Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Writing 'My Dad, The Doctor'

If you haven't read the story, nip off and read it. It can be found here.

Now I'm going to bang on a little about writing it, no doubt using more words than the actual story. Mainly because I love reading that kind of thing from writers myself and thought it might be fun.

The first thing to say about the story is that I didn't want to burn through an idea that could be used in the show. Having an actor pretend to be 'possessed' by Capaldi would be a real risk in live action, but in your head, the impression is pitch perfect, making the conceit work well in prose. Also, much of it goes on the child's head, all thoughts that would have to be vocal in life action, making it potentially clunky.

I'm going to post the pitch I submitted to get the gig. The thing to note about this is that I had misread the brief. I thought it was to be a 2000 word short story, not 1000 words. Because I am writer not a reader and, let's be frank, on this evidence, a little bit dim.

Pitch for 2000 word short story
'My Dad, The Doctor'
by Jamie Mathieson

The basic wish fulfilment for kids idea underlying the story is this: 'Wouldn't it be great if my Dad was The Doctor.'

Clara and The Doctor on a spaceship in orbit around Earth as it is ripped apart by some unseen force. We see the Tardis spin away into space. Things look grim.

Cut to 10 year old Will, spending the weekend with his Dad Clive (divorced) in a rural village, modern UK. They're stargazing one night and spot a shooting star that appears to hit nearby. The next morning while walking the dog they find a crater containing a small meteorite which is still warm. They take it home, it cracks open, revealing the sonic screwdriver embedded within.

Clive begins to behave oddly, talking in a Scottish accent, doing his best impression of The Doctor. He's effectively being possessed. Will thinks it's one of his Dad's games as Clive is one of those imaginative Dads that's always pretending to be a zombie or a robot etc.

Clive tells Will that he's no longer his Dad. He's actually a 2000 year old time traveller called The Doctor and he's borrowing his Dad's brain for a while through a psychic projector which is piggybacking on the sonic screwdriver. His real body is currently in orbit and he's going to need Will's help to rescue it.

Will loves this 'game' initially. The Doctor explains that he was fighting an alien called the Composite in a spaceship in orbit. During the battle, the Composite trashed most of the systems of the ship and it will burn up soon unless Will and Clive can save him.

Will is filled with questions about the Composite, which The Doctor explains is not visible in our dimension. What a surprise, thinks Will. The alien instead uses telekinetic fields to build itself a body out of whatever raw material presents itself. That's what it did with the ship, ripping it to pieces. It was after the Doctor's ship, which was flung into space and according to the sonic, landed nearby.

They need to get to the Tardis and quickly. The sonic has detected that the alien is closing in. Will stops treating this as a game when he spots the woods at the back of the house being ripped apart by something huge and invisible...

A chase begins. The Doctor's control of Clive's body is patchy at best. There's no way he could drive, forcing Will into the driver's seat of a Range Rover. Behind them the cottage is consumed by The Composite, who uses the rubble and beams to form a huge body to pursue them, lumbering through the village, snatching up cars and paving slabs to add to it's mass. Soon it's a huge Godzilla sized monster made of trees and rubble and cars, getting bigger by the second.

After a few close shaves, they reach a wood which has been all but flattened by the impact of the Tardis. For a while they are stumped by the doors. Much as Clive may click his fingers or wave the sonic, the doors won't open. At the last possible second before the Composite crushes them, the Tardis accepts the Doctor's mental imprint, the doors open and they dart within to the safety of the interior.

With the Tardis at their disposal things get much easier. Materialise onto the ship to rescue Clara and The Doctor's body, give Clive back control and if there is room (ie word count) a battle in orbit with the Composite. If not, then a trans dimensional pulse to send the Composite back to it's own dimension. Then as a reward to Clive and Will, a trip anywhere they want in time and space.


Obviously quite a bit different to what we ended up with. Ideas I came up with while writing - the whole time loop involving the absent mother, the fact that the gender of the child is not revealed, sonic sunglasses instead of screwdriver and obviously a lot more emotional focus on the missing mother and the relationship between father and child.

This idea was approved and I started writing, still under the misapprehension that I had a whole extra 1000 words to play with. Even with that it still seemed a squeeze. I wrote the whole thing and was struggling for room, then I re-read the brief, realised I'd have to cut the whole thing in half, head butted the desk and started cutting it down.

This oddly made life easier and brought what the story was really about into focus. There was a lot that would just have to go. There was no room for the monster or Clara for example. Or the car. Or the cottage - well you get the idea.

In honour of what might of been, I will end with the beginning as it originally read. Enjoy: 

Clara never tired of seeing the Earth from orbit.

She had seen countless other planets from space; dusky alien worlds with unfamiliar coastlines stained with vibrant colours or scorched with the black of war, silver Tech Worlds lost in clouds of space debris and gravity locked worlds so close to their neighbours they felt like marbles clustered in a bag. But there was still something instantly thrilling about seeing the deep blue horizon of her home planet curving beneath her.

At the moment, however, she didn’t really feel she could properly enjoy the view, stunning though it was. She was a little picky in the way that she absolutely insisted in viewing planets in orbit through some sort of glass or forcefield. Anything less was a little too, well, fatal, for her taste. True, the explosive decompression of the cargo bay after it lost a bulkhead wall had momentarily provided a truly breathtaking view of Earth’s northern hemisphere. But on the downside it had also left Clara with nothing but a one handed shaky grip on a metal strut between her and oblivion.

Everything not bolted down was cartwheeling past her as she struggled to keep hold, buffeted in the gale. Cargo, debris and the bodies of the crew rushed headlong into the void. Screaming was impossible with no air but her vocal chords were giving it a damn good go.

Clara could see The Doctor through a sealed window to one side, working feverishly on a control panel. He looked like he was giving her instructions, lips moving as he pointed, but no air meant no sound. Whatever his no doubt brilliant plan was, it looked like Clara was going to die having never heard it.

She was just thinking that things couldn’t possibly get any worse when she spotted a familiar blue shape from the corner of her eye. The TARDIS rushed past her, missing her head by inches and span out into space.

Free of the crippled freighter, the TARDIS continued to spin until it hit the atmosphere, when the buffeting of the air righted it. The familiar blue gradually gave way to orange as the base of it’s shell heated up on re-entry.

It shimmered like a mirage as it fell…

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