Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Father Time Synopsis

I thought it might be useful to look at an actual synopsis. This was the second draft of Father Time - note that the title at this point was still 'Miranda'.

The basic story is exactly what ended up in the book. The odd detail or name gets changed - I really streamlined the far future politics stuff, I lost some of the Cold War parallels. I think the real difference is that there's a whole bunch of things in the final novel that just aren't even mentioned here - supporting characters and so on. I think that's pretty typical - the synopsis is there to give a book a good, strong skeleton. This is the deep structure of the book, a bit like the foundations - I've often found that the big problems with books come when the synopsis doesn't quite work. The key thing is that anyone who's read Father Time will recognise what they're about to read, it may even clarify a few things for them.

This is pretty typical, I think - it's certainly what happened with The Eyeless.

More on the writing of The Eyeless soon, and that pesky structural problem I hit and I'll also feature a Special Guest Synopsis from another EDA, so you can see an example of how other people write their synopses.

So ...


A proposal for an Eighth Doctor Adventure by Lance Parkin

The 1980s. The Doctor inadvertently discovers Miranda, an alien princess and child, in hiding on Earth. A number of factions of her race want her for their plans – regardless of the human cost. As the Doctor protects her, he takes on a role we have never seen before: a father. The story takes place over ten years, and the Doctor in it is a Byronic, Romantic figure – fighting for a child, by turns both reassuring and scary. It’s a story of revenge, destiny and the importance of family – even to a man with no past.

Part One: Winter, 1981

Schoolteacher DEBORAH Rowley’s car breaks down a few miles from her Derbyshire home. Trudging through the snow to the nearest farmhouse, she finds the DOCTOR, living in isolation with his books, experiments and cats. The TARDIS sits outside the farmhouse, looking like a Police Box. (This familiar object has struck a few chords for the Doctor. He still doesn’t know who he is or where he’s from, but he sometimes surprises himself with scraps of knowledge.)

The Doctor fixes Debbie’s car, and Debbie (who has seen he has a chess set) invites him to speak at the school’s after-hours chess club. He challenges every member of the club to a game – and works around the room, move-by-move, outsmarting every one of the ten-year olds and their teacher. Every pupil but one – the Doctor is horrified to realise that a ten-year-old girl called MIRANDA is letting him win. He tells Miranda to try to beat him, and she does.

The Doctor realises that this girl has great potential. He asks to give Miranda extra tuition. The school are enthusiastic, but the PARENTS aren’t – they just want her to be ordinary. The school explain to the Doctor that they are immigrants – fled from the East Germany for political reasons, and they want a quiet life. The Doctor tells them Miranda should make the choice, and her enthusiasm to be taught by the Doctor convinces her parents it’s a good thing. The Doctor starts to teach Miranda after school, and learns that her parents are over-protective. Miranda is an enthusiastic pupil, and the Doctor is gradually drawn into village life.

The Doctor’s friend Debbie is married to BARRY, a boorish lout who wants her to give up her job to raise children. The Doctor thinks she should do what she wants. Barry is growing suspicious of a man who spends so much time with his wife. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, the friendship flourishes.

There’s a UFO flap on in the local area, and it’s becoming a magnet for UFO spotters. The villagers find it all a bit amusing, and good for trade. The Doctor, of course, is less sceptical – these are the first aliens he has come across since the 40s, and he is fascinated by the prospect of contacting them.

The Doctor witnesses a UFO landing. The aliens are a mixed bunch of weird robots and creatures, and clearly possess advanced technology. He follows them around. At the very end of the night, the Doctor hears where they are from: the Klade Imperium. They are a long way from home – they are from millions of years in the future. The Doctor is drawn to them like a moth to a flame – could these be his people? Is he a … time traveller?

Gradually, the Doctor is growing suspicious of Miranda’s parents – he realises they aren’t from East Germany at all. One night, while they are out, he searches the house and finds a few items of advanced technology. Miranda’s family are Klade, fleeing from enemies in the Imperium. The Doctor tells them he’ll protect them from the aggressors. The parents tell him the Imperial Family are notorious throughout the universe for their brutality and crimes. The Doctor is enthusiastic – he’ll gladly fight them. The parents are forced to explain: there has been a bloody revolution and the Family were rounded up and killed. Only the infant Miranda survived – brought to Earth by her nanny and the nanny’s lover. She is all that remains of the Imperial Family. Miranda could be an important figurehead to the Royalist cause, perhaps justifying any atrocity. Her adoptive parents are terrified that the Republicans will have them all killed – the Republic is far more brutal than the Imperium ever was.

