Responsible for some of the most striking spin off material over the past ten years, Jonathan Morris is a name that I get very excited about when I see him listed in the schedules. His plots are creative, his dialogue memorable and witty and his characterisation never fails to impress. Jonny agreed to answer some questions but was faced with a mammoth number of questions and to my delight he has taken a great deal of time answering the questions in some depth. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Jonny Morris on his Big Finish work...
How did you come to work for Big Finish?
As I recall, I’d sent in a Doctor Who book submission to BBC Books called The Beautiful Death – the book that was published as Festival Of Death – and Jac Rayner, who was the person who sifted through the unsolicited submissions, picked it out and recommended my name to Gary Russell. Who I think I already knew at the time, at least to say ‘hello’ to, but maybe not. Unfortunately my email doesn’t go back that far so I can’t even research it. But it was all down to Gary Russell basically taking a gamble on a writer with very little experience, the sort of thing he’d do again and again later on.
Your first script, Bloodtide, featured the Silurians. Was this your choice or a story element imposed on you? Do you think they work well as a monster?
My memory is that I was at the launch party for The Sirens Of Time – yes, I was there at the beginning – and it was there Gary told me he’d like a story with Sea Devils. This became, I think, Sea Devils and Silurians, and then eventually just Silurians – I have nothing against Sea Devils, I just think they speak too slowly for an audio adventure! I think the judge at the beginning might have even been a Sea Devil. Gary was very keen for the story to have Sea Devils in it!
Anyway, I’m pretty sure that was the whole brief – maybe he wanted it in history as well, I can’t remember – but I think Charles Darwin was my idea. The Myrka definitely was.
These were very early days for Big Finish and although I don’t think I was specifically told to write a traditional story, that’s what I felt the job entailed at the time, because the range was still getting established and with Colin Baker, it was very much a case of writing stories we’d like him to have done on television. I’d heard and very much admired Nick Pegg’s The Spectre Of Lanyon Moor and took a similar approach. Because with all these audios, in fact with everything I’ve ever written, I always write the sort of thing I would enjoy as a punter.
How did you feel writing for the sixth Doctor? Did you attend the studio recording or listen the overall piece once it had been released? What was your reaction listening to a Doctor Who script you had written brought to life?
There was definitely a brief to ‘soften’ the sixth Doctor, to make him more charming and to play down the abrasive, say-the-same-word-three-times-in-increasing-volume side of the character. To basically give Colin stuff to do that would play to his strengths and show what he could do. Which is why I wrote that scene in part 4 where the Doctor talks about the miracle of life. I’m pretty sure that’s the first part of the whole story I wrote.
The studio recording was incredibly exciting. I was there for the second day – so I missed Janie as Greta and Rob as the Myrka – and I probably didn’t speak to anyone because I was so nervous and awestruck by the whole occasion. My main memory is of Dan Hogarth delivering all his lines with his chest puffed out and his hands on his hips. Because they were those sort of hands-on-hips lines.
My reaction listening to it was like wallowing in a warm bath of self-congratulation. The end result was, I think, extremely good, and I was very proud. I still am. I think the dialogue is a bit waffly and formal compared to what I’d write now, but the structure of episode one in particular is very robust, with all sorts of little links, contrasts and ironies between scenes. And Alistair Lock’s sound design on it is really phenomenal, incredibly rich and detailed.
Flip Flop has an extremely unusual structure in that it is a story with two discs that can be told in either order. Where on Earth did you begin plotting their experimental story out? Was there any point where you thought…this isn’t going to work? How successful do you think it turned out as a story?
I’d say that Flip Flop is so experimental it doesn’t even have a plot as such. It’s more an exercise in storytelling patterns, in the mechanics of it. Because once I’d hit on the two-discs-in-either-order idea, that meant I had to use that to the fullest, with characters having doubles, parallel universes, time travel. I was determined I would do all these ideas first! As a script, it’s probably better read than listened to, as the end result is far too repetitive. In my defence, it’s repetitive for the sake of clarity, but I think by episode three (in either order) the listener has probably ‘got’ the story.
As I recall, there were numerous points where I thought it wasn’t going to work, because there are so many threads of cause-and-effect to keep an eye on, and all the time I’m thinking through the time-travel logic of it.
