Friday, November 23, 2012

The writing of The Judgement of Isskar

On 29 January 2009, the Big Finish website posted my diary of writing Doctor Who: The Judgement of Isskar. That post is now long-since deleted, so here it is in case anyone cared.


Simon Guerrier, the writer of Doctor WhoThe Key 2 Time - The Judgement of Isskar, opens up his diary of the production...

18 December 2007
As detailed in my post about the writing of Home Truths, it began with drinks at Jason Haigh-Ellery’s swanky club in London. He, David Richardson, Nigel Fairs and me discuss the wheeze of a new mini-series. The Doctor will once again have to search out the six segments of the Key to Time, over three releases. He’ll be helped by two living “tracers”, who’ll develop over the series.
I bagsy the first story because I really want to create a new assistant for the Doctor. We knock some ideas back and forth and I think I have a rough idea of the story. But it needs to be written quickly, as we want to book Peter Davison just after he has come out from his stint on Spamalot!
Later Joseph Lidster joins us and we drink Champagne. Joe is glamorous like that.

19 December
I send in my first, 1,964-word outline for a story called “TBC”. That’s not me being post-modern, I just haven’t thought of a title. Episode one ends with the return of an old friend of the Doctor’s.
Later that day, David says it would be nice if the first segment “was something other than a rock”. Episode three is also too much like Dead London and / or Brave New Town. I suggest changing the setting to Blackpool – the segment could be the tower!
Strangely, no one is won over. Anyway, Jonathan Clements is writing the second story which will be set on Earth. I say I’ll try to limit myself to the rest of the universe.

20 December
My second, 2,146-word outline incorporates a whole day of email discussion with the chiefs. I’m asked to incorporate snake venom, to set up something in the final release of the series. It’s only writing this blog that I realise it now doesn’t feature in The Chaos Pool.
David vetoes setting the opening scene in a disco. And episodes two and three are too much like The Dark Husband. I’ll need to think of something else.
We also discuss titles. I suggest, “The Unravelling”, “The Unravelling of Time”, “The Collapse of Time” and “No Name”. There is a long and terrible silence…

31 December
I send round draft three of an outline, now called “The Collapse of Time”. It is 2,278 words and the opening disco has been swapped for a war. “War or disco?” says David. “Only on Doctor Who…”

3 January 2008
Notes from Alan Barnes on the series as a whole. He thinks the first episode of mine is too like The Boy That Time Forgot, and worries that overall it lacks structure. I suggest replacing the old friend with an old monster: “We’ve never done Terileptils, have we?”
David suggests “an Ice Warrior story set at the height of their empire...”.
We also discuss Manichaeism, Robert McKee’s “Story” and names for our new assistant. I google girls’ names and their meanings.

4 January
Nick Briggs confirms he has no plans to use the Ice Warriors in 2009; we just need to check that the BBC are happy for us to use them.

7 January
Now called “The Gods of War”, I send round a rough 758-word synopsis to check I’ve got the main bits of the story right. “At this stage, the Ice Warriors are a bit Generic Monster, in case we don't get permission to use them. I've much more detailed notes, but want to keep it brief at this stage.”

8 Janaury
The Doctor Who team in Cardiff confirm we can use the Ice Warriors. Everything is looking good…

9 January
David thinks the title is too like the Unbound story Masters of War, out a month before my one. So my 2,826-word outline (draft four) is now called “The March to Destruction”. The two tracers are called “Eve” and “Janus” – though that’s still subject to improvement.

10 January
Alan has notes on my outline. “Overall, this is an improvement on the first, but it needs sharpening up and ridding of the really obvious pompous, portentous and pretentious labelling that's dragging it right down at present.” He’s got a list of points for me to work through.
I grumble to myself. Especially since every one of them is right.

11 January
David also has his own notes. “My one concern,” I respond, “is with ‘Eve’ being able to teleport. If she can do that, she and the Doctor can get out of any jeopardy just by her thinking about it.” We come up with a solution that meets some of Alan’s concerns too. We also discuss the names – and how our tracers gain them. I suggest “Julia” – at random. Jason likes “Amy” and “Zara”.
Draft five, featuring Amy and Zara, is 3,578 words long and features pan-dimensional handbags.

12 January
David sends round some notes beefing up the background of the two tracers. He suggests that “Zara has chosen another traveller (not the robot featured in Simon's outline) – a more ruthless, dangerous man…” He suggests a few other things which also all end up in the final story.

13 January
Alan provides some useful notes that help the structure of my story. Now, over three Acts, I’ve got moments he’s marked “Call to Adventure”, “Refusal”, “Crossing the Threshold”, “Supreme Ordeal”, “Reward” and “Resurrection”.