The Doctor makes contact with the Klade party, and they claim that they are Royalists, here to protect Miranda – they want to return to their own timezone and take her to safety, but her adopted parents have refused. The Doctor is sure he can broker a deal, but it’s clear he is uneasy about having the Klade, whatever faction they might be, on Earth at this time, and doesn’t want Miranda involved in the war – she’s innocent of the crimes of her family.

The CAPTAIN and his DEPUTY know about the Doctor – the Deputy has met him before, and although he doesn’t say it, it’s clear they were enemies. The Klade are suspicious of the Doctor and his motives: is he feigning amnesia? The Doctor assures them he isn’t, and is fascinated to discover what they know of him. The Klade keep the Doctor in the dark, telling him there’s a more pressing problem: an enemy battleship is on its way from the future. They had hoped to have left with Miranda by now, but the Doctor’s delays have allowed the enemy to locate her; they don’t have a hope of stopping a battleship. The Klade tell him that he can earn their trust by helping them to repel their enemy. The Doctor adjusts the Klade time machine to seal off the time corridor, preventing the battleship from arriving – he’s surprised to realise he knows a lot about time theory. Once he is out of the way, the Klade commander adjusts the settings. Instead of arriving in orbit, the Klade ship crashes into a hillside.

The Doctor examines the wreckage of the Klade battleship and discovers that it’s from the Royalist faction – the last survivor uses his dying breath to tell the Doctor that the Klade from the UFO are a Republican death squad sent to kill Miranda and her family.

The Republican death squad have tricked Miranda’s father into taking them to Miranda. They kill him when he realises they aren’t Royalists. The mother and Miranda escape, with the Doctor’s help. After a pitched battle, the mother is killed. Barry also dies, and Debbie is surprised just how relieved she is.

The Doctor makes an appeal to the human captain of the Republicans – how could he kill an innocent child? The captain explains it would be very easy – her grandmother massacred his family, and his family has blood feud on the Imperial Family. Miranda’s entire bloodline is tainted. The captain is convinced Miranda, if she lives, will become a terrible dictator.

We see a darker, more Byronic side to the Doctor as he defeats the Republicans – they’ve crossed the line, and the Doctor seems willing to follow suit. The Captain is killed, but the Doctor refuses to kill the Deputy – he has to return to his timezone and live with his dishonour.

Miranda has seen nothing of this. The Doctor returns to Miranda – something terrible has happened, but he’ll look after her. The tearful Doctor hugs Miranda.

Part Two: Summer, 1986

Debbie is astonished to bump into the Doctor in the City of London, in a Porsche and a sharp suit. The Doctor tells her he has responsibilities now, and needs to provide a certain level of income. He works in Trend Analysis, and is proving to be good at predicting trends and fads and is finding it ridiculously easy to make a fortune. They go back to the huge house he owns on the bank of the Thames. A beautiful teenager walks in and pecks the Doctor on the cheek. This is his daughter, Miranda.

Miranda is one of the star pupils at a southern boarding school, and a champion swimmer, capable of beating any boy her age. A teacher tells a new colleague that her parents died in a car crash five years ago, and she has a wealthy guardian who adopted her, and who’s grooming her for Cambridge or Berkeley. (All this exposition might be framed in an Ian and Barbara style investigation).

Something odd is going on – it becomes clear that the new teacher is a disguised Klade agent. He reports back – he thinks he’s identified the princess, but there is no sign of the Doctor.

The Doctor tells Debbie he has never explained Miranda’s heritage to her. Her parents wanted Miranda to have an ordinary childhood, and that’s what he’s giving her. But he knows the Klade will come back for her, and he’s been watching out for them. But are the Doctor’s motives pure or is he keeping Miranda close so that he can find out more about himself when the Klade find her?

In the pool, Miranda loses a race to a boy from a visiting team, Ferdy, a honey-skinned lad like herself. She’s annoyed to be beaten. Ferdy gets her alone – unseen, he draws a knife on her, but is interrupted by a teacher before he can assassinate Miranda. They part.

