Tag Archives: Doctor Who

The Timeless Children

This (rambling exercise that bears little resemblance to an) essay is about Doctor Who and, in particular, the revelations in the final episode of Season 12. So,

  1. SPOILERS
  2. If you’re not interested in Doctor Who, then I’d suggest waiting until my next post.

So, in no particular order, here are some thoughts and questions.

First, overall impressions. I’m glad they’ve removed the twelve regeneration limit. Given the potential longevity of the show, future writers will be thanking Chris Chibnall. As long time viewers of the show will know, the fact that the Doctor had many lives prior to William Hartnell’s incarnation was first put out there in The Brain of Morbius. But the fact that the Doctor is as old as Time Lord society, older in fact, means that there’s all sorts of room for new kinds of stories in the future, and this is a good thing.

Are you concerned about continuity and canon? Don’t be. Given that we’re dealing with a time traveller, and that within the show time can be rewritten, I share the view of the TARDIS Wikia that there is, in fact, no canon.

This is such a major change for the Doctor Who universe that it surprises me they didn’t save it for the 60th anniversary. Unless they’re going to use that occasion to change everything (again) and bring back Gallifrey (again). How might they do that? I can think of a simple way. But let’s leave that as an exercise for the reader.

Is Tecteun still alive? If so, what’s he/she up to? No one said that she/he limited herself/himself to 12 regenerations.

We all know that the Time Lords are Gallifreyan, but I’ve wondered whether all Gallifreyans are also Time Lords. Now we’ve learned that they are not, and that the ability to regenerate was restricted to those who lived in the Citadel. That seems pretty elitist and it’s hard to imagine how witholding this from the general population wouldn’t have resulted in revolution.

I hope this isn’t the last we’ll see of the Sasha Dhawan Master. But, then, this is the Master we’re talking about. Certain death is never all that certain with him/her. Besides, after re-watching his last scene with subtitles on, it sounds like he had a contingency in case the Doctor (or Ko Sharmus as it turned out) actually used the death particle.

We’d previously understood that the ability to regenerate came from the Time Lords prolonged exposure to the vortex over millennia. Now we know it’s actually due to genetic manipulation. That means, possibly, that the race that spawned the Doctor came to be able to regenerate after their long term exposure to the vortex.

What’s next? If I were the Doctor, I’d be headed for the planet where Tecteun found me. If they don’t pursue that angle on the show, it would be nice to have the Doctor to visit places where she’s remembered but she has no memory of having been there.

I love Jodi Whittaker’s Doctor, but we really really need to see more of the Jo Martin Doctor.

The only thing that bothered me about the episode is the scene with the death particle where the Doctor is seemingly faced with two untenable alternatives. She faced the same dilemma on the last day of the Time War: Destroy Gallifrey or let the universe burn. But this time, she can’t do it, presumably to avoid sinking to the level of the Master. So why does she agree to hand it off to Ko Sharmus then leap for the nearest TARDIS? Why is that okay?

A Conventional Weekend

Thanksgiving. A time for family, turkey, and… Doctor Who? Well, yes if you’re in the Chicago area. Last weekend was the American Thanksgiving weekend, and concurrent with those celebrations, Chicago TARDIS led a celebration of all things Doctor Who.

The convention was celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, and that is oddly appropriate as this was also the 20th anniversary of the first Doctor Who audio from Big Finish.

Big Finish was present in a big way. They had a large booth in the centre of the vendors’ area, with an uncountable number of CDs and box sets. Executive Producer Jason Haigh-Ellery was present at the booth, as was Sue Cowley, whose role, if I recall correctly, is digital asset manager at Big Finish. Jason also ran a daily Big Finish session. The first featured Rhianne Starbuck, who had worked with Tom Baker on a fourth Doctor adventure, Doctor Who: The Comic Strip Adaptations Volume 01. The second session included Paul McGann, the eighth Doctor, and the third brought in just about everyone associated with Big Finish.

I enjoyed many of the sessions and panels. Of particular interest, I found, was a session in which Paul McGann and Sylvester McCoy interviewed each other, then took questions from the audience. Another was where Arthur Darvill provided live commentary on the episode, “The Angels Take Manhattan”. This was apparently the first time he’d seen the episode since working on it. Asked who was his favourite character in Doctor Who, he said “River Song. She gets all the best lines.” He also said that he didn’t wish to resume playing Rory as he and Amy had had a perfect ending, and to add to that would, in his view, diminish that ending. Personally, I think there’s room for many more Amy and Rory stories, but that’s certainly a fair point of view.

