The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

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.


  1. I know absolutely nothing about televison production so I could be about to write a lot of shit.

    It seems to me that when it comes to writing for Doctor Who you have to be an established television writer rather than an established Doctor Who writer.

    Chris Chibnell has been rightly lauded for his scripting especially on Broadchurch. But had he actually written anything Whoish before he wrote for the television series?

    You, and many other Big Finish scribes, have written scripts that are much better than anything that has been on tv over the last nine years.

    The top Big Finish writers are prolific and have an amazing hit rate. When I see the names Marc Platt, Andrew Smith and, yes, Jonathan Morris on a CD cover I know I'm going to be listening to something special.

    Marc and Andrew wrote for the televison series in the 1980s but they've never been invited back.

    To be honest, I think that Moffat not being prepared to take a punt on you and the other is his losss...and the show's.

  2. Have to agree with the above comment by David Weller.
    The next step from audio/radio is television. Moffat must have listened to some of the huge BF back catalogue. Surely, he has heard ONE story that could be adapted!!!