Have things to write. Honestly. But I just started the new book, which is exciting, so you’re going to have to make do with a bunch of Stranger Things quotes mashed up with Doctor Who images.
I mean, that’s not such a bad way to end a week, is it?
Have things to write. Honestly. But I just started the new book, which is exciting, so you’re going to have to make do with a bunch of Stranger Things quotes mashed up with Doctor Who images.
I mean, that’s not such a bad way to end a week, is it?
No one knows the agony of waiting like a Doctor Who fan, except anyone who has stood at a Reading bus stop on a Sunday. It seems like only seven and a half months since we last saw Jodie Whittaker, blasting across our screens in the company of her fam, along with fan favourite Captain Jack Harkness as they broke out of a hi-tech prison and then took on an army of Daleks. Since then details about the new series have been scant and hard to find. But here at Digital Spy / The Radio Times / The Teal Mango / We Got This Covered, we’ve collected together all the information you already knew and then rearranged it slightly differently to make it look like we’re bringing something fresh to the table. You may hate us for this but it’s the middle of the silly season and there’s nothing else happening until the BBC’s autumn trailer drops. So read on, and be enlightened.
When is the new series of Doctor Who?
The new series of Doctor Who will air sometime in 2021. As there isn’t that much of August left, it is likely to be September. Or October. Maybe November. Almost definitely November because otherwise it’s nearly Christmas. It’ll be on a Sunday because it usually is, at a time that interferes with whatever’s on the other side. We don’t have a release date, despite basically implying that we did. Possibly 2022.
Who will be starring in the new series?
Jodie Whittaker will be returning as the Thirteenth Doctor for her final full series, having already done two full series, series 11 and series 12, before that. Joining her is Mandip Gill playing Yaz, and John Bishop as new companion Dan. Not appearing in the series will be previous companions Ryan Sinclair and Graham O’Brien, played by Tosin Cole and Bradley Walsh, because they left in ‘Revolution of the Daleks’, just in case you’d nodded off during that protracted finale. Game of Thrones actor Jacob Anderson will be joining the show as a man called Vinder, and although we know nothing about him we’ve got a few random fan theories about him being a new incarnation of Rassilon that we’re going to use to pad out space. We know that you could have got all this from Google but we like you to look at our pages rather than anyone else’s, because ads help pay the rent. We also just looked up the word ‘Vinder’ in the Urban Dictionary and really wish we hadn’t.
What will happen in the new series and how many episodes are there?
There are eight episodes in all but the main series will consist of six episodes that form one continuous arc. This is big news because it has never happened before, except for all the times that it did. This is the part where we show you a picture of Colin Baker. We don’t know what will happen in the stories because the teaser trailer was just a bunch of random pictures repeated two or three times before being analysed to breaking point, but some guy on Twitter took a few pictures of Weeping Angels on a telephoto lens, so we’ll drop that in along with a rumour about an origin story so we can make a pointless reference to Timothy Dalton’s obvious metaphor at the end of ‘The End Of Time’. We also have “QUOTE OF EMPTY CONTENT” from Chris Chibnall, in which he promises it will be “brilliant” and “ground-breaking” and a few other hyperbolic superlatives, so we’re embedding that somewhere so it looks like we’ve done our research.
Who will be the new Doctor and when will we find out who they are?
Pass, on both counts. The only certainty is that they will be either A BRILLIANT CHOICE or ABSOLUTELY THE WRONG CHOICE and people will talk about how this is a great forward step for the show or a return to the dark days when Doctor Who was on a Wednesday and Bonnie Langford screamed a lot. We could, if we wanted, name a bunch of currently topical actors who’ve popped up in the Mirror recently, because it keeps people talking, particularly if one of them ticks an LGBTQ+ box or is called Idris Elba. The current favourite is Michael Sheen, who is someone people would like to see in the role because he’s been in Doctor Who before, plus he worked with David Tennant a couple of years back and he’s famous and a good actor, even though to the best of our knowledge he’s not actually been approached and this is all in here purely for Search Engine Optimisation.
Who will be the new Doctor Who showrunner?
It will be a man or a woman who has worked in television before. Probably not an American because the BBC don’t like hiring them, at least we don’t think so based on a rejection letter Stephen King’s son had back before the Covid pandemic.
So in short, you actually don’t know a whole lot.
No, but please don’t tell anyone. They put us in the chokey if we don’t keep the hit counts above water.
You’re not being very helpful, are you?
Oh, bugger off.
Don’t say: I’m sure this is actually going to be all right, you know.
Do say: LIBERAL LEFTY SJW WOKE PC DUMPSTER FIRE GARBAGE CHINBALLS SPITS ON THE GRAVE OF HARTNELL!
Greetings, brethren! Today, I bring you a selection of coasters.
Well, not really. But here’s how it breaks down: in my mother-in-law’s parlour, deep in the bosom of semi-rural Shropshire, there is a collection of tableware that has long fascinated me. Each coaster contains a number of drawings, ostensibly unrelated, but sharing a common link – for example:
Solving these is a simple matter of breaking down the phonetics – so the first, for example, is Austria, or Horse-Tree-R. Number two is Pear-Egg-Y (Paraguay), and I’m sure you can figure out the rest yourselves. These rather dreadful puns are the work of Simon Drew, an illustrator who lives and works in Devon – a fellow Reading alumnus, and who Wikipedia tells me came joint first in a 2011 episode of Come Dine With Me. Which may be something to look up one day when I’m ironing, although you can of course never really watch a single episode of Come Dine With Me; you have to watch an entire block, and I seldom have enough shirts to cover the amount of time this takes.
