both be going strong).

The month after that, in the current edition, I wrote a Fact of Fiction on the recent Matt Smith Christmas episode A Christmas Carol. The most exciting part of writing this article for me was that Steven very kindly, and unprecedentedly, sent me a copy of his very first draft of the episode, one that was so ‘hot-off-the-press’ it still had asterisks in the right-hand column to indicate how much of it he’d written in his final sitting. So the article explores the writing process of a Steven Moffat script in unprecedented detail. Of course, he got most of it bang-on in the first draft, but it’s interesting to see which scenes were problematic and how they were rewritten and which ones were plain sailing. And I love the episode so it was an unadulterated pleasure.

That magazine was closely followed by a special edition, The Missing Episodes – The Second Doctor volume 2. Originally there were going to be three volumes but one very plucky chap went and found nine of them so we revised our plans (and this volume was brought forward, not to pre-empt any further potential discoveries but because the planned Matt Smith behind-the-scenes volume wasn’t ready). For the magazine, I wrote introductions to the various stories; I’m particularly proud of my write-up for The Web of Fear, given that the story has been recently (mostly) recovered so I couldn’t just write a review and had to come up with something more creative, more personal. And it was interesting taking an in-depth look at all the other stories, with my admiration for The Abominable Snowmen increasing while my dissatisfaction regarding The Ice Warriors also went up a notch. And I discovered to my surprise that episode five of The Wheel in Space is actually really good! Who knew? For the magazine, I also wrote a telesnap commentary for the entirely missing story Fury from the Deep, based on the camera scripts, an audio recording and the telesnaps, which was easier-going than my previous efforts as the story holds fewer mysteries but in a way slightly harder work because the first two episodes are awfully dull, with the Doctor, Jamie and Victoria barely appearing and lots of lengthy arguments about pipes. But I sprinkled lots of Morris magic, so hopefully that didn’t show.

And I think that’s all. No, that’s not quite all. This month Big Finish released Afterlife by Matt Fitton, which I script-edited (which with his scripts basically involves just reading them and sending him an email saying they’re great). BBC Books have announced that they’re going to reprint my Doctor Who novel Touched by an Angel with an exciting new cover (they haven’t even let the previous edition go out of print first). I’ve written a new introduction for it and some of the typos have been corrected so even if you’ve bought the previous edition, you have no excuses, you must buy it again.

Touched by an Angel can be ordered here.

That’s everything. Oh, I attended a few recordings of other scripts but they haven’t been announced yet so my lips are sealed. Suffice it to say on several occasions my ‘career’ has been more like having won a competition. 2013 has been good. But 2014, oh, 2014 is going to be phenomenal.

* Don’t worry, it’s good news.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

The Games We Play

 By popular demand – one person asked - some more Blake’s 7 reviews from way back in 2002, originally written as emails sent out to a few friends. Health warning - this contains opinions expressed purely for comic effect which in no way represent my views then or now.


It's getting quite tricky remembering the titles of Blake stories. They're always one word, and this story involves a computer called Gambit and a spaceship in Orbit around a planet of Sand where a Traitor lives. I think this complete interchangeability of plot content is one of the series' strengths.

Say what you like about `the seven', it's never boring. Superlative or awful, there's always something to enjoy in there. Except... Games is just boring. Even watched in 25-minute segments on either side of The Eurovision Song Contest [it should've been Malta], Have I Got News For You and a Kylie Minogue documentary, it really fails to inspire interest, or indeed any feelings whatsoever. There's nothing really to take the piss out of, either. It's so blah.

It feels very Doctor Who-ey too, in a way. Partly that would be because it was filmed on same the sunny seaside as Skaro [the slave workers even make the same clinky-clink banging-two-rocks-together noise], partly it's Dudley's increasingly repetitive music, and partly it's because it's got Monarch and the President Of The Presidium in it.

But what's wrong with it... it's not so much that I couldn't follow the story, it's just that I kept on expecting there to be one. Stuff just sort of seems to happen with no consequence. People turn up for scenes, say a few lines, sod off again. We never get a sense of the actions having any affect. Is there a plot? I'm really not sure. I thought I spotted one in the first five minutes but it fcked off and hid behind a rock and only appeared again in the last five minutes. "Fat bloke has a computer. He turns it off. Some people think he may have some magic space crystals, but he doesn't. No-one minds very much."

Of course, Servalan's in it, though I've got no idea why. She chats with Statford Johns [just a short car journey away from Milton `Keynes' Johns] and that's about it. Jacqueline seems to be enjoying herself though. Every line is transformed into arch banter upon her glistening, knowing lips. If only she could get her nail varnish dry.

The opening is very promising. Explosions. Soolin in a tight costume. A stagey argument on board the Scorpio where each person stands up in turn. The Darrow, delivering his lines with aplomb in his mouth. There's a point where he says, in his typically gritted way, `...Naturally!' and then turns to the camera as though expecting a spontaneous round of applause. Or a spontaneous round of drinks.

He seems on particularly shirty form this week. `The logic of its creator!' For a moment there I really thought he was going to kick Orac's smug, supercilious Christmas-lights brain in.