The end result? I really like the Slithergees and Professor Capra, and I like some of the moral ideas in there – of people being neither good nor evil, but products of history, and of people always thinking the grass would’ve been greener on the other side. I think that’s a very relevant idea, when you have people basing whole arguments around ‘what-if’s i.e. would the world have been a better or worse place if we hadn’t had the invasion of Iraq? And it’s about how we sometimes judge people in the past unfairly, condemning with the benefit of hindsight. I’m very proud of bits like the ‘terrorists’ being appalled by the actions of the police, and the police being appalled by the actions of the ‘terrorists’, when they are in fact the same people.
Aside from the repetition, the other parts of it I think I should have done better is that firstly the ‘moral’ of the story is a bit bleak; damned if you do, damned if you don’t, and it would have been even cleverer, I think, if both discs had had happy endings. And the story is lopsided; in one version of history you have the Slithergees, who are very entertaining, while on the other you don’t really have anything. Politically, with the Slithergees I was playing devil’s advocate; the intention was never to be anti-immigration, but against some of the excesses of a certain type of patronising political correctness. I enjoyed Dan’s performance but I think some lines which were written as throwaways got a bit laboured-over. And I was surprised by the Slithergees appearance on the CD sleeve; in my imagination, they were just giant slugs, whereas on the cover they look like caricatures of Jewish old men.
You have written 5 episodes for the eighth Doctor series now. Looking at the four seasons as a whole what do you think is the enduring appeal of the eighth Doctor’s relationship with Lucie Miller? Do you feel hampered or helped by the 50-minute structure of these stories?
Enduring appeal? Well, we’ll see if it endures! What I like about it is that they have a relationship where they really bounce off each other, where Sheridan and Paul are lifting each other’s performances, there’s more energy there, there’s a lot more humour, and I think with Lucie you have an extremely strong character, very down-to-Earth, very brassy, and very well-played, which I think provides a good contrast to Paul’s Doctor, who is very laid-back, cagey and subdued, and is from the world of frock coats and cravats. She comes in like a whirlwind and blows all the cobwebs away.
50-minute structure? Well, I like fast, short, to-the-point stories, and with Doctor Who, I think the listeners are so familiar with the various tropes that you can cut to the chase a lot more than they could in the old days of the TV series. I mean, Hothouse has pretty much all of plot beats of The Seeds Of Doom in about a third of the time. And you can pack a lot of plot into 50-minutes – Max Warp was originally plotted as a 4-part story – and if anything the reduced running times means stories are more small scale and more character-based. And shorter stories means more stories, more variety, which has to be a good thing. The only problem is that with audio it takes longer to establish settings and situations than it does on television, the mechanics of just getting in and out of scenes are slower, so you’re never going to be able to do as much in a 50-minute audio as in a 50-minute television story.
I really liked the one-episode-a-week thing Big Finish did a couple of years ago, and I thought it was a pity they didn’t continue it with the latest Paul McGann season. My only other regret with that season is that it would’ve been great to have publicised Diemos as a 2-part story, followed by another 2-part story which would have been entirely made-up, just so the cliff-hanger at the end of part 2 could come completely out of the blue – you think it’s the end of a 2-part story, when in fact you’re only half-way through a 4-part story! But I think if Big Finish had done that there’d be a lot of customers who were annoyed they weren’t getting what they’d paid for – and with good reason – and I think all the stuff Big Finish did with fake covers made the surprise ending work extremely well anyway.
Do you have a favourite/least favourite of those you have written for the range?
The Eighth Doctor ones? I love Max Warp, it makes me laugh even though I wrote it (or possibly because I wrote it, it’s going to be very much my sense of humour). And the Mary Shelley one had a great atmosphere to it. But I’d say my favourite is The Cannibalists, because the sound design on it, I think, creates a very vivid imaginary world, even though it’s pretty out-there. But I also love Deimos, I think, structurally and in terms of pace and so on, it’s probably my best piece of work. Which leaves Hothouse! Ha! Which I suppose if I had to choose a least favourite would be the least favourite just because I think it has the problem of having a monster which very much predicates the sort of story you can tell; you want to include all the things about a monster that people liked, but then you just end up with a monster doing what it did before. But actually I think that story is terrific as well. Don’t ask me to choose a least favourite, I’m the wrong person to ask.
Would you say that the four series has been the most arc driven yet and did you find weaving in all the various characters set up in earlier episodes perpetuated your Deimos/Resurrection of Mars? Do you feel that each season has been progressively stronger?