Drew’s work extends far beyond cryptic visual puns, but that’s as far as we’re going this morning. Because it was on a Thursday a couple of weeks ago that I had the idea of turning various Doctor Who phrases into visual picture clues, and the six I produced before running out of steam are reproduced below. Some are fairly obvious. Some are obscure. Some will require a certain cultural awareness, but in those cases when you don’t know who you’re looking at you should, I hope, be able to come up with enough surrounding information to fill the gaps.
Have fun. I may do another one of these days, but right now I really need to get on with the ironing.
A curiously serendipitous thing happened the morning I got up to write this post. I was reading about Tom Ellis (he of Lucifer and ‘Last of the Time Lords’), and his secret and not-terribly-surprising hope that they’d ask him to play Doctor Who. The piece’s only comment came from a person I shall not name, in words I shall subtly paraphrase rather than quote directly, but it read “That would have been great. Somewhere there’s a parallel universe where this happened. And better yet, we wouldn’t have Chibnall.”
There’s something head-scratching about all this. It’s not the criticism, which is a democratic right, and perhaps not entirely baseless. It’s the context – or specifically the lack thereof. Here we have a press snippet about an actor who appeared in the show thirteen years back, playing a relatively minor role, and who – while he features heavily on the fans’ Most Wanted list – has had absolutely bugger all to do with it since his brief, one-episode foray. And yet here was Marcus (yes, that’s a pseudonym) using it as a sounding board to tell anyone who would listen about the current state of Doctor Who and just how rubbish it has become.
Why does it happen? Because it’s everywhere. I’m not talking about threads that ask for your favourite episodes from Chibnall’s run to date, or listicles that detail our Hopes For Series 13. I’m not talking about pictures of Jodie Whittaker in a dress and makeup in front of a grey background accompanied by the words “Love her”. I can understand why fans vent their frustrations about current story arcs when it comes up naturally in conversation, although the frequency and ferocity of these vents is something we may come back to.
But on a post about ‘Snakedance’? Or the War Doctor? Or, I don’t know, fruit? “I hate apples,” reads the Tumblr post. “Apples are rubbish.” In the next panel, an image of the Doctor throwing a plate through the open door of Amelia Pond’s house, accompanied by the words “AND STAY OUT!”. “That’s what we should be saying to Chibnall,” says someone further down. Or it’ll be a post announcing that it’s been thirty-two years since ‘The Happiness Patrol’, upon which it’s a cast iron guarantee that at least one smart-alec will quip “Still better than anything from the last two years.”
In all fairness, a remark such as this is only marginally less interesting than the revelation that we’re celebrating the thirty-second anniversary of ‘The Happiness Patrol’ (something I never really want to know about, as much as I enjoy it), but this is hardly the point. What’s to be gained here? Do these fans really feel so marginalised and helpless and believe in Doctor Who so passionately that they see it as essential to state their case at every conceivable opportunity? Is it a form of addiction, where you have to do it every so often or else you’ll get the shakes? Because I sometimes feel it’s like walking into a McDonalds and shouting “Wow, THIS IS SO MUCH BETTER THAN THE ONE IN HEADINGTON”. There’s nothing illegal about it, but it’s idiotic behaviour.
I can’t help feeling that at the heart of this is a deep-rooted personal insecurity, whereupon the value of your life is measured not in afternoons and coffee spoons but in how much noise you can make. These people need the attention that comes from speaking their mind, and the anonymity and remoteness of the internet makes it all the easier. Why bother to account for yourself when the worst that happens is a ban or a block? Why learn social graces when Facebook and Twitter are the very hub for misanthropic discourse – disguised, with a most delicious sense of irony, under the false moniker of Social Media? You can hardly move for posts wishing death or castration on the man at the top. Did it happen under Moffat? It certainly did, although I think it was far less prevalent. Is that because we have a woman in the TARDIS? I’m not saying.
“Yes,” we’re told, “but THE WRITING SUCKS”. And all right, yes. Sometimes it does. There is a place for adhering to certain standards: we must acknowledge that ‘It Takes You Away’, for all its quirkiness, is not a good episode; that the dialogue is sometimes clunky and awkward; that there is a shoehorning of Positive Values that occasionally grates. I’ve written about all this elsewhere and it does not need rehashing. Doctor Who is not always very good; it may be that it is currently not as good as it has been in previous years. Those of us who lived through Sylvester McCoy have been here before, but that’s not necessarily an excuse: there are periods where it’s really very good and quite popular, and periods where it isn’t. We’re in one now, or we’re not, depending on whom you ask.
But I do not think that it needs the spitting of feathers. I do not think that repeated comments in decontextualised conversations achieve anything. They only wind up the rest of us. The BBC do not care about the grumblings of a few white men (and they are almost always white men, these gatekeepers; make of that what you will). They have a new demographic in mind. There is a core audience who feels marginalised and abandoned but who is ultimately unwilling to accept, as perhaps we must accept, that Doctor Who has moved on without us: that it is not the show we knew when we were growing up, and that it is this sense of abandonment that has allowed it to survive this long. And yet here you are, Marcus, with your comments about how disappointed you were with the supposed destruction of a continuity that actually never existed in the first place. You’re losing your rag over a children’s show. And here I am, losing my rag with someone losing their rag over a children’s show. Sometimes I wonder which of us is the bigger idiot.
Criticism is fine, when it’s in the right place, and when it’s invited. Everything else is by turns toxic, unhelpful, and unpleasant. Mansplaining is endemic: so is the tendency to back up your beliefs with comments about audience views. From your perspective, it is apparently not enough that you do not enjoy Doctor Who; it’s far more important that no else does either. And all this was in response to a question about Susan. Congratulations, Marcus, you win this week’s award for the most pointless non-sequitur. The mind boggles.