The knowledge and love of the fans for Doctor Who was quite extraordinary. I freely confess that, compared to the average attendee, my knowledge of Doctor Who falls into the category of rank amateur. For not only is the TV version of Who 56 years old (minus a few years of hiatus), but there are innumerable books, comics and audios, and somehow, attendees seemed to have more than a passing familiarity with many of them. I still don’t know how they do it.

There was a wedding at the convention, on the Saturday night, I think. And then, to my surprise, the happy couple showed up for work the following day. In another case, a woman thanked the organizers because she’d met her husband of four years at this convention. It also seemed that many friendships had been struck here, and that people come year after year in part to renew those acquaintances. Nice to see how a convention like this can bring people together.

The convention is held in a hotel, with various meeting rooms used for panels, vendors, and artists. It’s oddly informal, as you might find Arthur Darvill waiting for an elevator, or catch one of the guests chatting in the lobby. I ran into Rhianne Starbuck in the corridor and we had a short but nice chat, comparing notes about the north of England. Still, I had to wonder what the regular hotel guests made of the whole thing, with cosplayers, Daleks and K-9 roaming the halls.

Of course, there’s time for a chat with the guests at their autograph sessions. I met Paul McGann and Katy Manning this way. Paul McGann was fully engaged with his fans, and seemed genuinely pleased to have the chance to meet them. And as for Katy Manning, well, there are no words. She was sweet as can be, giving everyone hugs and taking a real interest in everyone. I might have let slip to both of them that I’d written a couple of Short Trips for Big Finish, and this sparked a lovely conversation with them.

This was my first Chicago TARDIS and I wasn’t disappointed. There was so much going on that you had to be choosy, so actually, my only disappointment was that I couldn’t be in two places at once. It’s quite a testament to the history of Doctor Who that so many activities can be set up over three days, and that so many fans would congregate here to compare notes and express their love of the show. You can’t help but leave exhilarated. I don’t expect that this will be my last visit to Chicago TARDIS.

On the Release of Battle Scars

My second short story for Big Finish, Doctor Who – Short Trips: Battle Scars, has been released.

To be completely honest, I’m still high as a kite.

The whole thing started very shortly after Alfie Shaw took over as producer of the Short Trips range. I believe this was in April of 2018. In fact, I had just finished listening to an interview with him on the podcast when he contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in doing another story for Big Finish.

I didn’t have to think about this for very long.

He gave me a one or two sentence “brief”. The story would cover a famous gap in Doctor Who history, revealed in the first Ninth Doctor episode, “Rose”. Clive shows Rose a photo of the Daniels family of Southampton plus “friend”. The friend is obviously the Doctor. The family was meant to have sailed on the Titanic but didn’t. Alfie left the whys and wherefores, and basically the entirety of the story, up to me.

As usual, the first step was to write a one page synopsis and seek the approval of the BBC. This took a while, longer than it did for Landbound, but then this was during the transition between Steven Moffat’s team and Chris Chibnall’s. To my surprise, the BBC rejected the original title, which I won’t reveal. We had to come up with a new one. To be honest, I really liked the original title and my attempts to come up with an alternative were probably half-hearted. I had nothing. Finally, Alfie saved the day and suggested “Battle Scars” which fit perfectly.

At first I was going to make Arthur (the father) the Doctor’s main companion. Then I decided it would be more interesting to tell the story from Connie’s point of view. I love Connie. She reminds me of the precocious boy in the movie, Mr. Holmes, who basically rules the roost. In order to better explore the after-effects of war, Arthur is a veteran of the Second Boer War. Later in development, I made William Spence a veteran as well. Two life-long friends driven apart by the war.

Arthur is in the shipping industry to reinforce the theme of the Titanic lurking ominously just out of sight. And, I reasoned, Arthur’s contacts would have helped him score tickets to the Titanic, which must have been in high demand. The Doctor’s driving his fist through the hull of Arthur’s ship is meant to conjure in your mind what the iceberg did to the Titanic.