Well, with Hothouse there was an arc element, of the Doctor and Lucie Miller being quite distant, quite untrusting, at the beginning of the story and then proving themselves to each other by the end. But with Deimos the arc stuff is obviously much more overt. And whilst it can sometimes be a headache, it’s useful to be given a list of Things To Do when coming up with a story, particularly if they are character beats; i.e. during this story, Tamsin loses faith in the Doctor etc. And it helps for a story to feel important while you’re writing it, you have to feel excited by it for that to come across in the script. You want each story to feel special in some way, because with so many stories out there, you have to stand out in the crowd.
Do you find the first person narrative of the companion chronicles makes stories easier or harder to write?
Well, they’re shorter,so they’re hard work but for half the time. The first person narrative does kind of dictate the sort of stories you can tell; the scale is smaller, more intimate, and the story is more straightforward and more about characters and relationships than intricate, multiple plot threads. But the range has changed quite a lot since it started. When it began, when I wrote The Beautiful People, they were effectively monologues, quite close to talking books as they were short stories told in the first person, but as they’ve gone on they’ve essentially become mini-plays, two-handers, with all sorts of ingenious framing devices. My most recent one, Tales From The Vault, is essentially a two-hander.
Was it exciting to be given the opportunity to write for Doctors/companions that have not been able to have stories in the main range?
It is, though the excitement is more from the thrill of writing words for Lalla Ward to perform, or for Frazier Hines, or Deborah Watling, or Katy Manning. But I had huge amounts of fun writing a Troughton base-under-siege story, incorporating all the elements of that era’s formula, and I loved doing what was effectively a pure historical adventure about James II, to use the fact that Jamie is a Jacobite, and to put him at loggerheads with the Doctor (both played by Frazier Hines!). I’d love to do a Hartnell one, I love the eerie, magical quality of that era, the sense of innocence, of exploration.
Of the three stories released, which of the three companions that you have written for (Romana, Victoria and Jamie) was the most challenging?
The Beautiful People had to be written incredibly quickly, so that was a challenge in terms of discipline, and in terms of making up a story as I went along (well, I was working to a synopsis, but there wasn’t time to re-think it). The other two were sheer pleasure. I had to do a bit of research for the Jamie one, which entailed reading a couple of books, but it was an interesting period of history and one which seems to be largely overlooked nowadays so it was fresh territory. The challenge I suppose is in finding a good framing device; the Romana CC didn’t have one, and the Victoria one barely had one (originally it was going to be her leaving a recording for her grand-daughter, who would’ve been the other female character in the play.) I only think with the Jamie and Jo CC’s I actually started making use of that.
What can you tell us about your opening story of season six?
Tales From The Vault concerns Ruth Matheson and Charlie Sato, two UNIT officers assigned to ‘clear up’ after alien invasions and who curate UNIT’s secret ‘Museum of Terrors’ where artefacts from these incidents are stored. Every artefact has a story attached, of how it came to be in UNIT’s possession, which leads the two characters into those four stories – one about Jo Grant, the third Doctor, and a red military jacket bought on the King’s Road, one about Jamie, Zoe, the second Doctor and East End gangsters, one about the fourth Doctor, Romana and a sinister painting, and one about the first Doctor, Steven and Dodo at the Battle of Spion Kop during the Boer War. So something for everyone, hopefully! All the stories are sinister, twist-in-the-tale stories, the idea being that the audio is like an episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery or Orson Welle’s Tales From The Black Museum.
The series has been a runaway success, what do you think the appeal is?
I think the main appeal is firstly getting to hear these great actors again, getting to hear Peter Purves playing Steven or Frazer Hines playing Jamie or even – this is flabbergastingly awesome – William Russell as Ian Chesterton. It’s just great to hear these characters we love being brought back to life. And secondly I think the CC’s tell stories that couldn’t really be told elsewhere, except maybe in short stories. Like I said, they’re much more intimate, one-to-one experiences. And the narration allows the stories to be more vividly described, which is something you’re always trying to work around in straight plays; you want to create a mental image of the setting, but you don’t want to have the characters saying what they see.
What a delight it is to have Jago & Litefoot back for a series of supernatural adventures in Victorian London. Did you jump at the chance to write for this series?