I remember bits of this from the first broadcast; the scene where Soolin shoots her own reflection, some of the dialogue that went around it was very familiar. Though watching it now that scene seems rather inconsequential, so I don't know why I remembered it. Probably because I could never understand how someone could out-shoot their own reflection; it's like a big `eh?' that has been hanging over my head for the last two decades. The chess sets and control rooms and computer and slave trains also had the ring of twenty-year-old familiarity.

This week the guns shoot fireworks rather than special effects, which is nice. Some of the location work is surprisingly violent; or, not so much violent, but indulgent, as though taking pleasure from its poorly-staged `action' sequences and big explosions.

Later on, Vila shoots someone. Seems odd. Is this the first time he's shot someone? I don't remember him ever being very trigger-happy. Maybe he killed someone in an earlier episode.

It's oddly convenient that the games on board the spaceship happen to match the skills of the four people who happen to teleport onboard. Though I thought Dayna was supposed to be the one handy with a gun?

As I said, I didn't really understand what was going on, or care. There seemed to be a lot of scenes where nothing happened  there were no `beats', no points where I felt the plot was advancing. It was just `there'; characters standing around giving paragraph-long speeches about things I don't care about. I mean, what's all that Avon and Soolin stuff about orbital trajectories and planetary eclipses? Just say `we'll hide behind the space station'. That's all you need, Bill, that's all you need. I'd know what you were on about then.

The only good bit  the only bit that stuck in my mind as being cool  is the scene where Tarrant asks Avon if the Feldon crystals are dangerous to handle, whereupon Avon casually tosses one in the air. Totally Darrow. 


Watched this one over at REDACTED and REDACTED’s house, so they could experience the wonder that is Jonny doing his Blake’s Watch live in their front room. Which generally involves shouting at the screen or laughing or talking about completely unrelated things. This entry will be a little briefer than usual as I didn't take notes.

Before the Watch began, REDACTED said he didn't like Sand, it irritated him, he found it annoying. I told him to stop quoting Anakin's chat-up lines from 'Attack Of The Clones' but the poor lad didn't have a clue what I was on about.

All of the non-regular cast have been in Doctor Who; is this a first? There's Young Chris Parsons [later to become the undisputed star of 'No Place Like Home', 'Waiting For God' before ending up doing voice-over narration for 'Popstars'], Costa [brother of Michael Craze] and Stephen Yardley [later to find infamy as Ken Masters in the Howards' Way].

What do I remember about this story from my first viewing? Tarrant and Servalan snogging under a green light. That's about it.

It's written by Tanith Lee, who wrote the astonishingly competent Sarcophagus. Unfortunately, whilst the script for Sand isn't bad, there seems to have been some sort of production mix-up so that scenes which are obviously written to be filmed in a quarry have to be shot in the studio. Which means we have the most laughably poor 'surface of a rocky planet' sets in the history of TV. Even worse than the unrealistic plastic knoll in City At The End Of The World. Even worse than the children's drawing from the Take Hart gallery used as a CSO backdrop in Voice From The Past. It's so bad I kept on expecting a Clanger to pop up from behind a rock and give an indignant 'ooooeeeoooeoooeoo'.

The other main problem is that the story is about sentient sand which, unfortunately, can't really be achieved on television. We see a bit of sand outside a window. We see a bit of sand being thrown across the floor towards Young Chris Parsons. We see a bit of sand that has inexplicably got into the Scorpio and decided to attack Vila's shoes. But we don't see sandstorms or stuff like that. Problem.

Of course, it begins well, with an atmospheric narration over some green rocks and valleys. And the story is interesting - Servalan being given some much-needed character development, even though we all know it's going to be completely forgotten next week. Apparently she became a hard-bitten space bitch because her boyfriend dumped her. Yes, I can see how that might happen. And we get an explanation as to how she survived the Liberator blowing up - I was wondering if they were ever going to get around to mentioning that, or they were just hoping no-one would notice. Apparently she just teleported off and found herself on a Federation world. Lucky, that.

Don't think much of Servalan's new spaceship. Too LEGO. And her nails still aren't dry.

Stephen Yardley recognizes Servalan, rather than believing her to be Governor Sleer. I was wondering when they would get round to that. And we finally get an explanation as to how Servalan has managed to get away with her feeble ruse - she's killed everyone who previously knew her. Yes, explanations are certainly coming fast and thick.

Being in an enclosed space, Servalan and Tarrant have to Get It On [see also: Vila and his girlfriend in 'City' and Avon and Servalan in, oh, I forget which episode]. However, this turns out to be all part of the Sand's cunning plan to procreate the human race for food. Meanwhile, the rest of the Scorpio gang sit around in their studio set [I note that the gaps between the desks have suddenly got larger...?] and Vila gets pissed. Very little clenched Darrow action this week. Not enough Soolin either [her main role seems to be to reminisce about how good the plot for Sarcophagus was, a story she wasn't actually in, but, hey, I won't hold that against her]. Still, on the plus side, very little Orac and Slave.

