I’m told, in this ‘Brave New World of Writing,’ that it is marketing uber alles. I need a brand. I need to be a brand. I need a platform. I need to create content, lots of free content, to give away, so that people will pay for some other content. How charming.
So anyway, here goes.
If you look up some place called Wattpad, I offer you an novel length freebee in many installments.
The New Doctor: A Doctor Who Alternate History
You’re thinking to yourself, “Wait, this is fanfiction, I don’t read fanfiction!”
Or you’re thinking to yourself, “I don’t even know/care about Doctor Who, why would I want to read this?”
My god, but you’re a ‘hard to please’ bunch!
Let me assure you – The New Doctor: A Doctor Who Alternate History, is not actually fanfiction, and it is not really about Doctor Who! Unless of course, you want it to be, in which case it is. It’s a Schrodinger’s cat kind of thing, it both is and it isn’t.
Let me explain.
I grew up watching B-movies, working at a Drive-in movie theatre. All these low budget, backyard regional epics, the kind where you could see the zipper on the monsters, the strings on the spaceship, the sort that featured stop-motion, glass mattes, optical printers, special effects. I loved that stuff, and I read everything I could find. That generalized into a love of movies and cult movies, and a fascination with the process of making movies and television.
Fast forward a few years, I started to hang out with the Winnipeg film group, and even made a short film, and was involved with or had a window onto a few projects.
Then a few years later, I ended up working on a book about the Lexx television series, and I got all kinds of access, I interviewed everyone in sight, at every level of production. I even got to watch them film episodes a few times. I put a few years of my life into that project.
[SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION: Check out my book – LEXX Unauthorized, Backstage at the Future, available through Amazon or other vendors.]
That stuff they say about how sometimes the making of a movie can be more interesting than the actual movie? That’s often true. It’s a pretty damning thing, when it’s true. But yes, the random madcap twists and turns of people cooperating or competing on the tortuous path of production is often pretty fascinating.
And of course, there’s Doctor Who, a sci fi television series with fifty years of production history, much of it on a shoestring, often with completely lunatic stuff going on behind the scenes.
I actually wrote a couple of books about Unauthorized Doctor Who productions, which also plays into my love for b-movies and low budget sci fi, and their production backgrounds. So what it comes down to, is that I’ve got a fairly good handle on backstage hijinks.
[SHAMELESS SELF PROMOTION: Check out my books – The Greatest Unauthorized Doctor Stories, Volumes One and Two – available on Amazon and other download services.]
Doctor Who got cancelled back in 1989. Like a monty python sketch character, it eventually got better. But there was this long interegnum between 1989 and 2004, when, apart from a few specials, semi-official spin offs, novels, audio adventures and fan films, there was no Doctor Who – it was gone, dead, buried, cancelled, on long term hiatus, off the air, it was the Norwegian Blue Parrot of sci fi television.
Anyway, back around 1991 or 1992, a guy, David Burton, came along claiming that he was the ‘New Doctor Who.’
According to Burton, he’d worked with a former Doctor Who director and producer named Paul Bernard, on a stage play called ‘Lock Up Your Daughters.’ Bernard had been so impressed with him, that he’d put him in contact with a production company called Millennium, and they’d hired him to play the Doctor for a story called ‘Monsters of Ness.’ He described shooting locations, including Austria, cast members and characters, the whole nine yard. What he didn’t have was a shred of proof of any of it.
The part about working with Paul Bernard was true. The rest of it?
It was probably a hoax. David Burton was a mildly successful local actor and radio host, he was trying to talk a dealership into lending him a promotional car to ride around in, and he embellished his resume, with a claim for a defunct TV show. The dealership blazoned the car, including the embellishment. People paid attention, and suddenly questions were being asked. He made up a story… In a sense, not so much a hoax as a little white lie that got away from him.
Maybe it wasn’t even totally a hoax. Maybe Paul Bernard at some point did say ‘You’d have made a great Doctor.’ Maybe he even met with some people who talked about re-launching the show.
Back then in the aftermath of the cancellation, there were all kinds of private proposals from everyone in sight to license and re-launch the property. So it’s not exactly out of the question or unimaginable. Who knows?
Still, not a shred of proof.
But anyway, I got to thinking – What if it had been real?
