Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Lord Lethbridge-Stewart

In August 2004, I attended the recording of the first Doctor Who audio play I'd written, about the Doctor's friends at UNIT.  The story, "The Coup", was given away on a covermount CD with Doctor Who Magazine #351 later that year and is now available to download for free from the Big Finish website.

"The Coup" was a pilot for a new UNIT spin-off series. In my episode, the Doctor's old friend General Sir Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart (more often known as "the Brigadier") called out of retirement to announce that UNIT is being merged with another security force, just as Silurians attack London.

While we were recording it, I got to chat to actor Nicholas Courtney about whether he'd been asked to appear in the new TV version of Doctor Who (which had started filming just a few weeks before). We also chatted about where the Brigadier might go next, and - since I'd recently started freelancing for the House of Lords at that point - talked about the Brig being made a noble and gallant Lord in honour of his services to Britain and the earth. Nick seemed rather taken by the idea, and mentioned it when he appeared on Doctor Who Confidential in 2005.

I wrote up a rough idea in case Big Finish wanted ideas for a second series of UNIT. I pitched it a couple of years later when there was a suggestion of featuring our new UNIT characters in one of BF's new main-range Doctor Who stories. I've reworked it and repitched it to a few other people, but it was never quite what they wanted and/or wasn't practical because of Nick's declining health.

Since it will never happen now, here's the outline as it was the last time I pitched it. At that time, I was asked to pitch it without a specific Doctor or companion in mind, hence the generic "Sharon":
Doctor Who: The Little Monsters 
Outline by Simon Guerrier 
Pre-titles:
The Doctor and Sharon arrive outside a primary school in Bolton, some years into the future. The school is surrounded by soldiers, the press and people wielding placards. The Doctor pushes his way through and introduces Sharon to his old friend the Brigadier – now in the House of Lords but in charge of this morning’s operation. 
The Doctor quickly explains UNIT’s mandate to Sharon: investigating alien activity on Earth and protecting the humans. And then spaceships drift down through the clouds above them. A vast war fleet of different species, says the Doctor, united in a common aim. 
There are cries of outrage from the local people as Lethbridge-Stewart welcomes the visitors. This is all his doing, explains the Doctor. Alien children are arriving from all across the galaxy, and this is their first day at school. 
Titles. 
The Doctor helps UNIT (Chaudhry etc. from the UNIT series) to look after the school and handle the media. People object vociferously to humans being taught alongside aliens, and it’s ironic that UNIT be the ones to protect the aliens. 
Things aren’t helped when a human child and an alien have an argument, and the human child gets badly burned. The media are on it, and it takes all Chaudhry’s PR savvy to keep the school open the next day. Children can’t be held accountable to the same standards as adults, and there’s still a lot to be learnt. Anyway, now Earth has made itself known in the galaxy, parents can’t afford to be parochial about education. This is the only way for humans to thrive.
Despite this, there are fewer pupils in the next day, many being kept at home. They’re short on teachers too, so the Doctor helps out where he can. 
Sharon goes with Lethbridge-Stewart to London, where he is answering questions in the House - what they are doing is still accountable to the British people, as well as being watched with interest by the world. The noble Lords give him a roasting, but no one can deny Lethbridge-Stewart’s history of saving the planet, and his commitment to keeping it safe. They seem to have won the moment. 
Sharon is on the news. She’s able to explain that yes, it is a bit weird with the aliens. She gets scared too, and it’s worse seeing places she knows threatened. It brings out instinctive feelings, but they need to be stronger than that. 
There’s amazing things to be seen in the galaxy, and amazing things to be learned. And she feels sorry for anyone who’s going to miss out because their parents are too scared to let them.
And then, in the Doctor’s class, there are some disruptive elements. There’s a fire in the school, and then human parents storm the place to rescue their children. They don’t mean to, but it ends up with them taking a whole load of alien children hostage. They are good people, just anxious about their own children. 
With the Doctor and Chaudhry caught up there, Lethbridge-Stewart and Sharon are in the House of Lords when there’s an alien invasion, and the Commons is taken over. But unlike the career politicians cowering in there, the Lords is full of old men with military experience. Lethbridge-Stewart and Sharon rally them into a resistance, and they take back the Palace of Westminster. 
The Doctor and Chaudhry also put together a resistance, but they’re combating human parents. They are caught up in the hostage negotiations, and seem to be getting somewhere when the news comes through that Lethbridge-Stewart demands a surrender from the aliens. It looks like he may have just declared war. 
And then Sharon’s mum is on the news. She’s much older than Sharon knows her, because this is the future. And she seems to know what Sharon’s future is… (depending on which companion this is, we could foreshadow all sorts of good stuff). 
The press have tracked her down, and she explains that yes, she fears for Sharon’s safety, but that she can’t wrap her up in cotton wool. Better she’s allowed to go and explore, than she never sees anything ever. Sharon’s mum says she’s proud of her daughter for wanting to do all she’s done. And she, Sharon’s mum, has to think about what’s best for her, and not be scared that she’s growing up. 
The alien and human parents back off, to find their children are already getting on with each other while their backs were turned. Apparently it is cheating to use you ability to fly in hopscotch. An armistice is agreed, and the Doctor makes sure the children see their parents apologising to each other. That is his lesson for the day. 
Everything seems fine with Lethbridge-Stewart’s legacy for the future. Chaudhry is much happier that UNIT is safe-guarding finger-painting rather than hunting down monsters – it’s a much easier sell to the press. And Sharon’s mum knows better than to tell Sharon what’s in store for her – even though it’s heart-breaking.

