210. The Peterloo Massacre
Behind the Scenes
This time I’ve come even closer to writing what the fans call ‘a pure historical’. (I love these shaded gradations in a whole spectrum of terms used to classify Doctor Who stories. It’s amazing, really, how specialized it’s all become! And how exact the descriptions.) A ‘pure historical’ is the term used for a story that features no SF elements at all – simply the TARDIS used as a device to deliver our heroes to the scene of the adventure.
Once there, as in those ‘pure’ tales of the 1960s, the TARDIS crew must fend for themselves. They are left in the machinery of real time and are generally drawn into a terrible predicament as each episode brings us closer to their facing a specific (and often famous) moment in history. There’s a wonderful feeling of inevitability about it all. The Doctor’s role – knowing he can’t change any of the unfolding events around him – is to keep his friends from being chewed up and spat out by ineluctable fate.
Alan Barnes suggested a few moments in history I might like to look at this time. I live in Manchester and, when I’ve research to do, it’s usually in Manchester Central Library. At the time of planning this story, the library had just been reopened after a few years’ worth of drastic alterations. I was happy spending whole days in there, reading all kinds of things and making notes. And, of course, being in there and thinking of cataclysmic historical events, I couldn’t help dwelling on the Peterloo Massacre. After all, I was standing on the very site of those events of one day in August, 1819.
I decided at once to read about the whole business again, that very afternoon and, by evening, I knew what I wanted my ‘pure historical’ to be about. It’s a story about terrible unfairness and social injustice. It’s about hope and bravery being trampled into nothing by greed and prejudice, snobbery and hatred. And it’s about how hope can survive such terrible events. I spent days and days reading all the relevant stuff, and worked at pulling out the key moments and character-types I would need to make this into a workable story. Not just any old story – a Doctor Who story, which is a very specific thing, with its own requirements and inevitablities. In the midst of this disaster, the Doctor and his friends must always find a way to be heroes; to champion the oppressed and to perhaps learn something about how, in real life, things can become much more complicated than that.
In short, I’ve tried to do justice to a very important story. It’s a humbling thing, when you read about events like this and try to turn them into a tale, but I hope I will at least have managed to make people interested enough to read up a bit more about what happened in 1819. That would be the best thing for this story of mine to accomplish.
Paul Magrs, 2016