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.