Mark Morris is a writer who has penned adventures for The Doctor in both audio and novel form. I fired a bunch of questions at him (emailed) (I don’t own a word gun) and he replied. With answers. THESE ANSWERS:
When did ‘Doctor Who’ first climb like a parasite through your vulnerable ear canal, into your moist, grey brain meat and refuse to come out?
I was born five months before the first episode of Doctor Who aired, but my first memory of it is from 1967 when I was four. I vividly remember watching, and being terrified by, ‘The Abominable Snowmen’. The Yeti, of course, were scary, but more terrifying still was Padmasambhava and his creepy, withered hand. I also have vivid memories of ‘The Web of Fear’, ‘Fury From the Deep’ (that thrashing seaweed monster in the foam – shudder), ‘The Invasion’ and ‘The Seeds of Death’. It was always the monsters that stuck in my head. The Cybermen and later the Autons, in particular, enthralled me and utterly traumatised me. As I kid I remember being horrified by the idea of a monster that could kill without showing any emotion. The blank faces of the Cybermen and the Autons haunted my dreams.
Doctor Who fans hate a lot of things with a fiery passion about the show they love; what’s a generally derided element (story, Doctor, monster, outfit, WHATEVS) that you actually think is ace, skill and super nifty?
I’ve never been able to understand the concept of fan hate. How can you call yourself a fan of something and yet attack it so vehemently? Yes, there are elements of Doctor Who which are truly dreadful – the performances of Matthew Waterhouse and Bonnie Langford, the Taran Wood Beast, the Myrka – and stories which I definitely wouldn’t watch in the company of non-fans (the gloriously non-connected ‘time’ trilogy of ‘Timelash’, ‘Time and the Rani’ and ‘The Time Monster’ being prime examples). But you know what? Even the bad stuff, the really terrible stuff, I kind of love. I’m very forgiving when it comes to Doctor Who, and I can watch almost all of it with a warm glow of amusement and joy and affection.
It’s not all about the TV episodes, what’s your favourite bit of non-television Who ‘stuff’?
Blimey, I love it all: the action figures, the books, the magazines… my study is packed with this stuff. I guess, going back to childhood, when Doctor Who in all its forms wasn’t so immediate and so available, the Radio Times 10th Anniversary Special was immense, in that it gave Doctor Who’s past – the vaguely-remembered black and white era – a definitive structure (though it took me years to wean myself away from referring to ‘Marco Polo’ as ‘The Roof of the World’ or ‘Galaxy Four’ as ‘Four Hundred Dawns’), and also the Target books, which (sometimes more than the TV series) captivated me and utterly transported me. It’s hard now to describe the sheer thrill of being able to relive these well-loved, or vaguely remembered, or sometimes completely unknown stories in book form. As an adolescent/teenager I read and re-read those books again and again and again. I almost fetishized them, in fact, spreading them out over my bed and poring over the covers. I wrote to Target once and they sent me back a bunch of cover roughs and an upcoming schedule, and I remember counting down the days each month to the next release. I still vividly remember not only the first Target book I bought, but where and when I bought it. It was on Saturday 11th January 1975. I was eleven years old, and I didn’t even know Doctor Who books existed until I saw two – ‘The Auton Invasion’ and ‘Day of the Daleks’ on a revolving paperback rack in a local newsagent’s. I bought ‘The Auton Invasion’ because I liked the look of the tentacled creature on the front, and it was only when I was sitting in the car on the way home that I read the back, and realised with a deliciously creepy thrill that the story featured the living shop-window dummies that had terrified me when I was seven. I read the book about three times that week, and then the following Saturday, I got my dad to take me back to the same newsagent’s shop (having fretted all week that the other book I’d seen might have been sold in the meantime) and bought ‘Day of the Daleks’. I still regard Saturday 11th January 1975 as the day I absolutely established my life-long, unbreakable affiliation to the show.
What did it feel like the first time you were paid to write Doctor Who fiction?
It always feel great to be paid to write fiction. Like most writers I live in constant fear that I’ll mess up, or one day I’ll be found out in some way, so it’s always a huge relief when your publisher or editor or agent gets back to you to say you’ve done a good job. But yeah, Doctor Who for me always feels like coming home. It feels like the well-spring from which my subsequent love of monsters and spaceships and scary stuff originated, and to give something back to the show I’ve adored for as long as I can remember, even to know that I’ve contributed in my own small way to the overall, ever-expanding universe of Doctor Who, engenders a thrill that I don’t think I can put into words without diminishing it in some way.
Which piece of Who that you’ve penned are you proudest of?
Ooh, tricky one. Not sure I can answer that actually. It was great to bring back the Zygons in ‘The Bodysnatchers’, and to expand and develop them as a race; it was a thrill to write for the Daleks, in ‘Plague of the Daleks’, and more specifically to hear Nick Briggs bring my words to life; it was unbelievably exciting, during the time I wrote ‘Forever Autumn’, to be there in the relatively early days of the new series, and to go to Cardiff, and see early cuts of the first episodes to feature Martha, and stand on the TARDIS set, and meet Julie Gardner and various other people associated with the production of the show; and I felt incredibly honoured to be asked to write one of the last stories to feature Matt Smith’s brilliant Doctor… So in short, every time I write for Doctor Who, it’s an immense thrill and an immense privilege, and choosing between my various bits of Who work is like trying to decide which is my favourite of my children.
