Saturday, 29 November 2008

Companions and Allies

I asked a number of people to look over The Eyeless for me – they’re credited in the book, and absolutely every single one of them immeasurably improved the story, and if you’re not named specifically in this blog, please don’t get offended – your freebie copy is, even as we speak, in the post! It’s no exaggeration, for example, to say that Jon Blum gave me both the best joke in the book (the ‘down the pub’ one, when you get to it) and one of the best scenes (‘begone, shift!’).

A lot of the time, people would say things I knew already, either deep down or just because they were obvious. This is often the most helpful criticism of all – a lot of what a writer does is, as I’ve mentioned, papering over cracks and he needs to know what he’s got away with. There were a couple of plot logic things I’d been avoiding thinking about, but everyone agreed I had to address. The blurb for the book – which I’d written pretty much when I’d started – talks about the weapon at the heart of the Fortress and asks ‘What is the true nature of the weapon?’. This was a very good question. I knew what it had done, I knew what it looked like … not its ‘true nature’. As with so much science fictiony stuff, you want an explanation that’s both bizarre, over-the-top and yet which is simple enough to get your head around. It would be difficult, for example, to build a ringworld or an ansible or a transporter or whatever, but it’s simple enough to explain what they are and what they do, and why it would be cool to get your hands on one.

Another problem … and I think this is pretty common with a lot of writers: faced with a second half of a book that was a problem, I just went back and refined and revised the stuff I’d already written. It was something to do, but every time I polished the beginning of the book, the gap between the lovely first half and the scrappy second half just became more and more pronounced.

I think it was Lloyd Rose who first pinpointed that there were two distinct problems I was facing in the second half. The first one I knew, but was too close to the story to see as a big problem: I’d set up an interesting group of characters, then had the Doctor just walk away from them – it was essentially a bit of a waste. The second was something I hadn’t spotted at all, but which was absolutely fundamental. Plenty of stuff was happening to the Doctor – quite big emotional beats, real challenges and so on … but they were just happening very episodically, there was no real sense of things getting harder for him, or any development at all.

The mistake I’d made is something I’ve already talked about here – the idea of the protagonist and his choices. I was giving the Doctor a sequence of physical challenges, and these were getting trickier and trickier. The emotional beats, though, were all at one level (broadly ‘gosh, how will I beat this physical challenge in time?’). Part of this is the problem with the Doctor as a character generally – he’s a thousand years old, he’s been through so much. It’s hard (arrogant, even) to imagine that your story is finally the one that really puts him through the ringer or threatens to break him. He’s resistant to any kind of change, really – even when something extraordinarily traumatic happens to him (Rose leaving is the best example recently, perhaps ever) he should be back to being the Doctor pretty quickly. He’s not all that different in The Runaway Bride, and three episodes into the season, when he mentions Rose to Martha and it’s still a sore point, it feels a little ‘off’, I think.

Mark Clapham noted the places where the ‘influence’ of The Subtle Knife on my book was straying into legal territory and wondered if the characters were a little too ‘normal’, given their circumstances. Mark Jones and I had a long phone call where we talked through the plot logic of just about every element of the book, including – again – the psychology of the other characters. Kate Orman and Lloyd Rose set me straight about when the tenth Doctor wears his glasses.

Everyone asked why the Eyeless were called the Eyeless.

The second half of the book began snapping into place, but it took a long time. It’s quite intricately plotted – very tightly focused on the Doctor, but with stuff going on close by that’s affecting the action. At every stage, there’s a tension between moving the story along and dwelling on things.

I had my own notes, too. Three pages of my big notebook were taken up with bullet points that needed addressing – these were often big things or just references or lines or words I wanted to fit in the book somewhere. Many of these look pretty obscure:

‘Sunlight = plants’
‘Handful joke’
‘why no survivor guilt’
‘No H in “Antony Gormley”.’
‘callous to boys, not girls’
‘how Eyeless can see?’
‘Casino Royale’
‘Civilisation Zero?’
‘Museums rotting’
‘Urban jungle’

OK … the upshot of this was that I had to completely restructure the second half of the book, and there was a lot to fit in there. The irony is that I recently re-read the synopsis now, and it’s pretty much exactly the same as both the first draft and the published book.