Ferdy returns to his craft – he is the younger brother of the Captain from 1981, and he’s brought a group of Klade soldiers here to avenge his family’s honour, led by his father’s Deputy. Ferdy is angry that he was not able to kill Miranda, but refuses to sanction the more drastic methods urged by the Deputy, such as the destruction of the whole area – this is a matter of honour, and he must kill her face to face. Ferdy is sure of his success – there are no records of Miranda after this year. The Deputy only wants a chance to avenge himself on the Doctor. We get a sense, though, that Ferdy’s heart is not in it – and that he wants Miranda alive for some reason.

Miranda’s best friend Dina has a crush on the Doctor, but it’s clear there’s not a hint of that with Miranda – she’s keen on Bob, one of Ferdy’s classmates. As Miranda returns for half term, the Doctor paternally grills Bob, asking whether his intentions are honourable – a mortifying experience for Bob, but for Miranda in particular.

Dina’s parents are away, and she invites Miranda and some friends over for a party. It goes very well, and Miranda is getting on very well with Bob. (We also see how odd ordinary life seems to Miranda – she doesn’t have a-Ha posters on her bedroom wall, unlike Dina, Dina hasn’t spent every summer travelling the world). That night, she sneaks into the room Bob’s sleeping in - and finds him in bed with Dina. Miranda storms out of the house. Miranda is being stalked by Ferdy, but hails a cab and, oblivious to the danger, gets away.

Dina tries to apologise, but Miranda isn’t interested. Instead she catches up with Ferdy and invites him out to the pictures. At the pub, Ferdy tries to poison her drink, but the landlord throws them out for being underage before she can drink anything. By the end of the evening, Ferdy has fallen for Miranda, although when he returns to his ship he angrily denies the Deputy’s charge that he could have killed her given the chance. Ferdy gets to see Miranda’s strengths at school – he sees she’s a powerful, charismatic person. Ferdy is ambitious, and realises that if they were to marry, his family would strengthen their standing among the Klade. The Klade Republic is teetering on the edge of collapse and needs a strong leader – Ferdy realises it could be him, if Miranda is there to legitimate his claim. Something Miranda does reveals something of a ruthless streak – she’s not quite as lily-white as the Doctor thinks (we get a real sense that she could take the dark path).

The Deputy discovers where the Doctor lives.

There are some areas the Doctor just can’t advise an ordinary teenaged girl on – he can’t remember his own childhood, but seems to recall it involved being taught by giant robot badgers. Debbie tries to help, but Miranda resents this new presence in the house and Debbie can’t get through.

The Doctor and Debbie go up to Derbyshire for a reunion night. Miranda sees her chance, and invites Ferdy over for the evening. As soon as her guard is down, Ferdy explains everything – her alien heritage, the crimes of her family, the Doctor being an alien. Miranda is convinced and horrified – she can’t possibly come back with Ferdy. Ferdy tells her that in that case, she has to die. Miranda escapes, with Ferdy and his mercenaries chasing her. The Doctor returns in time to save her.

The Doctor tells Miranda she doesn’t have a destiny – she is not responsible for the actions of her family, she doesn’t have to return. Miranda tells the Doctor she’s leaving home – she just can’t face him, now, her entire life has been a sham.

The Deputy kidnaps Debbie, and uses her as bait – the Doctor has to rescue her rather than follow Miranda. The Deputy attacks the Doctor, out for revenge for the defeat he suffered in 1981. This time, the struggle ends with the Deputy’s death (and there’s some dispute – could the Doctor have won without bloodshed?).

Ferdy departs, defeated, but defiant that there will be a final reckoning.

Miranda has gone, and the Doctor is left devastated.

Part Three: Winter, 1989

The Doctor has been searching for Miranda for years, and he’s spent his fortune looking for her. He is in Berlin, watching the Wall come down, but Miranda isn’t there. We can see the Doctor is edgy, more rattled than we’ve seen him for a while. He phones Debbie – has Miranda called? Debbie tells him what he already knows: there’s been no hint of her.