It didn’t take me long to say yes. I’d heard Andy Lane’s The Mahogany Murderers, and loved that. Jago and Litefoot are such strong, funny, loveable characters and Christopher and Trevor have slipped back into the roles as though The Talons Of Weng-Chiang was only last week. Plus there’s that whole evocative mixture of Victorian fog-bound streets and Hansom cabs with steam-punk or supernatural elements. The format works beautifully.
Tell us something about your two scripts for the series. Is it nice to have a break from writing for Doctor Who and immerse yourself in a completely different range?
It’s not that different from Doctor Who, so I can hardly claim to be plunging recklessly outside my comfort zone, but the dynamics of the stories are different; each episode is essentially one long conversation between Jago & Litefoot taking place in different rooms! The first one, The Spirit Trap, was inspired by the jokey idea that at a seance the medium would be genuine and it was actually be the ghost that was making things up on the hoof. And with spiritualism you also had things like spontaneous human combustion, which was regarded as a genuine phenomenon back in the nineteenth century, which is why Dickens uses it for the death of Krook in Bleak House. The end result was maybe a little too traditional, though I love all the bits with Henry Gordon Jago floating about in what he presumes to be the afterlife. And it stars Janet Henfrey, from The Singing Detective!
The second one, The Theatre Of Dreams was a reaction against The Spirit Trap, wanting to push the weirdness. The brief given by Justin – the Jago & Litefoot stories all come with outlines from Justin Richards – was about a fortune teller being recruited to Jago’s theatre, and making people’s dreams come true, but I thought the danger would be that it would be too close to The Spirit Trap, so I made it about a travelling theatre. I think maybe I’d just seen The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus. But the other driving idea behind it was to do a steam-punk Philip K Dick story, a story about altered states of reality. Virtual reality, Victorian-style. It took me a long time for me to work out how to structure the story, because I’m a stickler for about clarity and the risk about attempting something like this in a 50-minute audio is that it will end up completely incoherent. Essentially it’s divided into thirds; reality, good dream, and bad dream. The different dreams allowed me to explore the characters of Jago & Litefoot in a bit more depth, show their hopes and fears, what makes them tick.
Plus there’s a bit where Jago gives a speech about that feeling you get in a nightmare where you try to force yourself to wake up and can’t. I vividly remember having nightmares like that as a kid, where you’re banging on the ceiling of your consciousness trying to get out, and where sometimes your brain tricks you into thinking you’ve woken up when you haven’t, which I realise is a bit of a horror movie cliche but, well, sometimes the old scares are the best.
How did you come to write The Mists of Time?
As I recall, it was intended to be a ‘normal’ Companion Chronicle; the decision to make it a DWM freebie only happened after it was recorded. It was also under a different title at that point, ‘The Planet Of The Lost’. ‘The Mists Of Time’ is a much better title! At the time, Big Finish were working on the assumption than Katy Manning would only be in the country for a short time and this would be her only opportunity to do a Companion Chronicle, so it was one of those occasions where I had to come up with an idea and write it fairly quickly. There’s a very detailed article about this in ‘The Finished Product’ fanzine; rather than repeat myself and bore everybody, I’ll just point people in the direction of that article. I remember it being quite tough, coming up with a Jon Pertwee story which didn’t feature UNIT or the Master, and in the end I took inspiration from one of my favourite Jon Pertwee stories, ‘Death To The Daleks’, just in terms of there being this sinister, bleak alien planet with swirling mist and colonists living in prefab domes. Although I was more-or-less making it up as I went along, I think there’s a strong, original idea in there, with the time machine, and it kind of gets thrown away. I could have done more with that.
You’ve had the opportunity to delve into the life of the fifth Doctor on three occasions now all with different companions. Do you think Nyssa (who appears in all three) makes a good foil for this Doctor? Do you think that The Haunting of Thomas Brewster has had the best reception of all of your stories?
The reason I like writing for Nyssa, and the reason why Big Finish keep bringing her back, is all down to Sarah Sutton’s performance. I think she shines in the audios in a way she didn’t on television. Partly it’s because the material is giving her a chance to shine, whereas in some television stories all she’s given to do is point at bits of technology and say what they’re called! And the character has this sort of romantic, tragic quality about her, she’s an orphaned fairytale princess, but she’s got this inner strength. I think with Nyssa there’s a lot of complexity under the surface, whereas with Turlough, for instance, he’s quite complicated but it’s all quite high-up in the mix.
