Back in 2010, when I wrote/adapted the 'lost' Johnny Byrne Doctor Who story The Guardians Of Prophecy, I wrote an article about all the changes and additions I had made. Mainly because I knew I'd forget them all, but also because I thought they might be of interest for anyone wanting to know how close - and how different - my adaptation was to the original synopsis.
GUARDIANS OF PROPHECY – Writer's Notes
My main source for the story was Johnny’s original 17-page story treatment, dated 26th July 1983. Apparently Johnny had been approached by the show’s producer, John Nathan-Turner, to submit a story with a similar feel to his earlier ‘The Keeper Of Traken’, bringing back that story’s monsters, the Melkur. After he submitted the treatment, the story sadly went no further.
This 17-page treatment formed the basis of an article in Doctor Who Magazine in 1991 (issue 170) which was, to begin with, my only source of information on the story. However, mentioning this project to a friend of mine, Sarah Groenewegen, it turns out that she had been pen-pals with Johnny Byrne during the 80’s and that he had given her a copy of his original story treatment for ‘The Guardians Of Prophecy’. Which was extremely good news for me (although I still referred to the DWM article for one section of the story, where a page of the story treatment was missing).
In adapting the story for audio, I inevitably had to make a few changes to the story. Many of these changes, though, would probably have had to been made along similar lines if the story had been produced during the 1980’s. On several occasions I was given the choice between sticking to the story outline, or changing some details to serve the story better. These are the changes I made, bearing in mind the style of the show at the time, and taking for guidance the dramatic structures of Johnny Byrne’s three other Doctor Who stories.
Firstly, in making the story for four episodes, I had to decide on the cliff-hangers. The middle cliff-hanger was fairly straightforward – the synopsis has three big cliff-hanger moments about half-way through – but the other two were not so straightforward. For the other two, I took inspiration from the cliff-hangers of Johnny Byrne’s episode ones and threes, episode one usually ending with a capture, episode three ending with the villain seeming victorious.
When working on the DWM synopsis, my first change was to include an extra character for the opening vault robbery, and so I was pleased when I saw, in Johnny’s original treatment, that that had been his intention all along!
The most significant change for episode one was that Johnny’s synopsis begins with the Doctor giving Peri a long history-lesson on Serenity, Malador and Melkurs in the TARDIS before they arrive. I’m not sure that this would have made it to the finished script, had it been commissioned, it reads more like the writer making things clear up-front. I decided that it would be more dramatic if this information wasn’t all delivered up-front (which would also have been too similar to another of the Lost Story audios) and that the story would be more exciting if the Doctor didn’t know everything in advance.
This also meant changing the reason why the TARDIS landed on Serenity. Johnny’s story treatment has the Doctor seeing a beam of light shining from the planet which jogs a memory of his visit to Traken. However, keen fans will know that no such thing actually happened in ‘The Keeper Of Traken’ and a beam of light isn’t very audio-friendly, so I changed it to the TARDIS picking up a broadcast of the Lament of the Melkur, which causes it to be dragged off-course. This also seeded a way of getting across what Melkur is doing at the end of episode three, when the Lament is heard again.
For similar reasons, I dispensed with voice-activated snares in the Enclosure, as the only way to get past them would be by not talking, which wouldn’t have worked very well on audio. I also made it clear that Ebbko did not know about Malador (the treatment has Ebbko wanting to have the glory of having broken into the Tomb of Malador) as it would make him seem rather foolish, given what later transpires. That’s also why in episode two I removed a section where Peri and Ebbko attempt to stop Auga deactivating Prophecy, as the synopsis has Auga defeating this attempt, only to then decide, quite inexplicably, not to kill them.
The treatment described the Enclosure as being a ‘wooded area’ but I felt it would be more likely, and more in keeping with ‘The Keeper Of Traken’, if ‘The Guardians Of Prophecy’ was adapted as though it had been an entirely studio-bound story. I therefore cut a short sequence where the Doctor and Peri discover a skeleton amidst the overgrown tombs.