After three or four drafts, the story was done. Nicholas Briggs recorded the narration in November. From his comments on the podcast, I believe he recorded Harry Draper’s The Last Day at Work on the same day. And, as also mentioned on the podcast, he was just back from last year’s Chicago TARDIS and was still quite jet lagged. Mr. Briggs, it seems, has far more energy than do I.

On August 30th, as I was getting ready for bed, I thought I would check, just in case Battle Scars was available. And to my delight it was! I sat down to listen to it for the first time. Nicholas Briggs is an amazing actor. For a short story, Battle Scars has a lot of characters. He brought each one to life beautifully. I’m so lucky that he was able to narrate both of my Big Finish stories. The production focusses on the narration, providing thoughtful music in between scenes and sound effects that support the story. I loved it. It was everything I’d hoped for and more.

Once again, working with an editor was marvellous. Alfie was a great sounding board and he wisely warned me away from some wrong turns. With his guidance and helpful suggestions, the story ended up much stronger than it would have been.

You have to hand it to the Doctor Who fandom. There’s nothing like it. In any other genre, publishing a story might result in the odd tweet, a handful of reviews, and that would be it. But when Big Finish publishes your Doctor Who story, the Internet lights up with congratulations and thoughtful reviews. I couldn’t be more grateful for the support from the community.

And now, it’s time for me to start working through my queue of great Big Finish releases.

On Being Interviewed

Well, that was different. And Exciting. And nerve-wracking .

Within a week, two things happened. First, Doctor Who Magazine expressed an interest in interviewing me for my upcoming story, Doctor Who – Short Trips: Battle Scars. Second, Lucas Testro contacted me about appearing in an episode of his podcast, Doctor Who and the Episodes of Death.

Gulp.

In the end, they were both positive experiences, but very different. The chat with DWM was strictly Q&A and lasted about twenty minutes. The only real stress was in trying to work out what I could say about Battle Scars without giving away too much.

The podcast was a lot of fun. Lucas very kindly gave me a chance to chat about Landbound and Battle Scars, and for the rest, we did a deep dive into “The Beast Below”, Matt Smith’s second episode as the Doctor. Considering that we’d never interacted before, I was pleasantly surprised. It quickly felt like we were a couple of chums doing a chinwag about Doctor Who in a pub somewhere.

You don’t have to listen to Lucas for long to realize that is he obviously a pro, and he did a heck of a lot of research prior to our session. He certainly knows his stuff. But it’s good that someone does. Compared to some of the more devoted in the Doctor Who community, my knowledge of all things Who is comparatively meagre.

I did make one mistake. Prior to our chat, I’d listened to portions of a number of episodes, particularly the one with John Dorney. I became a fan right away and will be listening to the show going forward. Ah, but the mistake. I hadn’t listened to an episode all the way through, you see, and was caught rather flatfooted by Lucas’ question at the end of the podcast. He graciously laughed it off for which I was grateful. If there’s ever a next time, I SHALL BE PREPARED!

As an independent writer, you never know if there’s going to be another one. Another publication. I hope I get a chance to write for Big Finish again, but who knows? And, as of the time of writing, I’ve been singularly unsuccessful in getting any of my original stories published. So, this may be the only time anyone is interested in interviewing me. But that’s okay. With two Doctor Who stories at Big Finish under my belt, I’ve already seen a dream come true. I suspect that, going forward, I’ll always treasure these days, when there was interest in an upcoming story of mine, and when I eagerly awaited to listen to the end result.

Chase after your dreams. You never know where they’ll lead.

Battle Scars

Big Finish Productions have announced Doctor Who – Short Trips: Battle Scars, my second Doctor Who story for the audio drama company. Here’s the synopsis:

Nightmarish memories of the Boer War. Crippling debts. An unconscious stranger in the garden. Arthur Daniels is beset with problems. Little does he know that his proposed solution could be the biggest problem of them all. A voyage to America aboard the RMS Titanic.

I can’t tell you much more than that, but I’m sure I can randomly mention that in the first 9th Doctor adventure, Rose learns that the Daniels family of Southampton were meant to travel on the Titanic but didn’t. She also sees a photo of the family with someone who bears a resemblance to the Doctor.

Needless to say, it’s an honour to have had the opportunity to write for Big Finish. They produce some really really good audio dramas, and not just Doctor Who.

“Battle Scars” is out in July.

My Top Ten Doctor Who Episodes

Contains spoilers for the ten Doctor Who episodes listed here.