I was very pleased that Haunting went down so well. I got the impression that The Eternal Summer, Cobwebs and Resurrection of Mars were popular too, but it’s not a competition! I have to admit I’m not quite sure about the extent of the music in part 1 of Haunting, for which I blame myself because without the music, the episode would be extremely short. This was because it was written with lots of bits of dialogue on top of each other, so while the episode’s word-count was bang on, the end result was only about eighteen minutes long! But I really like everything else about it; John Pickard’s great, Leslie Ash is fabulous, and I’m just ridiculously proud of things like the Doctor landing the TARDIS inside the TARDIS in the past in order to sort things out.
What was it like delving into Stockbridge, such an important part of the Doctor Who comic history?
Actually, I’m not sure Stockbridge is such an important part. I mean, it’s in a couple of great Peter Davison stories, and then turns up again with Paul McGann, but for me what really excited me about the commission was the chance to write for Max Edison. Who was such a brilliant character in the original Stars Fell On Stockbridge comic strip; in a way, he’s the first in the line of ‘fan’ characters to appear in the show, people like Clive and Elton. And the first and only time, my casting suggestion actually happened! I had Mark Williams in mind when writing the lines, and he was just perfect.
The challenge with the story, though, was the brief, which was that the story had to be set in Stockbridge in the present day and not feature an alien invasion. Which rather rules out most Doctor Who stories! But in the end I had this idea that there’s this romantic idea of a village idyll, almost as an English vision of heaven – old maids cycling to school or whatever it was George Orwell said – and so I had the idea of the village being caught in a bubble of nostalgia, like an old sepia photograph, and write a story about being trapped in heaven, essentially. And how awful that would be; how an eternity spent in heaven would end up being an eternity in hell. Because, as an atheist, I find both concepts horrifying. So the subtext of it was a kind of critique of that very English, Sunday-school, village-green idea of religion. And I think I must have just got a Dennis Potter box set or something because I was deliberately trying to evoke the atmosphere of his play Blue Remembered Hills, and the Forest of Dean parts of The Singing Detective.
One of my strongest memories of writing it is that, as an experiment, and a reaction against whatever it was I’d written just before, I’d plotted the story less tightly than usual, to leave room for ‘character’ and ‘atmosphere’ and ‘spontaneity’. Because sometimes things can get so stringently worked-out in advance that by the time you get to the dialogue it all feels like old news. And some of the writers I admire most do just make up the stories as they go along, and I thought I’d give it a go. Which worked out okay, except that episode two ended up ridiculously underlength. Which had never happened to me before (though it happens to all writers occasionally, I must have been very tired). So I had to pad it out with spooky scenes, character moments, and stuff, just to get it up to twenty-five minutes, because there wasn’t enough plot going on. And I think I got away with it, because when it came out I read a review that said that the second episode in particular was one of the best things Big Finish had ever done! But never again. Padding stuff out is basically working against every bit of writing discipline I’ve ever learned, it feels almost physically painful.
The only bit of the story I’m not entirely happy about is the revelation of the villains being controlled by some sort of pagan god at the end. It had been my intention, at least in the synopsis, that the villain would just be the villains. But bearing in mind who the villains are, you can imagine that it might make some people nervous, so I had to add another element which, to be honest, I don’t think I really thought through well enough. But it’s not a big thing; it’s not what the story was about, it doesn’t take away from the point I was trying to make, it’s just that old problem of the Doctor Who format that eventually you have to find some way to finish the bloody thing...
Do you feel Cobwebs is quite similar in structure and tone to your earlier 4th Doctor novel Festival of Death?
Absolutely not. Absolutely not. Festival Of Death is a comedy, an elaborately-plotted farce, with the ghost of Douglas Adams sitting on my shoulder while I was writing it. Even though he wasn’t dead then. Cobwebs is a much more serious, bleak, claustrophobic, intimate story concentrating on the four regulars. With the ghost of Eric Saward sitting on my shoulder. What they do share, which I will admit under duress, is one aspect of the plot; the idea of a time-traveller discovering their own corpse. But the consequences of this, and the ‘solution’, are totally different. Festival Of Death doesn’t really take the situation seriously; Cobwebs absolutely does.
Can you tell us your opinion of how all three turned out?