Other changes to the first part were to remove a section with the Doctor being knocked out while being chased by a Quester and regaining consciousness. I also avoided calling the purloined keys ‘sacred medallions’ as that seemed silly (reminding me of 80's 'medallion men'). They became ‘sacred amulets’.
A problem with this episode is that the ‘sacred amulets’ are stolen from the reliquary but, despite their great historical importance, the fact that they’re missing isn’t noticed – not even by the all-knowing Prophecy. I did write a draft of the first two episodes in which the Elect and Prophecy are very much aware that the amulets have been stolen – and accuse the Doctor of being the culprit – but in the end I abandoned it because it was too much of a deviation from Johnny’s synopsis, because it meant the ‘trial’ scene went on even longer, and because it meant there was too much embarrassing talk of ‘sacred amulets’. It meant that there’s a small plot inconsistency with an all-knowing computer not noticing that it’s control keys have been stolen, but that’s Johnny’s plot-inconsistency, not mine!
The only other major change was with the Elect. The story treatment names four members of the Elect – Mansa (religious), Horgan (military), Grielan (commerce) and Felia (scientific) – of which only two members, Horgan and Felia, are ever heard of again. Given the limited cast size, it seemed a bit wasteful to have four members of the Elect, so I stuck with just two. Working from the DWM article, I had named the Elect members Veron and Demas. They became Felia and Horgan.
In episode two, I had Prophecy talking to the Doctor in the labyrinth, partly to give him someone to talk to, and partly as a way of the Doctor being given information that he would otherwise have had to discover apropos of nothing.
The story treatment had the Doctor turning up in Malador’s tomb just as Malador is revived, only to desperately – and ineffectively – attempt to switch off the power. This seemed to undermine the Doctor’s character, having him fail, and would also have required Malador’s resurrection to take an inordinately long time.
The biggest change to episode three was to keep Auga alive. In the treatment, he is killed shortly after Malador awakes, but for the audio, I needed someone for Malador to speak to, so I had Auga brought back to life for the remainder of the episode.
Another change was that in the treatment Mura’s ‘resistance crumbles’ upon hearing of Auga’s death and he surrenders to the Elect, only for the Melkur to smash into the chamber and kill him. This cheapened the character, I felt, and seemed a little pointless, so I decided to have Mura fighting to the bitter end.
Where possible, I tried to use actual lines from Johnny’s story treatment (though it doesn’t contain much in the way of dialogue) – for example, Malador’s line ‘Soon you, and your brothers in evil, will feast upon the banquet of death I will provide’ and Prophecy’s line ‘the ripples will become a tide of evil that will overwhelm us all.’
For part four, I had a couple of problems to solve. Firstly, there was not quite enough plot to fill 25 minutes, and secondly, in the treatment the Elect are locked in a dungeon and then never heard of again until the farewell scene, and after Ebbko gets them into the Tomb he’s never heard of again either. So I gave the Elect their own little sub-plot and made more of Ebbko at the story’s climax (which also gave Peri someone to talk to). I also clarified why Malador was keeping the Elect alive.
Part four in the DWM feature has the Doctor confronting Malador in his tomb; however, Johnny’s treatment (on which the DWM feature was based) has the Doctor confronting Malador in the Guardians’ Chamber, which makes a lot more sense.
I also greatly clarified the nature of the ‘power Labyrinth’, ‘the energy sphere’ and so forth which is quite confusing in the treatment and the DWM synopsis and risked being a load of technobabble.
And finally, the story ends with Malador ‘clawing at the Tardis screen’, again not something that would really come across on audio.
My main contribution to the story, I feel, was that what intrigued me about Johnny’s story treatment was the way it used ‘good’ and ‘evil’ as though they were real, elemental forces, so that’s an area that I built up – developing the ideas of a ‘protective shield of goodness’ and exploring the notion of Malador, a being of pure evil, and how he might have come into being.