The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Happy Hour

The new issue of Doctor Who Magazine is a bit of a tribute to Steven Moffat and what I like to call the ‘Steven Moffat era’. There’s an interview with the great man himself, and erstwhile editor Tom and I chased up various people to say nice things about him, including the predecessor Russell T Davies and successor Chris Chibnall.

My main contributions, though, are a Fact of Fiction on The Eleventh Hour and a piece entitled 20 Amazing Things About Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who. It’s like a listicle, but with a round number (important) and not bothering to put the items into any order of precedence (because whatever we decided would be arbitrary and annoy people).

It was a fun piece to write – I went back and re-watched every single Moffat story as ‘research’, which was no hardship at all – and it’s an interesting challenge to try to come up with new angles, new insights, and new things to say. To go, “Hey, did you notice this incredibly cool thing? You did? Oh. Well, I only just noticed it myself, you must be more observant than me”.

Of course, it’s all about the good stuff. We could all make our own lists of things that didn’t quite work or things that weren’t to our taste. Which might be fun, it might even be constructive, but it wouldn’t be appropriate for a magazine celebrating Doctor Who and Steven Moffat’s contribution. I daresay if you want that sort of thing it can be found on the internet.

However, inevitably with this sort of article, there are things that didn’t quite make the top 20. Things that were just ‘bubbling under’. I compiled such a list, but there wasn’t room for it in the magazine, so here it is now.

We don’t have to stop at twenty. We could keep going...

The Silence
Madame Kovarian
Asylum of the Daleks
The Name of the Doctor
Deep Breath
Danny Pink
Dark Water/Death in Heaven

(Most other things were covered within the article – for instance, Osgood is mentioned as part of The Day of the Doctor).

For the Fact of Fiction on The Eleventh I had access to various early drafts of the script. It’s always fascinating to see stuff which got cut or altered; without speculating as to the reasons, it’s usually fairly obvious and dull like budgets and schedules. I was particularly interested to find out that the part of the story that has always felt a bit iffy – the Atraxi spaceship appearing over the village green – was a last-minute bodge-job fix because several chunks of that section hadn’t been recorded due to bad weather. It’s also amazing just how much stuff gets cut; odd words here and there, that you would think were essential, reading the script, but which turn out to be redundant.

It was also interesting to see how many different iterations the ending of the story went through, as ideas were rewritten, dropped then brought back again. Right at the end of the article I mention one such idea – something that’s never been revealed before, because it’s a bit embarrassing – and break with Fact of Fiction protocol by expressing an opinion on it. Yes, I went there. So look out for that.

There you go. Two excellent reasons for buying the latest Doctor Who Magazine.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Take Me To The Pilot

I feel like another blog. I’ll talk about things I’ve had released another time. Today I’m going to write about my Fact of Fiction on The Macra Terror which was published last month, in Doctor Magazine 513.

This article was a particular challenge, because I haven’t seen The Macra Terror, and had very little to go on. There’s a soundtrack, telesnaps, a few clips, the camera scripts, a film shooting schedule and that’s about it. Pretty much everything we know – everything we can know – has been inferred from those documents.

Which meant I had to do what academics call ‘close reading’. Going through the camera script and seeing what could be inferred. Because, once you get the hang of reading them, you start to realise they contain more information than you might realise. For instance, the director might have been using a different typewriter to the script writer, so you can see which bits the director added. Or, with Death to the Daleks, I noticed that the script page numbers indicated that some scenes had been cut, where they were and approximately how long they were. And so on.

The camera script of The Macra Terror is unusually scruffy. Somebody has retyped ‘crabs’ over ‘insects’ throughout – well, nearly – rather than having the secretary re-type the script again, suggesting that the decision to make the monsters crabs rather than insects – or the realisation that the prop builders had built a giant crab rather than a giant insect – came very late in the day, possibly even during the week of rehearsals for the first episode.

But this scruffiness also meant I could guess at stuff which had been cut or changed from the preceding rehearsal scripts. (Annoyingly, the rehearsal scripts did exist in a private collection, after they were bought at an auction at a convention, but when I tried to track them down I found they had since been lost). But even so, I could see where stuff had been changed. For instance, if the first half of a page is blank and the dialogue begins half-way down, it’s pretty obvious that some stuff has been cut – maybe three or four lines.

Elsewhere, although dialogue was deleted, it was still clear enough to infer what it was. For instance, here the Doctor ('Doctor Who') must be saying “Very well. With me.”

While for another part I even reconstructed the dialogue, finding the only letters in the typeface that would fit:

What else did I find out? Well, I suppose my other ‘revelation’ is that the character of Chicki might not have appeared in the first episode. The only evidence that she did is that she is listed on the script’s Cast In Order Of Appearance list (which would have been the source of the listings given in the Radio Times and on the Programme-as-Broadcast sheet – so a last-minute change in casting would not have been recorded, these are not independent sources!). But what was interesting was there was no other mention of the character in the script – you would normally expect them at least to be mentioned in a camera shot. And there’s no sign of her on the soundtrack on in the telesnaps.

(I am, however, pretty sure that a Chicki appeared in Episode 4, even though – once again – the character is not mentioned in the camera script apart from the Cast In Order Of Appearance list. This is partly because the girl on the left in these telesnaps:

looks like the actress/singer Karol Keyes (aka Luan Peters) pictured here in 1966.

and because the girl on the right is Sunaa, seen here in episode 2:

What else did I find out? Well, I did my best to transcribe the lyrics of the various songs, I found a likely source of inspiration for the name ‘Macra’, and did some interesting research on ‘Potemkin villages’. Based on the idea that the story was originally about ‘insect men’ I extrapolated that it might have originally been a story about mutated miners taking control – which would make more sense than the story as broadcast! – and would also have tied in with another possible influence, the play Cities of the Plain by Alex Comfort (which in the end I decided was too tenuous to include!).

And finally, I’m pretty sure the ‘white’ Macra that turns up in episode 4 was a model, placed close to a porthole, rather than a full-size prop. This is mainly because there wouldn’t have been time during the recording to re-paint the single existing full-size prop, and the full-size prop wouldn’t have been able to turn around like this:

But it’s also because the full-size prop was so large that, in other episodes, its position is given as part of the set floor-plan – it was so big that it couldn’t be moved to another set during the recording.

So there you go. And in the end, after going through the scripts, soundtracks and telesnaps so closely – never mind line by line, it’s letter by letter – I feel that although I haven’t seen The Macra Terror, I probably know as much about it as a viewer looking up occasionally from their newspaper to see what all the screaming was about in 1967.