I’d got a second draft I was relatively happy with by March 10th. I think I could have got away with this version of the book – it was the first complete draft. For the first time, the ending felt satisfying - although it still wasn’t quite right. I sent this revised version to people, saying that it was ‘still missing that special sauce’.

I also had a secret weapon. Phil Purser-Hallard. On the Jade Pagoda mailing list (which is all about the Doctor Who novels – in theory at least: be warned that the list once got into a fight over whether the argument they were having was circular or, as one person suggested, triangular) PPH’s reviews of my books were always incredibly perceptive and constructive and eventually I realised that if he reviewed my books at the manuscript stage, I’d end up with much better published books. I only emailed Philip the book when it was at this stage, because I knew I wanted a fresh eye on it. As ever, I got another great list of tweaks and suggestions.

Oh, and you should track down The Vampire’s Curse by Mags Halliday, Kelly Hale and Philip.

A piece of television has hundreds of people making direct creative contributions, it’s actually quite tricky to see ‘authored’ TV – Doctor Who, of course, is now an exception. But even shows with ‘showrunners’ whose names you know aren’t created by one person, not even one writer. The Eyeless is ‘more me own work’ than a television episode would be – even so, there are dozens of people on the production side – editors, copy editors and so on … and plenty of people who were happy to give me their time and perspective while writing. Thanks, everyone.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Meanwhile, back at The Eyeless

Okeydokey. Writing The Eyeless had been very smooth, but now I’d hit a structural problem, and this can basically be summed up – spoiler free – by saying that the middle of the book was proving to be better than the big finale I had planned.

I’d whizzed through the book at this point, and at one point seriously thought I’d have it all done by Christmas. Bear in mind that my deadline was June – and the secret editors never like to share is that these deadlines always have a little bit of a buffer built in, because writers are prone to miss deadlines. When I handed one of my first professional magazine articles in, the editor said ‘this is on time, it’s about what you were briefed to write about and it’s the word count we agreed’. I said something along the lines of ‘well … duh’, and he told me ‘no – if we only get one of those, we’re happy’. Note that ‘well-written’ doesn’t factor into that.

But now it was mid-January and I’d stalled. I’d kept writing … I now had about two-thirds of the book, but I wasn’t that happy with the last couple of chapters and I only had a scattered impression of where I was going. I knew I had structural problems, I knew I'd be throwing out a lot of what I was writing, which I always dislike doing (This sounds strange - but there are two basic writing techniques, I think: writers who throw down twice as much as they need onto the page, knowing they'll carve away at it and get it into shape; or writers who only commit things to paper when they're broadly happy with it, so end up putting half as much as they need, then adding things to get it into shape. I'm definitely the latter.).

Structural problems usually aren’t the result of something external like Vampire Science suddenly having to lose Grace. It’s usually something the author realises isn't working about their book. The Alsa thing I mentioned last time is quite a good example. Changing her role in the book changed a fair amount of other things. I wrote earlier about how a story is about choices – we see far more of her choices, the reasoning behind them and so on. All that meant that she had to be in different places at different times and all of that has knock on effects.

The first ten days or so writing The Eyeless, I was writing stuff that was setting up the story and it was fairly straightforward. It’s not a spoiler to say that the opening section has the Doctor arriving and doing a little bit of exploring. Now … there was a complication. In a normal Doctor Who story, there’s a companion, and it’s the perfect set up: an older, experienced character can answer all the questions the companion has. And because the companion is an audience identification figure, unless the range has temporarily gone a bit mad, the questions the companion asks are the ones the audience would, if they were there.

The Doctor is travelling without a companion in The Eyeless. The easiest thing to do would be to have him meet someone early on who can act as a sort of temporary stand-in for a companion. I wasn’t interested in doing that – I had an opportunity to have the Doctor alone, and hooking him up with someone would cancel all that out. And I didn’t have the option the TV series has exercised a couple of times, now, to have a stellar celebrity guest star as a one-time companion.

