207. You Are the Doctor and Other Stories
Behind the Scenes
Come Die With Me
A old country house, a scream, an ever-decreasing number of dinner guests… a murder mystery! This was the literal beginning of Come Die with Me’s genesis.
I spent New Years 14/15 in a beautiful old country house on the Jurassic coast with a large group of friends. It was a lovely place! One night we played a murder mystery game – which I’d never done before. It was quite a jolly evening, watching people get ‘murdered’, and although the narrative was totally unlike Come Die with Me, it was the starting point for it.
One night a few weeks after, I had an email from Alan Barnes asking me to pitch a few stories for the 7 and Ace anthology. I sent over a batch which then included ‘Come Dine with Me’ – based on my evening at the mansion in Dorset. It seemed like a great setting for a classic who story, and a super setting for a nefarious narcissistic baddie like Norris; but I didn’t want this to follow the lines of a classic murder mystery.
After a couple of weeks, while at a convention in Scarborough, I received an email to say that the storyline had been accepted, and that I should start work immediately. It was a particularly lovely moment since, about 30 seconds after I read the email, the lovely Sophie Aldred came running up to me to say hello, swiftly followed by a Dalek – whose operator just wanted to say how much my late father, Thunderbirds creator Gerry Anderson – had inspired him. The three of us posed for a celebratory photo. It was a splendid moment!
The initial story came together fairly quickly, and with some great support from Alan Barnes I worked on Norris’ motivation, his method (the Aorian Memorialiser), and the exit route for the Doctor and Ace.
In an earlier draft, the Doctor and Ace tricked Norris into entering the library where his sentient killing machine exacted its revenge on him, but Alan felt this wasn’t Doctor-like, and made him into a cold-hearted killer. Instead, Alan put forward the idea that Norris was such a self-obsessed power-crazed nut that even if he were consumed by the machine, he’d still rather have his ‘win’ than anything else… even if that meant the destruction of the only remnant of his conscious being. Quite sad when you think about it.
And what about the curious Ms Zingiber? It’s been quite pleasing to receive queries via Twitter and emails asking me who Ms Zingiber is… I was worried that it would be too obvious, but thankfully that’s not been the case. All will become clear in some upcoming releases!
Finally, Alan questioned the name of the story… Come Dine with Me. He said it didn’t feel right anymore, since it wasn’t about the dining. I had a chat with Andrew T Smith (Terrahawks writer and script editor), and he gleefully suggested: “What about Come Die with Me?”. Perfect. Thanks Drew!
I was also very lucky to attend the recording of this story, and hearing the words being brought to life by the fantastic cast (particular credit to Jamie Newall who gave Norris a wonderfully malevolent voice) was an absolute treat.
So, I hope you enjoyed Come Die with Me – it was an absolute blast to write.
Jamie Anderson, 2016
The Grand Betelgeuse Hotel
Who is the Doctor
In The Krillitane Storm, my 2009 novel for BBC Books, I set out to explore the ravenous Krillitanes more fully than a 45-minute TV episode ever could. I wanted to portray them as individuals, with hopes, dreams, relationships, and personal and political motivations, rather than as the monsters-of-the-week we first met in School Reunion. So, while I strove to portray David Tennant’s ebullient Doctor as closely as I could, the story wasn’t really about the Doctor at all.
The opportunity to write a Doctor Who adventure for Big Finish gave me a chance to try something different. I decided I wanted to write a story that explores how I feel about the Doctor, what he stands for, and how goes about his business. More so, I wanted to say what this intergalactic, lunatic adventurer means to me – and he means a lot!
The Doctor has been a part of my life since I was probably too young to be watching. I have very early memories of Jon Pertwee inside a giant banana, being unzipped by fish people in string vests. Of course, we know the memory cheats, but I swear they were giant bananas…
So what does the Doctor mean to me? As has often been suggested, we (the viewers) are the companion, and the companion is “us” – and I’ve had the chance to put words into the mouth of one of my favourite companions. I wasn’t going to waste that opportunity! Listen to the emotional Ace at the end of her trial in The Grand Betelgeuse Hotel, and you’ll get some idea of my feelings towards the Doctor. She says it all.
In many ways, the Doctor is merely a catalyst for other people’s adventures, an exposition machine who gets the best gags, but we all know he’s much more than that. The Doctor has a special meaning, a unique emotional resonance, for each of us. Let’s call it the Amelia Pond Effect (APE) – never mind the face he was wearing, never mind whether his adventures were monochrome or in vibrant HD, we all went APE for the Doctor the first time we met him. And don’t pretend you’ve never stood in your garden, listening out for a distant “Vwoorp”, ‘cause I know you have.