But seeing as you and others like you are determined to make unhelpful and unrelated rants about Chibnall a daily activity, I’ve made it easy. I took the liberty of finding some choice quotes from New Who and sexing them up a bit, so they’re nicely twisted to reflect your views. And the next time you want to hijack a Donna Noble appreciation thread, you can simply paste one in, just in time for me to show up and link to this piece to show everyone else what an idiot you’re being. Because I’m still watching you, you know. I’ve learned to intervene a little less, these days, because it seldom goes anywhere, but just occasionally, when you’re being particularly rancid, I’ll swoop. And I probably won’t win – the best we can hope for is a block-induced stalemate – but it’s quite fun watching you harrumph. Remember that, before you post.
Or, you know, you could simply find a new and less aggressive pastime. But we both know that’s not going to happen, don’t we?
Well. We’ve got a bumper crop of memes for you today. This is because I have spent much of September writing other things, and also because my WordPress account is playing up and I can only, for whatever reason, access this from Firefox. It has taken me all of a week to figure this out; clearly the technology is moving on without me. Cripes I feel old.
Not as old as this lot, who were discovered waiting for the new Bond movie.
What else has been going on? Well, the anti-lockdown demonstrations have continued in earnest, although an overheard conversation between two unmasked protesters indicates they’re not all as unified as we might have thought.
Elsewhere in London, the Doctor and Clara run out of corridor at the most inopportune moment.
And some of the other Doctors react to that recent Radio Times poll.
There are tensions on the alien mothership during the Sycorax leader’s re-election campaign.
In UK politics, on a publicity drive to highlight the Government retraining scheme, MPs take it upon themselves to visit a number of people from the arts sector trying out new careers.
“No. Absolutely not. Go away.”
Still, all the spin in the world can’t hide the fact that the NHS is sorely under-funded.
Of course, it happens on the other side of the pond as well.
“Hang on, Mike. Hold still. I think there’s something on you.”
“Don’t look at me like that. There’s more than six of them, and we’re supposed to call it in.”
And over in Downing Street, there’s an angry reaction when the powers that be discover that curfew laws apply to them as well.
“They shut the bar at ten? Bastards.”
It’s a beautiful morning here in lockdown city – and, having pulled an all-nighter, here’s the Doctor waiting patiently for the Epic Games store to refresh so he can download GTA 5.
You will have watched the Prime Minister’s announcement on Monday with…well, I don’t know. There was a lot of conflicting information and I was thoroughly incensed by it. Not so much the confusion over whether or not you’re supposed to go to work – it’s a moot point in our house – but the denial of culpability, a broadcast that was intentionally vague not because we have an idiot in Downing Street but because we have someone who is in fact very clever, and who knows that if he words things correctly he’s off the hook.
Let me (or, rather, let someone else) put it this way:
Sir Humphrey: We’ve issued a clarification of the slogan, Prime Minister.
Jim Hacker: Good. Will we be withdrawing the campaign?
Sir Humphrey: No, Prime Minister, it’s important that the message gets out.
Jim Hacker: What, even if people don’t understand it?
Sir Humphrey: Especially if they don’t understand it. That way, if the restrictions are too stringent and cause economic problems then we can say our message supported relaxing them, and if they’re too lax, and cause a second wave, then we can say our clarification clearly said the rules weren’t being relaxed.
Jim Hacker: So the purpose of the clarification is to put us in the clear?
Sir Humphrey: Yes, Prime Minister.
“Yes,” I can hear the Tory supporters chanting, “but the British public need to be free to make up their own minds! They don’t deserve to be treated like children!”. To which I will respond with “Boaty McBoat Face”, and drop the mic.
Anyway, the only real response from lunacy like this is to mock it, so here’s a deleted still from ‘The Dalek Invasion of Earth’.
The slogan itself was memed to death, mostly with pop lyrics (most of which were very funny, although I do wish I’d got to ‘Hot Dog / Jumping Frog / Alberquerque’ before someone else). There were also nods to Father Ted (‘Down with this sort of thing!’ / ‘Careful now’ / ‘Will you have a cup of tea?’). Me, I spent ages thinking about how you could spin it into a Doctor Who reference before coming up with this one:
Then there are the alert slogans, which had no sense of scale or timing but which were nonetheless self-explanatory. At least they are now I’ve put Daleks in them.
Oh, and there’s the alert scale; we’re currently at amber, and I do wonder if when we go up to red someone’s going to say “Sir, are you absolutely sure? It does mean changing the bulb.”
“What about radiation?” someone asked on Twitter. “Or plague?” I told them I’d run out of numbers.
There has been some actual Doctor Who news this week, as Moffat admits in an interview that he’s always thought of Colin Salmon’s antivirus character from series 4 as a future Doctor, living in the library computer to keep River Song company; it’s utter bollocks of course, particularly as it’s only come to light now, but I suppose after series 12 anything’s possible.
The warm weather last weekend brought out the crowds, of course, with beaches flooded with tourists, although some people were at least willing to enforce social distancing.
Elsewhere the nation was out in force to celebrate V.E. Day, as thousands of households marked the defeat of the Axis with street parties and mass singalongs, of a kind not seen since the last spate of street parties to celebrate the Queen having some sort of birthday or something. I’m not one to kill the mood but there was something almost jingoistic about the furore of national pride, given that it was marked in the Daily Mail as ‘A Victory over Europe’ (possibly a typo, but almost certainly a Freudian Slip) and that in the midst of waving union flags and shouting about taking our country back people seem to have forgotten that it wasn’t a British victory, it was an Allied victory, and that we wouldn’t have won it without the Russians and the Yanks. And I’m really not sure how I feel about marking every sodding anniversary with another blowout, even if this one had to be observed from behind closed doors. I do Remembrance Sunday, because it’s important we mark it somehow, but…well, let’s just say that this wasn’t really about the Second World War, was it? Nonetheless, I accept I am a minority view, and I share my views with people who will understand them, as well as occasionally dumping them on a blog no one reads.