But I’d known all along that the Doctor wasn’t going to have a companion, and that was all part of the plan. You’ll see how I got on when you read the book. The irony was that my writing slowed down once I got past that phase and to the easy bit where the Doctor met up with other characters.

In the synopsis, this was a fairly brief encounter – the Doctor would meet them and move on. Even when I was drawing up the synopsis, though, I suspected that this would be an area of the book that would expand. It always happens – there will be some part of the story that just comes alive and presents all sorts of dramatic opportunities. Then there are always parts of the synopsis that seemed like really great ideas that would fill fifty scintillating pages which you realise you can cover in one chapter, one scene or even a single line … if it needs to be in there at all.

One thing that dropped out – I originally wanted the Eyeless to have a caste system, with clearly-defined roles. One would be a pilot, one would be a telepath, one would be a leader, some would be warriors and so on. That’s completely missing from the finished book for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a bit of a rubbish science fiction cliché. I’m not saying it couldn’t be done, or hasn’t been done - there’s meaty stuff to be had about ‘we’ve all got our part to play’ and individual v society stuff, which are nice big themes for any book, and already part of what my book is talking about. I was originally going to explore that using the Eyeless characters. Those are still themes of the novel, but there were just better characters to tell that story with.

Second, though … it was just taking far too long to explain the set up. I was literally creating a convoluted problem for myself, then taking forever to solve it. The problems in the rest of the book are fairly straightforward and easy to relate to real life. I’ll probably write a SF novel at some point where there are aliens with a strict caste structure – one of the great things about writing is that you end up recycling your old ideas sooner or later but it’ll be a book all about that.

My big structural problem came when it became obvious that the people the Doctor meets are actually big identification figures … and that one of the problems with the book was that there were precious few identification figures.

It coincided with me realising that the bulk of the second half of the book wasn’t going to work. Remember that bit with the big grabby robot arm thing in Planet of the Ood? That hadn’t been shown at the time I was writing The Eyeless, but the whole of the second half of the book was going to be like that – relentless action. It was something I knew would be a challenge, and not quite right or sane for a piece of prose. There’s a piece of received wisdom that there has never, ever been a great car chase in a novel. I can’t think of one. I’d probably look in Ian Fleming to find it. The idea was to take something that would work really well in a movie and try to make it work in a book.

Yeah … it quickly became obvious that I couldn’t get it to work. Whenever I tried, what I was doing sounded like the subtitles for an action film.

So … I had a couple of problems. The action bit didn’t work and I wanted to expand the role of the people the Doctor met. The problem: the location of the story switches, definitively moves away from those people.

And, for the first time, it was a problem for me that the Doctor didn’t have a companion. In a normal Doctor Who book, the narrative can be in two places at once – the Doctor in one location, the companion in another. That’s actually what happens in most Doctor Who stories.

The Eyeless is more like first person narration, in a way – the Doctor’s in virtually every scene. Which has the advantage that it feels nice and immediate and that you're in the heart of the action ... but the disadvantage that it's hard and vaguely boring whenever you cut away from what the Doctor's doing. I suspect I'm not the only person who has been reading a Doctor Who book and decided to skip ahead when there's half a chapter about the colonists (or whoever) and the Doctor and companion aren't in that bit. It's called Doctor Who, not The Colonists.

Originally what I planned was for the Doctor to be in and out of the Fortress pretty quickly … that had to change. The air car chase sequence that I’ve dropped from pretty much every Doctor Who book since Cold Fusion got dropped again. Alsa’s new role was working nicely, and helping to show off the Eyeless themselves. To be honest, what I was writing was OK, and would have made for a functional Doctor Who book, but … well, this was my first tenth Doctor book, I had plenty of time, and I wanted it to be special, if I could manage that.

This wasn’t exactly a looming disaster, but I was finding it frustrating. So I sent the book out to a few people, hoping they’d be able to tell me where I was going wrong.

