Why I write the way I write (1)

It doesn’t do any harm every so often to reflect on yourself and why you work in the way that you work. Every therapist I’ve ever had has said I’m WELL GOOD at this, so therefore welcome to an occasional series in which I ponder this – who knows, it might (hopefully) be relevant to you as well.


I was a very solitary child. For various reasons, I’ve always felt a keen sense of outsider-dom. Did I embrace this by discovering, say, punk music or graphic novels? No, course not, I lived in Worcestershire, where such things were scarce, plus it was quite simply too cool.


I watched TV. I watched too much TV. I made my parents cross because I preferred watching TV to interacting with other kids. This made perfect sense at the time because real people were chaotic and real life was ‘hard work’ and, so I thought, gave me nothing back for how hard I tried to make people happy. When you feel like this it’s easier to engage with other people whose universes seem both more exciting and more comforting. These people don’t exist, of course. That’s the ultimate tragedy. You let yourself be thrilled by the adventures of people you can never meet, whilst at the same time making real life feel less and less like something you want to actually take part in.


And I was okay with this. And as an introvert who’s still fundamentally terrified about whether everyone secretly hates me, it actually did me a lot of good. In a world where I felt everyone was either secretly angry with me or trying to make me feel like shit, watching other ‘people’ being totally ambivalent was a serious relief. The context of ‘story’ simplified human interactions into something I could understand and digest, and the fact that many of them were also intensely fantastical and imaginative worlds made them even more appealing.


When I say ‘them’, I mean some of the best kid’s shows of the 80s and 90s. I’m talking:


Dungeons & Dragons

I cannot BELIEVE this hasn’t been made into a proper feature film yet, as much as anything because it would be an absolute piece of piss. Take, for example, ‘The Girl Who Dreamed Tomorrow’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HqjTsLR52gs, the first episode I ever saw and still one of the richest and deepest pieces of character-based drama that I’ve seen enacted from beginning to end in 20 minutes. Or ‘The Last Illusion’, where one of them spends most of the episode in screaming agony and his friends CANNOT HELP HIM. Or ‘The Dragon’s Graveyard’, which involves some teenagers overpowering their arch-enemy and having the power to kill him. This programme was criticised a lot at the time for being overly violent, but it isn’t really – it just shows you that even amazing fantasy adventures with your friends are sometimes really really fucking difficult and traumatic but that’s part of why they’re worthwhile, even if you don’t completely understand at the time. In other words, like real life.



Speaking of ‘not understanding things at the time’, I move that it is not possible to fully understand Dangermouse when you’re a child. It’s so gleefully bloated with intricate gags and meta-textual references to the fact that it IS so ridiculous, that it’s clearly made for adults to want to watch with their children. My favourites were always the longer ones, like ‘Where There’s a Well, there’s a Way’, and ‘Dangermouse on the Orient Express’, which allowed the silliness to really breathe and conveyed the really very helpful message of ‘storytelling is really quite easy, you can even fuck about with it royally if you want, as long as you keep it fun’.


The Real Ghostbusters

In a late bid for ‘most controversial thing ever said on the internet’, I declare that I prefer these to the films. Why? Well, because the core cast is smaller but has so much more character development it’s UNREAL. Winston, for instance, is properly integrated into the action and given a similar scientific background to everyone else, and Janine is a considerable badass, who gets a number of episodes all to herself. It was much like D&D in teaching about dramatic group dynamics, only it was also my first cultural reference for grown-up sass. Special mention should be given to such episodes as ‘Egon’s Ghost’ and ‘Ragnarok’, which are astonishingly moving despite (or because of) seeming to ‘forget’ the real-world function they have (i.e. as diverting entertainment for children) and just go ‘fuck it, I’m a worthwhile piece of drama, I’m going to be the best I can’.


The Scooby Doo Show

To be distinguished from ‘Scooby Doo, Where Are You?’ and every other version of the same franchise, I sort-of have to include this because it taught me about rationalism – superstition is used by bad people to manipulate others for personal gain, but can be exposed by rigourous scientific enquiry and the perpetrators brought to justice: EVIDENCE WILL ALWAYS TRIUMPH. Or, to put it another way, some sort of logic can (and should) apply to every situation. Use it well, or you’re just running away screaming from stuff that is hard. Also, if you don’t think there’s much drama in this programme, just watch a few (any really), and count the occasions when the villain tries to ACTUALLY KILL one or more of the gang. It happens a LOT.



Once you have watched all the above, see real-life people making their own real-life stories with their real-life friends, in a context that is totally fantastical but has solid internal logic and is fun. It wasn’t all that long after this that I went out to youth theatre to do just the same thing. Coincidence…?