Friday, September 14, 2012

The Plotters - in cinemas!

Hooray! Our short film "The Plotters" made the shortlist of the Virgin Media Shorts 2012 competition - and is now playing in cinemas around the country, as well as being online and on the OnDemand service and things.We are thrilled.

Brother Tom (the director) and I attended the bash in Hackney last night to see the shortlisted films on the big screen and natter to the other entrants. I even got to say hello to Andrew Lee Potts (director of "Little Larry"), who I last met on the set of Primeval when I was writing my book.

Excitingly, the Virgin team also had posters made for each of the 13 shortlisted films, and we're delighted with our own (see right).

As well as seeing it on the big screen, you can also watch “The Plotters” for free online, on TV (via Virgin Media's On Demand service and its Shorts Tivo® app) and on your mobile phone (on Virgin's brand new Shorts iPhone app). “The Plotters” and the other 12 selected shorts now compete for £30,000 of funding towards the production of another film, as well as other prizes that will be announced in November. You can vote for your favourite of the shortlisted films, either on the Virgin Media Shorts Facebook page or by tweeting the film's name with #VMShortsVote.

I'll write up a full making-of about the film when I've conquered some pressing deadlines. But in the meantime, Tom has overhauled the Guerrier brothers website and there's loads of material on "The Plotters" with which to amaze your eyeballs.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Come see me interview Robert Shearman for the BSFA on 26 September

The British Science Fiction Association is holding a free evening with writer Robert Shearman on 26 September. Rob will read one of his strange and scary stories, and then I shall interview him within an inch of his life.

You can buy Rob's books and Doctor Who CDs from the Big Finish website. And you can follow his epic quest to write 100 stories for people who bought a special edition of his last book.

The evening will start at 7pm, though you can turn up earlier if you wish. There'll be raffle for sci-fi novels, too. Location: Cellar Bar, The Argyle Public House, 1 Greville Street (off Leather Lane), London EC1N 8PQ. Map is here. Nearest Tube: Chancery Lane (Central Line).

The BSFA run events like this every month. On 28 November, they'll be interrogating Paul Cornell. See the BSFA website for details.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Doctor Who references in non-Doctor Who books