Thankfully, they did …

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Special Guest Synopsis

As promised, a special guest synopsis, courtesy of Jon Blum and Kate Orman.

About a week after I started writing The Eyeless – when I was sixty pages into the book - Justin emailed in the morning and said ‘how would you feel about putting Rose in it?’. That would have … altered the structure of the book somewhat. Almost before I’d had a chance to reply, Justin emailed again to say that he didn’t want Rose in it. Problem solved. Although, to be honest, while I told Justin that my concerns were purely artistic, this was basically a lie and my main problem was that I’d already written the beginning and wasn’t keen on rewriting because that would mean more work.

Such things happen, albeit rarely – Kate Orman and Jon Blum started the second EDA, Vampire Science thinking that Grace from the TV movie was in it. They then had to edit her out, when various licencing and editorial people decided against it.

Vampire Science: The Original Synopsis

This is the original synopsis for VS, before Grace had to be dropped from the novel. Her role in the story was divided between new companion Sam and Dr Carolyn McConnell.

Dr. Grace Holloway is one of those people the Doctor doesn't forget. He turns up on the odd occasion to take her to the opera in various centuries, and every year he shows up on her birthday to bring her breakfast in bed. Until, that is, the year when she leaves a note for him in the kitchen suggesting that he not wake up her new boyfriend.

The Doctor has also helped with getting Grace a position consulting for UNIT. When it doesn't conflict with her more ordinary hospital duties, they call her in as a medical advisor. This time, UNIT has her conduct a couple of unusual autopsies - for deaths which follow the classic patterns of vampire attacks.

Intrigued, she gets her new boyfriend James (a lighting designer at a prestigious uptown theatre) to do some additional investigation into the deaths. He's not entirely sure about all this risky cloak-and-dagger stuff - he's not used to being her legman, or rather her companion - but he cooperates.

Her own contacts lead her to a young doctor by the name of David Shackle, working at a downtown hospital, who knows about a whole series of similar cases of apparent vampire attacks. Thing is, all those happened to homeless people, lowlifes and bums of various sorts... Shackle's rather ticked off about the fact that all these cases have been ignored up till now, when "nice" people have started to die.

After swapping information with Dr Shackle, Grace goes back to the cafe where she was supposed to meet James, and waits for him.

And waits.

He doesn't show up. He's vanished, and she has no clue at all what's happened to him. Neither the police nor UNIT turn up any leads. Now she devotes all her energies into trying to find one man who's disappeared in the midst of a cityful of people, but to no avail. While she copes as best she can with trying to juggle all her work, she's coming apart at the seams.

So she contacts the Doctor. She feels a little awkward about involving him, not least because she's never actually told James about this other man in her life, and the Doctor feels similarly odd about it. But then, he's used to being the hero who doesn't get the girl - there's nothing really different about this time, is there?

He decides that, since James was probably kidnapped to send Grace a message - back off or else - their best course of action would be to press on with the investigation into the vampire deaths, so the kidnappers will get in touch with them. Grace is shocked by this approach - what if the kidnappers decide to simply kill James? - but she trusts the Doctor.

The Doctor, Grace, and Shackle continue their investigations, staking out the alleyways near a gothic bar/club which appears to be at the center of the "uptown" attacks. Shackle gets mugged. Once they get him away to safety, the Doctor and Grace are incredulous at his lack of regard for his own safety, and the stupid chances he took on the stakeout. Shackle, it becomes clear, really doesn't care much if he lives or dies - he's spent so much time swamped in his downtown hospital, surrounded by the trivial deaths of unnoticed people, that he doesn't really see much point in fighting to stay alive. He still has his idealism, but figures that all it'll get him is an eventual death from cholera while working in some squalid Third World charity hospital... where's the point in fighting it?

The Doctor's plans pay off when a man meets Grace in a cafe. "Slake", as he calls himself, is a lurid, self-consciously Gothic poseur, trying to act all menacing, threatening, and darkly sexy in an Anne Rice sort of way. Grace, of course, isn't buying any of it. Finally he gets to his point, giving Grace the ultimatum: back off, or he and his "brothers and sisters" will kill James and come for her. He shows her his fangs as a final touch.