Yes, I’m calling the whole forthcoming series of Doctor Who, and I’m doing it like THIS…

The football has started. Doctor Who is starting. Yes, I am doing my ‘season predictions’, based on this teaser list: http://www.denofgeek.com/tv/doctor-who/31785/doctor-who-series-8-episode-synopses

  1. Deep Breath

There will be obligatory fucking-about whilst Clara decides whether she can trust the new Doc or not. This, like all other episodes of its type (Robot, Castrovalva, The Twin Dilemma, Time and the Rani) will be a bit shit in retrospect. It will be pretty because Ben Wheatley is directing, but we will wish that Ben Wheatley had also written it.

Key scene: In a moment of crisis, Clara chooses to trust the new Doc because where would her entire personality be otherwise?

  1. Into the Dalek

A reassuring ‘post-new-Doc’ episode where we go ‘back to basics’ – the basics in this case being: rip off an old episode you think no one will remember (1977’s The Invisible Enemy); a familiar foe about whom you ask the same question you always ask (I, for one, predict the Dalek will be a Dalek); references to relevant 90s films that you think people will appreciate (here Honey, I Shrunk the Kids! and Innerspace) and therefore forgive that you can’t think of a new plot really.

Key scene: The Dalek makes a pithy observation about the Doc being e.g. a genocidal loon, which nobody bothers to follow up.

  1. Robots of Sherwood

Mark Gatiss realises he is running low on ‘old-adventure-TV-references-beloved-by-everyone’ and panics, resulting in him thinking everyone both remembers AND gives the remotest shit about 80s TV oddity Robin of Sherwood. Unable to back out, he hits the whimsy bottle far too hard and makes an episode that tries so hard to be loveable that you end up wanting to vomit down its throat until it drowns.

Key scene: Maid Marian being appallingly characterised, even by the standards of female characters in the series as a whole.

  1. Listen

Moffat bingo. A collection of leftover scenes from every episode he’s written so far. This is the one cynically intended to scare the kids, so the parents out there should take the necessary precautions for how hyperactive they’ll be. We will think ‘gosh, he’s writing a LOT of them, isn’t he?’ and wonder whether that’s a tacit admission that he’s generally quite bad at picking writers.

Key scene: A children’s toy is scary.

  1. Time Heist

As the title would suggest, it’s probably very contrived and has virtually nothing to do with the series arc, which actually suggests it might be quite good. Phrases such as ‘the bank of Karabraxos’ indicate that Steven Moffatt’s contempt for people who like sci-fi has reached a new peak.

Key scene: The Doc goes either up or down some stairs, gesturing with both arms at some wondrous CGI. They then enter a modest studio set where there are some people in robes.

  1. The Caretaker

The producers attempt to (re-)convince us that Clara is a rounded character by showing her coping with various things like some kind of ‘modern woman’. She then encounters some peril and has to be saved, so that we remember how active and interesting she is.

Key scene: Lots of jump-cuts at the start where Clara is ‘busy’. A child asks her if she wants any children. There is a pause. We never return to this question.

  1. Kill the Moon

Because Doctor Who has ‘done’ all everyday objects, it decides to make the moon scary, like, moonlight turns your head inside out or something. Hopefully this will be the one that maintains its air of mystery in a non-annoying way, but they might throw too many FX at it.

Key scene: The promised dilemma is solved with relative ease because Time Lord.

  1. Mummy on the Orient Express

The one that is SO MUCH FUN it needs a baffling time-based plot device to keep the tension going. Also so much attention was paid to the blurb that the expression ‘most deadliest’ was allowed to be published.

Key scene: Something that references a Hammer horror movie. Yes, that could be a lot of scenes.

  1. Flatline

Backup Clara episode to be used in case of emergencies. This apparently is an emergency.

Key scene: Clara reaching out away from some vortex/time shit/etc

10. In the Forest of the Night

Concept-rich, drama-lite episode written by a Proper Screenwriter, possibly to follow up Richard Curtis’ well-received, but alarmingly cack, ‘Vincent and the Doctor’. Nasty feeling this might just be a cuddly version of The Silurians, only with trees.

Key scene: The Doc presses his face against a tree and they have a humanitarian chat and reach an understanding and everything goes back to normal. Or maybe ‘only Clara can do it’ for some reason.

11. Dark Water / 12. Death in Heaven

Moffat end-of-series bingo. About ten minutes of actual plot and and a fuckton of vague doom-yness, with the occasional old-school rush of ‘oooh look, it’s a Zarbi!’. A plot device from an earlier episode turns up to fix everything. No, not Clara… although actually yeah, maybe Clara. Perhaps even River Song comes back again, in a misguided attempt to demonstrate Moffat’s feminist credentials.

Key scene: The 10-second recap of ‘Dark Water’ at the start of ‘Death in Heaven’ which makes more narrative sense than ‘Dark Water’ itself.