Overall, I really enjoyed it, but it's hard to say whether it's any good or not, as it's a frustrating juxtaposition of good writing and acting against some of the shakiest production values in a programme synonymous with shaky production values. Superficially, it's a bloody terrible programme from start to finish, yes, but Jacqueline Pearce gives her first decent performance and there's an engaging, if not completely watertight, story. There's the potential for excellence there, but it's being thrown away.

So yes, Sand is irritating and annoying. But it's also very entertaining.


It's a sort of general rule of thumb that the Blake’s get better towards the end of each season. They usually start quite well, then dip quite dramatically over the first half, aand then gradually build up to an explosive, cliffhanger finish. I've now hit the final upward slope of Blake. This is where it starts getting terminally good.

It was great how they always ended each series on a cliffhanger, wasn't it? Why did they never do that with Doctor Who? And, no, `I'll take you to-' does not count as a cliffhanger. And nor does them changing the lead actor. Where's the peril in that? Where's the derring-do? Where's the va-va-voom?

Were the computer graphics in the titles done by the same people who did the computer graphics in Hitch Hiker's? They're very good. Much better than the real computer graphics of the time.

Anyway, the episode. It opens with probably the best opening shot in all of Blake’s 7; the best model spaceship we have seen so far glides serenely past, in an astonishing display of special effects that, whilst not at all convincing, are not at all bad either. Accompanied, of course, by some lovely Dudley horn.

Surely, I thought to myself, it can't get any better than this. But it does.

The crew of the Scorpio are on a mission to rob some Gold. Dayna obviously thinks this episode will be as dull as the last couple of weeks', and thinks she may need some reading material to liven up the proceedings. `I'd better take a spare mag.'

Soolin. Excuse me whilst I wax lyrical about Glynis Barber. She's gorgeous. In her tight grey jumpsuit with its glittery blue stripe. It's very tight, you can see everything, outlines, clear as day. Nothing left to the imagination. And she moves in such a slinky fashion. By which I mean she walks with a sort of sexy, bum-swinging gait, not that she somersaults head-over-heels down some stairs. Not that sort of slinky, no. That would be hideous. And her make-up is impeccable; a little blusher, cyan eyeshadow, eyeliner, glittery pink lipstick. She's wonderful, isn't she? She lights up every scene like a sort of very sexy lightbulb.

Why didn't they have her in it from the beginning? And, no, being a Mutoid doesn't count. Soolin's Seven. That would've been better.

Anyway, this episode also features Roy Kinnear, comedy actor of `Help!' and `TW3' fame. He's very good; he finds the comedy in every line. Competent celebrities really can give second-rate sci-fi shows a much-needed shot in the arm.

It's quite appropriate casting, because he's playing a comedy character in a witty and urbane script, full of neat one-liners and dry banter and frisky rejoinders. `Seventeen billion  that's a lot of cash'. `The mine on Zerok is underground' says Keiller, `Mines often are,' deadpans Dayna. `It's alright, it's only Keiller  but this is Avon!' And, of course, the wonderful, `Avon, would you be careful with that gun!'

Okay, so these lines may fall a little flat out of context, but at the time they seemed hilarious. By Blake's 7 standards.

Oh, and `I've never seen currency of that size' says Vila. Because those are BIG banknotes. You could exchange nine of them for a Triganic Pu.

So I've established it's fun, and funny. There's a good, concise, snappy plot underneath it all, with a neat and unexpected twist. And I don't mean the surprise reveal that this weeks' machinating villain behind the scenes is bloody SERVALAN. That was the expected, entirely predictable and heavily-eyeshadowed twist. The twist that turns up with depressing you-can-set-your-bowel-movements-by-it regularity. Ooh, who is this mysterious figure who has been manipulating events behind the scenes? SERVALAN! Oh, what a disappointment. Thought it might've been someone good.

And she is Servalan this week, not Governor Sleer. I'm glad they've forgotten that.

Apparently the Scorpio gang are becoming notorious. Quite what for, we are never told. Being a bit rubbish, probably.

Zerok is the Gold Planet, apparently.

DARROW! He's clenched! But he's holding back  he needs to keep some Darrow Factor in reserve for later episodes. But he's still quite, quite mad. He can't even walk through a door properly, he has to dart through, keeping his gun covered, ducking his head and looking back and forth through narrowed eyes, his teeth gritted.

The most Darrow of all the Darrow moments is the final shot, where Darrow has to finally go completely bonkers. The Scorpio gang have been defeated once again, and Soolin - love her - is a bit cheesed off about it. But what does Darrow do? He laughs. At length. And then he laughs a bit more, but this time overdubbed. Bwahahahahaha. I'm the Darrow, and I can laugh. Look at my lovely teeth. I'm Paul Darrow, and every episode must end on my I've-lost-but-loving-it grin. A sort of wicked, knowing smirk. An evil, here's-one-for-the-ladies-at-home grin. DARROW!

The episode also features a costume from Robots Of Death. And Tarrant looking very fetching in a black polo neck. Soolin! Soolin! I prefer Soolin! I was never confused.

