A few years ago — summer of 2007 — I wanted to write a novel that starred Sarah Jane Smith.
The story I envisioned was not the kind of Doctor Who novel that BBC Books had published (at that point) in about two years. “Wouldn’t it be interesting,” thought I to myself, “to take three things that were never meant to go together — the amnesiac eighth Doctor living out the 20th-century on Earth, Jack Harkness living out his century-plus on Earth until he reached the 21st-century and his Doctor again, and an Interference-esque Sarah Jane Smith doing her investigative journalist thing — and see what happens when you put them together?”
I wanted to do three things. First, explain how the eighth Doctor got from Father Time (where he was one of Britain’s most famous citizens) to Escape Velocity (where no one had a clue who he was). Second, explore how Jack got into Torchwood (which “Fragments” would eventually explain in a pretty boring way). And third, reconcile all of those post-“The Hand of Fear” adventures Sarah had with the Doctor with “School Reunion.”
I never pursued the idea past an afternoon and a page of notes and scribbles. It was a small-universe, fanwankish novel, not at all dissimilar to a Star Trek or Star Wars novel in its approach to the universe and its characters. In other words, it was too connected to the past — and a niche-y past at that. Plus, I knew I’d never get to write the story, even if I could land the pitch on Justin Richards’ desk because it was wholly unlike anything that BBC Books was publishing at the time (and would continue to publish for the next few years to come).
For what it’s worth, I continue to think that Jack Harkness and Sarah Jane Smith would get along fantastically well.
A year later — summer of 2008 — I spent a week working on a spec script for a Sarah Jane Adventures story.
The proximate cause was “Journey’s End.”
I hated what Russell T. Davies had done to Donna Noble at the end of the story. And, just as I know a thousand fanficcers did, I came up with an idea to, shall we say, fix Donna of the fate the Doctor subjected her to.
But rather than write it as a story, I thought the idea had potential for a television episode. “Imagine!” thought I. “If I could get this on Davies’ desk…” Reality set in, however, and after plotting and a dozen pages of screenplay I put the story aside.
It didn’t even have a title.
It was a clever idea, though. Donna’s grandfather Wilf had always said that Donna told the best stories, and after her adventures with the Doctor, which she had been forced to forget, she began writing stories with her grandfather’s encouragement. Children’s books, to be exact, of the adventures of a feisty redhead and the goofy man who lived in a box as they traveled the universe righting wrongs.
Typing that out, I’ve just realized how utterly Moffat-y that sounds. Hmm… :-/
Sarah Jane takes the gang to an autographing for the release of Donna’s second (or maybe it was third) book. Sarah Jane knows who Donna is, of course, and she’s also aware of the memory blocks that the Doctor put in place. Luke is excited, Clyde is bored, and their expectations change completely when an alien gatecrashes the event at the bookstore.
As it happens, Donna’s book recounts an adventure that she and the Doctor had that involved this alien race, but she doesn’t remember it. (Also, the audience doesn’t know it. The story was, like “Timelash,” a sequel to a story that doesn’t exist.)
That’s where the spec script ends. The reality of spec scripting set in, and I lost the enthusiasm to finish it.
How would it have finished? The cliffhanger was Donna’s brain beginning to glitch again, as after much incredulity she begins to realize that her “stories” are true.
The resolution to the cliffhanger would, sadly, have been pretty close to what Russell T. Davies did in “The End of Time, Part Two” — Donna is rendered unconscious. Though, in my case, Sarah Jane, who is aware of the situation and its consequences, whacks her over the head.
At the end…
The alien is convinced by Sarah Jane and the kids that everything he hated the Doctor and Donna for was just a misunderstanding. They were going to read him a passage out of Donna’s book, that showed him the truth of the situation and a perspective that he didn’t consider. He wasn’t a bad guy, he was just angry about something he didn’t have the full picture on.
Donna learns that her stories aren’t just stories, and that the magical adventures she had are still in her mind. The Doctor broke the links in her mind to them to save her life because they would have overwhelmed her, but the memories are still there, and the more Donna tells her stories, the more links to those memories she will get back, and she will be able to cope with and accept them without having them overwhelm her.
The kids, of course, make a new friend.
I don’t regret not finishing the script, though I did enjoy writing Wilf’s dialogue. Yes, Wilf had a scene at the very beginning.
Reading tributes to Lis Sladen, who passed away yesterday at the far-too-young age of 63, brought these two orphaned stories to mind.
The BBC has put up a press release quoting past Doctors and producers. Another page features reminiscences by Sladen’s newest fans, the ones who discovered Sarah Jane Smith through the new Doctor Who and Sarah Jane Adventures. Tom Baker’s tribute is especially moving.
What I keep thinking, these past eighteen hours, after a brief reflection yesterday, is not Doctor Who, however.
It’s the voice of Gandalf I hear — “I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.”
Good advice, that.