Miranda is in India. She wakes up next to a West German backpacker – they spent last night celebrating the end of the Cold War. For the last three years she’s wandered the world, earning enough to get by, and having adventures. She goes outside – and a Klade Saucer is hovering over her hotel. She is captured. Ferdy is inside – ten years older than her, now. He’s spent a dozen years searching the ancient records of this timezone for a trace of her. The German backpacker will become a famous film director, and made a film based on his experiences of India – he mentioned Miranda, so Ferdy knew she would be here. The Klade ship launches into orbit.

The Klade ship is vast, with opulent living quarters for the officers, but squalor for the engineers and slaves. It’s Red Dwarf meets the Titanic, with elements of the Liberator. Miranda is given a handmaiden and shown the glories of the Klade. Ferdy tells her they are returning to Klade homeworld, where her marriage to him will cement his claim to power.

The handmaiden tells Miranda that the Klade homeworld is now in total collapse – structurally, socially, environmentally … the old palaces stand on a polluted, shattered world. The Republic is on the brink of collapse and civil war. There are now a dozen Klade warlords who style themselves as the Emperor: Ferdy is the strongest, though, as he holds the Throneworld, and now the Empress.

Suddenly there is an explosion deep within the ship – rival saboteurs have sabotaged the ship. They want to kill Miranda rather than let her become a figurehead for a new dictatorship. In true Doctor style, Miranda escapes down a ventilation shaft, with the help of a handmaiden. (The Miranda/handmaiden relationship is very reminiscent of the Doctor/companion one).

The Doctor realises the Klade have been active in India, and puts two and two together: they must have Miranda. Miranda manages to contact him – she tells him the Klade ship has been damaged and will need to make repairs before it can timejump to the Klade home planet. The trouble is, she’s five hundred miles away – in space.

The Doctor and Debbie fly to Cape Canaveral and, in a sequence that this synopsis doesn’t do justice to, steal the Space Shuttle from its launch pad, much to the amazement of the crew. This is a first for the ‘new’ Doctor … but space travel feels like a homecoming for him.

We see Miranda is more pragmatic than the Doctor – but even she is moved by the terrible conditions the slaves live in. As she walks, incognito, among the huddled masses, we see a new maturity and sense of responsibility developing. The ship is becoming a battleground between the saboteurs and those loyal to Ferdy, and the slaves are being caught in the crossfire.

The Doctor brings the shuttle alongside the Klade ship. The astronauts are now willing to work with the Doctor and Debbie. The Doctor and the astronauts launch a daring rescue mission. It’s exciting, there’s a lot of swashbuckling – but, of course, Miranda isn’t in her chambers. They are captured, and the Doctor is interrogated – although he manages to turn the tables and learns Ferdy’s true plan. He’s discovered computer records containing lost secrets and technology from the Klade’s past, when they took place in a vast intergalactic war - if Ferdy has these, he will have enough power not only to unite the Klade, but to begin expanding the Empire. But the files can only be opened by the genetic code of a member of the Royal Family.

Miranda frees the slaves. There is a huge revolt, and the palace is stormed. Miranda rescues the Doctor.

Ferdy kills Debbie and threatens to kill the Doctor unless she opens the files, but she won’t. The Doctor and Miranda are side by side, now, and clearly a winning team. Ferdy is caught in one of his own traps.

The Doctor tells Miranda she must return to Earth – opening the files will be dangerous. Miranda laughs: no, she’s staying – she’s going to raise an army. She’ll crusade in the Klade timezone to restore the Doctor’s values, something that seem to have been forgotten in that distant future. Her handmaiden agrees – this is a chance for the universe to rebuild. The Doctor is faced with a genuine dilemma: how can he know that Miranda won’t become a dark force? Can she be trusted? He decides that she can, and gives her his blessing.

The Doctor returns to Earth in the space shuttle, landing it on the M25 and getting away before he has to answer any awkward questions.


One thing that isn’t coming across in the synopsis is that there are strong villains. Each of these get a
confrontation with the Doctor in which their philosophy is made clear.


Mentioned in passing in The Infinity Doctors, the Klade come from a warlike far future, a fascist empire spanning galaxy after shattered galaxy. They resemble the Nazi supermen – tall, blond, muscular. They are militaristic – seemingly genetically destined to be cruel, warlike, sadistic and
decadent. Their technology is advanced and efficient.