Anyway. It transpires that the Kinnear is not, in fact, running a pleasure cruise, but the pleasure cruise is a cover for transporting consignments of black gold. Not oil, but gold that's been turned black by some sort of special molecular process, you understand.

The best thing about the pleasure cruise is that it is punctuated by some of the most glorious space music you've ever heard. Dadadada-da! Dadadada-da! Dudley excels himself. A sort of jaunty muzak, with a cheeky twist of oompah. The sort of music that would've punctuated a Charles Hawtrey cameo in Carry On In Space, if they'd ever made a Carry On In Space [though Blake’s 7, of course, does come pretty close].

It's a well-directed episode. The bit where the Darrow is in the airlock screaming at Drunken Sideburns to teleport him out is rather tense and exciting. I'm not used to Blake’s 7 being tense and exciting. Feels strange, somehow.

And hello, is that the buggy from Space Rats making a return appearance? Wa-hey!

Overall then, the best episode of season four so far. Superb. Fast, funny, clever, and featuring Glynis Barber in extraordinarily tight trousers.

But Orac can fck right off.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

Every now and then I’m fortunate enough to have someone say something kind to me on twitter or elsewhere about my work. It’s always massively appreciated. And the other day a particularly generous person said that they thought I was so good at writing Doctor Who stories, they had to ask, why wasn’t I writing for the TV show? 

Well, it’s a difficult question to answer, because clearly whether or not I write for the TV show is not up to me. It’s not as if they’ve asked and I’ve turned them down! And whilst it is clearly intended as a compliment, it’s difficult not to also take it as a criticism. It’s the equivalent of saying to a singer, ‘You’re really good at singing, why aren’t you at number one?’

Thing is, I’m bloody proud of all my work in books, audios and comics, and I don’t consider them to be second-best to the TV show. I work hard, I put in lots of effort, and I wouldn’t do that if I thought I was wasting my time. I do it because I know there are readers and listeners out there who, like me, care a great deal about how well-written something is.

Of course – it totally goes without saying – I would love to write for the TV show. It would be lovely to have a larger audience, and more money, and to be able to spend months honing a script to perfection through multiple drafts (other writers sometimes moan about that sort of thing, I’d consider it a luxury). But it’s not in my gift. The fact of the matter is, Steven Moffat either a) is not in a position to commission writers with little broadcast TV experience or b) thinks that if I was commissioned, I would not be up to the task. Or, most likely, c) both.

Both of which are entirely understandable and reasonable things, about which I have no complaint. I know how these things work. And whilst I may find it hard to disagree with people when they tell me that something that I wrote is better than something that was on TV, as far as the people who decide who writes Doctor Who on TV are concerned, they are commissioning the very best scripts from the very best writers available.

Now, of course, given the opportunity, I think I would do a damn good job. What I may lack in experience I would more than make up for in enthusiasm and effort; there is not, I think, a human being alive on this planet who would work harder. I can take criticism, I know the show backwards, and – if I’m going to be totally honest – I think that if Steven had brought me on board when he'd started he’d now have more time to spend on his own scripts and take much longer holidays.

But there is no point in complaining or wondering what might have been. The onus is on me to demonstrate that I am good enough, not on anyone else to give me a break. And if I haven’t demonstrated that yet, then there is no-one responsible but me. And, yes, there are things I regret, opportunities I didn’t take. The main one being that I didn’t start writing until I was in my late twenties, because I had no confidence in myself  (you may have noticed that I’ve kind of been trying to make up for lost time ever since). And I failed to maintain friendships I should have maintained, and, yes, once or twice, I was a complete dick.

All I can do is to keep plugging away, writing spec scripts, and getting my (marvellous) agent to send them off to people. But like anyone, I have to go where the money is, and given the choice between spending a month writing scripts that will get made and paid, and a month writing stuff which almost certainly won’t get made and for which I almost certainly won’t get paid, I have to choose the former. I try to make space to do spec scripts, but I’m not going to turn down paid work to do so.

You see, there was a period a few years ago, when it looked like I had an ITV sitcom ‘definitely’ commissioned, and so I spent half a year or so writing the scripts, secure in the knowledge that when the show was made, I would get paid very well indeed. But then there was a reshuffle at ITV and, anyway, long, tiresome and very depressing story cut short, the whole thing fell apart and I found myself severely financially embarrassed. And I never want to find myself in that situation again. I can’t afford to write in the hope of maybe getting paid one day, I can’t take that risk any more.

Of course, in my head, I now disagree with what I’ve just written. Because even as I typed it, I was thinking, ‘But you can always find more time, Jonny. You can always do more work!’ because that is how I think, and part and parcel of being a writer. The job is not about making excuses why you can’t write, it’s about making excuses so that you can. So, sod the excuses, I remain determined to do more spec scripts. I have a sitcom I’m desperate to write, a drama series, a film, a whole list of things. And I will write them!

If you look to the list to the right - I have written quite a few other things, and that’s not the whole list. If you think I write a lot of Doctor Who stuff, oh, that’s just the tip of the iceberg! For every two or three Doctor Who scripts, I write one of my own. And because those scripts are me writing what I want to write, with my original characters and so forth, they tend to be some of the best things I’ve ever written, above and beyond any of my Doctor Who things, and yet the irony is that only a handful of people have ever read them.