The Doctor intervenes at this point. He very politely tells Slake that he's a Time Lord, a member of the race which wiped the vampires' kind off the face of the cosmos a few million years ago, the race which is sworn to destroy descendants of the Great Vampire anywhere they may find them, so could Slake kindly take his dreary little melodramatic self back to his masters and tell them to let James go? Because otherwise the Doctor will be most displeased with them. Slake tries to look unimpressed, but slinks away with his tail between his legs.

Meanwhile, Dr Shackle has been sending blood samples from victims off to one of the premier medical labs in the city for analysis, looking for some kind of common factor in the blood types. He goes there and meets the woman who's handling his samples, a rather dishevelled-looking post-graduate student named Joanna Harris. Harris seems attracted to Shackle's morbid-idealist persona, and he offers to bring her in on their investigations once they find out more.

Grace and the Doctor go back to the bar and continue to watch for signs of the vampires. Another vampire attempts to pick Grace up. This one's a particularly sociopathic one, who has lost the ability to distinguish between pleasure and pain, and who thinks that his victims suffer willingly. It takes the combined efforts of the Doctor and Grace to fight him off.

Slake reports back to his fellow vampires: a coven of fourteen, led by Joanna Harris. She's still the same unassuming, somewhat dumpy figure Shackle met - she's so used to being powerful that she doesn't need any of Slake's posturing. Her extreme age and experience - she's about as old as the Doctor - allow her to get away with being a vampire geek.

She's the only one of them who remembers the legends of the Time Lords, and figures that the Doctor needs to be handled very carefully. After a few withering comments in Slake's direction, she sends him back to arrange a meeting between her and the Doctor.

Slake delivers the message to Grace's home: the Doctor is to meet the vampires at an old abandoned theatre at midnight. Come alone, don't inform the police, et cetera et cetera. The Doctor has Grace drive him there, and leaves her with strict instructions before he goes in: if he doesn't walk out of this building by two AM, she's to set fire to it. Great, Grace says to his back as he strides inside... How?

As they await the Doctor's arrival, Slake tempts James with the possibility of becoming a vampire. James refuses - not out of a sense of any great nobility, but simply because he's not interested. He likes his life to be pretty much normal, thank you very much.

The Doctor arrives and offers Harris a deal - if the vampires let James go, and cease hunting humans, the Doctor won't destroy them, despite his oath as a Time Lord to do so. He knows that doing so would reopen the old war between their races, and he'd much rather try to take steps towards some kind of peaceful coexistence. Slake is scornful, but Harris tells him off. She says that if someone hadn't started breaking the rules of the cabal by hunting the Remembered, rather than derelicts who wouldn't be missed - not to mention gorging themselves on many more victims than they need to survive - they wouldn't have attracted this attention in the first place.

Harris dismisses all the other vampires and then gives her answer to the Doctor. She will try to control the feeding of the vampires, though she can't promise that they'll listen. She's already working on an alternative method of feeding, she says. In return, she demands to be bonded to the Doctor - an exchange of blood and a telepathic link between them. That way they can trust one another, because if one of them dies, so does the other one. To safeguard James, the Doctor agrees.

The weakened Doctor walks out of the theatre, leading James with him, much to Grace's joy. The Doctor assures her that his pact with Harris isn't going to turn him into a vampire - he's just getting occasional flashes of what she's experiencing. All appears to be under control.

But the next day, back at Grace's house, things begin to come apart at the seams. When Grace finds out that the Doctor let off a group of killers like the vampires with nothing more than a "don't do that again", she's shocked and furious - the Doctor's protests that he's trying to avoid restarting the Great War, and that Harris seems to be seriously trying to change the vampires' ways, mean nothing to her.

On top of this, James has a Long Talk with her... if she's going to be dealing with this insane world of vampires and extraterrestrials, he doesn't want any part of it. He leaves and tells her to call him when it's over, if it ever is...