14 January
Draft six is 4,132 words long. I suggest a new title, “The March to Oblivion”. David counters with “Six Segments to Extinction”, “The Harbingers of Doom” and “Something deadly, doomy, gloom gloom gloom?”
I suggest “Martian Law” and then “The Race Against Time” – which I really like because it’s got several meanings in the story.
We’re racing against time ourselves, with the outline still not agreed. David doesn’t want Amy “gaining a sense of humour from the segment”, so I tweak the outline, and then tweak it again.
Draft eight still doesn’t seem to be doing what Alan and David want, and they’ve asked me to ignore some of their earlier comments and swap things back to how they were. It’s frustrating; we seem so close to something really exciting, but it’s just not quite working right.
I amalgamate everyone’s comments into one long email and tick them off one by one. “Easy ones first, and then there's things I am - shockingly - daring to dispute.”
Jonathan Clements, meanwhile, is only on draft three of his outline. The slacker.

15 January
Over the phone with David, we agree what needs to be done. Draft nine comes in at 4,898 words. In the accompanying email, I flag up a change of emphasis. “Amy and Zara are consciously aping the people they learn from, rather than automatically taking on attributes. This makes them less like C'rizz, and means I can also make them less blank-slate zombies when we first meet them.”
I’ve stolen this from Eddie Robson; in his book on the Coen brothers’ films, he notes that this is what the Dude does in The Big Lebowski.
Draft nine, and Jonathan’s draft three, go off to the BBC. Amazingly, they’re approved that day – I think David might have begged. Now I have until 11 February to deliver the scripts. But Jason would also like some scenes in advance, so he can audition Amys and Zaras.

20 January
I deliver the first draft of what will be my first scene – its seven pages long and 999 words, and includes the words “gin and tonic”. The Doctor is travelling with Tegan and Turlough (though he’s not with them in the scene). David asks me to change that to Peri. Jason worries that “pan-dimensional handbags” were used in an Iris Wildthyme play, so I change them to satchels.

29 January
I’m well into writing. David lets me know Jason will be directing mine, with Lisa Bowerman directing the rest of the mini-series. He’s also in the last stages of confirming the writer for the final story. And he’s spoken to Justin Richards who asks how my story ties in with events in Red Dawn. I promise to re-listen to that story.

6 February
I send Jonathan and David a draft of my first two episodes, so they can see how Amy and Zara are coming along. David tells me to forward them to our Third Man – now revealed as Peter Anghelides.

10 February
A draft of the whole thing goes round the houses. Peter Anghelides says some nice things – but then he’s in a good mood that day having just been rung up by David Tennant.

12 February
David Richardson has a “passing fancy” – that Jonathan and Peter should try and copy the style of the opening of my episode three. Hooray – a note I don’t have to deal with! I get on with packing for the Gallifrey convention in Los Angeles – and after that a holiday.

14 February
David sends me notes from him and Alan. Alan suggests a new title – The Judgement of Isskar, and there’s comments marked “Zara’s agenda” and “Superwomen”. I am too busy schmoozing with celebrities to answer.

15 February
David sends me a note on Scene 52. But I am still busy schmoozing. He rings me, and we agree I’ll get the rewrites done in the next week, while I’m on the beach in Melbourne.

20 February
Melbourne is wet and grey so I spend a day at the laptop. I can only find three things with which to disagree with Alan and David. I think we should keep the segue between Scenes 3 and 4, and the one between Scenes 11 and 12. I also dispute that Scene 27 should be “less I, Claudius”; I’ve based it on my experience of working in the House of Lords.
I then trek down to the internet café with the script on a USB dongle. The internet café doesn’t have Microsoft Office, so I can't open the Word file. But I send my rewrites with a list of 13 other possible titles – none of which my masters like.

5 March
Back in London, I quickly work through a list of small tweaks from David – most of them typos or slight rephrasing. Wembik no longer uses the word “okay”, and the fifth Doctor is made to sound less like the tenth.

10 March
David seems happy with the script, but asks me to rework the climax as a separate, standalone scene. “We're auditioning Amys and Zaras again on Friday, but there are so few scenes of them actually together. And if they are together, other people are in the scene too.” I get it done that afternoon, and then David suggests something else…

15 March
As requested, I send David an 808-word outline for a Companion Chronicle featuring Zara and her boyfriend Zinc. David sends me notes the next day – “Let's not have the Doctor in it. Let's be bold!” So the haggling begins once again… Eventually, Zara and the seventh Doctor’s assistant Ace will share a cell in The Prisoner’s Dilemma. And the Doctor shows up after all.

31 March
David confirms that The Judgement of Isskar has been signed off, and will be recorded on 24-25 April. I can come along if I behave. I ask who he’s cast as Amy and Zara.

1 April
David responds by text: Penelope Keith and Brenda Fricker.

Then I notice the date…

The Judgement and Isskar and The Prisoner's Dilemma are now available to buy on CD and download

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