Response to the Doctor Who Responses (Pop-Drama 2.5)

I’ve been away a few days, and the responses to the Doctor Who post have brought up some very interesting points, so I thought I’d go through those I’ve not yet responded to as a separate post (there are some I’ve still not responded to even after this. And I owe a couple of you emails, too – I’ve not forgotten, just been rushed off my feet). Incidentally, Pillock has written a good Tarzan one…

Zom:Yep. Sounds good. I would want to see the Tardis, though.

I always want to like Doctor Who more than I do – unfortunately the elements I want to see are gestured towards, or have shown up once or twice, but simply aren’t there enough

Out of interest, have you seen the first few stories? Get hold of the box set The Beginning, which contains the first three stories. It only costs about nine quid, and before they knew what a ‘Doctor Who story’ was, it was an *amazing* TV programme…

Should add that a man attempting to construct his past from the well of infinity strikes me as astoundingly profound and beautiful, not to mention existentially awesome/terrifying. You could bump into soooo many dramatic, philosophical, mystical, psychological, and – and this is a word I’m loathe to use but it just seems so right in this context – spiritual questions/vistas along the way.

Exactly. And it’s something that is, I think, a genuinely *new* SF idea. The broken past thing comes from conversations with Tilt, but the more I think about the idea of trying to literally reconstruct one’s own past, the more possibilities there are to play with…

Andrew, I’ve been thinking about heroic hyping the X-Men pretty much all year, but have been put off by the horrible facts of Morrison’s experience on the book. In conversation with Amy yesterday it occurred to me that, fuck it, we should go further and write something that fits our vision for the title. Mine our thinking to its core so that whatever we find doesn’t look sue-able and get that bad boy out there into the world – I can guarantee it won’t smell like any other superhero comic (as long as we can get the right artist!). I think you should do the same with this. You have the passion, the skill and the vision. Write a better Dr Who, call it something else, and sell it.

Should we form a pact?

Yes, we should. This kind of thing is one reason why I’m going to set up the Newniverse site, as somewhere for people to play with other people’s characters with the numbers filed off.

I actually have a number of ideas for a Doctor-alike – I’ve got a quite detailed proposal in my head for this, incorporating little bits of the Phantom Stranger, Sandman, The Spirit and old EC Comics to replace the Doctor-specific stuff, while still being at core the thing I posted the other day. The main problem is that no matter how much I change the surface details, the main character is the Doctor – all the dialogue I hear in my head is in the Doctor’s rhythms.

That wouldn’t be so bad, except that there’s a huge cottage industry already in ersatz Doctor Who – video series like The Stranger, audio dramas involving The Professor or The Dominie, the Faction Paradox books/comics/audios, the Time Hunter novels, Iris Wildthyme, Bernice Summerfield, PROBE, Kandor City… there’s even apparently a film, Zygon: When Being You Just Isn’t Enough that’s a soft-porn film about Zygons. Get an out-of-work character actor from the 70s, or pay Robert Holmes’ estate a fiver to license the name of an old monster, and you too can have your own direct-to-video ‘Whoniverse’ series, with Mark Gatiss in it…

For a long time I imagined the audience for my thing would cross over enough with the Doctor Who audience that it would be perceived as being another of those things – if you have a character who talks and acts like the Doctor, in Doctor Who type adventures, it looks like that (not that there’s anything wrong with those things per se, but they’re not what I want to be doing). But the character in the Welsh series is so different now that I honestly think a mainstream audience would not make the connection.

The main problem for me at this point is that were I to do it by myself, the only option for serial publication (which it really needs) would be comics (or audio-drama podcasts?) which would require collaboration with other people (I can’t draw), and I’m not a very good collaborator…

But in principle, I *REALLY* want to do it, especially since I’m getting more confident in my own abilities (bought Alan Moore’s Dodgem Logic mag yesterday – PEP is going to be better, no contest).

Gavin B: You’re really taking the Doctor so far back to his roots it’s before he even erupted above ground. This ‘amnesiac Doctor’ comes from early planning meetings, doesn’t he?

(By which I mean you’re sourcing your Doctor from that root. You’re talking about much else, but that’s really undoing the knots they subsequently got him in.)

Not consciously – the amnesia bit came via conversations with Tilt, but that may well have been a half-conscious influence. But I’m definitely trying to take the show back to its very early phase – much as I love the show as it grew, I would dearly love to have had twenty-six years of the show that’s in the The Beginning box set…

It also occurs to me that an amnesiac Doctor would be a better identification figure for a young audience. He wouldn’t recognise, say, returning Ice Warriors any more than they would.