But I can only keep plugging on, and if you want the answer to the question why I’m not writing for the TV show, it’s because I haven’t written enough spec scripts of my own, that they haven’t been good enough, or they haven’t been read by the right people, but if I keep going, if I find more time, if I work hard and write more, better, spec scripts, then maybe, one day, I’ll get somewhere. That's how it works. As I said earlier, there’s no-one responsible for my career but me. No-one else to take the credit and no-one else to take the blame.

Friday, 27 September 2013


The following introduction was first published in the Doctor Who Magazine special, The Missing Episodes: The First Doctor, for which I also wrote introductions to the various stories for which 'telesnaps' do exist. I previously blogged about researching the magazine here.


It is the singular greatest frustration of being a Doctor Who fan that so many of its early episodes are missing. While fans of Star Trek or The Twilight Zone can watch a complete run of episodes, from beginning to end, in digitally-remastered quality, Doctor Who fans have gaps; glaring, soul-crushing lacunae in the continuously developing narrative that mean it will never be possible for modern fans to watch all of Doctor Who from the start, in order, as viewers did in the 60s. Because of the missing episodes, being a fan of Doctor Who will always be a tantalisingly incomplete, unresolved experience, because there will always be episodes which have yet to be seen, episodes that may yet be recovered but which almost certainly won’t. To paraphrase the playwright Michael Frayn; it’s not the despair we can’t stand, it’s the hope.

It’s a formative moment in the experience of any Doctor Who fan. If you didn’t know that there were missing episodes and have only just learned that fact from reading this introduction, then I feel your pain; the wound is still raw and forever will be. When I first became a fan, I only knew about the old stories from the novelizations published by Target books and my prized Doctor Who Monster Book. The thought of ever actually watching them seemed like an impossible dream, because old Doctor Whos were never repeated and to all intents and purposes didn’t exist; they were a part of distant, black-and-white history and I no more expected to watch a William Hartnell Doctor Who than I expected to participate in the Second World War. But then, in 1981, the BBC repeated the first William Hartnell story and suddenly it seemed plausible that if they could show that, then surely The Abominable Snowmen couldn’t be that far away. But instead they showed The Krotons. Because that was the only complete Patrick Troughton four-part story they still had. A story so inconsequential, so second-rate, that Target books hadn’t even bothered to publish a novelization of it.

It was only when my mum brought home the Doctor Who Magazine Winter Special – one of the very first forerunners of this magazine – that I discovered the truth. The magazine printed a list of all the Doctor Who episodes that existed in the BBC archive, a list that consisted largely of the word ‘none’. All those stories I’d read and loved as novelizations, like The Tomb Of The Cybermen and The Ice Warriors, plus amazing-sounding stories I’d never heard of like The Evil Of The Daleks and Fury From The Deep. None, none, none, none. The Web Of Fear. One. The Invasion. All of it apart from part one (a typo, as part four didn’t exist either).

How could they do this to me? Why had such a terrible, heart-breaking situation ever been allowed to happen? It didn’t make sense. How could the BBC - the people who made Doctor Who not have bothered to keep it?

There are, sadly, two main reasons. The first is that in the 60s television was still a young medium, where programmes were considered to be as ephemeral as theatrical productions. In its very early days when everything was live, shows weren’t even repeated at all; instead, the actors would simply reconvene for a second performance. By the 60s the technology existed to repeat shows, but the BBC’s obligation to both its Royal Charter and the license fee payers was to originate new material and keep repeats to a minimum; if shows were repeated, it would be as a sort of ‘catch-up’ service within two years of the initial broadcast. Moving into the 70s, the introduction of colour television (and twice as expensive colour television license fees) meant that black-and-white programming was considered old-fashioned and second-rate and repeats were few and far between (in much the same way that repeats of standard-definition, 4:3 programmes are now rare on BBC One.)

So there wasn’t much reason to keep the programmes for a UK broadcast. In addition, the BBC’s agreement with the actors’ unity Equity meant that repeating old programmes was almost as expensive as making new ones (the union being understandably keen to ensure that the BBC generated new work for its members). However, it is important to note that Equity did not want old programmes to be destroyed; quite the opposite, in fact, as they provided royalties for its members through overseas sales.

But if Doctor Who was being sold overseas, surely that was a reason to keep it? Well, yes, that was a good reason and initially that was the case. Although Doctor Who’s videotapes were routinely wiped (because videotapes were expensive and had to be re-used) almost every single episode had a film copy made first*, so that duplicates of that copy could be sold to overseas stations. Initially Doctor Who was a great success for the BBC’s commercial arm, BBC Enterprises, but by the mid-70s sales of the old black-and-white stories were beginning to dry up. Foreign TV stations were also moving to colour and becoming less interested in black-and-white-material and as the show’s popularity had fallen off during its third season in the UK, the interest of overseas viewers also seems to have waned. In addition, for a couple of years in the late 60s BBC Enterprises couldn’t sell stories featuring the Daleks (due to Terry Nation withdrawing the rights in the hope of launching his own Dalek series) so the package of stories that BBC Enterprises could sell to overseas broadcasters omitted Patrick Troughton’s introductory adventure, The Power of the Daleks, making the second Doctor a less marketable proposition.

