Amy: Have you ever run away from something because you were scared. Or not ready. Or just… just because you could?
The Doctor (smiling wryly): Once. A long time ago.
Amy: What happened?
The Doctor (somewhat ‘guilty as charged’): Hello.
Doctor Who: The Beast Below
I am amusing myself. For the last five evenings I have been re-watching Doctor Who: Series Five (i.e. Matt Smith’s first series), one episode per night. Matt Smith is at his youngest, enjoying a number of badass boasts against Prisoner Zero, the Atraxi, the Angels, the Daleks… that last one bites him quickly, but it’ll all come back to bite him in Series Six. Amy Pond is at her fiestiest, spellbound by this mad man in a box.
My opinion of Smith is that he’s gotten the barmy and the smart on the money, and if his youth ever made it difficult to reconcile him as 900+ and successor to the ten before him, or otherwise get over any transition between actors or head writers, Smith’s performance is sufficiently gangly in post-regeneration that this actually makes sense for the character until the actor settles into the role. (Or possibly, I’m rationalising everything to a fault. I’m a fan. Let me be.)
For some reason I enjoy the tension of a dangerous situation better on a re-watch. When I’m watching an episode for the first time I’m reacting to the new ideas shown onscreen, the problem and the resolution and the smart dialogue – while a little too engaged in trying to second-guess what’s coming next. Next week I’ll be watching The Pandorica Opens; I remember spending a week thinking about that episode and trying to figure out what Steven Moffat had planned for a resolution. Afterwards it seemed obvious… that’s a neat trick.
But to the point at hand: imagine writing for Doctor Who. Imagine writing the Doctor – but not necessarily for Smith’s Doctor, or Tennant’s, or Eccleston’s, or any of the illustrious predecessors. You can have another actor in mind if you like, or you can simply try and write ‘a Doctor’ until it becomes clear exactly which one fits best (there’s a nice novel called The Infinity Doctors which probably can’t take place in continuity and never establishes which incarnation you were reading about all along, but is unmistakably him).
I’m writing for a tie-in universe (not by commission, before you ask), and I’m keenly aware that my writing isn’t the same as what I read. A difference in style, yet to be decided either way as actually ‘good’. And I’m writing about factions that others have written about before me. Whatever I write will be mine, but has to belong to the same universe as theirs. If they wrote about a specific character, and had a specific actor in mind for the part, then when I come to cast it in my head I’ve probably chosen someone else. It might be the difference between two actors playing Hamlet – exactly the same words, different delivery; it might be the difference in Doctors – same moral code and intelligence, different balance of methods and personality; it might be the difference in Sherlock Holmeses – same skills, different environment.
So watching Matt Smith’s Doctor take form is interesting. I know there are hardships and hard judgements and hard decisions to come for him. I also know that during his tenure, a number of very asking questions will be asked of not just his incarnation, but of the character and the show as a whole. The principle question of these two series is this: what happens when you win so many battles that it’s no longer your moral code which wins the day, but your reputation for victory? What happens to your moral code when that reputation prompts a response?
The show advances, changes, and stays true. So a Warhammer or Warhammer 40,000 series must be about something old and new. What are the criteria for a story in that universe? How do we avoid retelling old stories with previously unexplored factions and stay faithful to the fundamentals?
A few thoughts in my head, taking form one way or another: a Doctor Who story must appeal to children, should probably introduce a new monster, and the Doctor should overcome the problem with compassion and intelligence rather than through brute action alone. Combining a primal horror, some relevant aspect of the viewer’s modern day (up to and including the companion) and something outlandishly out of this world is a good starting mix.
A Warhammer or Warhammer 40,000 story should be action-driven. There does not have to be fighting but 80% of the time it’s a good idea: battles are the supporting pillars of the story. But a battle report is not a story: the plot has to be character-driven, and that requires an agenda – what does the protagonist want? What does the antagonist want? – and ultimately, how do these universes resolve their problems? With fire, faith, sacrifice and death. Some stories end with the protagonist failing, falling into a trap through ignorance or karma, realising their fate and meeting their end, either quick or slow, confirming the horrors of this world. Some stories end with a victory, but always pyrrhic; a toll is taken.
I almost never start writing until I have an ending. But I find it really difficult to start if I don’t have a beginning either. Maybe the protagonists haven’t been cast yet, maybe the sets are waiting to be built in my head, maybe I’ve not found that confidence in that ephemeral something which says what I’m imagining fits into this universe and is consistent with the visions of those who’ve come before me.
My vision isn’t going to necessarily be anyone else’s, but it’s got to be close enough if it’s going to become a contribution. Someone else’s vision may one day rely on it.