On Thoughts This Wednesday Morning

Matt Frewer is coming to Farpoint!

Okay, okay, many people are going to be geeking out that weekend over the winsome Felicia Day.


Matt Frewer, people! Max Headroom! Sherlock Holmes! Doctor, Doctor! (Which so needs to be on DVD, dammit! I’d buy it. Right now!)

Yes, I liked Frewer’s Holmes, from those four movies that a Canadian network did about ten years ago.

No, I have no idea what Iceland’s Pledge of Allegiance is. Or even if Iceland has a Pledge of Allegiance.

I keep thinking about Doctor Who‘s “The Water of Mars,” which I mused on the other night.

The episode felt like it was missing something, an ingredient that would have made the whole thing work. (Of course, I should point out that this will only make sense if you thought that “The Waters of Mars” didn’t work, as I did; if you liked the episode, then any criticism is going to seem pointless.)

It took a thread on Gallifrey Base, on whether or not the Doctor should have taken Lady Christina from “Planet of the Dead” as a companion, for me to see that “Waters of Mars” would have been far more compelling if the Doctor had had a traveling companion in the episode.

(I should note that, unless you’re a Gallifrey Base member, that link is completely useless.)

Once I got past the idea that the Doctor and Lady Christina would have made an interesting Doctor/companion pairing — she’d be the first companion to have an unambiguously sexual relationship with the Doctor, if the chemistry between them in “Planet of the Dead” is anything to judge by — I realized that what the Doctor needed in “Waters” was a reason to get involved.

The problem of the first half of the special is that the Doctor doesn’t want to get involved. He doesn’t want to be there. He tells everyone at every opportunity that he wants to bugger off at the first opportunity. He tells Adalaide Brook that he can’t get involved; this is a fixed point in time and space.

Yes, on the one hand, having the Doctor develop some sort of relationship with Adalaide is crucial to driving the story. But I never felt there was any depth to their relationship, probably because Captain Brook was such a professional. On the surface of Mars, hundreds of millions of miles from any other human beings except the eight on Bowie Base One, she had to be a cold, merciless professional. Lives depended on her.

Lives, however, did not depend on the Doctor. In fact, the episode tells us that, no matter what the Doctor does, everyone we meet in the episode has to die. It’s written that way in history.

And that’s where I think a companion, like Lady Christina, would have been invaluable in selling the episode’s ending.

Instead, I think that Russell T. Davies was relying on the cries of a million British children screaming at their televisions — “Doctor, why don’t you go and save them?” — to sell the change in the Doctor’s character. The end result of this creative decision, however, is that the Doctor’s change in behavior feels entirely like a handwave. The groundwork isn’t there.

However, try this.

What if the Doctor had taken Lady Christina with him at the end of “Planet of the Dead” and promised to show her the universe? What if they’d landed on Mars, and what if he had to make the arguments that he couldn’t get involved to Lady Christina? What if she’d goaded him into trying to make a difference, and he had to explain to her what a “fixed point in time” really meant?

And what if she’d gotten infected by the Flood? What if he’d had to abandon her on Bowie Base One, knowing that he’d brought her to her death, that he was as powerless to save her as he was to save anyone else at the base? What if, on his trek across the Martian plain, he decided that he had to go back, that while he couldn’t save Lady Christina any more, there were still people there he could save?

The problem with “The Waters of Mars,” as I see it, is that there were no stakes for the Doctor at all; he knew he couldn’t get involved, which made his decision (or breakdown, if you will) seem random and forced. But if there was a reason for him to get involved, shades of the fifth Doctor’s sacrifice for Peri in “The Caves of Androzani,” then the Doctor’s change in behavior would have grounding. It would make sense.

This isn’t isolated to “The Waters of Mars.” It’s something I’ve noticed in Davies’ other work. There are good ideas, but they’re often mishandled so the script can reach the spectacle and emotional points that Davies wants. But while we get the spectacle, the groundwork for the emotional points isn’t laid as well as it could be.

Maybe another draft? Or maybe a rethink in general?

Last night, I went over some writing that I’d done. I had a group of documents, because I don’t work in a precisely linear fashion, and I was trying to sort out two things — names that shifted as my thinking shifted over time, and ancillary details like time and place. I made clean printouts, and a took a pen, in this case black, not red, and started on the mark-up.

Ten pages in, a realization struck me.

I have a prose style.

I had never noticed before. I had never thought of myself as having a style. I thought I put words on the page and that was that.

It was not the words themselves that pointed to the style. It was the structure, the rhythm, the cadences of the sentences.

But I had to check myself. Perhaps I was just seeing things.

I went and read, not from the million words of bloggery here, but from articles I’d written for work. “Surely,” I thought, this will prove that I don’t have a style!” Yet, those articles, too, on topics from Twilight to Bloom County, have the same rhythms.

In other words, they read like me.

I couldn’t believe that I’d never noticed a prose style in my work before.

Now I feel like writing like Hemingway for part of the day, just to keep my mental muscles guessing.

As much as I love writing with gel pens, they’re nasty when they explode. Especially when I’m writing with them. It’s not the stickiness that I mind. It’s the stain. My fingers will be black for days.

A seagull buzzed the subway car this morning. The train was about to plunge down into the tunnel beneath the city, and against the grey sky this seagull flew past, seemingly unconcerned that we were there.

It was a brisk, windy morning. The trees are mostly barren, and there are great mounds of leaves everywhere. There was a heavy wind, the kind of wind I’ve wanted for weeks, the kind of wind suited to kiting.

Oh, to skip work today and fly a kite!

3 thoughts on “On Thoughts This Wednesday Morning

  1. Maybe another draft?

    You’ve seen, haven’t you, Bidmead’s quote about Davies? He says Davies is a first draft writer.

    It sticks in my head because I realize that’s true of my fanfiction too.

  2. That’s what Bidmead says, but Bidmead has no more insight into Rusty’s creative process than anyone else who hasn’t read The Writer’s Tale– and anyone who has knows that’s not the case.

  3. Yeah, the Bidmead quote. “Russell, who I shouldn’t call Russell, as I don’t know him and have never met him, is what I call a first-draft writer. He sits down in the heat of the moment and churns out something that’s delightful and inventive and wonderful. But writing’s not about that. It’s about going back into that script, and cutting it, and shaping it. The problem is, Russell will put a first-draft script into the studio, because he can. He’s in charge!”

    And as Steve points out, that’s absolutely not true, as The Writer’s Tale attests. He put a lot of effort, for instance, in trying to figure out how to make “Journey’s End” work. I may think that he repeatedly made the wrong writing decisions in “Journey’s End,” yet it’s undeniable that he grappled with the script and he reworked it several times, trying to work out the problems.

    Yet, I understand where Bidmead is coming from. There is a certain roughness and spontaneity to Davies’ scripts, and one could see as first-draft-ness. No piece of writing is ever done. There’s just a point where we let it go. In some cases, Davies lets it go too early — not because he wants to, but because he can’t spend any more time on it.

    And Paul, I’ve never found your fiction to suffer from first-draftitis.

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