I'm Dave-El and today is Doctor Who Saturday.
Today I want to look at the story behind the story of Doctor Who, the docudrama from Mark Gatiss, An Adventure in Space and Time.
And if I may be self-indulgent, I want to take a look back at the story behind the story of The Nemesis Who Stole Time, the multi-part, multi-Doctor fan fiction I posted on this blog from July 13, 2013 to October 27, 2013.
Before I get into any of that...
...the big thing on everyone's minds right now is that in 4 days, the Doctor Who Christmas Special will air and with The Time of the Doctor comes the end of Matt Smith's time as our beloved travelling Time Lord. As with David Tennant before him, there is a very strong feeling that Matt has more Doctor Who stories in him. But as they say in showbiz, leave them wanting more. And in the case of Matt Smith, that is a most definite feeling on the part of this fan. Matt Smith has made his mark on the Doctor on par with the best of the Doctors before him. And he will be missed.
Thursday on the blog, I will post a special Doctor Who Is New on The Time of the Doctor.
Several weeks ago, I finally got a chance to see An Adventure In Space and Time, Mark Gatiss' extraordinarily imaginative and sensitive look at the creation of Doctor Who. Brian Cox as show creator Sydney Newman chews up the scenery like he's a Hollywood mogul (which by all accounts was Newman's own style). Jessica Raine as Verity Lambert is stunning as a woman forging a path in a man's world with a show that nobody is sure they want but fighting for her belief that there was something special in Doctor Who.
But the real standout performance is from David Bradley as William Hartnell. Bradley is best known as the cantankerous Argus Filch in the Harry Potter movies and as the greedy, vicious villain of the Doctor Who episode, Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. In Hartnell, David Bradley explores a character who is prickly and on edge. He's frustrated as an actor, being pigeon-holed for the same roles over and over. Hartnell is not necessarily good with children as we see in an early scene where he gruffly dismisses his granddaughter. But Doctor Who saves him. We see this reflected in Hartnell's later interaction with this granddaughter and a delightful scene where Hartnell is seen cavorting with children in a London park, playacting at Doctor Who and running from imaginary Daleks.
But if Doctor Who saved William Hartnell's spirit, it was also wearing down his body and his mind. Cast members come and go, the supporting production staff behind the cameras begin drifting towards other things and the pace of production takes its toll on Hartnell and his declining health. And here, Bradley is most effective at presenting a man who has become proud of what he has accomplished in Doctor Who and realizes all too painfully how much it has meant to him and how much he will miss it when it's gone.
There's a scene at the end that may seem a bit over the top, perhaps even a bit maudlin. But I don't care. When David Bradley as William Hartnell stands at the TARDIS console for his final scene as the Doctor, he sees the future: Matt Smith, looking back across the ages at the man who started it all. I felt a lump in my throat as I witnessed this scene: William Hartnell, about to step off the foundation he helped build, sees that his efforts will live on long after him.
An Adventure In Space and Time does a very good job of conveying the look and the feel of the early 1960's as well as giving us an intimate and moving account of the men and women who came together to make something impossible, something that still endures.
Several years ago, while David Tennant was still the Doctor, I had an idea about a storyline where something reverses the Doctor's regenerations. I kicked it around in my head for years, working out details, adding ideas, discarding others. Finally, after I started this blog, I decided this would be the forum to get this idea out of my head and in writing once and for all.
As I jumped into deep end of this creative exercise, I had a clear idea how certain things would play out but I also had NO idea where other plot points would lead. The story that I started in July was NOT the same story I finished in October. As a chance to actually do some creative writing, it was an interesting learning experience. As a Doctor Who fan, it was simply a lot of fun writing things for the Doctor to say and do.
So here is a chapter by chapter debrief on the inner workings behind The Nemesis Who Stole Time. (Click on the Chapter links for the complete story.)
Zarathustra appeared in A Good Man Goes to War. It provided a bunch of "extra-boomy explosions" for a much needed element of danger and besides, I just love that name.
Your mileage may vary but I could hear Matt and Jenna's voices in my head as I wrote the Doctor and Clara's banter. I wasn't always on point with that but I felt I was on a good start.
The 11th Doctor's "regeneration" was hard to write even though I knew how the storyline was going to go. I was still dealing with the news that Matt was leaving and we would have to see this for real in the not too distant future.
The Doctor's "Do your worst unless your worst is to bore me to death in which case that's just not fair" is still a favorite line in the whole series.
The White Guardian's a woman now. Well, she always was. Makes me see the beginning of The Ribos Operation in a whole new and not entirely appealing light.
Can't write the 10th Doctor without him going "What? What?", now can I?