Of course, not all of it went smoothly, as evidenced by this screen grab from Katharine Jenkins’ performance outside Buckingham Palace.
You do wonder what on Earth Churchill would have made of it all, although even if he were around to ask, I can’t help thinking our questions might have taken a different tack.
“Come on, be reasonable. It’s a bank holiday and I’ve not been outside in weeks.”
The clock ticks, the politicians dither, and you’re still all stuck inside. But fear not, constant reader: we’re here to entertain you, probably by throwing on a gingham dress and clucking like a chicken. (This will either make sense or it won’t; if it doesn’t I’m not about to explain it.)
There’s a musical theme to today’s collection. That was an accident, a coincidence of scheduling. But I’m not complaining: these are usually arranged solely in the order in which I did them, so it’s nice when they actually have something in common for a change.
1. REMASTERED: The Rings of Akhaten, new score (March 2020)
Stop me if you’ve heard this one, but Ulysses 31 was a big part of my childhood. It didn’t matter that the first time I was encountering the monsters and sailors of the Odyssey was in a futuristic space setting. It didn’t matter that the episode with Chronos terrified the pants off me. It didn’t matter that the robot was annoying. The whole story was so epic in scale and ambition, visiting new universes, weaving complicated narrative threads of morality and free will, and telling a complete tale with a beginning and an ending. I even managed my own mashup of Doctor Who footage to accompany the theme song. It’s the sort of tale that really is ripe for some sort of revisit – I’d originally envisaged a trilogy of films but I now think that a limited run Netflix series would be better. Inevitably, of course, it would have to be updated, presumably by bringing in some sort of Freudian conflict between Ulysses and Telamachus (who was, in the original series, cloyingly loyal), as well as implementing a more contemporary score. Which is a shame, because the original (composed by Ike Egan, Denny Crockett, Haim Saban and Shuki Levy) really is a piece of work, encompassing disco, Focus-esque distorted rock and a full orchestra. Even on its own, it’s worth a listen.
Veteran readers here may remember that, way way back in the day, I had the idea of marrying up some of this music with the Doctor’s speech from ‘The Rings of Akhaten’. It was 2013, and I’d just discovered unscored audio, which exists in abundance if you know where to look – those lovely people who’ve isolated the dialogue and sound effects from Doctor Who stories so you can do what you want with them, chopping and changing bits without having to worry about background music. It made the editing process exponentially more satisfying, but it only works if you have an audio track that matches up with the video file you’re using, and thanks to differering frame rates and quirks of encoding, this isn’t always the case.
So the version I made years ago was, while well-intentioned, a complete mess. Seriously, it was all over the shop. I was chopping and changing and shifting and rearranging and still I could never get it quite right – there are moments where the Doctor’s tongue is somewhere and his voice is somewhere else, like a lagging Zoom call, and then – and then, after I’d torn out most of my hair trying to make it work, the bloody thing wouldn’t sit on YouTube because copyright. So I stuck it on Vimeo where no one ever goes, and consigned it to the bin of Things That Didn’t Quite Work and then tried to learn from the experience.
Years down the line, I had a go at remastering it, and this time I’m happy with it. And more to the point, both Facebook and YouTube are happy to host it. So that’s a win.
2. The Goats of Llandudno (March 2020)
We have kites nesting in the trees next to our garden. You can see them all over this part of Oxfordshire, but we see them a lot. Last weekend I was emptying the bins of an evening when I observed two of them, soaring and swooping in a dazzling aerobatic display, as they squabbled and scrapped over a piece of meat that one of them had collected and the other one wanted. For about a minute and a half. It was hypnotic, and of the moment, and I’m glad I didn’t try to film it.
Anyway, that set me thinking: just what, exactly, do our animals and birds make of this? They must be aware that something is different: that there are fewer people around (or that, at least, certain public areas are now quieter), that they can perhaps be a little bolder, that the air is a little less filled with carbon. That the planes are grounded. What does my cat think, for example, of the fact that we’re now all at home, every day? Certainly she must know something, even if she is happy to keep her opinions to herself – unlike my mother-in-law’s border collie, for example, who has had to adjust to the fact that she now only gets one walk a day.
Not long after they implemented the lockdown, a story broke about a goat infestation in the suddenly deserted streets of Llandudno (that’s in Wales, if you were wondering). I think I’ve been to Llandudno, or at least through it: it is a pretty place, if now a little less safe if you value your garden plants. There they were, hordes of horned beasts, chewing the hedges and kicking at the walls trampling manicured lawns underfoot (I was going to do the “This town is comin’ like a goats town”, but the Guardian got there first).
The Guardian got some great footage, but it was mostly silent, save the ambience. I had the idea of dropping in some of Murray Gold’s Doctor Who score – several things didn’t quite work, but the one that did was the music from ‘Heaven Sent’, notably the discordant, menacing rumble that fills Caerphilly Castle as the Veil casually stalks the Doctor. Matched with images of goats overrunning a village, it loses some of its potency. Still, it works.
3. Twin Peaks characters dancing to the Doctor Who theme (April 2020)
Oh, this is just a bit of fun. And the idiot on Facebook who said “Can’t you make something better?” can piss off. Seriously, piss off.
People often ask me “Where do you get your ideas…?”.
