Earlier this year I listened to a podcast interview (Doctor Who: The Writers’ Room) with writer Paul Cornell and he mentioned that he had at one point gone back to the beginning of the Doctor Who and watched all the existing episodes in order up to the present. Then he said, “It’s a slow march that every true Doctor Who fan has to do at least once in their lifetime.”
What Paul Cornell said planted the seed of an idea for a project in my brain. Why not spend this gap year (2016) traveling with the Doctor on all his adventures from the very beginning? But, being a literary type and a reader, I thought why not read all of Doctor Who from the beginning. After all I have all the Target novelizations and several others that fill the gaps in that range. I could read every single Doctor Who story (in order) including all the missing episodes since novelizations of the missing stories exist.
Once I began (re)reading the Doctor Who novelizations (for the first time in twenty-five years), I thought it might be fun to keep a record, a public diary of my journey through the entire written history of Doctor Who. But this diary had to be more than just thoughts, observations, reactions, and reviews of the novelizations, there should be more to my commentary than that if it was to interest other people. What if I approached this reading project as a proper study of the writing process? After all, these were the stories which inspired me to become a writer in the first place. Why did these stories appeal to me? Why did they so stimulate my imagination? How had they informed my understanding of what a proper story was?
Even though I’ve been writing for years and have written a stack of books, I’d never actually done a systematic study of how to plot or structure a story. Mostly, I’ve written by instinct, going with what feels right. While this artistic approach has worked, it couldn’t hurt to conduct a self-study course on the analytic approach, on how to write, using Doctor Who as a primary text.
In the coming weeks (years? it’s more than 160 books after all) my plan is not only to keep a record of Doctor Who’s unfolding text, but to make use of this diverse body of work as a source for developing an understanding of what makes a story good, engaging, and compelling. Of course, many of the stories in Doctor Who do not work. Rather than being a drawback, the fact that this body of text contains flawed works provides the student writer with examples of what not to do. I read somewhere that Roberto Bolaño enjoyed reading flawed works because it provided him an opportunity to see narrative problems and to pose solutions. The student who only studies the great works does not have the opportunity to see how to improve a work. So along the way, as I (we?) develop a theory of story based on Doctor Who, I’ll be providing some alternate versions of certain stories, versions which correct the flaws in the originals.