So we get our first "reverse-regeneration" and we establish the ground rules: whatever is happening is also changing the Doctor's clothes and the TARDIS. My earliest idea was to have each earlier Doctor in his successor's outfit but it slowed down the narrative and besides if the Doctor's new timeline was that he never regenerated, he never changed his clothing style to match. Voila!
Killing off Wilf and Donna was really heartbreaking to me; and the Doctor has two hearts so we know how bad this must hurt for him. Don't worry, they'll get better. Eventually.
The encounter with Mickey in Paris is a bit of a problem. He is obviously pissed that Rose Tyler died for the Doctor's sake (as we will discover at the end of the chapter and in the next one) but how can he be angry with the 10th Doctor about that? The Doctor is the 10th because he did save Rose; when time is re-written and Rose isn't saved, the 10th reverts back to the 9th. It would be the 9th Doctor that Mickey would be mad at, right? Yes but the paradoxes created by the reversing regenerations are moving forward along the Doctor's timeline as well as backward. (Wiggled out of that one, didn't I?)
We get our first real look at the "Great Negation" taking out a world and not just any world but the world of the Zocci, the planet of the little red spiky dude we met in Voyage of the Damned. In retrospect, I wished I had done more to look in on the consequences of this great cosmic calamity I unleashed for this story. It's one thing to treat a plot point as McGuffin but the destruction of all time and space shouldn't be one of those.
How did River Song and Jack Harkness get into this story? As two characters with variable abilities to travel in time on their own, it made perfect sense that they would be the two to come to the Doctor's aid to help recover the Key to Time crystals. But I'm realizing I've got way too much ground to cover so no cumbersome scene to bring River and Jack into this; just a line to suggest he called for their help and they came. Still, I wish had more scenes with River and Jack in super-flirt mode.
Jack's comment to the 9th Doctor about still being cheeky is a call back to Jack's description of the 10th Doctor in Utopia.
I opted to portray the 8th Doctor with the longer hair and appearance as established in the TV movie. My thinking was he had adopted a shorter hair style by the events of the Time War but in a bid to put those events behind him, he chose to change back to a style of appearance before the events of that war.
Yeah, I'm playing a bit fast and loose with how Weeping Angels work but it was important to establish a catalyst for the Doctor's changes and since the reverse regenerations were caused by moments of time being altered, the Angels were for me a viable candidate for the job.
The Time War. As we have since seen from The Day of the Doctor, events have played out differently than as I have speculated here. But I couldn't go back to the pivotal event of the 8th Doctor's change without addressing the Time War. So here was my take on that involving the then-accepted idea that it was Paul McGann's Doctor at the crucial juncture of the Time War. And I don't know if it's accepted in canon that Romana was or was not on Gallifrey during the Time War but I wanted the Chancellor to be someone significant in Doctor Who history and Romana made an excellent candidate. And Romana's narration regarding the Doctor "with great affection". Am I shipping Romana and the Doctor? No comment.
The use of Roger Delgado's Master as the template for the Master in this story was a deliberate choice as we would later see his story almost but not quite go parallel the Doctor's. And the big reveal of the Master aside, even as I pulled the curtain back to reveal the Master, I knew he was not the driving force of this crisis.
The Sontarans save their hated enemies, the Rutans, because they wanted to be ones to kill them, not the Great Negation. Writing Sontaran dialogue is fun as I got a chance to explore in later chapters.
I actually did some rudimentary research on the origin of garden gnomes for this. You're welcome.
The idea of a big sprawling Doctor Who story without Sarah Jane Smith just did not seem right. But I felt weird including her as her portrayer, the gracious and talented Elisabeth Sladen, had passed away a few years back. Ultimately, the desire to see Sarah Jane in action one more time ruled the day.
The Master totally owns the Cybermen. I will admit that I wished I done more with the army the Master began assembling here. But it does demonstrate the power the Master has and ultimately, how little it matters.
The 7th Doctor's revelation about The Coincidence Engine can be seen as a bit of a cop out. How is the Doctor and the gang getting to exactly where they need to go? Again, I've got a big story to tell and I don't have time to show the Doctor scanning star charts and historical records. And the functioning (and the limitations) of the Coincidence Machine comes in handy down the road. And yes, this revelation was in mind as I had the Doctors proclaim their dislike of "coincidence" in previous chapters.
Our gang of heroes has a serious loss when Jack Harkness is killed. OK, we know he gets better but come on, allow me some dramatic license. And it sets up what happens in the next chapter.
And finally, six damn chapters in and we finally get out first glimpse of inter-Doctor action.