So with foreign sales drying up and little prospect of UK repeats, there seemed little point for BBC Enterprises in retaining their archive of Doctor Who film and so, when their rights to sell the shows expired, their film copies were ‘junked’ (i.e. thrown in a skip) to make room in the vaults for more recent, much more commercial material . This was in the days before home video and it took BBC Enterprises a long time to realise the commercial potential of archive material. It does seem remarkably short-sighted in retrospect, but that was how things were back then; in the early 60s the BBC were wiping episodes of Hancock’s Half Hour while BBC Records were releasing the soundtrack of two episodes of Hancock as an LP. The idea that there might one day be a market for ‘archive’ material simply didn’t occur; not only was Doctor Who not kept, but also Not Only... But Also, The Likely Lads, Til Death Us Do Part and hundreds of episodes of Z-Cars, Top of the Pops and numerous other shows now forgotten.

Gradually, however, the attitude of the BBC began to change, as articles appeared in the press highlighting the fact that they were not retaining copies of their programming (Peter Cook bemoaning the wiping of Beyond the Fringe in an edition of satirical magazine Private Eye). The deal with Equity was renegotiated allowing more ‘out of time’ repeats and, as the cost of videotape came down, there was no longer such a pressing need to wipe videotapes for re-use. During the mid-70s the BBC’s Film Library extended its remit from only retaining material originated on film to include videotapes, becoming the BBC Film and Videotape Library (which is why every Doctor Who story from 1975 onwards exists on its original tapes).

A few years later, the BBC appointed an Archive Selector to administrate this archive, Sue Malden. Eager to build a partnership with the British Film Institute, Malden visited their Television Officer, Paul Madden, so they could compare records of what BBC material existed in the National Film Archive that didn’t exist in the BBC’s Film and Videotape Library and vice versa. She noticed that the BFI had film copies of three complete Doctor Who stories that weren’t in the BBC’s own archive; The Mind Robber, The Dominators and The War Games. Malden asked where the BFI had got them from and was told they had been donated by BBC Enterprises. This led Malden to contact BBC Enterprises to find out what archive material they held, to stop junking it and to have it transferred to the BBC’s Film and Videotape Library.

Unfortunately, by that point, BBC Enterprises had junked their copies of most of the episodes from seasons three, four and five. But luckily for us they hadn’t got around to chucking out the episodes from the first two seasons, meaning that all those stories – a complete run save for Marco Polo, The Reign of Terror and The Crusade – could be added to the Doctor Who shelf in the Film and Videotape Library. Around this time, Sue Malden was also paid a visit by a record producer called Ian Levine, a tenacious Doctor Who enthusiast who had been trying to purchase copies of episodes from the BBC for his own collection. He alerted Malden to the fact that some of the Doctor Who episodes missing from the BBC’s archive may still exist in overseas archives, which was indeed the case for a large number of colour Jon Pertwee episodes (the BBC’s copies only being in black-and-white).

Over the years since then, 33 more missing episodes have been recovered (17 Hartnell, 14 and 2 Pertwee) from overseas broadcasters, private collections and various BBC storage facilities, thanks to the perseverance and perspicacity of Ian Levine, Paul Vanezis and several other Doctor Who fans. With the recent recovery of episode three of Galaxy Four and episode two of The Underwater Menace, the total of missing episodes now stands at 106. The fact that so much of Doctor Who exists is a testament not only to fans’ determination but to the incompetence of the BBC; not only could they not manage to keep a proper archive, they couldn’t even manage to throw things away. Who knows how many missing episodes may have found their way into private collections, having been ‘liberated’ from the BBC or elsewhere?

But it’s not only missing episodes that have been recovered. Back in the 60s a number of forward-thinking Doctor Who fans took the trouble to make audio recordings of the episodes as they were being broadcast, recordings which have since been released with narration by BBC Audiobooks and which have provided the soundtracks of animated recreations of the missing episodes of The Reign of Terror, The Tenth Planet and The Invasion. Fans have also tracked down numerous clips from the missing episodes, from film sequences misfiled in the archive to a trailer accidentally recorded at the end of another programme, from clips used in editions of Blue Peter and Tomorrow’s World, to shots cut out of episodes by Australian censors, to a reel of 8mm film shot by an Australian fan, made by pointing a cine-camera at the TV screen. As it stands, there are (virtually) complete soundtracks for every single missing episode and clips from every missing story save for Marco Polo, Mission to the Unknown and The Massacre Of St Bartholomew’s Eve.