Actually, they don’t. Generally speaking they’ll say “You have too much free time”, or some variation thereof. It usually follows a video; some investment of idiocy where the spit and polish has taken hours. I will point out, as diplomatically as possible, that this is just about the most hurtful thing you can say to someone who’s taken the trouble to create something: that it implies that the time they spent on something constructive is in some way less valuable than time they might have spent scrolling through news feeds, or playing sports, or watching Love Island. We don’t do this stuff in addition to poker nights or binging Netflix box sets; we do it as a replacement. Most of us have no more or less free time than you do – it’s just we use ours differently. In many ways this quest for clarity is a fool’s errand, but it is a message that I will continue to spread because otherwise they will say it to someone who is even more bothered by it than I am.
But I often encounter people who post ideas for ideas and want help. “I’ve got this idea for a story,” they’ll begin. “The Master has kidnapped all the Doctor’s companions and he has to rescue them all.” To which I’ll say well, that’s not a story, that’s a beginning. Or possibly a midpoint. Either way it’s a scene, not a story – an action, not a motivation. Why’s he kidnapped them? What’s his game plan? In what respect might the Doctor be hindered or aided? When and where are you setting this, and why there / then? How do you expect any thoughts when I have, at this stage, nothing to actually think about? Worse still are the ones who submit two paragraphs and then want your appraisal, copy-and-pasted into the Facebook comments. They act all earnest and unworthy, but it is thinly-veiled compliment fishing, the need for an ego boost.
Perhaps that’s unfair. But listen: if you want to write, you write. There is no other way of doing it. You write and you write badly and then you get better. And you write your story, not the one that other people have concocted for you. It’s not a democracy (said Philip Pullman); if you don’t know where the plot is going, how should anyone else? It’s different if you’re stuck, if there are narrative cul-de-sacs or technical problems or holes that you’ve dug around your characters that are seemingly too deep to climb. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help when you’re backed into a corner, so long as you’re prepared to ignore every piece of advice you’re given and listen, instead, for that still, small voice in your head – no, not the one that says you’re crap, the other one, the one who’s got a solution and an exit strategy. But please. Don’t come to me with two hundred words and then ask me for an opinion. Give me something I can actually work with.
At the same time there are things I’ve said to people that I’ve committed to memory and resolved to write down somewhere permanent, or at least semi-permanent, in case they ever come up again. And seeing as there seems to be a plethora of new written material saturating the web at the moment – not to mention a ton of would-be writers following along thinking “Ooh, I could have a go at that” I thought I’d share a few thoughts here on how I go about crafting a Doctor Who story. Notice I said stories, not fiction. Writing a book is a different matter – I’ve done that, and it requires grit and commitment and, more to the point, it’s a whole other article, one I may one day write. Let’s not run before we can walk.
Here’s a disclaimer: I’ve got hundreds of Metro articles under my belt (most of which were dreadful), but that’s largely it as far as the professional side goes. Any fiction is strictly on an amateur basis – I lack an agent, a book deal and indeed any interest from a publishing house. This makes me completely unqualified to tell you what I’m about to tell you, at least it does if all you’re interested in is a list of accreditations that will give my advice some clout (not that you should be looking for clout – there are hundreds of online guides that start with “The author has written in X and Y and has produced stories that were shortlisted for…”; these are often leaky vessels and they must be approached with caution, as many of them will prove far from seaworthy). On the other hand I have learned a thing or two over the years about how to string a sentence together, even if that last one was excessively long. It’s one of the few things I can actually do reasonably well. So please take what follows with the necessary pinch of salt – it is the opinion of one person – but if you find yourself nodding in agreement at least once or twice, then I suppose my work is done.
1. Don’t expect to get published. There are thousands of you and the market is fierce. Always seek to improve but remember, as you grow, that raw talent is only part of this; an enormous amount of success is down to social media presence, timing and the ability to self-market, not to mention sheer dumb luck. There will be many published stories you read that are, you are convinced, vastly inferior to your own. That’s the way the cookie crumbles, so deal with it. Chances are you’re not going to make any money, but that needn’t be a bad thing, so long as you have both eyes open. Anyway, you’re in this to tell stories, remember?
2. You’re not better than Chibnall. Well all right, maybe you are. I mean I don’t know you. But effective scriptwriting is an entirely different kettle of fish to the ability to string a few words together in prose. And even if you’re writing scripts, storytelling is only part of the equation – there are budgets, series arcs and intended audience to consider as well. Don’t go thinking you know more than the people who get paid to write this, because chances are you don’t: I frequently encounter unpublished authors on the internet who are convinced that an online degree and a couple of anthology inclusions makes them the next Michael Ondaatje, and I tend to give them a wide berth. “You must have,” quoth Roald Dahl, “a degree of humility.”
3. Pick your Doctor carefully. There is a novel I read a while back called Ten Little Aliens. It’s standard fare: a group of marines go on what appears to be a routine training mission only to discover a terrible secret. There are angry young men (and women) and budget-swallowing explosions and a lot of people get killed. There is even, in the book’s latter third, an ambitious and not entirely successful Choose-Your-Own-Adventure section. It’s grandiose and over-ambitious and it has a suitably tense finale, so a number of boxes are ticked.
The problem is this: the story is vaguely contemporary and American in feel; it has the ambience of something like Starship Troopers or Aliens, both of whom it closely emulates. And it just doesn’t fit with the First Doctor. This is a world of dank ventilation shafts and vast echoey temples and dismemberment and sweat and testosterone; it’s difficult to imagine Hartnell huffing and puffing along those dimly lit corridors with his cane. Stephen Cole (the book’s author) does his best to give Ben and Polly something to do, but even Ben is completely out of his depth in this world of pulse rifles and high-tech cameras. It felt as if Hartnell had somehow wandered into another Doctor’s story, and the net result is a book that is decently written, but jarring and ultimately unsatisfying. Either Cole was desperate to tell this story and use his favourite character no matter what, or he was answering a commission and got saddled with the wrong incarnation. Either way, it doesn’t work.