River: What in the name of sanity are you wearing?!
6th Doctor (points at a lapel of his coat): This? It’s a cat pin.
Yeah, we have some fun at the expense of the 6th Doctor's very colorful ensemble. But I also sought to convey this Doctor's strong sense of confidence. Oft time it came off in the TV series as boastful arrogance. But sometimes arrogance comes from a place of truth. When the Doctor confronts the Master to rescue Jack Harkness and recover another piece of the Key to Time, one response I received was, "When did the 6th Doctor become such a badass?" He always was; I just gave him a chance to prove it.
Meanwhile, we get our first cracks in the façade of the Master's place in this drama. He's answering to someone else known as...The One. (Seriously, "The One" was a bit of a placeholder but I never came up with a better name. Turns out in the end, the name was most apt.)
Finally, another look into multi-Doctor interaction which gives a hint of how well that's going.
11th Doctor: If I have my attention, it’s time to get bizz-zay!
10th Doctor (shaking his head): No. No, don't. Just…don’t.
11th Doctor (crestfallen): OK. Fine.
From among other instances, the 10th Doctor going, "No. No, don't. Just...don't" is derived from Tooth and Claw where Rose attempts (very badly) a Scottish accent.
The Bannerman Road episode. A lot of deferring to the rule of funny in this one as the 11th Doctor followed by his other selves increasingly create chaos at the Smith residence. Sarah Jane and Luke's frustrations mount as the Doctor can't seem to play nice with himself.
But from chaos comes success of a sorts as the Doctors have built...a plot device. Hello to the temporal psionic matrix. No, don't bother looking through episodes and books and audio plays and comics: I made it up. I admit that the ultimate function of the matrix thingy may be a bit unclear in the story but it achieved its primary purpose: move the plot forward.
Oh, and you remember River's rule #1 about the Doctor, "The Doctor lies"? Here he lies to himself.
11th Doctor: We can fix that. Bring River into the link.
6th Doctor: Her human mind…
11th Doctor: Was born as a Time Lord mind. She…she can handle this! Well, she can. Almost. But it hurts a lot.
Hey, the White Guardian makes an appearance for the first time since Chapter Three. Something I had been teasing at for several installments (but I never had a chance to actually get to it) starts to come to light as we begin exploring Clara's special role in this adventure.
If Chapter Eight tended a bit towards the farcical, this installment more than makes up for it with some seriously bad stuff going down.
We meet (sort of) The One. If anyone is disappointed that the Master appears to be a lackey to whoever this is, review how many Doctor Who stories that have the Master NOT being in control as much as he thinks he is.
Meanwhile, we find ourselves looking at a point in Doctor Who history, the events of The Five Doctors, specifically near the end and here I have to confess to a major cop out.
Where are the companions---Sarah Jane, Teegan and the Brigadier---who were present at that moment in the episode? I didn't forget them and in fact I had a scene where the 3rd Doctor actually places something in Sarah Jane's mind that explains why all the reverse regenerated Doctors were finding their way back to her house on Bannerman Road. Ultimately, a scene with 5 Doctors being brought up to speed was crowded enough. So I decided (very reluctantly) to just not include them. Hey, time is out of whack anyway so when things get fixed back to normal (and, among other things, the 4th Doctor does NOT show up), the companions are back in that scene as originally shown.
The temporal psionic matrix gets explained sort of. (The 10th Doctor not wanting to call it "Time Lord magic" is a call back to The Girl in the Fireplace where he says he doesn't want to call a time portal a "magic door".)
You know, with time in such a mess, was it really necessary to have River take the 4th Doctor's place in the vortex? Maybe not but as we see in subsequent chapters, it's fun!
Not fun is what happens to Martha. I knew from Chapter Three this was going to happen. I needed a reverse regeneration triggered in a place where the Doctor would not expect it, inside the TARDIS. That meant there had to be a Weeping Angel on board. Taking a cue from Time of Angels/Flesh and Stone where an Angel is growing inside of Amy Pond, I decided that Martha was our candidate for that. When did the Angels get inside Martha's head? As far back as Chapter Four when the gang first encountered the Weeping Angels.
And yes, I knew how I was going to bring Martha back. I just needed to figure out when I would get to it.
After the intensity of the ending of Chapter Nine, this installment seems downright languid in comparison.
There's a sort of bubbling under the surface rivalry between River and Romana with Romana getting a "spoilers" in on River. Why would Romana see the Doctor's future wife as a rival? No comment.