I’m ridiculously proud of all of them. Cobwebs I think is probably the strongest, simplest, most dramatic narrative. What I really like about all of them is that they each have a very strong atmosphere, whether it’s the smoky Victorian slums, the pastoral nostalgia of a English village, or the claustrophobic, metallic, darkness of a scientific research base. It’s one of the ironies of writing audios; you’re writing trying to create an atmosphere, but the atmosphere is the one thing which isn’t determined by what’s written on the page, it’s all down to the performances, the music and the sound design.
Thomas Brewster was your creation. Was he originally only meant to appear in three stories or was there always the intention to bring him back some day.
These things are always in flux. I think the original intention was for Brewster to be an on-going companion, that was certainly the intention with his first story, which was why the plot was based around him, and why so much of it was narrated by him (like a precursor of the Companion Chronicles, now I come to think of it!). But then very rapidly, for reasons I can’t remember but which had nothing to do with the character or the actor, I was asked to write him out in a one-episode story. As he barely featured in The Boy That Time Forgot, I’m not sure he really got a fair crack of the whip, so it was great news when Alan emailed me to say they were going to bring him back for another trilogy, this time with the sixth Doctor and Evelyn.
Can you tell any of our readers who may not have heard his stories a little about him?
No. They should buy the CDs or downloads to find out! If people aren’t sure which ones to get, get the ones where his name’s in the title.
What can you tell us about your latest story, The Crimes of Thomas Brewster? Reuniting the sixth Doctor with Evelyn once more, featuring another appearance by the very popular DI Menzies and the return of Thomas Brewster, did you find it hard to include all of these elements?
Well, the return of the very popular DI Menzies was my idea. Other people think it was their idea, but it was my idea, and I cleverly manipulated them into thinking it was their idea. I did this by including the character of a female police officer in the synopsis so that David, Alan and Nick would read it and think, ‘Why not make this female police officer DI Menzies?’ Which was great, right up until the point where we realized that, according to the CD release numbers, the Evelyn adventures take place before the Charlie adventures, so the Doctor shouldn’t have met Menzies yet. But I came up with a way around that which I think – by pure coincidence – turns out to be very ingenious. And the whole story is all about repercussions, mistaken identities and misunderstandings, and Menzies knowing the Doctor but the Doctor not knowing Menzies tied in with that.
The intention was TCOTB to be a big, mad, bold season-opener type story, a story which kicks things off, hits the ground running, with a lot of comedy,
where the story doesn’t just make the four regulars central to the story, but where the story is all about those four characters. Three of whom are claiming to be the Doctor!
You have mentioned that Crimes had a second draft by Eddie Robson before you polished it off and you did a second draft of the last in the trilogy, Industrial Revolution. What was the purpose of this?
To make the stories better. And to make the characterisation stronger, and more consistent; Eddie making sure DI Menzies sounded like she did in all his other stories, me making sure Brewster sounded like he did in all his other stories. But mainly because sometimes it’s quicker and easier to simply re-write a story than it is to script-edit it (the approach taken by most of the script editors on the series!). Rather than giving the writer notes saying ‘Maybe you should do this’ you just write it for them! And so long as we both had the final draft on our own scripts, there’d never be the situation of a script having something in it that the credited author wasn’t happy with. I think the ratio on both stories was about the same, about 70:30. Eddie stuck a few jokes in mine – which inevitably are the jokes that are quoted in reviews – and I stuck a few jokes in his, and changed the way that Brewster was written out! It’s an interesting approach – it can be quite exhausting rewriting your own script, you get too close to it, and you start getting a bit bored of it – and it’s certainly an approach I’d be happy to repeat, with Eddie, or other writers.
Would you say these two stories were co-written by the pair of you or that your own distinctive authorial voices shine through?
Like I said, about 70:30, but in terms of the concepts and the plots, Crimes is all mine, Evolution is all Eddie’s. It never got to the point where we had to add or remove characters or stuff like that.
Evelyn mentioned in A Death in the Family ‘that poor boy Brewster…’ – can we expect to shed some tears before this trilogy is over?
What can we expect from you in the future, Jonathan?
Well, as I’m writing, I’m working on three or four Big Finish things which I’m sure will be announced in the fullness of time. A couple of things I worked on last year/early this year have also yet to be announced; they are both very marvellous things so you can imagine my impatience that nobody knows about them! But I think it’s probably safe to say you’ll have plenty more Jonathan Morris stuff to review. And I hope Big Finish continue to ask me to write things for them; I absolutely love it, I really do, and I believe that, slowly but surely, I’m getting better at it.