"It seemed to him, as he idled across the channels, that the box was full of freaks: there were mutants – 'Mutts' – on Dr Who, bizarre creatures who appeared to have been crossbred with different types of industrial machinery: forage harvesters, grabbers, donkeys, jackhammers, saws, and whose cruel priest-chieftains were called Mutilasians; children's television appeared to be exclusively populated by humanoid robots and creatures with metamorphic bodies, while the adult programmes offered a continual parade of the misshapen human by-products of the newest notions in modern medicine, and its accomplices, modern disease and war.”
Saladin Chamcha watches The Mutants in Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses (1988), p. 405.
"A collection of movie monsters are posed all along the top of the bookshelf. On instinct, I pick up the one that looks like an upside-down dustbin with rows of studs down the side. As I do, it says 'Exterminate!' and I nearly drop it. The head comes right off. There's a bankie of dope inside. And it's quality, if I'm any judge of substances. And I am."
Zinzi December fails to recognise a Dalek in Lauren Beukes's Zoo City (2010), p. 113.
"This man was wearing what looked like a Smurf hat and what I recognised as an Edwardian smoking jacket - don't ask me why I know what an Edwardian smoking jacket looks like: let's just say it has something to do with Doctor Who and leave it at that."
The first hint Peter Grant is a fan in Ben Aaronovitch's Rivers of London (2011), pp. 22-3.
"Tardis fanny n. A deceptively spacious snatch. A disappointing cathedral when one was expecting a priest's hole."
"The twins watched copious amounts of television (Julia joked that they had to learn the language somehow), but tonight they seemed to be making a point of sitting down to watch a particular programme. It turned out to be Doctor Who.
   Elspeth hovered above them, lying on her stomach, chin resting on folded arms. Isn't there anything else on TV? She was a snob about science fiction and hadn't seen an episode of Doctor Who since the early eighties. Eh, I suppose it's better than nothing. She watched Julia and Valentina watching the television. They are their soup slowly from mugs and looked keen. Elspeth happened to glance at the screen in time to see the Doctor walk out of the Tardis and into a defunct spaceship.
   That's David Tennant! Elspeth zoomed over to the television and sat herself a foot away from it. The Doctor and his companions had discovered an eighteenth-century French fireplace on a spaceship. A fire burned in the hearth. I want a fire, Elspeth thought. She had been experimenting with warming herself over the flames of the stove on the rare occasions that the twins cooked anything. The Doctor had crouched down by the fire and was conversing with a little girl in Paris in 1727 who seemed to be on the other side of the fireplace. Is it sad to fancy David Tennant when you're dead? This is a very strange programme. The little girl turned out to be the future Madame de Pompadour. Clockwork androids from the spaceship were trying to steal her brain.
   'Cyber-steampunk or steam-cyberpunk?' asked Julia. Elspeth had no idea what she meant. Valentina said, 'Look at her hair. Do you think we could do that?'
   'It's a wig,' said Julia. The Doctor was reading Madame de Pompadour's mind. He put his hands on her head, palms enclosing her face, fingers delicately splayed around her ears. Such long fingers, Elspeth marvelled. She placed her small hand on top of David Tennant's. The screen was deliciously warm. Elspeth sunk her hand into it, just an inch or so.
   'God, that's weird,' said Valentina. There was a dark silhouette of a woman's hand superimposed over the Doctor's. He let go of Madame de Pompadour's face, but the black hand remained where it was. Elspeth took her hand away; the screen hand stayed black. 'How did you do that?' said the Doctor. Elspeth thought he was speaking to her, then realised that Madame de Pompadour was answering him. I must have burned out the screen. What if I could do that with my face? She tucked her entire self into the TV and found herself looking out through the screen. It was wonderful inside the television, quite warm and pleasantly confining. Elspeth had only been in there for a second or two when the twins saw the screen go black. The TV died."
A ghost excited by The Girl in the Fireplace, in Audrey Niffenegger's Her Fearful Symmetry (2009), pp. 132-3.


Illustration by BH Robinson of "Electro-Magnetic Waves", from David Carey, 'How it works': Television, (1968) p. 21.
"During an interview for Rolling Stone in November 1973, Bowie launched into a disquisition on song's place in his planned Ziggy Stardust stage production: 'The end comes when the infinites arrive. They really are a black hole, but I've made the people because it would be very hard to explain a black hole on stage ... Ziggy is advised in a dream by the infinites to write the coming of a starman, so he writes "Starman", which is the first news of hope that the people have heard. So they latch onto it immediately. The starmen that he is talking about are called the infinites, and they are black-hole jumpers. Ziggy has been talking about this amazing spaceman who will be coming down to save the earth. They arrive somewhere in Greenwich Village.' Bowie's affinity with home-grown science-fiction permeates much of his work, and he has always enjoyed this Quatermass-style juxtaposition of the fantastic with the banal, of the mystical with the homely, of black holes with Greenwich village. Remarkably, this account of 'black-hole jumping' and of Ziggy's ultimate fate ('When the infinites arrive, they take bits of Ziggy to make themselves real because in their original state they are anti-matter and cannot exist in our world') is identical to the storyline of the BBC's tenth anniversary Doctor Who special The Three Doctors, a high-profile reunion of the show's lead actors which had been broadcast a few months earlier, while Bowie was in London recording Aladdin Sane."
The origins of the song "Starman" in Nicholas Pegg, The Complete David Bowie - Expanded and Updated Sixth Edition (2011), p. 236. (It's not the only reference to  Doctor Who in the book.)
Any more? Ideally, with page references, please...

Care of Sean McGhee of stylish pop band Artmagic:
"'This is it', says Chris. He tells us about his 'really good dream' last night. 'I was in Dr Who and the drawings on the carpets were satanic messages. It had chases and everything.'"
David Bryher reminds me of this one (which nicks from descriptions of the fourth and fifth Doctors in the works of the all-mighty Terrance Dicks):
"[The Pirate Captain's] years of staring at the ocean had given him a nice even tan, and when asked to describe himself in letters to pen friends he would tend to note that he was 'all teeth and curls' but with a 'pleasant, open face'."
Ian Farrington supplies this one:
"Inside were long rows of blue teleportation booths. Their shape and color reminded me of Doctor Who's TARDIS."
Ernest Cline, Ready Player One, p. 73.