Exactly.

Gavin RI usually try not to talk about Doctor Who on the internet (I’m scared of continuity nerds, I like to refer to the main character as “Doctor Who”, and I’ve been involved in online Star Wars fandom enough to know that online fandom is not a good way to live your life), but this seems like a safe place to come out.

Don’t worry, you’re among friends here. No-one will tell…

So, I like Doctor Who, and I like your version even more. I especially like the way you raise awkward questions about identity, memory and truth but refuse to give easy answers to them.

Thank you.

The amnesiac thing has so much potential for other genres too eg historical fiction. Imagine Richard III, Oliver Cromwell or Douglas Haig trying to work out who they were and what they’d done just by reading what other people had written about them.

On a semi-related note to that, check out the Big Finish audio The Kingmaker. I can’t say too much about the plot without spoiling it, but it involves Richard III and does touch on that in a round-about way.

I’m not sure if stories would need to be 2 episodes. Blakes 7 packed an awful lot into a single 50 minute episode even though it had more main characters than Doctor Who and often had 2 concurrent plots. Although there were a few story arcs, most episodes were standalone stories. The Professionals was even faster paced – like a film compressed into half the time – but in that case they didn’t have much world building to do. In contrast, a lot of the old-school Who that I’ve rewatched over the last year or so seems very slow with lots of unnecessary padding. If you’re going for mystery and uncertainty then less might be more.

Blake’s 7 is still all set in the same society and time-period, though. I agree that a lot of Doctor Who is padded, but that happens more in stories longer than 90 minutes. Even some of the six-parters are fairly tight, especially when Bob Holmes was involved in some capacity or other, and the four-parters seem about the right length to me. It’s when you get anything over four parts that the problems start – I love Pertwee’s first series, but if they’d cut all those seven-parters down to four, it would have been FAR better.

I wouldn’t want to be absolutely dogmatic about it, but I wouldn’t want anything as long as The Daleks’ Master Plan, or Trial Of A Time-Lord. That said, Keeper Of Traken/Logopolis/Castrovalva make up one twelve-part story and that works, and The War Games is surprisingly riveting even though it’s ten parts. The format could be changed around. But the only two times Proper Doctor Who did a forty-five minute story (Edge Of Destruction and The Sontaran Experiment) are far too far the other way…

Also can the male companion be wearing nothing but a thong, a bow tie and lots of body oil? Well, it’s for the mums…

Unfortunately, patriarchical body-image fascism means that conventionally ‘attractive’ women look appropriately helpless, but conventionally ‘attractive’ men look perfectly capable of taking care of themselves, because ‘attractive’ and ‘muscular’ are almost synonymous in men but not in women. This means that the male companion will only be ‘for’ that subset of mums who are attracted to pale-looking overweight asthmatics. Don’t blame me, blame the patriarchy.

Kieran:I really love the set-up you’ve described here, really suggests that time is a wilderness, and makes the doctor mythic yet human, but I’m suprised that despite some fairly specific complaints* you mention neither sets nor music. Or does “Tangerine Dream and high-budget theatre” go without saying?

Sets and music are difficult. I definitely have opinions, but music poses a problem. I LOVE the sound of the original series (before everything became cheap synths), especially during the period where the Radiophonic Workshop people were doing ‘special sound’ and adding electronic effects to the real instruments, and I think Delia Derbyshire’s original version of the theme is close to perfect in every way.

The problem is that these days people are as jaded when it comes to music as they are when it comes to special effects. Nothing sounds *strange* to people any more. If they hear a new sound, no-one thinks “How did they do that?”, they think “They just pressed some buttons on a computer”. I’d want the music on Doctor Who to sound as strange and new as it did back the. I have very strong ideas about how I’d do that (lots of tuned percussion, analogue synths, ondes martinu, and so on) but even so I’m not sure it’d work.

I’ve put together a quick Spotify playlist to give a sort of idea of how I’d have it done. However, bear in mind that all of that is music designed for *listening* and structured as songs/pieces rather than as support for drama. (For those who can’t access Spotify, playlist contains Cornelius, The Tornadoes, Zappa, Stockhausen, Stereolab, Soft Machine, Bartok, National Pep, Don Preston and Edgard Varese). Just listen to the different timbres rather than the melodies.

