I’ve been on vacation this week — an activity which is given over to wandering through space, in almost constant movement. Consequently, I haven’t had time to sit in one place and to read. But yesterday, I did take a few moments at the end of the day (before nodding off) to watch the first episode of “Terror of the Vervoids” by Pip and Jane Baker, the third story in “The Trial of a Time Lord” (Season 23). Erik and Kyle discussed the work of Pip and Jane Baker for Doctor Who on the most recent episode of Doctor Who: The Writers’ Room. Kyle made the point that Pip and Jane Baker’s stories have been “unfairly maligned” by fans and that “Terror of the Vervoids” (minus the courtroom scenes) is a decent story.
It’s been many years since I’ve watched “Terror of the Vervoids” (~20 years?) so this viewing is essentially a fresh one for me. So far I agree with Erik and Kyle — the story has opened with a number of mysterious goings on and characters which interested me. I’m looking forward to seeing how the story plays out.
After watching the first episode of “Terror of the Vervoids,” I put on the short featurette on the aborted Season 23, the “Lost Season.” Having grown-up in the US watching Doctor Who on PBS, I was used to waiting for years for new Doctor Who stories to watch. So the break between Season 22 and 23 didn’t seem unusual, but I was aware of the hiatus, reading about it in the pages of Doctor Who Magazine. I wrote in my diary at the time what I really thought of Michael Grade — he was right up there with Davros on my list of ultimate foes.
To pass the time, the gap year of 1986, I began writing a new notebook, a supplement to my diary. This new notebook would contain my sketches for the stories which would fill the gap between Season 22 and Season 23. At the time I had no knowledge whatsoever of the actual lost stories originally planned for Season 23 and the novelizations were still a few years in the future (they would appear in 1989). I was a teenager and it seemed that I endless hours of free time. What better way to while away the hours than by filling my Doctor Who notebook with outlines and summaries of an imagined Season 22½?
I won’t bore you with recapitulating those early attempts at storytelling, but I will say that the first story in the run of 33 episodes that I sketched out for my own lost season was a proper holiday for the Doctor and Peri. When I dug out my Season 22½ notebook recently from deep storage, I remembered that I was intent on setting my first story at some kind of swanky resort. Why? The featurette on the Lost Season 23 reminded me. At the end of “Revelation of the Daleks” the Doctor promises to take Peri some place fun. Their next stop would have been (was?) Blackpool in The Nightmare Fair by Graham Williams.
The problem that I encountered when (in 1987) I was trying to write what amounts to my first attempt at fanfiction was that something dramatic needed to happen in my story. I couldn’t just send the Doctor and Peri to a swanky resort and write about how much sleep they got and how nice the pool was. My solution was to transform the manager of the resort into a villain who had created this pleasure palace for the purpose of trapping the Doctor. Basically, in terms of story shape, the Doctor lands in a hole and has to get out.
We will see as we go through each of the stories in Doctor Who, reading the novelizations, and comparing them with the broadcast version, several variations of the same basic story shape. One of the most common in Doctor Who is the “man in a hole” shape which see the Doctor land in some trouble in the first chapter and then he spends the next dozen chapters trying to dig himself out of the hole.
Next time, we’ll look at the six story types and their shapes.