The latest issue of Doctor Who Magazine, the one with a psychedelic portrait of Jon Pertwee on the cover, includes an article by yours truly on The Greatest Doctor Who Love Stories. A little bit of fun for Valentine’s Day, essentially, going through the various pairings, selecting their Magic Moment, discussing what the love story was, and allocating a Love Theme. I originally wanted to give them all numbers and put Astrid Peth at number one but Tom persuaded me not to. I’m rather pleased with it – it was quite an undertaking to research – and it seems to have gone down well with readers on the internet forums* so that’s all good. Please buy the magazine and check it out.
This isn’t an attempt to justify the article, but what I found interesting about researching it – and researching the Dalek article I did a few months ago – is that it forces you to look at a story from a different perspective. In this case, by removing all the science-fiction action-adventure stuff and concentrating on what might be a subplot or even just a minor thread. And all sorts of things leap out – how well-told Jo and Cliff Jones love story is, how Stott and Della’s love story has a crucial scene missing, how Altos and Sabetha’s love story pops out of nowhere and so forth; things you wouldn’t normally notice watching the episodes, because there’s so much else going on.
It can also, I think, be a useful thing to do when writing stories. Some wise writer person once said that every character in a story thinks they are the hero of the story and when writing it’s crucial to bear that in mind. That the villain or antagonist thinks that he is the hero of the story (and that the hero is the antagonist). That every guard, every servant, every non-speaking bystander, thinks the story is about them. And so, when writing, you should try to think of it from every character’s perspective; how is their character developing, how are they being pro-active.
If there’s time, it can be useful to go through a script character by character, just reading their scenes and imagining them from that character’s point of view and ignoring every scene they’re not in. What does that character want, what does that character need but not know they need, how are they consciously and subconsciously trying to achieve these goals, how are their flaws preventing them, where are they emotionally at any given point, and is everything they say and do absolutely logical and rational based on the information they have been given.
The proviso being, if there’s time, which there often isn’t, so it’s something important to bear in mind when writing anyway. A lot of it is about making the characters feel reel, making them come to life off the page, so that when their name appears the reader goes ‘Oh, yes, Bob, I remember Bob, I’m glad he’s back in it again, I was wondering what he’d got up to’. Rather than ‘Who the hell is Bob?”
The other reason why it’s worth checking that every character is the hero of their own story (I feel pretty sure this might be a Joss Whedon quote, or maybe it was Richard Curtis talking about Four Weddings. Or both) is that every one of these parts is going to have an actor trying to bring them to life, trying to find all that emotion and subtext and motivational stuff, and who wants to suffer the excruciating embarrassment of having written an actor a crap part? The actor should feel they have something to do, something to get their teeth into, a little journey to go on. Even if they’re only in one scene, or they are just a spear-carrier, there should be some spark.
And that’s what’s interesting about these love stories, because they are all about characters being given that extra motivation, that extra bit of emotion, that extra story beat. So, for instance, two computer programmers from Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways who could have been the most nondescript exposition-machines instead have their own romance, they own doomed love affair, and become characters we care about and pay attention to. So that’s why researching this article was fun, because it taught me (well, reminded me) about the importance of making every character count.
* MIRANDA GIVES RAISED-EYEBROW LOOK TO CAMERA.