I don’t have much of an opinion on *sets* as such, but I do have a related opinion which is that the show should be shot multi-camera wherever possible. The art of multi-camera TV is almost lost now, but it was much closer to the theatre than the cinema (almost like giving a performance in the round, in fact), and Doctor Who owes a lot to that theatrical tradition. Everything about a TV show changes – the choices of shot, the performances, what you can and can’t do – when you choose between single- and multi-camera, and I prefer multi-camera. I’d also want it not to be ‘film-look’ (that glossy look of most current drama, especially adventure stories) just because I find that look aesthetically unpleasant.

*I must confess I found your complaint about the Doctor’s age last time you wrote about the issue rather short sighted, a “but he’s not *my* green lantern!” sort of a deal, especially since for all his awful mugging Tenant does have a Kyle MacLachlan style natural trustworthyness which seems essential to the character. But the tone you’ve settled on here really does call for an older actor.

I can see how you’d think that, but it’s not *quite* the same thing – I hope I’ve made that clearer now…

Wesley:Also, the actor I’d hire to play the Doctor–if I could, somehow, convince anybody to take the job–would be Tom Waits. (I’m thinking mostly of his performances as cheerfully odd characters in Mystery Men and Wristcutters.)

Interesting choice. Definitely not my choice, but I could see it working in a strange way. My choices would be Graham Crowden, Eric Sykes or Don Warrington. Two people from the series I could actually see playing the Doctor as I envisage him would be William Russel (who played original companion Ian Chesterton) or, actually, Colin Baker (now he’s older and looks totally different, playing a different incarnation of the Doctor would be an interesting thing, and I think he’d do a good job of it).

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16 Responses to Response to the Doctor Who Responses (Pop-Drama 2.5)

  1. Zom says:

    Dodgem Logic was absolutely awful. Chock full of dull, predictable opinions couched in hackneyed arguments, bad writing, and juvenile thoughts. Someone really needs to introduce Alan Moore to the internet, and I say that as someone who is about to put out a zine. The fact that comic fans the world over are keen to have a read of it strikes me as absolutely absurd.

    I really could go on, but I’ve already ranted at Amy about DL today, and there’s only so much time in life.

  2. pillock says:

    Oh no, it’s bad?!

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      I didn’t think it as bad as Zom did – there’s some promising bits, and it has potential – but there’s some really sub-par stuff there. Josie Long (a comedian I normally like) did a thing about love that amounted to “If you have any problems at all in your relationship, you should split up”, while there was an article in there about music that was essentially “The kids today and their hippity hoppity music, it’s all manufactured pap and you can’t hear the words, not like in my day”.

      I’ll pick up the next couple of issues if I see them, because there’s some very talented people involved (Moore, Kevin O’Neill, Graham Linehan for a start), but… at first I was seriously considering that thing you said about how I should ask about doing the local pull-out section for Manchester, but after reading it I think both PEP! and the Mindless’ zine will be much, much better…

  3. Zom says:

    Ah, you’re a more generous man than me, Andrew.

    The thing is, I want get behind Moore – because I think his intentions are noble – but I just can’t. Everything about DL struck me as flawed, from the concept, through the design to the writing. If you want to get people engaged in the community through writing then surely there are much better ways of doing it than publishing a paper zine. At the very least you should be looking to create a complimentary web presence.

    Oh… but Alan Moore knows absolutely nothing about the internet. That much is painfully obvious.

    Secondly, if your selling point is the collisions of ideas then you should a) work your arse off to produce interesting, novel, complex essays that are at least on a par with what people could get their hands on after spending five minutes on Google, b) do a bit of thoughtful curation and actually present a range of opinions that zing off each other rather than simply throw together a bunch of well worn thoughts from the crustier end of the lefty spectrum.

    The problem is that the community engagement angle makes those two things difficult to do because what’s produced through that interface is likely to be limited (there won’t be much of it, and therefore not much to choose from) and sub-par as many of the writers are likely to be unpracticed.

    Pill, on the subject of the content, here’s how it went down, imho:

    Moore’s piece on the history of underground publications: interesting and informative until the the last couple of paragraphs when the grumpy old man makes an appearance to let us all know how rubbish everything is these days

    Linehan’s ode to Twitter is a rerun of some very old and obvious arguments. To make matters worse, Linehan has written more interesting stuff on the subject elsewhere. Was entertaining enough, though, as you’d expect from someone who makes their living selling words. Worth noting that this was the only essay that had much of anything positive to say about the modern world, and therefore produced the only actual collision of ideas.