One thing that I wrote last year has recently been announced is a story called ‘The Guardians Of Prophecy’. It’s an adaptation of an unmade outline by Johnny Byrne, featuring the sixth Doctor, Peri, and the Melkur from ‘The Keeper Of Traken’. Except the Melkur in that story wasn’t actually a Melkur, so TGOP is the first story with ‘real’ Melkur in! My script was based on a very detailed 20-page outline/scene breakdown. My job in adapting it was firstly to form it into a four-part structure – based on the structures of Johnny’s other Doctor Who stories - and then to write the script, as though it had been written by Johnny back in the mid-80’s with Eric Saward as script editor! In doing so, I had to make a few small changes for audio – the outline has the villain giving orders to the Melkur, which implies that the Melkur are able to answer back. And having been at the recording, I can confirm that they sound magnificent, Graham Cole does a really good job. They should have had him do the voice back in ‘The Keeper Of Traken’! The end result is a very traditional, but very robust and fun, Doctor Who adventure. Writing it, and hearing it recorded, it wasn’t difficult to imagine it as a studio-bound four-parter made in the mid-80’s. It’s not a direct ‘sequel’ to ‘The Keeper Of Traken’; it’s set on a similar medieval-futuristic planet, with a similar political set-up, and the Melkur are in it, but apart from that, it’s treading new ground. Traken has been destroyed so you can’t do a direct sequel! The process was an absolute pleasure and, as a great admirer of all of Johnny’s Doctor Who scripts, something of an honour.
Another thing I can talk about briefly is that I script-edited another unmade story ‘The Foe From The Future’, by John Dorney. As I’ve never script-edited anything else before, it made quite a change for me to be the one giving notes. I tried to be constructive and complimentary and I don’t think my notes were longer than the actual script by more than a few thousand words. Irrespective of my involvement, John has done a fantastic job with adapting the outline and I think people will love it.
I’m also massively enjoying writing the comic strips in Doctor Who magazine. At the moment I’m about four or five issues ahead, with a story which I am extremely excited about. For all sorts of reasons which I’m sure I’ll write about at length at some point in the future this story was a particular headache, but the end result is more than worth it. I think, I hope, people will literally swear out loud when they see the cliff-hanger to part one. I should, while I’m talking about the comic strips, give lots of credit to Scott Gray, who is not so much an editor on the comic strip as a collaborator; so many of the great bits in the comic strips that I happily take credit for were all down to him. But as I said at the beginning of this paragraph, this has been a total joy for me, a childhood ambition fulfilled, and it’s an honour to be continuing the work of such legends as Pat Mills, John Wagner, Steve Moore, Steve Parkhouse, and all the other writers who have come and gone since. I’d go into more detail about the individual stories but you haven’t asked me about them! Maybe I should save all the grisly details for the commentary in the graphic novel?
On top of that – this is getting to be quite a pile – I’ve written a documentary for a forthcoming DVD about the third season of Doctor Who, and the John Wiles/Donald Tosh era, and I’ve just written a Doctor Who novel called Touched By An Angel, which I hope you will be interviewing me about in great detail when it comes out. I’m extremely proud of it, it was very much a labour of love, a chance to show what I can do, and after seven or eight years I was just delighted, so absolutely delighted, to have the opportunity to write a Doctor Who novel again. Joe Lidster says it’s the best thing I’ve written. I think it’s certainly a step up from my earlier Doctor Who novels.
Aside from that, I have to mention that I also recently wrote a Dark Shadows audio, The Blind Painter. The set-up is similar to the Doctor Who Companion Chronicles, one voice from the series – in this case, Charles Delaware Tate, played by Roger Davis – and one guest voice – in this case, Eloise Verinder, played by Nicola Bryant. For fans of Dark Shadows, the story fills in a little piece of backstory; for those new to the series, the audio requires absolutely no previous knowledge of Dark Shadows and will work as a spooky, character-based ghost story in its own right.
I have beside my desk a list of other things I plan to write, non-Doctor Who things, but at the moment I’m very fortunate in that I don’t have the time. Given the choice, I’d rather write things that get made, or that get published, than stuff that only ever gets read by two or three producers and never sees the light of day. Suffice it to say I have lots of things I still want to write; lots of Doctor Who stories, plus books, films, sitcoms, dramas... it’s beginning to look like a career.