Then we have the vignettes at Sarah Jane's house, the quiet moments as the Doctors contemplate their situation. The 9th Doctor trying to give a sense of hope to the 8th. The 7th and 11th Doctors expressing their concerns with keeping secrets from their companions. And Sarah Jane Smith, setting the 10th Doctor straight. As much as it is important to move the plot forward, sometimes its also important to slow down and consider those involved in the story.
And we find out where Clara vanished to. She's stuck in the year 1948 and working in a café in London. The White Guardian pops up again; she seems to be taking a more active role than the White Guardian we first met in the Key to Time series. Hmmm!
And the big story: the return of Amy and Rory.
Confession time: I guessed that 1948 would be the right era for Amy and Rory to have zapped back to at the end of Angels Take Manhattan. But to be blunt, I wasn't sure of that or even that they were back in England. (After all, the events of their departure took place in New York.) The thing is that when I hit upon Amy and Rory being the ones to escort Clara to a means of returning to the Doctor, it just wrote itself so quickly and I was facing my self imposed deadline to get this posted. So if Amy and Rory were actually in the 1950's and in Indiana or something, I'm sorry. And by the way, has any female time traveler to the past ever bemoaned "the state of feminine hygiene products" of that era?
One last thing: we get the 5th Doctor on his own. The 5th Doctor's era was known for having a particularly crowded TARDIS so I wanted to see this Doctor fly truly solo for a bit.
OH, and The One is a Dalek.
So we find ourselves flashing back to the first encounter with the White Guardian as recounted in Chapters 1 through 3. Here we see a one-on-one chat between Clara and the White Guardian with Clara's role beginning to be revealed. I have to admit a bit of fondness for this timey-wimey exchange:
Clara: How…how are you here and over there?
OK, the Daleks. One wants to avoid having Doctor Who become He-Man and the Masters of the Universe; you know, the bad guy is always Skeletor. So yeah, big deal: Daleks. It's always Daleks, isn't it? But the more I thought about this, the more I realized that the scope of the threat posed in the story needed a foe to match. And let's face it, the Daleks are built just for that.
Once more we find ourselves looking into a piece of Doctor Who history, the events of The Three Doctors. I will admit I didn't like interrupting one "end of the universe" story (the Doctors battle against Omega) with my own "end of the universe" story. On the other hand, having River Song pop on the monitor ("I seem to be stuck up here.") was too much to pass up.
Now, the sequence I called "The Master In Hell". We begin to peel back exactly what the Master's role in all this has truly been (and we get more detail in the next chapter). But as we saw with the reverse regenerated Doctors all finding their way to Bannerman Road somehow, various incarnations of the Master have been banished to a dark and very, very small pocket dimension.
Question: how many Masters have there been? We know the ones we have seen on screen (from Roger Delgado to John Simm) but remember, the Master in The Deadly Assassin has used up his regenerations. And he gained a new regeneration cycle in The Five Doctors. So I'm thinking there are a LOT more versions of the Master out there than we have actually seen. That graphic I created was designed to convey the numbers of the Master's incarnations as well as the compacted hell dimension that are all residing in.
Wait a minute! Clara piloted the TARDIS?! Er, not quite. Coincidence engine at work; she just happened to push the buttons she needed to push. "Biggest stroke of luck" indeed. But it's within the parameters set up: the TARDIS is now programmed to seek out the Key to Time fragments wherever they may be. It just so happened that the next fragment was in the 5th Doctor's coat. So there! HA!
Yeah, a classic Doctor gets some of the lip lock action that Doctors have been getting since the 8th Doctor. Of course it's the "youngest" of the classic Doctors so it's less icky, right?
And finally, the TARDIS dies when the last fragment is secured. Yep, I knew that would happen from the beginning. What I didn't anticipate was that the TARDIS was going to be under attack by a whole mess of Daleks when that happened. Interesting.
OK, that was easy. Another Doctor swoops in with their TARDIS and saves the day. Except I'm thinking, "Really? Bad enough to have different versions of the same Doctor in the same time and place. But the same TARDIS? And we saw what happened in Logopolis when one active TARDIS materializes around another active TARDIS. It's a bit of a problem. (Something also touched on in the 11th Doctor short, "Space/Time" when the TARDIS materialized around itself.) Answer: this only really works if one TARDIS is offline. Yeah, that makes sense!*
*Several weeks later watching Day of the Doctor: "What the hell, Moffat! Three TARDISes just parked right next to each other? Really?" Well, the fans loved it.
Back to MY story, OK? So some bits I liked:
The 4th Doctor distilling Romana's detailed explanations to "she did a clever thing".
Romana NOT being sorry she lost to coin toss to River.
Jack Harkness singing in a jail cell.
The 11th Doctor examining the 6th Doctor's brain.