What if it had been real, and they’d actually managed to carry it off. I had this vision of an idealistic, ambitious crew brought together to make an ultra-low budget sci fi series, continually sabotaged by their own inexperience, glorious ideas and ideals constantly undercut by budget, struggling with the ragged edge of disaster.
Just going into it with all these ambitions, and then discovering it was a lot harder than they realized, and suddenly time and money is evaporating away, and they’re all running in front of the tidal wave and blaming each other.
That would be a lot of fun to write.
And it was!
So, basically, it’s a ‘Making of a Low Budget Sci Fi Series’ novel following characters struggling to keep disaster from consuming them, while they attempt to get something, anything to go up on screen.
What do you do when you get a monster costume and it’s so bad that it’s got a giant zipper running down the front?
There’s a 1950’s movie, It Terror From Beyond Space, the actor was too big for costume, his jaw stuck out of the headpiece, so they painted it red and pretended it was the tongue. There was another movie, The Giant Claw, which was going to be perfectly serious, except the monster turned out to be a goggle eyed Mexican marionette. These things happen!
What about discovering that the star you cast can’t actually act? Or when the script keeps gettng rewritten every day? Or when some effect is impossible so you have to change the whole movie? What do you do when the money runs out and you’re twelve pages from shooting the ending? What do you do when no one on the production is on speaking terms? These things happen!
That’s what I’m pitching you.
So it’s not really a Doctor Who fanfiction, it’s not really a fanfiction at all. Doctor Who is just a convenient placeholder. It could have been an off-license version of Star Trek or Buck Rogers, or anything else.
Now I do admit, that because Doctor Who is the background, I actually draw on and use real people involved or around Doctor Who. I have some expertise there, after all. I footnote with references to the real show and explanations of some of the actual production history. It’s about versimilitude. But you don’t have to like Doctor Who, or know anything about it, to enjoy this story
And, full disclosure, I also admit that since I’m doing a novel about a full season of a television series, I actually have, as part of the novel, write ups or synopsis of the episodes they make. That’s kind of necessary. The devil is always in the details. And if I was going to go through all the bother of inventing a fictional season, I wanted to write about them producing something at least halfway interesting.
I think that they’re good synopsis, or at least that they fit well.
By the way, did you know that in Vienna, in August 1913, Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Leon Trotsky, Josef Tito, Sigmund Freud, and the Archduke Franz Ferdinant, were all living within a couple of miles of each other. Isn’t that mind blowing? These guys probably passed each other on the street, they may shopped at the same place for groceries, been in the same coffeehouses. I find that absolutely amazing, all these pivotal characters of the 20th century, just kind of bouncing around in the same place. That’s insane. That demands someone do something with it!
So I did.
Anyway, it’s told as a series of interviews, press clippings, synopsis, passages, etc., from various points of view. It’s light, it’s funny, and I think it’s got some heart to it.
And I’d like to share something else about it. Now, I don’t normally toot my horn in this way. But originally, I wrote this on an alternate history site, and forgot about it. A couple of years later, a totally random stranger named Matthew Ashton found it on the internet, and he was impressed enough to write to me….
“A couple of days ago I suddenly remembered that old article in DWM about David Burton claiming to be the new Doctor Who. I hadn’t thought about it in years but wondered if anyone had ever got to the bottom of it. Googling found me a few websites that had investigated it, but also brought me to your David Burton timeline thread. I read it in one sitting and thought it was absolute genius.
At the end, there were mentions of various other timelines including one for Barbara Benedetti’s alternative 7th Doctor. Despite being a huge Doctor Who fan I’d never heard of this before so I watched the videos online and have just spent the last three or four days reading through this complete thread.
I have to say that it’s one of the best Doctor Who things I’ve read in years. It’s a fantastic mixture of fiction and fact and it’s such a shame it can’t be properly published as I can imagine so many people finding it fascinating as both a ‘what if…’ and a glimpse behind the scenes of 80s Who and British TV in general.
I don’t normally post online but thought I should say how much I enjoyed reading this and how I really appreciate you making me aware of an aspect of Doctor Who I was completely unfamiliar with until now. I’ve bought your guide to Doctor Who fan videos from Amazon and am looking forward to reading that next.
So there you go, a complete stranger writes to me out of the blue and thinks it’s “absolute genius.”
And it’s free! Go! Check it out!
Read my other free stuff. Buy my other books.