In many ways, the adoption of existing characters makes your job much easier – it provides a template – but that’s the sort of thing you’ll need to bear in mind as you approach any work of DW fiction, even a short story. ‘Vincent and the Doctor’ wouldn’t have worked with Capaldi, Bill and Nardole; it is impossible to imagine Troughton in ‘The Doctor’s Daughter’. Some of it is contextual (‘Dalek’, for example, was written within the frame of the Time War), but it’s not just about the setting, it’s about how you’d expect the characters to behave. And if this isn’t an issue for you – if, for example, you’re turning out a very by-the-numbers base-under-siege story that would work for any combination of TARDIS personnel – then are you really telling the best story you can?
4. Keep it PG-13. This is just a personal preference, but I have yet to encounter a DW story or novel featuring sex or bad language that didn’t feel like showing off. You could arguably level that same criticism at series one of Torchwood – at least until it grew its own personality and became something far more enjoyable – but Doctor Who is a family show and while there’s nothing wrong with a provocative outfit, a bit of mild cursing or the odd spark of innuendo, anything stronger is in danger of unbalancing your narrative. The rationale behind this is that if we have to start thinking about characters having sex, we have to start thinking about the Doctor having sex, and that’s a place most people don’t want to go, so don’t. By all means pepper your story with mindless violence, graphic descriptions of dismemberment or disfigurement and plenty of blood; just keep the language mild and the clothes on. It’s a double standard – one that the likes of South Park have lampooned on more than one occasion – but it seems to be the only way to write stories that actually work.
(Please be aware, by the way, that I am not applying any of this to the murky underbelly that is Rule 34 Fan Fiction, a sub-strand that I accept has always existed, needs to exist and will always exist, at least in some form or another. It was simpler when these things were text only and we didn’t have to have accompanying artwork; nonetheless it’s a part of the fandom and there’s no point in pretending otherwise. I don’t pretend to enjoy any of it, but I know some people devour the stuff like a Spaceball goes for canned oxygen. You do you.)
(As a brief sidetrack, do you want to know why I hold the Rule 34 material in such contempt? Really? Well, it comes from my first exposure to it – way back in the distant past that was 1996, when someone emailed an erotic story they’d found on a Usenet group. It was Sesame Street. It featured Elmo and Maria. Seriously, that’s enough to put anyone off.)
5. Read, re-read and then read once again every single last line of dialogue. I cannot stress enough just how important this is. It’s make-or-break. If you’re not voicing your Doctor or companion appropriately, people will notice. You know what stands out in Shadows of the Empire for me? That one scene I can’t get out of my head? It’s not the space battles or Luke honing his force powers or the final, climactic confrontation with Prince Xizor. It’s the bit where Darth Vader says “I’ll have my servants check it out”. That’s not something Darth Vader would say, ever. Anakin Skywalker, perhaps. But not Vader. His characterisation is in any case completely off in Shadows, but this is the nadir: in a poorly-written novel, it sticks out like a sore thumb on an already calloused hand.
Even a single word can make a difference. Let’s say, for example, that you have a scene where the Doctor says “Wonderful!”. I can hear that from Doctors One through Eight. I’m having a hard time hearing it from Eccleston (unless it’s delivered with dripping sarcasm), or indeed from anyone in the new series, with the possible exception of Smith. If you’re using existing Doctors and companions and you’re not sure whether your dialogue sounds authentic, go back and watch some episodes with the characters you’re writing, or ask for a second opinion. You can always ignore it.
6. Don’t be afraid of the word ‘said’. You know that ‘Let’s Do It’ parody? The one with Tate and Tennant with Barrowman at the piano? There’s a curious conceit between verses: Barrowman goes through an English teacher’s handout (replied, squawked, yelled, proclaimed, ejaculated) to introduce each new section, poking gentle fun at the gossipy natter-outside-the-shops feel of Victoria Wood’s original. It’s greatly amusing, but it’s not something you should copy. No one of any merit is going to chew you out for sticking a couple of ‘said’s into your work. This isn’t primary school. Equally, do not overuse it; it does get boring if that’s the only way your characters actually express anything.
Actually, a better way of handling dialogue is to keep usage both of ‘said’ and its myriad adjectives to an absolute minimum. This does not mean that you should write pages of back-and-forth quotes between characters you do not name. It is fine if you’re Manuel Puig, but it can be hard to follow. Instead, what you do is this: you intersperse dialogue with descriptive text to make it obvious who is speaking. Examine this:
Yates tried to give her a severe look: it didn’t quite come off. “And you know perfectly well that the contents remain top secret until the party,” he said. “All part of the magic, apparently.”
“Says our mysterious benefactor.”
Yates bent down to lift the box again; Jo dropped to a squat.
“Let me help,” she said.
“You really don’t need – I mean, it’s no job for a lady.”
She scowled. “Next time, you can pick it up yourself,” she said.
“You’re right. And I apologise,” he replied, standing and adjusting the crink in his back. “We’ll do it together.”
Which is so much better when you write it like this:
Yates tried to give her a severe look: it didn’t quite come off. “And you know perfectly well that the contents remain top secret until the party. All part of the magic, apparently.”
“Says our mysterious benefactor.”
Yates bent down to lift the box again; Jo dropped to a squat. “Let me help.”
“You really don’t need – I mean, it’s no job for a lady.”
She scowled. “Next time, you can pick it up yourself.”
“You’re right. And I apologise.” Yates stood, adjusting the crink in his back. “We’ll do it together.”