And Dr Shackle meets again with Harris. Slowly but surely she's leading him to believe that everything he's devoted his life to - trying to hold back death - is hopeless. Death wins. And if you can't beat 'em... She offers him the choice to become one of them. He balks at the thought of killing, but she tells him that she's working on a method which could let the vampires feed without hunting the mortals. He won't be hurting anyone, the only one it affects is himself... She leaves him with her offer.

Shackle runs to Grace. She tries her best to persuade him back from the abyss, but he doesn't see much reason not to believe in Harris. He ends up going off, not sure what he's going to do, much to Grace's distress.

The Doctor again infuriates Grace by seeing Harris' side of the matter. These people are killers, Grace tells him, they hunt and eat humans! So do lions and tigers, counters the Doctor, but he doesn't see Grace campaigning for their extermination... Grace refuses to just sit back through all this, and she storms out on the Doctor.

She goes to the lab where Harris works and follows her - tracking her to a secret laboratory in which she and her fellow vampires have been working on their project. Grace discovers what they're growing in their nutrient vats... fully-formed humans, mindless zombies... experimental subjects. She rushes back to report to the Doctor.

Meanwhile, the Doctor has gone to James, to convince him not to run out on Grace. He tries to inspire him with tales of all the good he can do, and how well-suited he and Grace are for each other... like Grace's intervention with Shackle, though, this hasn't quite convinced James.

Shackle himself has given up and gone to Harris. He's ready. But she's not; she wants him to help her with her research first, and as a reward she'll turn him into a vampire. Slake overhears this, and offers Shackle a quick fix: he'll turn Shackle before Shackle changes his mind, in return for information about this Doctor...

Harris catches Grace snooping around the lab. She considers Grace's investigation an infringement on her agreement with the Doctor. For this she is going to kill Grace - making sure the Doctor can see this through their link. Across town with James, he can do nothing to stop her... except that the Doctor clambers out onto the ledge outside James' apartment, threatening to kill himself (and therefore Harris) unless she spares Grace. (James, who has no clue what's going on, is horrified.) Harris relents, and the Doctor, himself amazed by what he was about to do, asks James' help to get him back inside.

Harris is horrified that the Doctor would pervert a bonding - a symbol of trust - and use it as a weapon against her. In return for this, Harris kills someone just to make the Doctor experience it through her eyes. The Doctor, shaken and furious, goes to confront her. "How could you?" he demands. He's beginning to realize the mistake he's made in trying to do a deal with her.

The Doctor challenges her on her scheme, and realizes why she's growing humans - they're like veal, grown and fed in controlled circumstances to be a good meal for the vampires. Harris says this is a humane method; her synthetic humans are mindless, not self-aware, no more likely to feel pain than your average cow. But the Doctor demonstrates to her that she hasn't perfected it - these humans are dimly self-aware, and suffering. And then of course there are those vampires like Slake and his fellow uptown hunters, who won't be satisfied with killing domesticated humans, who love the hunt too much...

Shackle tells Slake about the link between the Doctor and Harris, which Harris has been keeping from the other vampires. Slake realizes that, if they can kill the Doctor, that will destroy Harris, and Slake will be free to lead the cabal... In return for his cooperation, Slake prepares to turn Shackle. To avoid any incriminating signs of Slake having fed on Shackle, the turning will be done by artificial means. Slake draws a syringeful of blood from himself and injects it into Shackle. There's no romance, no dark drama, none of the supposed sensuality of a vampire's kiss... just a cold, lethal injection.

Then Slake and his followers move against those loyal to Harris, killing them. Harris and the Doctor realizes that they both face a greater threat from Slake's bloodlust. They need a weapon against him... The Doctor and Grace leave Harris to continue working on the toxins while they go home.

James is waiting on Grace's doorstep, with roses and an apologetic look. He's sorry for the things he said, and he wants to try to help in any way he can. Grace's reaction is awkward, unsure. She's not feeling particularly close to either him or the Doctor at the moment.