The revelation that the "Great Negation" is actually Vashta Narada. (Yikes!)
Side note: The scene between the One and the Master...er, Masters. Unlike the helpful numbering of the Doctors to keep the different versions straight, there is no similar ordering of the various Masters. So in the text I resort to color coding and quite frankly, I don't like it. But it was the least bad solution I could think of.
I decide to channel my inner "Stonehenge" a bit with the 11th Doctor's challenge to The One:
"I suggest you turn in your 'Commander of Time' badge and your key to the 'Commander of Time' washroom because your time is DONE!"
It was teased at the end of the previous chapter but we get the full on deal this time: eleven different versions of the Doctor in one place having a discussion. That was a bear to keep track of. I can see why Steven Moffat kept the big "all the Doctors at once" scene in Day of the Doctor brief and action packed.
The Doctors split off into teams to:
- Confront The One head on.
- Locate and close off his source of power.
- Find Romana, Clara and River and the Key to Time.
I liked pairing the 2nd and 11th Doctors since Patrick Troughton's performance helped inspire Matt Smith's take on the Doctor. And while the 5th Doctor joins in on the disapproval of the 6th Doctor's sartorial choices, I love the 6th Doctor's retort.
5th Doctor: I hate that outfit!
6th Doctor: You’re a fine one to talk, candy cane pants!
5th Doctor: It’s a cricket outfit! What is that supposed to be?
6th Doctor (looking smug): Distinctive!
And by the way, THIS line:
11th Doctor: Oh, I don’t think so, Scooter!
That is an expression I've heard used by comedian Ron White which I have appropriated on several occasion for my own use. I told my family that at some point before this thing was over, one of the Doctors was going to say that.
The One was actually going to strike out at the Doctors for a THIRD time, this time withdrawing his tentacles back into his shell and begin blasting away as a Dalek. I thought the story had gone on long enough but I still wished I had left that in.
Oh, and the revelation that all the Daleks were just one Dalek replicated through time? When I decided that the big bad was indeed going to be called The One, it triggered a series of thoughts. Is he calling himself The One out of an inflated sense of god-like bravado? What if it's not a boast but a literal fact? The One is the ONLY one, the only Dalek. Like the Doctor, all his soldiers are just himself from many different time periods.
In the catacombs, 4 more Doctors and Jack Harkness have a plan to disrupt the source of The One's power and the destruction that was sweeping the universe: they are going to throw a rock at it. In this case, the "rock" is the statue version of Martha Jones. I knew from Chapter Nine that this was how I was going to get Martha back to the land of the living but to be honest, I didn't know this was not going to happen until Chapter Thirteen.
Side note: What the hell was the building where all this was taking place? At one point, I wanted to identify this as an abandoned UNIT facility from some point in Earth's future. I never got around to doing that. If I should ever write anything like this again, create an outline first.
Back to the story: And we have three more Doctors along with Clara, River and Romana as the quest for the Key to Time turns around on itself: the Key to Time was seeking out the Key to Time. OK, I'm getting dizzy. Oh and look the White Guardian's back. And she makes it very plain that the complete restoration of time and space can only be accomplished with multiple energies of the same Time Lord, the Doctor, applied to the Key. Yet when the three Doctors touch the Key and the White Guardian says it's not enough, she touches the Key and....
First, codas. We check in on each of the 11 Doctors as they find themselves in their normal time lines, some doing clean up work on the events of this series:
The 3rd Doctor freeing the Master from his dimensional prison (Hey, where did the other Masters go? Uh, we'll explain later?)
The 4th Doctor planting a time beacon in the topiaries of Bannerman Road (which is what was drawing the other Doctors there). Oh, and the 4th Doctor actually apologizing to Sarah Jane for not coming back for her? Awww!
The 5th Doctor sending a telegram for Amy and Rory (which of course if time and space has been restored from all the damage that occurred, how is that going to...you know, let's move on).
But the last scene. What AM I saying? The White Guardian is a future Doctor? Will be? Was? What the hell?
You remember the Woman In White in the End of Time who was never properly identified in the story?
Hey, Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat, being Evil Creator can be fun!
Whew! The overview (much like the story itself) went on longer than I expected. Again, please forgive my self-indulgence but thanks for putting up with me as I explored this strange and crazy experiment.
I would like to do some more goofy stuff like the Doctor Who/Monty Python mash-up and the Doctor Who/Star Trek crossover but I would also like to do some more straightforward stories. We'll see.
In the meantime, whether its in the hands of professionals like Steven Moffatt or the Big Finish team or in the hearts of fans and amateurs, may the journey of the Doctor go on...forever.