7. Don’t repeat gags. Catchphrases are fine, provided your story does not hinge, revolve or end upon them (there are exceptions to this rule, but you have to really know what you’re doing). But don’t ever drop in the same jokes you’ve seen on TV, unless there’s a damned good reason for it. Yes, it was funny when Tennant quipped “Are you my mummy?” when wearing that gas mask. We don’t need to hear it again, so write something new. Matt Smith’s horse dialogue? Well, that wasn’t funny the first time, so God knows we don’t need a repeat performance. This goes for variations – don’t go thinking you can a fresh laugh by tweaking the odd word. If the Doctor speaks muskrat, keep it to yourself. And please, for the love of sanity, do not use ‘Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey’. Ever. I mean it.
8. Screw the continuity. This is a showcase for you, and your abilities as a storyteller. You do not need to wade through the minefield of existing material in order to ensure that your own series of events matches up to What People Already Know. If you’re doing something that’s already happened, or wading into territory that’s already charted, it really doesn’t matter that much. I’m not saying people should behave out of character. Having Jamie rejoin the TARDIS as a prominent astrophysicist, or engineering a story where Mel suddenly starts drinking heavily before hefting a plasma rifle and joining a group of marines? It might be a laugh, but you’ll have to work incredibly hard to make it even remotely plausible.
But Doctor Who has spent years ignoring its own history – and the explanations provided are scant, when they are provided at all. There are at least two or three origin stories for the Daleks. The same applies for the Cybermen, and even then no one can work out whether the new ones are from Mondas or the Lumic factory. TV contradicts Big Finish contradicts the books, the events of ‘Turn Left’ fly in the face of the episodes it references, and there is an endless debate as to whether the UNIT stories happened in the 70s or 80s. Oh, we can pretend it all makes sense, but it doesn’t, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either pulling your leg or understands the show far less than they think they do.
During the writing process for The Child Left Behind, I became aware of a comic that clashed with the events I was talking about in the novel. In other words, there’s a story involving the Pied Piper. It’s not a particularly well-known story; I doubt many current fans have heard of it and even fewer, I suspect, have read it. But its existence jarred with me, and I thus set about establishing a side narrative that worked in the events of that particular adventure to the story that I was writing, so as not to mess up the timeline. I think I managed, just about, but whenever I look at that book now I can’t help wondering whether it really fits. It’s a whole extra subplot that squats uneasily on the fringes, like the socially awkward friend you invited to the party, standing in a corner making each glass of wine last an hour and talking to no one.
So honestly? It’s best not to worry about it. Know your subject and know your characters and try not to retread old ground, but if you do, don’t sweat the small stuff. Continuity should never get in the way of a good story, so don’t allow yourself to get bogged down by details. Leave that sort of thing to Ian Levine.
9. Resist the temptation to show how much you know. Yes, fine, you’re familiar with the history of the Tractators, the names of every Sontaran battlefleet, the specifics of the Cyber conversion process and the ins and outs of Gallifreyan sectarianism. Does it fit the story? Really? Because infodumps are fine if you’re trying to win an argument on a Reddit thread, but they’ll slow up the action and you run the risk of annoying the established fans and alienating the new or inexperienced ones. The next time you blind your audience with technobabble or historical discourse, ask yourself a single question: does it serve a narrative purpose, or are you just marking your territory?
10. If you must write in the First Person, do not make yourself the Doctor. Look, perspective can be a tricky thing. One rookie mistake made by writers is to swap between characters with wilful abandon: writing in the Third Person is going to be your undoing if you keep switching points of view. For the most part you’ll want to pick one person per scene, and stick to it. Aside from a few stray intermezzos, the Harry Potter books tell the entire story from the perspective of its title character and, with the exception of those dreadful flashback chapters (you know, the ones that read like bad Tolkien) they don’t suffer as a result.
You don’t need to do this. But at least within each individual scene you need to leave the “He thought / she thought” seesawing out of it – and what better way of doing this than writing the whole thing in First Person? Well, knock yourself out. J.D. Salinger built a career out of it. But don’t be the Doctor. Be a companion, a supporting character, a villain if you like – but the Doctor is off limits. It doesn’t work. It didn’t work in Eye of Heaven; it doesn’t really work in Scratchman. The Doctor is only ever defined by the people who are along for the ride; even in ‘Heaven Sent’ Capaldi at least had someone to talk to when he was jumping out of windows and punching a wall. You cannot inhabit that head, however well you think you know your Doctor. The whole point behind the show is that we never really do.
As an addendum, it is perfectly fine to write a third person scene (or even an entire story) from the Doctor’s point of view; narrative omniscience affords that luxury. Just remember to write ‘He thought’. Or ‘She thought’, if that’s where you are.
11. Enjoy it, or at least enjoy having done it. I’m channeling my inner Dorothy Parker with this one, but it’s an important point. We were going to open with the old Tegan maxim (“If you stop enjoying it, give it up”) but I don’t think that’s necessarily the mindset you want to be carrying. The unfortunate truth is that writing – any sort of writing – is hard work, and a lot of going back and forth over those fiddly sentences that won’t quite parse the way you want them to, and getting interrupted just as you’re in flow, and periods of blockage and despair and then that Eureka! moment when you’re in the shower or the car and nowhere near a pen, and then getting back to your laptop and feverishly tapping away, all the while having to listen to that small voice in your head – yes, that one, the one that’s constantly whispering “This is prosaic shit, really, isn’t it?”
No, here’s how it works: this will not always be easy. It will not always be fun. But you will achieve a sense of satisfaction when you have achieved something you know is good – perhaps not objectively good, because that’s a pipe dream, but at least something that’s fun and accessible and that tells a complete story. And if you get nowhere, and your audience is sparse, and you wonder why you’re bothering, there are worse role models than Paul Sheldon at the end of Misery – specifically the end of William Goldman’s screen adaptation, where James Caan is having lunch in a New York restaurant with his agent. “I’m glad the critics like it,” he says benignly, as she gushes over the reception to his new book. “And I hope the people like it too. But I wrote it for me.”