James also has a message for the Doctor - Slake stopped by earlier. The Doctor is to meet him at the abandoned theatre tomorrow night. Of course it's a trap, the Doctor realizes - they want to kill Harris by killing him. He comes up with an idea, and he'll need both Grace's and James' help to pull it off.

During the day, James goes down to the theatre. The Doctor and Grace go back to Harris' lab and finish work on the anti-vampire toxins... the Doctor swallows a large dose himself.

That night, the Doctor and Grace arrive at the theatre. The first vampire to show himself is Shackle. Grace has a moment with him, just to ask him why. He shakes his head and asks, "What else was there to do?"

Slake and the others arrive and instantly move to attack the Doctor. The Doctor is aghast at this poor form on Slake's part - not even a half-hearted attempt at pretending he's interested in negotiating, not even pausing for a few melodramatic speeches, just going straight for the jugular. He waves his hand...

And James, up in the lighting control booth, powers up the lighting rig he's set up... a perfect simulation of full-bore sunlight, right down to the ultraviolet. It's not quite right to destroy the vamps, but it throws them off long enough for Grace and the others to escape.

Except for the Doctor. Enraged, Slake and his fellow vampires surround him and tear into him. The Doctor struggles for his life, but they're all sharing in his blood...

...and, as they realise too late, in the vampire-killing compounds he'd ingested. They're destroyed by their own bloodlust, and all would be well, if not for the fact that the Doctor himself is at death's door.

Harris, aware of the attack through their link, races to the theatre. She can't let the Doctor die - her solution is to turn him into a vampire. Grace refuses to let it happen, tries to get him medical help... but the Doctor waves her away. He's ready for this. Grace is horrified. She tells Harris, with cold conviction, "If you destroy what it is that makes him the Doctor, I will kill you." Grace shakes her head. She can hardly believe that she, a doctor, could find anything worth killing for. But it's true.

Harris just shrugs and crouches over the Doctor. The turning begins.

All sorts of cardiovascular hell breaks loose. The vampire-killing compounds in the Doctor's blood reject the infusion of vampire DNA, and in effect kick- start the Doctor's healing. In turn, his link with Harris causes the effects to bleed over to her, just as he'd planned. She'd assumed a taste of the anti-vamp formula wouldn't kill her, because she's so old and strong, and it doesn't... in fact, it heals her. It restores her humanity, severs the link with the Doctor, and turns her back into an ordinary mortal. Life wins.

Later, as the survivors all walk away together, Joanna Harris tries to figure out what to do now. Hell, maybe she'll just find another vampire and get them to bite her all over again. No, urges the Doctor. "Read a book, get married, go on a picnic, feed the ducks, do all the little things you humans do." Caring for the proto-humans she's grown would be a start. His words might actually be reaching her.

And James and Grace are becoming reconciled. Each has seen the other show strength and determination they'd never seen in them before... as well as compassion, when Grace mentions wanting to arrange a decent funeral for Shackle. After seeing her devotion to the Doctor, James is willing to step aside so that Grace and the Doctor can go off together... but Grace tells him that's not what she wants. The Doctor, after all, is half not human; James is right for her.

And the Doctor, healed, says farewell.

Shackle, the only one among the vampires who wouldn't drink the Doctor's blood, stands alone in the theatre. His one-time friends think he died with the others. He has no idea what to do now.

Outside, the sun is rising.

Copyright Jonathan Blum and Kate Orman, 1998. All rights reserved.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Game on

I got my first copies of The Eyeless this morning. Now, the book's not out in the shops until December 26th, but it's real!

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.

Monday, 3 November 2008


As requested, a brief discussion about naming characters.

It’s a weird one. At one level, naming characters is fairly trivial. What your character is called doesn’t really affect the story all that much. I’m a firm believer in the theory that if you can remember the name of the lead character in an action film, the makers have done something wrong (Broken Arrow takes this to the extreme of having the audience find out the names of the male and female leads as the last lines of the movie).