Anyone who’s read this blog knows that I’ve a particular fondness for Doctor Who. Like many who watch it, it’s been part of my life for, well, a very long time. And like any other viewer, I have my favourite episodes. I’ve never actually thought through which were my very favourite, so this has been an interesting exercise.

10. The War Machines. My very first episode of Who was the last installment of “War Machines” starring the first Doctor. It took me a long time to figure this out. After picking up the “War Machines” DVD, I thought recognized the machines, but definitely remembered the last episode. This is why “The War Machines” is in the list. For purely personal, nostalgic reasons. Mind you, it’s interesting to see that it hasn’t aged all that badly, and that the methods the Doctor employs for defeating the machines aren’t dissimilar to what we see today. It’s also interesting to see that the Doctor is quite caring of the people around him, a trait I don’t recall from the early days of the show.

9. Rosa. In this episode, humans, with their hatred of “coloureds”, are the monsters, and that makes this story all the scarier. Set in Montgomery Alabama in 1955, “Rosa” tells the story of Rosa Parks, a key figure in the American civil rights movement, who famously refused to give up her seat on a bus. There’s also a more traditional villain in the form of Krasko, an escapee from a future prison. Stormcage, no less, the very prison that held River Song after her conviction for killing the Doctor. In dealing with Krasko and his attempts to change history, this is where the thirteenth Doctor came into her own. A very powerful story, this is one of the finest in the show’s history.

8. The Stolen Earth / Journey’s End. Really, what’s not to love about this episode. Daleks? Check. Every post-2005 companion (plus Sarah Jane Smith)? Check. Universe-ending stakes? Check. Plus one of my favourite Who scenes, one I keep watching over and over. When it appears that all is lost, the TARDIS, thought destroyed, materializes, and out pops the Meta-Crisis Doctor. As Captain Jack says, “Brilliant!”

7. Twice Upon a Time. This episode is not only my favourite (by far) twelfth Doctor adventure, it’s my favourite Christmas special. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve watched it.

The twelfth Doctor meets his first incarnation at a time when both are reluctant to regenerate. The resulting potential temporal paradox causes a WWI captain to mysteriously appear in front of them in the Antarctic wasteland.

With this episode the twelfth Doctor has completed his character arc. At the beginning of this regeneration, coming as it did after hundreds of years of war on Trenzalore, he was so alien, so lacking in empathy, that Clara had to create cue cards so he could at least sound like he’s capable of feeling empathy. From that starting point, he developed into someone who implores people to be kind.

Was the first Doctor out of character? Of course he was. That was just Stephen Moffat having a bit of fun, in the same way that the twelfth Doctor had fun putting sunglasses on his predecessor and telling him, “Never take them off.” We also saw the first Doctor used as a way of highlighting how attitudes towards women have changed since the 60’s.

My favourite moment in the episode? The Testimony tells the twelfth Doctor that escape is not possible. “It is possible,” he retorts, “and it’s happening.” After some Doctor-to-Doctor exchanges, the Testimony reiterates, “Escape is not possible.” Then, as we hear the soaring twelfth Doctor theme, he says, “I’m going to do way more than escape,” and promises to find out what the Testimony is up to, and if he doesn’t like it, to stop them. “Who the hell do you think you are?” the first Doctor asks in disbelief. Placing his arms in a theatrical pose, twelve answers, “The Doctor.” Love that scene. Just love it.

6. An Unearthly Child. This is the one that started it all, and introduces us to the show’s big concepts. A police box, the TARDIS, bigger on the inside than the outside. It can transport you anywhere in space and time. The Doctor, a wandering, cantankerous alien who travels with his granddaughter Susan and the inadvertent stow-aways, Ian and Barbara. It’s aged surprisingly well and is always a pleasure to watch.

5. Blink. This episode is at the top of a lot of people’s lists, including @FilmCritHulk. It’s also the first episode that I’m aware of in which the Doctor, having instigated the action, steps into the background for much of the episode. Penned by Stephen Moffat and starring Carey Mulligan, this is the one that introduced us to the Weeping Angels, and they were scary as hell. A wonderful episode with chills, action, humour, and character development.