    Rant about modern music almost had me headbutting my desk. Proper juvenile bollocks.

    Josie Long’s cartoon was gently amusing but was also a rather wearying example of a youngster telling us like it is and being completely wrong, at least as far as grown ups in long term relationships are concerned. I’m certain that my family would not benefit from her brand of romantic absolutism.

    Melinda Gebbie’s rant on how feminism went wrong was barely coherent.

    The piece on living for free was painfully amateurish and seemed to be perpetually hovering on the point of ranting about the sheeple.

    The two doctors’ essays were relatively thought provoking, but no more interesting than your average, thoughtful blog post, and just about as well written. Again, time spent with Google would probably be much more rewarding.

    Kev O’Neill’s cartoons were obvious and boring in terms of theme and subtext.

    Steve Aylett’s piece on music in Northampton bored me to tears.

    One thing’s for sure, I don’t see comic shops as being a very good point of sale for this product. It ain’t comics, and Moore’s name can only carry the thing so far.

  4. Zom says:

    (We thought about doing a Brighton edition. We’ve decided against that idea)

  5. pillock says:

    On Doctorish storytelling…have you heard of a book called “Psychohistorical Crisis”? I haven’t read it, but it’s supposed to be very good, somebody just deciding to retell Foundation in their own way…also, in this time of Batman Begins, James Bond Begins, Star Trek Begins, a reworked Who would be more than possible, I think. Just do whatever you want with it, don’t use a police box, and when somebody says “this is just you doing Doctor Who” tell them “not at all, I would never ‘do’ Doctor Who, perish the thought…no, I am ‘doing’ a carefully-calculated ripoff of Doctor Who…which is a totally different proposition, and by the way a lot more work too.”

    I’d suggest novellas, partly because I think a prose treatment would go a long way toward making clear exactly what it is you’d be doing…making a comic right away would spoil the surprise, I’d like to be able to sit there reading along and then burst out laughing as I suddenly realize I’m actually reading a repurposed Who…that’d be fun.

  6. pillock says:

    Sorry, that seemed like an abrupt swerve off-topic…

    Upsetting stuff about DL! I really want it to be fantastic, of course.

    Maybe it’s just early days?

    Hmm, sounds like it’d benefit from having local pull-outs, maybe that’s where the collision could really come from…

    And Andrew, didn’t I say something like they’d come looking for you? Imagine, one day you get a call from Alan Moore…

    Well, it’s fun to imagine it!

    Er, that reminds me…sort of owe three essays in total to the people in this thread…

    Right, back to work!

  7. Zom says:

    I completely agree with Pillock re the rip off aspect. Grant Morrison has made a living ripping off other people’s ideas and much richer we are for it.

  8. pillock says:

    Who would the Doctor be, if he couldn’t be the Doctor? That question’s already front-and-centre in your original proposal, it takes so little work to make it slyly tongue-in-groove…or should that be tongue-in-cheek?

    What would the Tardis be, if it couldn’t be the Tardis? What would it have to be?

    It’s just like writing science fiction, only this time the science fiction would be based on science fiction. The Cybermen, the Daleks…forget how they were made, and think of what they mean.

    I keep saying it, but: fun!

  9. pillock says:

    Logically extrapolative!

  10. Kieran says:

    Audio plays would provide the same freedom to not show things in prose, it comes down to whatever Andrew is most comfortable with, but there’s a well-worn path of adaption between the two mediums. And as to serialization well, magazines still print short stories don’t they? If they’re well recieved (and they should be!) they can be adapted to pseudo audio plays in the vein of The Death of Bunny Munro.

  11. pillock says:

    Or, paddling one’s own canoe can be nice, too…oh look, here Andrew is about to publish something…

  12. kalyarn says:

    I’m late in coming to all this, so my apologies, Andrew, but one thing I’d love for you to address, in bringing the Doctor (who?) back to his original incarnation is the character of Susan. I feel like there is a correlation between having an amnesiac-type character and another, similar one (not just a human companion), who is not suffering as such. Do you think the original writers created this character for viewers to be able connect with the Doctor (proxy-by-proxy/companions-Susan-Doctor Who), and if so, do you see room in your reimagining for her?

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