For long running characters, it seems to be more important. There’s clearly a resonance to ‘Sherlock Holmes’ or ‘Dracula’ that must be, in part, because their names are so distinctive. Would Kylie Minogue smell so sweet if she’d been called something less unusual, something that didn’t sound like a team in the UEFA cup? I’d still fancy a sniff, I think. Some of this is clearly just our familiarity, rather than because they’ve got weird names – you can’t really get more ordinary names than Elizabeth Taylor, Bruce Willis or Richard Burton.

‘Hardy and Laurel’ sounds discordant, but there’s no particular reason why, it’s just that we’re used to it being the other way round. Other things are cultural. The name ‘Kevin’ in the US is Costner and Kline and Bacon. In the UK, it’s still Gerbil.

Other names are just at hand. The name ‘Dalek’, famously – if, almost certainly, fictitiously – emerged when Terry Nation saw a phonebook that ran DAL-EK (or DAL-LEK). The most famous example of that is probably James Bond. Ian Fleming had an ornithology book by a ‘James Bond’ on his shelf. Um … I’m probably not going to help my case that I’m not a James Bond fanboy by pointing out that that’s why Pierce Brosnan poses as an ornithologist in Die Another Day. Er, or by noting that I have a first edition of James Bond’s book. Elsewhere, Fleming used the names of friends and acquaintances – not always amusing them in the way that he hoped.

I named a character in Emmerdale after a friend, once … and then (after I’d left the show) the character was revealed to be a golddigging ex-prostitute. Oops. Hilariously, when I tried to name a character ‘Mark Clapham’ I was warned not to use any more joke names. This, I think, might have been the very episode where Gareth Roberts introduced a character called Roger Blake.

It’s very hard to find an ‘ordinary name’ (this a person called ‘Lance Parkin’ speaking of course … people always confuse me with Lars Pearson and Lawrence Miles, making Warlords of Utopia, - written by me, published by Lars, edited by Lawrence – like some weird Three Doctors type special). The temptation is always to go weird and Pythonesque – Celia Molestrangler, that kind of thing. One of the things Vic and Bob always used to do so well was find ordinary names for their characters. A talking Labrador was ‘Greg Mitchell’. Douglas Adams managed to have characters called Arthur Dent and Zaphod Beeblebrox in the same scene.

There are practical considerations – on the whole, you want to avoid characters with similar names, just so the audience don’t get confused. You want to avoid libeling anyone (Barbara Cartland got very offended by Fatherland, when she learned she was still writing romances in a parallel universe where the Nazis won).

You want the names to be nice and memorable, to suit the characters without going the Restoration comedy route that would have seen Jack Harkness called something like Roger Proudcock.

So … how do I come up with my names? A lot of the time, characters just grow into their placeholder name. This has happened to me with pets in the past, and I suspect it’s the power of the label – soon, they’ve ‘become’ that name.

The names in mine usually mean something, even if it’s something trivial. All the names in my Big Finish play Davros are from Diff’rent Strokes, for example. The ones in The Dying Days are all place names from The War of the Worlds. I often use vaguely punny names, and don’t explain them – in Father Time, Ferran is a corruption of Ferdinand, for example, and Klade is an anagram.

The Eyeless has quite a small cast. A lot of the names are short, almost fragments of other names, because the planet is small and broken. This isn’t some code to break or anything, and I hope now I’ve said this, it’s not distracting, but – for example - there’s a character ‘Jeffip’ who I originally pictured as being sort-of played by David Bowie. His name’s a mashed up version of ‘Phillip Jeffries’, the character Bowie played in Fire Walk With Me. In the event, I heard Bowie was in season four, so Jeffip ended up played by someone else. Regular readers of mine will be able to work out who. Regular viewers will note that Bowie didn’t show up in season four. ‘Gyll’ is meant to be reminiscent of ‘Gyllenhaal’. The planet Arcopolis is basically a city of Arcologies, if that’s not a contradiction in terms, but the word also echoes with Ark and Arc and Arcadia.

The reason the Eyeless are called that is explained in the book, and it’s not the obvious explanation.