4. Utopia. If you’d been watching season 1 of Torchwood that year, you knew that Captain Jack Harkness couldn’t die. But no one, including him, knew why. This episode is where we find out. It features some fascinating dialog between Captain Jack and the Doctor, and we find the Doctor contemplating the fact that, without realizing it, he was feeling a kind of prejudice towards Jack. Of course, this sparkling episode is also notable for re-introducing the Master to modern Who. The War Master, no less, played by the brilliant Derek Jacobi. The first part of a season-ending trilogy, this is the episode that left me breathless.

3. The Day of the Doctor. The pressure on Stephen Moffat to come up with a 50th anniversary special must have been extraordinary. But he succeeded with flying colours, bringing the 10th and 11th Doctors together with the War Doctor, a regeneration that the Doctor had kept secret, even from himself. We got a complex but coherent story, our first glimpse of the Time War, and were introduced to fan-favourite character, Osgood. Let’s also add humour, ethical choices, adventure, conflict, all woven together into a seamless whole. Oh yes, and it brought back Gallifrey.

2. The Night of the Doctor. If there was an award for the most genius per minute, this short episode would win, hands down. “The Night of the Doctor” caused the Internet to virtually melt down, giving us that Holy **** moment when we realized that it featured the eighth Doctor, not seen on-screen since the TV movie in the 90’s. Every line of dialog is sheer genius (“Will it HURT?”), Paul McGann’s acting is brilliant, and, to the delight of many, it “legitimized” the Big Finish adventures because it named the companions that Eight had travelled with. At least, those he’d travelled with up until then.

1. The Impossible Astronaut / Day of the Moon. These are the episodes that, for me, changed Doctor Who forever, taking it to a whole new level. Never before (to my recollection) had we seen episodes of this complexity and mystery. Meeting the still-living Doctor in the diner was an unforgettable moment. The Silence scared the hell out me. Then there were the head-scratching scenes, like Amy discovering a photo of herself with a baby. In the end, when the Astronaut girl starts to regenerate, I was completely gobsmacked. Throw in a brilliantly written script, with the actors pushed to out-perform anything we’d yet seen in the Matt Smith era, and you get a shining example of everything Doctor Who could be and should be. If you’re inclined to say, “But what about the children?” my answer would be that you’re likely underestimating children.

The Continuity Conundrum

Suppose you’re a writer and you want to write for a rich, established universe. Think Doctor Who, Star Trek, or Star Wars, for example. The question becomes, how do you write something that is original but consistent with all of that backstory?

Let’s stick with Doctor Who for now. The show started over 50 years ago, and although there was that hiatus between 1989 and 2005, that’s still a lot of content. But wait, that’s not all! You also get many books, graphic novels and audio dramas (yay Big Finish!). It’s enough to make your head explode. Unless you’re a Time Lord.

So what’s a poor, human, head-about-to-explode writer to do? Well, we can be grateful that there are websites like http://tardis.wikia.com/wiki/Doctor_Who_Wiki. Here you’ll find just about every fact about Doctor Who that exists. If you search for the Third Doctor, for example, you’ll learn about all his adventures in chronological order across all media. As a resource, this site is invaluable. And yet, there’s still a limit to what you can absorb, and there may be details omitted within a given adventure that contradict something in your writing.

I’m afraid this is one of those posts where I have no brilliant solutions. If you actually owned the property, rather than, say, the BBC owning Doctor Who or CBS owning Star Trek, or Disney owning Star Wars, then you could consider crowdsourcing the story. Put the whole thing online, then act on the feedback you get to make the story better. Andy Weir famously did this with his novel, The Martian, with contributors pointing out sciency things that could use some tightening.

If you’re writing fanfiction, then you can do this by posting the story on fanfiction.net, for example. I posted a very short and hopefully humorous Lord of the Rings story there. Once. It was inspired by a review of one of the Hobbit movies that pointed out that the eagles are a kind of deus ex machina in Tolkien’s writing. As multiple readers pointed out, that premise was fully explored in a YouTube video in which our heroes bypass the whole adventure by simply flying with the ring directly to Mount Doom. Rats. That episode cured me of any further desire to write LotR stories. You’ve really got to know your stuff, especially for that fandom.

Posting content online yourself doesn’t really work if you’re writing commercially for someone’s existing intellectual property. As with most things, I suppose you can only do as much research as you can (and as your deadline permits) and do your best.

PS Have I mentioned that Landbound has been released by Big Finish? Oh.