And, of course, there are the telesnaps that form the basis of this magazine, providing a visual record of the missing episodes of Marco Polo, The Crusade, The Savages, The Smugglers and The Tenth Planet. While the clips and the soundtracks can give a flavour of a story, the telesnaps give a sense of each episode as a whole, as there are so many of them they form an effective ‘photo-story’. Thanks to the telesnaps we have an idea of what practically every character from those missing episodes looked like, what their costumes and their make-up looked like, what every set looked like, how the scenes were blocked out, how they were shot and how they were lit. Studied in conjunction with the soundtracks, the clips and the camera scripts, you can get such a thorough and complete idea of each episode it’s almost as if you have actually watched them on television. Almost.

Of all the episodes for which no telesnaps exist, those from The Reign of Terror are the least mysterious, as they are bookended by four extant episodes from the same serial which take place in most of the same locations with the same cast. The only significant character who doesn’t appear in one of the remaining episodes is the Physician (played by Ronald Pickup in his first television role). We also don’t know what the room in his house visited by Barbara and Susan looked like, or what the church crypt where Ian is ambushed looked like. And although Robespierre appears in episode six, he only does so in a state of dumb panic, as all his dialogue scenes are in The Tyrant of France, in which he exchanges harsh words with the Doctor and admits his regret at the bloodshed he has caused and A Bargain of Necessity, in which he is warned by Lemaitre of his imminent downfall.

By contrast, until the discovery of its third episode, Airlock, much of Galaxy Four was a mystery. Most significantly, we only had two rather murky photographs of the stories’ benevolent aliens, the Rills. And although a short clip from part one featuring the villainous Drahvins did survive, it was frustratingly short on Chumblie action (the Chumblies being the Rills’ dome-shaped robots). The discovery of the missing episode demonstrated how little we knew; how rapidly the Chumblies moved, for instance, or how their claws worked, or quite how shaky their spaceship was.

There’s also quite a lot we thought we knew that turned out to be wrong. Fortunately camera scripts exist for all the missing episodes, detailing not just the dialogue and action but also the camera shots and moves, but anyone reading these scripts (available on The Lost TV Episodes CD collections) at the same time as listening to the surviving soundtracks is likely to be struck by how frequently the dialogue differs from what was scripted (particularly where Hartnell is concerned). And just as dialogue was modified on the day of recording, other plans were also changed. And so when fans first saw the recovered episode in 2011 their first shock was how clearly visible the Rill was in the first scene. According to the camera script and according to the memories of fans who saw the episode on original broadcast, the Rill was hidden behind ‘swirling, smoky gas’ - leading Vicki to later ask why they won’t let her see them - yet we now know that wasn’t the case. Similarly, while we did know there was a ‘flashback’ scene shot from a Rill’s point of view, we didn’t know that it would show the wounded Drahvin to be actually bleeding. The script also specified that we should catch glimpses of other Rills during this scene; in the actual episode they are nowhere to be seen. And while we knew Stephanie Bidmead’s monologue was shot as a close-up, we didn’t know it was delivered straight to camera as a fourth-wall-breaking aside. In this and in so many other ways what we thought we knew was only half the story or completely wrong. But most importantly of all, what the script and the soundtrack didn’t tell us was all the physical business that William Hartnell would add, directing the Chumblies with his cane or his mirth at their appearance. It’s these moments, moments that we couldn’t possibly have known about, that make episode recoveries so precious.

Mission to the Unknown’s title turns out to be ironically appropriate. No clips exists from it at all, so the only visual material we have are the photographs of the alien delegates (some of which include a mysterious female human delegate, ‘Verity’), a few set photographs and – bizarrely – a sketch from a Canadian comedy show recorded on the same set. No photographs exist at all of any of the human characters. There’s one photograph of a sinister Varga plant in situ in the jungle, but we don’t know how it moved, or what Jeff Garvey’s transformation into a Varga hybrid looked like. We’re not even sure which alien delegate is which, as Malpha is the only one to speak, but if the existing second episode of The Daleks’ Master Plan is anything to go by, they each had their own distinctive way of moving and expressing agreement.

We have almost as little to go on with the next story, The Myth Makers. The 8mm clips aren’t greatly revealing and in terms of photographs, we’re very well-served in terms of Vicki clinching with Troilus but not very well-served regarding the rest of the cast; there are no photographs at all of Menelaus or Paris and the only photographs we have of Achilles and Hector have their faces hidden by their helmets. But what we do know – from the script and the existing soundtrack – is that this was an exceptionally fine story, with an extraordinarily witty script and a cast of experienced comedy players. Unfortunately, that means we’re missing all the reaction-shots and double-takes that would have accompanied the comedy. And although the script is very much a theatrical, verbal piece, we’re also missing some great visuals; although we know what some of the sets looked like, we have little idea what the scenes set inside the Trojan Horse looked like, or how the fall of Troy came across on screen. We know they built a model of Troy to be combined with shots using the Schüfftan process; did it work? In the scene where the Doctor demonstrates his ‘flying machine’ to Odysseus what sort of paper aeroplane did William Hartnell build and did it fly? This story was also the first to feature the TARDIS’ wardrobe room; what did it look like and what did Vicki find there?