The actor Anthony Keetch provided the above, from a strip in the 1981 Shiver and Shake Annual, pp. 90-6.

Paul Scoones sent in a frankly outrageous four spots:
"‘We waited for a minute but ... nothing. The Encephalovision simply showed static. But then, Daphne suffered an overload of sensory input, and her buffer started to fill. We started receiving pictures a minute after that. These are the first images ever of the Dark Reading Matter!’ Tuesday flipped a switch, and the playback began. At first it was difficult to make out anything at all, but soon shapes started to form on the screen. Strange creatures that looked a lot like pepper pots with bumps all over their lower body, a domed head and a sink plunger sticking out in front. ‘What are they?’ I asked. ‘We think they’re called Daleks,’ said Tuesday, ‘an early type.’ ‘You’re saying the Dark Reading Matter is populated by Daleks?’ ‘No – we believe this might be a lost Doctor Who episode, from one of the master tapes wiped in the seventies.’ ‘Wiped because they didn’t have room to store it?’ ‘Probably because it wasn’t very good,’ said the Wingco. ‘It’s possible the Dark Reading Matter might contain all forms of lost or discarded storytelling endeavour.’ ‘Or Daphne has a Dalek fixation. You know how obsessive dodos can be.’ ‘All too well,’ said Tuesday, looking across at Pickwick, who was on the floor attempting to sort dust particles into their various colours, ‘but it wasn’t only Daleks. Watch the rest.’"
Jasper Fforde, The Woman Who Died A Lot (2012), pp. 267-8. 
"‘And you are here now … because?’ ‘Landen said he’d videotape Dr Who for me, and the Daleks are my favourite.’ ‘I’m more into the Sontarans myself,’ said Miles. ‘Humph!’ said Joffy. ‘It’s what I would expect from someone who thinks Jon Pertwee was the best Doctor.’ Landen and I stared at him, unsure of whether we should agree, postulate a different theory – or what. ‘It was Tom Baker,’ said Joffy, ending the embarrassed silence. Miles made a noise that sounded like ‘conventionalist’, and Landen went off to fetch the tape. … ‘Here it is,’ said Landen, returning with a video. ‘Remembrance of the Daleks. Where did Thursday go?’"
Jasper Fforde, First Among Sequels (2007), pp. 137-8. 
"How was he supposed to put across to them that art was observation, art was the captured stuff of life? They thought they had eyes but they didn't. They saw nothing. Back at the end of the previous term, he thought that he'd struck a glimmer of understanding in one or two; he'd set the class to draw from memory an old-style telephone box, of which there was one right outside the gates. They passed it every day. Some of them had probably even vandalised it. But nobody could get the shape of it, or get the windows right. One boy even put a light on the top of his, like the police box in Doctor Who."
Stephen Gallagher, Nightmare, With Angel (1992), p. 36.
"‘If he kept his answers short and pertinent. it was still more than possible to pass. So far, so good. What would be slightly trickier was cramming a whole month's revision into minus thirty-five minutes. Thirty-five minutes was hard enough, but minus thirty-five minutes - well, you'd have to be Dr Who.’"
Grant Naylor, Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers (1989), p. 80.
Paul also sent a link to an archive of a column in his fanzine TSV, where readers sent in Doctor Who references.

M Owczarski points out that Mary Robinette Kowal admits to sneaking Doctor Who into the regency:
"Look for him on Page 144 in the hardcover [of Glamour in Glass]. Starting with the line, 'Before Jane could decide on the merits of this argument, voices and footsteps in the hall announced the arrival of the doctor, a tall, slender fellow, with a shock of dark hair.'"
Alexander Wilkinson sent me this exhaustive list of references to Doctor Who in Star Trek.