How do things work over at Big Finish? Do you tend to bash at the door continuously trying to pitch stories, or do they come to you with what they’d like to see? Or, well, hear.
It’s a combination of both really. Sometimes I drop them a line to ask whether they’d be open to a pitch or two; sometimes they contact me out of the blue and ask whether I’d be available to write something – to which, even if I’m snowed under with deadlines for other projects, I always say yes.
Team Dalek or Team Cybermen?
Love ‘em both, though the Cybermen scared me a lot more when I was younger.
Who’s your Doctor and companion? You can choose more than one, if you’re weak.
Almost certainly Tom and Lis, though I loved Louise as Leela too, just because she was different.
Favourite stories in the modern TV show?
The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances, School Reunion, The Girl in the Fireplace, The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, Army of Ghosts/Doomsday, Blink, Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, Vincent and the Doctor, Hide, The Day of the Doctor, The Time of the Doctor.
Let’s assume magic is real and not only can you now fly and turn some wine into even more wine, but you can pick any two Doctor’s, living or dead, to team up for a new episode; who’s it gonna’ be, hm?
Only two? Hmm, tough choice. My gut says Tom and Pat – both in their prime, of course – so I’ll go for that.
‘Ghost Light’, freaky, ambitious classic, or a big ‘ol pile of ‘What the heck?!’?
The former. Love it to bits. And I don’t know why people find it so confusing. It seems perfectly straightforward to me.
Neil Gaiman would have been a writer on many Who fans fantasy wish list; is there anyone (apart from me) (and you) you’d be interested to see tackle an episode?
Charlie Brooker. He’s a big Doctor Who fan and I love ‘Black Mirror’.
Let’s drop kick Doctor Who into the Sun for a moment; now ignore its screams and tell me what your other favourite telly box shows are:
Survivors, The Sweeney, The League of Gentlemen, The Sopranos, Brian Clemens’ Thriller, Nigel Kneale’s Beasts, The Avengers (and The New Avengers), all the Quatermass serials, Sherlock, Being Human, tons of spooky 70s kids’ TV: Raven, Sky, Children of the Stones, Ace of Wands, Shadows, The Changes etc, The Walking Dead, Lost, The Singing Detective, The X-Files, Sapphire and Steel…
The Kandyman. Yay or nay?
My kids found the Kandyman terrifying when they were little, so… yay!
Since the return of Web and Enemy, the rumours have continued to swirl about what else might be out there; if you could pick one missing (or partially missing) story to have returned, what would it be?
My head says ‘Power of the Daleks’, because it’s Pat’s first story and therefore, for Doctor Who fans, of huge historical significance, but my heart says ‘Fury From the Deep’, because I remember it with great fondness and great terror from when I was very young and would love to see it again.
Which Who story would you rather gargle a mixture of acid and razor blades than sit through again?
You know what? Even my least favourite story – ‘Timelash’ – I’d happily sit and watch again, though I’d probably cringe and squirm a bit. But there are bits of even the… er, least accomplished Doctor Who stories that I love. In ‘Timelash’, for instance, I love the design of the blue-faced androids, and the Borad’s make-up is terrific.
Do you have a favourite Who era, or do you love it all as though it was the very flesh that was given life from your sex junk?
I do love it all, but I suppose my favourite era is – perhaps predictably – the Hinchcliffe era. My favourite seasons are Tom’s second and third, and my favourite story of all time is ‘The Talons of Weng-Chiang’, which I could watch over and over – in fact, I have watched it over and over.
Congratulations, you’ve just been put in charge of Doctor Who and can make whatever changes you want to it; so what’s your big move? Strand the Doctor on Earth again? Cast a Woman in the title role? Bring back K9, but also add his nephew, Scrappy-K9? Or something else..?
Christ, that’s a role I would never want in a million years, because whatever changes you make a certain proportion of people would despise you for it. I’d love to write for the show, but to be showrunner? No thanks. So with that, I’ll skilfully sidestep the question.
PLUG SOMETHING, YOU SHAMELESS SWINE:
Right, as well as ‘The Tales of Trenzalore’, I’ve got a 5th Doctor 4-parter called ‘Moonflesh’ out from Big Finish in April, and no less than four novels coming out in 2014. First up, in March, is the official movie tie-in novelisation of Darren Aronofsky’s new film NOAH; in the summer is a standalone horror/sf/mystery novel called THE BLACK; then in early autumn is a franchise tie-in novel called ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE! HORROR HOSPITAL (the title’s pretty self-explanatory there, I think); and then October will see the publication of the first book of a dark fantasy trilogy I’m writing for Titan, which is called OBSIDIAN HEART: THE WOLVES OF LONDON. Oh, and I’m also editing THE FIRST SPECTRAL BOOK OF HORROR STORIES, which will be published in September, and will hopefully be the inaugural volume of a new annual anthology series in the style of the Pan and Fontana Horror and Ghost story collections popular in the 60s, 70s and 80s.