Talking of going ape, one of the main protagonists in my episode is a simian life-form from the planet Soror. I’ll explain why shortly, but first, as I’ve already told you this story is about the Doctor, what else inspired me? As with every story, there’s often one spark that sends a writer’s mind buzzing and bouncing off in multiple directions, like the following question:
What would happen if the TARDIS materialised in the middle of Al Pacino’s 1975 movie, Dog Day Afternoon?
Haven’t seen it? Do so. It’s great. The story revolves around a small-time bank job that goes badly wrong, with Pacino’s character hiding a secret that comes so far out of left field you really won’t see it coming. Utterly compelling, and based, remarkably, on a true story.
The Grand Betelgeuse Hotel isn’t anything like it, but we’re talking inspiration here, and the scenario struck me as a classic Doctor Who set-up. Hidden secrets and things going wrong are the bread and butter of my favourite kind of Doctor Who story – mystery, danger, a high concept, and only one person in the universe who can sort the mess out.
And as for the the ape thing I mentioned before? That comes from the title, The Grand Betelgeuse Hotel, which is a play on the title of the film The Grand Budapest Hotel, which has nothing at all to do with apes, but came about after my script editor suggested the story be set in a hotel instead of a bank, as originally pitched. And this is how inspiration works – this new title, chosen as a funny pun to get my story approved, turned out to be a gift that kept on giving.
I had a race of characters whose society needed colour and definition, and a planet that needed a name. If you’ve read Pierre Boulle’s original novel, Planet of the Apes, you’ll know that it plays out on a planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse – a planet named Soror! I stole the planet, and made it the foundation upon which the biggest hotel/casino in the galaxy was developed, after an interstellar war saw the Human Empire subjugate its indigenous species (talking apes!) and enslave them.
So, a critically acclaimed, seventies cinema classic was my inspiration for a 25-minute Big Finish audio drama. That, and Planet of the Apes. Never let it be said that Big Finish lacks ambition.
Christopher Cooper, 2016
Dead to the World
I don't think you can underestimate the importance of the work done by script editor Alan Barnes in shaping this and all the other stories in this set. I was invited to pitch for Who after Nick Briggs liked the work I did on The Adventure of the Unseen Hand for Big Finish's Sherlock Holmes range. Because that series is far less frequent, it's yet to be released at the time I'm writing this, but, in the words of J N-T, “stay tuned.”
Anyway, on the strength of that, and maybe because of the work I put in on the book Lost in Time and Space, I got the opportunity to suggest some possible storylines for You Are the Doctor, of which Alan liked Dead to the World the most, but quite correctly pointed out that it didn't seem to have much of an ending. Having spent the best part of decade writing literally hundreds of mysteries for US radio, I suppose I'd become oblivious to the fact that they all have basically the same conclusion: “There's your murderer, Inspector, take him away!” A bit more work was required, therefore to get the plot into a shape acceptable to Alan, and therefore to Big Finish listeners. It was also Alan who suggested that I change the name of the ship from the Jefferson to the “sexier” Daedalus. Why it was originally the Jefferson, I can't imagine, unless perhaps I'd heard Ken Bruce play something by Jefferson Starship while writing.
The original Christopher Reeve Superman movie was a big inspiration for the Galparians' motive: rather than your usual plan for world domination, Gene Hackman's Lex Luthor employed his skills as a criminal mastermind to conduct a massive land-grab. What, I wondered, if this same philosophy could be applied on a galaxy-wide scale? The Doctor's line about becoming “a tenant” at some point in the future was wisely cut – a bit too self-knowing – but I'm glad that a sly reference to The Hobbit made it into his conversation with Cynthia Quince.
Cynthia's name came from an entirely different character in an episode of one of my American shows, The Hilary Caine Mysteries, but played by Sherlock's Vinette Robinson, she became more entertaining than I could ever have expected. The story of the titanium plate in Cynthia's skull was a last-minute addition (and based on something I actually saw happen again). I only wish Cynthia could reappear in the Doctor's life – I have an idea about that plate.
I wrote the last scene of the play to Alan's specifications – yes, I know who the mysterious individual who failed to take their seat on the Daedalus is, but, like Gregory Walcott in Plan 9 From Outer Space, I'm muzzled by army brass.
Some reviewers have suggested that the revelation that the Doctor effectively owns the Earth is connected to his being its President in Dark Water/Death in Heaven, but my actual intention was to pave the way for the events of The Shadow of the Scourge, recorded 15 years earlier, but still in the Seventh Doctor's future at this point. Although I can't help but notice that he says he has “one or two” ideas for the planet. I wonder what the other one is?
Matthew Elliot, 2016
Jamie Anderson with Sophie Aldred and a Dalek - seconds after he was asked to write 'Come Die With Me'!