The brutal, oppressive Imperial Family is wiped out in a revolution while Miranda was an infant. The fate of the Klade mirrors that of Russia in the 1980s. When they arrive in 1981, the Klade Republic is monolithic and seemingly at the height of its power. By 1986 the Republic is beginning to break up – the economic and military strains are showing. By 1989, the Klade are once more on the brink of revolution and civil war.


Arriving in 1981, the Captain is ideologically opposed to the Imperial Family, as well as out for personal revenge on what they have done to his family. A man in his late thirties, early forties, he’s a natural leader and military tactician. A professional soldier, he leads a disciplined band of troops who are totally loyal to him. There’s an intensity there, and he won’t hesitate to slit Miranda’s throat or kill anyone that gets in his way. There is honour there, there is pride, but a stubborness and inflexibility, too. He’s George Baker’s Tiberius from ‘I Claudius’.


A loyal servant of the Captain, the Deputy is a vicious thug. He’s a soldier, not a thinker, and goes wherever his Captain leads him. His total loyalty and tenacity mean the Captain trusts him absolutely. When he returns in 1986 he has become obsessed with avenging his Captain and destroying the Doctor. The Deputy has no ideology, only loyalty. The collapse of the Republic means little to him – he’ll carry on fighting for his master, whatever the circumstances. Think of Michael Sheard’s character from Blakes Seven (Aftermath / Powerplay).


A young man in 1986, Ferdy has found his life mapped out for him – his childhood was spent as a privileged member of the new Republic. In 1981, with the death of his older brother, he was thrust into the political arena, and is clearly uneasy. There are a lot of obligations – the blood feud with the imperial family, the need to command soldiers – that he is barely equipped to deal with. He’s sharper, more intelligent than his brother was, and that means he’s seen that an endless cycle of revenge and counter-revenge will end in genocide on both sides. Unlike his brother, Ferdy is imaginative, and not restrained by tradition and ‘the rules’.

When he returns in 1989, Ferdy has aged ten years – now he’s beginning to resemble his brother, but his intelligence makes him paranoid, his lack of respect for the ancient ways of honour means he is more cynical and less driven. He wants Miranda now entirely for his own pragmatic gain, not for the family honour. Ferdy sees himself as the leader of a new Klade society – a dictatorship.


Caleb Woodbridge said...

Thanks, it's interesting to see this. What happened to the Miranda comic, by the way?

Dan said...

This is very helpful. I find that any synopsis I write feels woefully inadequate, that, although it maps out a full story, it couldn't possibly become one. Clearly, the important thing is focussing on the elements that need focussing on - less on the whats and hows, more on the whys. It's interesting to see how some elements became more significant, while others were downplayed, and certain vital set pieces were barely mentioned. My favourite part has to be: 'in a sequence that this synopsis doesn’t do justice to...'

Aleatoric Consonance said...

Very interesting, and I guess a good compromise for posting the synopsis of "The Eyeless". This is brilliant. Thank you so much.

I find it interesting how sparsely it tells the story. There's a real lesson for me here.

Lance Parkin said...

Less is more, definitely. Bear in mind that this is about seven sides of A4, and nowadays they only want two.

As I said back when I was discussing writing synopses, these are very useful tools for the writer.

The way I do it: write a synopsis, including all the little notes and 'by the ways' ... then be ruthless, cutting it down and cutting it down until you get it as short as possible. You keep the notes you cut for later in a notebook or something, but the synopsis itself is something really distilled down and sharp.

If you handed this Father Time synopsis to one of the other EDA writers, they'd be able to write it. This is what Kate did with So Vile a Sin. It is pretty much the description of a storyliner, the job I did on Emmerdale - we used to prepare six page scene breakdowns for the scriptwriters.

That might be a useful way of thinking about it - 'if I handed my synopsis to another author, could they write the book?'.

Lance Parkin said...

Miranda comic: sadly, the company that made them went under. Allan and I have tried placing it elsewhere, but it's a black and white science fiction comic about a girl, basically the complete opposite of what normally sells.

Pete Galey said...

That might be a useful way of thinking about it - 'if I handed my synopsis to another author, could they write the book?'.

Speaking as someone who's struggled terribly with writing synopses, that's a very useful way of looking at it!