Myself and several other writers from the Doctor Who book Short Trips – Transmissions are posting a behind the scenes look at how our stories were born over on the Outpost Gallifrey forums. Rather than make you go through the rigmarole of signing up just for my entry, I reproduce it here (though if you wish to follow the other writers as they post their thoughts, sign up you must…). If you’re the sort of reader who loathes knowing how a story is born, and feel it strips away the magic of the reading, now would be an excellent time to look away.
‘Lonely’ suffered it’s pre-birth gestation during the mid-nineties in, appropriately enough, an internet chatroom. I was at that time new to the Interweb, and when I finally acquired a modem-equipped PC, I scoured the primitive search engines for my own literary addiction, horror. One of the first things I found was a chatroom called Horrornet, and after some procrastination, I tentatively logged in.
The group of writers and readers who greeted me were a bit of a revelation. I had never met another horror writer, actual or aspiring, so the instant community of people interested in exactly that was… well, you can imagine. Many of you will get what I mean immediately. Cast your mind back to the first time you stumbled across Outpost Gallifrey, or somewhere similar, full of like minds. Yes, it felt exactly like that. A bit scary, a bit exciting, and in a strange way, a vast relief. I wasn’t alone, and that’s a splendid thing to know.
As well as the people I met, many of whom I still correspond with today, the things that most intrigued me were the voices. Those tiny lines of text appearing on the screen before me – all formed of the same characters, in the same silent, toneless medium – quickly assumed personalities. I was very quickly able to distinguish Keene from Cooper, Schwartz from Garton, Murphy from Rainy, without having to constantly refer to the name or ‘handle’ next to their words. I recognised the voice without seeing the face, if you like. As a (then) actor, used to reading scripts, I understood personality through language alone – how else have Hamlet, Dysart, and many others remained essentially the same characters through the years, to be expressed so similarly by the actors who have inhabited them? Yet the playwrights who scripted thosevoices edited them over and over, honing every word and phrase to precision. These internet voices were raw, but every bit as unique and expressive.
It wasn’t long afterwards that the idea of writing a short story set in an internet chatroom popped into my head. I like playing with form, and this was, at the time, a new one to explore. Yet there was a problem. I couldn’t figure out how such a story would develop past the point of peril. I could place the characters – ordinary, unsuspecting folk – in the room, expose them to jeopardy, and then I hit a wall. I couldn’t resolve the plot. The nature of the jeopardy was so unique that it wasn’t credible for the characters to extricate themselves from their predicament. I worked it through in my head over and again, with no progress made.
Over a decade passed.
And Richard Salter invited me to pitch to Transmissions. At first I was excited, but stumped. The theme of the anthology offered me a chance to do my favourite thing, toying with form in ways that would hopefully please the reader, but I dried up on ideas. It might have been the self-imposed pressure, because the chance to write a new story for the Doctor really did (and does) excite me. At one early stage I didn’t think I was going to come up with anything suitable.
And then the chatroom idea dragged itself sluggishly from its little cell at the back of my mind. As soon as I introduced the Doctor, injecting him into the tale just as things hit crisis point, the story just worked, as though it had always been a Doctor Who story, and had just been waiting for me to realise it. It wasn’t perfect, not at first, partly due to my choice of Doctor (I went for McCoy at his most world-weary, and he just didn’t fit properly). When Mr Salter asked if I would consider rewriting for McGann…
Well, you know the rest, or if you don’t, you’re a purchase away from finding out. I’d love to hear how you think it worked out, so if you get a chance after reading it, let me know.