Hello, folks. Anyone got cabin fever yet? I’ve heard there’s an app for that…
We’re still ploughing through the videos, folks, but – joy of joys! – we’ve finally reached the very last of the 2019 content. So while you’re all under house arrest you can listen to a bit of incoherent rambling about political smear campaigns and school sickness policies. Oh, and there are quite a few Daleks. Don’t worry, you can thank me later.
1. The Doctor Has No Plan (November 2019)
We’re not going to talk about the election, because it’s four months on and it still depresses me. But we are going to talk about something that happened in the buildup: notably when the Conservative Party’s media crew released a doctored clip of Keir Starmer appearing to experience a rabbit-in-headlights moment during an interview on Good Morning Britain, captioning it with the words ‘Labour has no plan for Brexit’. Sharp-eyed viewers – or rather those who were actually watching the thing when it was aired – were quick to point out that during the live session Starmer had answered the question without pause or hesitation and that this was nothing but a dirty tricks campaign. It was, of course, but they still won, because people didn’t care, and everyone knew that on a different day Labour would have done the same thing.
In any case, it set me thinking: what defining moment of decision and assertion could I rejig in order to suggest that the Doctor was clueless? In other words, how could I seize on something topical and give it a vaguely Doctor Who-related flavour so I could share it in the few groups that allow political content? There was an obvious answer, and it was this one. I do think it more or less works, although I’m not about to start editing political press footage for a living. Even I have some integrity.
2. A-NI-MATE! (November 2019)
I can still remember the conversation: the deputy headteacher at Edward’s school, insistent that we should keep him off for forty-eight hours despite the fact that he wasn’t actually ill. It’s a district guideline, he said. I explained that he’d been sick at his birthday party and that we didn’t want to send him on a trip the next morning but that it wasn’t an infection, just a bit of over-tiredness. It’s just what they’re told to do, he said. No it isn’t, I said, because it’s inconsistently applied. He’ll look into that, he said. Why doesn’t it apply with colds? I said. He doesn’t know, he’s not a doctor, he said. I can see that, I said.
Anyway: after I’d ranted about over-caution and general managerial incompetence, Edward and I spent the day together, and I suggested we have a bit of fun with the Doctor Who figures, going so far as to create a rudimentary animation, in which…well, watch and you’ll see what happens. Then he helped me pick music and effects and we strung the whole thing together and uploaded it. It performed unexpectedly well on Tumblr (26,000 reactions, which is something of a record for me) although I can’t help thinking some people thought Edward did this single handed, thus giving it more credit than it’s actually due. Perhaps I should tell them. Either way we had fun, which is the only thing that actually counts.
3. Spyfall: Alternate Ending (January 2020)
“I’m thinking,” I told a particular Doctor Who group, way back in January, “of mashing up the ending of [Spyfall Part 2] so that when the Doctor exits her TARDIS, she’s not looking out at you-know-where, she’s somewhere else. I just need something that’ll fit. Any advance on Teletubbyland?”
It was Richey who suggested it. He initially thought about the binary sunset on Tattooine, before having a rather better idea. I won’t spoilt it for you. Perhaps the best thing about this is the lighting, which – just for a change – matched almost scene for scene. “And I don’t believe in miracles…”
Greetings, fellow foodies! This week’s recipe is an exotic one, submitted by Pete and Chris; a calorific concoction of intriguing flavours wrapped in a flash casing, guaranteed to bring sparkle to even the drabbest Sunday evening. Some caution is needed: Pete tells me the last time he and Chris made one they briefly set fire to the internet, so make sure you don’t do the same!
Time: 50 minutes
Difficulty: Amiable to infuriating
1. First, grease a large baking sheet with marketing hype. I find it helps to do this in layers, but you’ll need to include a really good press release talking about the environmental themes.
2. Pre-heat the oven to Gas Mark 6. This won’t take long as it should still be fairly hot from our last bake.
3. Separate your characters into three piles. Then, in three separate bowls, mix them until they start to combine. This is a lengthy process but they’ll eventually form a loose sort of dough. Be careful not to prod it, though, or it’ll break apart.
4. Place one Doctor in each bowl. Leave to stew.
5. Over a low heat, boil up three technobabble dumplings. Start this early, so they have time to boil dry – the drier the better.
6. While the technobabble is simmering, blend up three McGuffins – I tend to use human-shaped McGuffins – into thousands of pieces. This will be your layer of unpleasant death.
7. Combine all three bowls until the mixture just about clumps together. Crimp the edges with a pathogen reference.
8. Now it’s time to add our flavouring. Dip the hazmat suits very briefly into the mixture and then pull them out straight away; you want only the mildest hint of them. Sprinkle the layer of unpleasant death over the top.
9. When this is done, drizzle with social commentary. I find it helps to do this slowly and laboriously, really allowing the juices to soak in: you’ll probably find it gets concentrated in one area, and will almost certainly drift to the bottom, but your dinner guests will expect this so it doesn’t matter too much. They’ll eat it anyway.
10. The pudding is now ready to be over-egged. You know what to do, right?
11. Place in the oven. While it’s baking, you could catch up on Twitter.
12. It’s vital that you remove your Praxeus from the oven midway through the cooking time. This will ensure it’s half-baked and collapsing in the middle.
13. Garnish with a twist of half-expected villain and, if you have one, a sprig of noble self-sacrifice.
14. If prepared to perfection, the Praxeus should be stodgy and sweet, but leave a mildly unpleasant aftertaste.
And that’s it. In two weeks: Dry Roasted Cybermen, guaranteed nut (and bolt) free.