Writer Jonathan Morris sent this, on the subject of Conan Doyle and the Cottingley fairies:
"But he was being stupid, too, because if you look at the pictures you can see that the fairies look just like fairies in old books and they have wings and dresses and tights and shoes, which is like aliens landing on the earth and being like Daleks from Doctor Who..."
Simon Curtis looked this review of The Android Invasion part two:
"Saturday, 29 November [1975]I saw the TV news. 'Dr Who' gets more and more silly. Bruce Forsyth too ill to do his 'Generation Game' so Roy Castle took it over. He is marvellous. Can't understand why he's never become a big name, he's got talent, looks & technical brilliance ... lovely person."
Russell Davies (ed.), The Kenneth Williams Diaries (1994), p. 503.
Writer Piers Beckley, a connoisseur of such things, provided this:
"Down by the river, she had been so entranced by the naked man that she had paid only cursory attention to his scattered clothing. But now, his strange outfit intrigued her.
   What she had taken for a jacket was in fact a long Edwardian frock coat in black crushed velvet, which he wore with grey trousers, a black and grey striped brocade waistcoat and a wing-collared shirt than was unfastened to show his chest. Slung around his neck was a rather mangled length of heavy grey silk which appeared to be the remains of a cravat. The whole ensemble was crumpled and dusty - especially the shirt - and there were grass stains on the grey cloth of his trousers, but he still projected a picture of forlorn elegance. He couldn't be a New Age traveller. He looked more like an escapee from the Victoria and Albert museum, or a Tussaud's mannequin, touched by God and come to life."
Portia Da Costa, The Stranger (1997), pp15-16.
Stephen Elsden sent this assessment of The Underwater Menace part four, dated Sunday, 5 February, 1967:
"On Saturday I was watching an episode of Dr Who and spotted a little boy in that called Frazer Hines. So I rang Willes up and told him. He said, 'My word, you are going to enjoy yourself on this production, aren't you?' He said he's spoken to Routledge. And he thought he'd probably get on to Bob Stephens as well. They are going to do it in August."
John Lahr (ed.), The Orton Diaries, p. 79.
My esteemed editor, Jacqueline Rayner, sent this:
"'Hi, Dad.' Ben scarcely turned his head. He was deep in Doctor Who." (cont.)
Dorothy Simpson, Last Seen Alive, p. 10.
The horrific Mark Morris couldn't remember the Doctor Who references in his own books, but offered up:
"Then we went home to watch 'Doctor Who'. It was good, only Jim got all excited about watching the giant maggots chase Doctor Who and nearly had to go to bed."
Ramsay Campbell, "The Man in the Underpass", in the collection Alone with the Horrors (1994), p. 84.
The following led to Matthew presenting a documentary on the DVD of The Talons of Weng-Chiang about this very subject:
"[Thomas Burke's disavowal of the image of the Limehouse opium den as "another story for the nursery" did not stop its prevalence in popular culture.] Nor did it present these sinister visions being projected back on the nineteenth century, to generate retrospectively - in sources as various as academic work on Edwin Drood, film adaptations of Conan Doyle and episodes of Doctor Who - a Victorian East End populated by divan-sprawled dope-fiends."
Matthew Sweet, Inventing the Victorians (2001), p. 91.
My friend Camilla R found two references from the same book:
“The scores of in-jokes and shared history and special knowledge I couldn’t imagine having with anyone ever again, not without a Tardis to whisk me back to being twenty.”
Mhairi McFarlane, You Had Me At Hello, p. 82. 
“The grimy exterior gives way to a grimier interior, a basement with bar stools and a big Wurlitzer-style jukebox, like a super-sized garish toy or leftover Doctor Who prop. The lighting is set to ‘gloaming’, the air perfumed with an unmistakable acidic base note of unclean latrine.”
Ibid. p. 240.
I found this one:
"Which 'doctor' travelled through time to help the Greeks at Troy? (Clue: He gave them the idea about building a wooden horse.)

Answer: Doctor Who in the 1980s British television series. (Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise also popped back to Troy in an episode of Star Trek, but Kirk decided not to interfere. Troy must have been full of time travellers and their machines. Strange that Homer didn't mention them in his poems!)"
Terry Deary, Horrible Histories: Groovy Greeks, (1996 [2001]), 2007 edition,  p. 100.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Stevens

Two weeks ago tomorrow, our beloved, daft Blue Cat was hit by a car. We think she was returning from a raid on the bins of the fish and chip shop on the main road, and it looked like she wouldn't have known anything about what hit her. In some ways, that's how I'd like to go.

We've been devastated by the loss, even now expecting her to prowl through the catflap at any moment, "prooting" and asking for food with her customary lick-lick-bite-bite. Our other cat, Shaggy, has sat watching the top of next door's garage, where Blue Cat liked to sleep, as if wondering why she's still not been down for her tea.

But we now have a new cat, Stevens (yes, named after both Yusuf Islam and The Green Death):

Our new cat, Stevens
Stevens is a much shier, more cowardly cat than Blue Cat, or at least she was. Since yesterday she's been hollering at the top of her voice in the middle of the night, and craving of attention. Which suggests she hasn't yet been neutered and is currently on heat. So we've booked a trip to the vet for a few weeks' time.

Poor old Shaggy is rather terrified of her, I think because she wants something he cannot provide. Kenneth Williams and Hattie Jacques? That's my household at the moment.