Solo

Budgets were cut back for the tail-end of the Dredd audios. In order to have full casts in some of the other episodes, Big Finish asked me how small I could go. I wrote Pre-Emptive Revenge for just three actors, but there had always been a running gag that Toby Longworth could do all the voices himself… and then the director John Ainsworth said: well, why not? So I wrote Solo, in which Toby plays literally every part, and that freed up a couple of actors to bulk out the casts on someone else’s script.

It began as a pastiche of Chinatown, but then I was inspired by a powerful image in the Korean movie Joint Security Area (a body lying on the border, since ripped off by The Bridge and The Tunnel), and something I read in a book called Rattling the Cage, about the case for animal rights. The rest just happened… It’s really Toby’s masterpiece, right down to the moment when the Solo tries to cross the border towards the end, and I wrote the direction: “Solo replies, with the voice of Toby Longworth.” That’s the only time you’ll ever hear him out of character… or characters…

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Survival of the Fittest

Out now in shops, my Doctor Who: Survival of the Fittest, for which I was asked to give Sylvester McCoy an unrepentant Nazi for a travelling companion. Herewith my 150 words from the liner notes:

My grandmother was convinced she’d been had. After gassing the nest and plugging up the holes, the exterminator returned a few days later to check on it. When he unplugged the entrance, a bunch of wasps flew out and away. But he assured us that the nest was dead, and that the fugitives were merely the last hatchlings, from post-apocalyptic eggs.

The idea of insect civilisation brings questions of its own. How would it operate? How would they feel about being born, already forced into incontrovertible specialisms? As her first act after hatching, a newborn bee queen will murder her twin sister in the neighbouring cocoon. Every insect must know its place. When Big Finish asked me to think on the implications of taking Klein’s ideology to logical conclusions, I drew on my childhood memories, and the concept of a group of creatures, born alone in the dark in the ruins of their world, then freed to fly away to an unknown fate. Where did they think they were going? Were they only following orders?

But there’s more; there always is. As with most scripts, there was a long process of pitching and repitching before everybody was happy with the ideas on the table. “Survival of the Fittest” was in my mind because at the time I was writing a book about Charles Darwin, and I was fascinated at the time with the pull exerted on early Darwinists by the eugenics movement, which, of course, fed into Nazism. I initially wanted to write something about the First Emperor of China, who really took fascism to its logical conclusion. He was raised by what was known in those days as Legalists, people who would do anything to get into power and anything to stay there. The legal system of his Qin dynasty included punitive maiming and institutionalised bribery, while many lower classes were reduced to super-specialised slaves, door-openers and power sources. Hence my original pitch, which was called The Hidden Offices, taking its name from the title of the First Emperor’s personnel division for disabled slaves.

But Big Finish wanted something interstellar and far-ranging, so instead I pitched the concept of a world high above the galactic plane, where the Milky Way itself spun “like a swastika in the sky.” My working title, in fact, was Swastika Night. There was some stuff in there about warp cores and gravity wells, too, and a malfunctioning drive that had marooned human colonists millions of light years away from a solar system large enough to truly support them, forced instead to struggle for lebensraum with indigenous insectoids.

I wanted insects because of the parallels between hive societies and a fascist regimes. But once I had insects, I was drawn inevitably to a recurring issue in my Doctor Who scripts: how does the TARDIS translation circuit actually work? If everything somebody says is translated fully, why do we hear accents? Are accents part of semantics, in which case should we hear stress in unstressed languages? What size of area does TARDIS translation affect? What happens when it’s gone? And in this case, what happens when communication is conducted by pheromones and scents? When creatures have no vocal chords, how would the TARDIS render their communication?

When I realised that there would be little scope for humour, sarcasm or untruths in a pheromone-based communication system, I had my story. And then it was down to producer David Richardson and director John Ainsworth to make all the actors play creatures that communicated by smell. Everybody likes a challenge.

Rumspringa

2000adcc103_thedevilsplayground_1417_cover_medium.jpgMy Judge Dredd: Devil’s Playground is in the shops. Herewith the words I wrote for the bit inside the sleeve that nobody ever reads.

My Judge Dredd: Solo was about the people who lived on the edges of Dredd’s world, in the no-man’s land of Alientown. Judge Dredd: 99 Code Red forced Dredd to confront situations more familiar from our own time – an old fashioned hospital. Trapped on Titan dealt with the rejects from Dredd’s world, a society largely comprising the perps that people like Dredd put away. When producer John Ainsworth announced that the next Dredd releases would be narrated by single individuals, I immediately volunteered to do another story from an outsider’s point of view – someone for whom simply crossing the street in Dredd’s world would be an episode of overwhelming culture shock.

The most surprising thing to me about the Amish people is not their self-imposed isolation from the American mainstream, nor even the consensual time warp that keeps them from adopting modern technologies – let’s call it 122 years in the past, the same distance that separates Dredd’s world from ours. What really surprises me is that they volunteer for it.

Today’s Amish send their teenagers out into our world for a year of self-education called “rumspringa”. They drink, they smoke, they wear jeans, they ride around in cars, and when their time is up, most of them happily leave it all behind, having learned that our modern existence is a hellish torment to be pitied rather than envied. You are already in the Devil’s Playground. Judge not…

The Deer Hunters

Hitting the doormat today, a trifle late thanks to Britain’s third-world postal system, is my latest “Talking Book”, Robin Hood: The Deer Hunters, featuring Sam Troughton who manages not only to play his character, Much the Miller’s Son, but pretty much everybody else, including a remarkable impersonation of Jonas Armstrong.
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The Secret of the Sword

“It seems that there were three generations of smiths signing their names Muramasa. As Muramasa’s work was considered unlucky for the Tokugawa family, the “mura” was sometimes obliterated and the character “mune” inscribed beneath the remaining character, thus transforming the remaining character into the far more palatable Masamune. It might have been this process which gave rise to the popular belief that Muramasa was a pupil of Masamune of Soshu, yet his earliest-known work is dated 1501, almost two centuries after Masamune’s time.” –  Harris and Ogasawara. Swords of the Samurai. London: British Museum Publications, 1990.
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The Tiger’s Tail

It has always struck me as strange that the stories of Robin Hood should crop up in Europe at the same time as stories of the heroes of the Water Margin in China and of Yoshitsune in Japan. What is it about the late 12th century that suddenly favours stories of noble outlaws opposing dastardly governments? Why is it that for every story of Robin Hood facing Little John on a log across a stream, there is an analogue in the East, like that of Yoshitsune fighting Benkei on the Gojo Bridge?
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