The frustration continues with The Daleks’ Master Plan, as so much of it is missing but what does exist is so well-directed and spectacular. The existing film sequences, in particular, are some of the most visually arresting moments of the black-and-white era; Kert Gantry stumbling through the jungle only to come face-to-face with a Dalek, the Daleks setting light to the jungle and the teleportation sequence in Counter Plot. When it comes to the episodes that don’t exist, it’s the absence of the film sequences which are the most frustrating; frustrating because they were the ‘money shots’, the sequences where the director had the most resources, freedom and time at his disposal – shooting with a single-camera at the BBC Television Film Studios at Ealing and editing at leisure rather than shooting multi-camera – and yet frustrating because at least with the studio recordings we have a record of what shots and camera moves were planned. With regard to the film sequences, we have virtually no idea at all. So when it comes to the model shots, the scene where the Monk’s TARDIS changes its appearance to different modes of transport and the climactic ‘mutation sequence’ we can only guess at what they looked like. The final episode certainly sounds incredible, but as it had several days of filming devoted to it, creating shots of the sun racing across the sky, of Sara and the Doctor aging and the Daleks regressing, the likelihood is that it looked even better than it sounded.

That’s not all we’re missing. There’s the first death of a companion, Katarina; a clip survives of the moments just before, but not of the shot of her body floating weightlessly through space. There’s the peculiar scene with the Test Match commentators in Volcano, which appears to have included a shot of the TARDIS on the pitch and some stock footage of a cricket match. There are the Screamers and the Visians and the alien delegates that, for reasons known only to themselves, look and sound different when they turn up in later episodes. There’s the futuristic TV broadcast from the opening episode. And there’s The Feast of Steven, Doctor Who’s first Christmas special, which, judging by its virtually incomprehensible soundtrack, was either a tightly-choreographed fast-paced laugh-riot, or a lot of people running around shouting. Of course, it’s likely to be the latter, but if anyone could’ve pulled it off, it would be director Douglas Camfield.

The Massacre of St Bartholomew’s Eve is another of Doctor Who’s great enigmas. Once again, little photographic material exists, with no images available of many of the characters, most notably the Abbot of Amboise as portrayed by William Hartnell. Given that the character’s appearance was intended to come as a surprise and the intention was to keep viewers guessing as to whether he was the Doctor, it’s understandable, if frustrating, that he didn’t feature in any of the photo sessions called to publicise the story. And the Abbot only constitutes a small part of what is an unusually adult, literate script, light on action and humour, but rich with emotion and a suitably doom-laden atmosphere. The cast is exceptionally strong – and as the story’s de facto leading man, Peter Purves is no weak link, giving a skilful and emotionally-charged performance. The production values also seem to have been unusually high, with a huge set constructed at Ealing for the story’s exterior scenes . But the highlight has to be Hartnell’s performance, not as the Abbot but as the Doctor, seemingly abandoned by his remaining companion and contemplating a return to his home planet. But we can only guess at how that scene looked on screen, just as we can only guess at how powerful the story’s climax, combining film footage of the characters’ deaths with a ‘nightmare-raising portfolio of Massacre woodcuts’ must’ve been.

And finally, there’s The Celestial Toymaker, a story which might not have been recorded in telesnaps but which was amply covered by publicity photographs and where the existing final episode gives us some idea of what the other episodes were like (as, for instance, the game of TARDIS Hopscotch takes place on the same basic metallic-walled set that was used for the obstacle course, the Hall of Dolls, Mrs Wiggs’ kitchen and the Dancing Floor). The final episode gives the impression that it was an unusually ramshackle production, an opinion shared by some of its cast, but we shouldn’t be too quick to condemn it. After all, if we only had the final episode of the first Dalek story to go on, it would appear equally ropey and despite its low budget this story seems to have been particularly effective for its younger viewers. Certainly the soundtrack suggests an atmosphere of unbearable menace and the story’s central conceit, of real people turned into playthings, is both piteous and extremely disturbing. Judging by Cyril’s electrocution in the final part, the story didn’t pull its punches, with characters being violently transformed back into dolls or playing cards. The whole idea of killer clowns, playing cards, ballerinas, fictional characters and lethal playground games is the stuff of nightmares, Lewis Carroll by way of Samuel Beckett. By missing the first three episodes, we are missing all of this stories biggest scares, as well as a proper look at the Toymaker’s Dolls’ House (only glimpsed in the existing episode). We’re missing astonishing, surreal images like the conveyor belt of TARDISes and Mrs Wiggs and Sergeant Rugg dancing off into the void, as well as a flashback to young Dodo in school uniform and clips from The Daleks’ Master Plan and The Massacre Of St Bartholomew’s Eve. But most of all we don’t know how effective the gradual descent into half-darkness during the obstacle course was; maybe it was barely noticeable, or maybe it was a masterpiece of surrealism akin to The Twilight Zone’s Five Characters In Search Of An Exit.

In short, there is still so much we don’t know about these missing episodes, which is why they continue to exert such fascination and why their absence will always be a source of great frustration. We can only hope that some more will be found, maybe one day... but it’s the hoping we can’t stand.

* As far as we know, no film copy was made of the 1965 Christmas Day instalment of The Daleks’ Master Plan, The Feast of Steven, which was not included as part of the story when it was offered to overseas broadcasters.