As well as ‘The Axeman Cometh’ I also have this coming out in June, as part of Doctor Who’s birthday celebrations:
I like doing Doctor Who stories in history; it appeals to the lazy writer in me, to do without all that tedious process of inventing stuff. None of those head-scratching mornings, pecking at the keys on the computer at random, trying to come up with space age character names that don’t sound like brands of suppositories.
I also love mucking around with cliches in my stories, and your typical Doctor Who historical is full of them. Finding cliches in a Doctor Who Historical is like shooting fish in a barrel (did you see what I did there?). Now I’m thinking about it, I’m not sure how ‘shooting fish in a barrel’ became so ubiquitous that it entered the lexicon as a cliche; did they have massive international Piscine execution tournaments that went on for ages and ages, in huge arenas covered with splintered wood and fish guts? I bet it was probably the national sport for about a week in the eighteenth century, before they found tobacco sponsorship on the side of the barrel, or there was a fish doping scandal, and they had to resort to snooker.
Any Doctor Who story gives you the expectation of a collection of things that’s ‘supposed’ to happen (corridors, monsters, villains, threat of oozing death), but a Doctor Who historical gives you ANOTHER set of things that are ‘supposed’ to happen, to put on top of all the other things. The result being there are so many elements you feel you ought to put in that it’s tempting to write it like a pantomime; ticking the boxes as you go. Over-familiar characters and set-pieces jump up and demand their voices be heard, like a strangely amorphous crowd of oddly articulate peasants.
Here are five, but there are many more…
1. The Doctor gets pally with/threatened by a famous historical figure, who usually talk a bit like they’re from a Shakespeare play or, if it’s after the renaissance, like they’re in a Dickens novel.
2. The Doctor says something enigmatic about the future which we as a modern audience understand, but none of the historical characters get. This comment is directed at no-one in particular, and usually makes you want to punch him. Yes, Doctor, you’re a time traveller. You’d think the buzz would have worn off by now.
3. The Doctor discovers a villainous alien bent on changing history, but in a very fiddly way, like unscrewing Edison’s lightbulb or replacing Newton’s apple with an orange. You never get the Master stopping the industrial revolution in its tracks by simply destroying the north of England, probably because the Thatcher estate would have sued for breach of intellectual copyright.
4. The Doctor, companion or his adversary inspires/causes a famous moment in history, which the Doctor thinks is hilarious, despite frantically stopping everyone else from mucking about with history for the other 99% of the time.
5. The companion gets separated from the Doctor and gets locked up, usually by another faction from the ones they met when they first arrived, and always with inferior dental hygiene.
You only have to fiddle with one of the above to look incredibly clever, and look like you’ve re-invented the wheel, which co-incidently, is what the Master attempts in my next story, when he rips the fabric of the universe apart by telling Ug about dual suspension.
‘Trouble in Paradise’ is available here: