Author Simon Clark has given SFX more details of a Doctor Who story he was commissioned to write a decade ago.
Back in July 2003, the news broke that finally, the BBC were making new Doctor Who , with the casting of an official Ninth Doctor announced… no, not Christopher Eccleston, but Richard E Grant.
Created to celebrate the show’s 40th anniversary, “Scream Of The Shalka” (which is getting a DVD release on 16 September) was a Flash animation (six episodes, each of 15 minutes), hosted on the Beeb’s Doctor Who website. By the time the first instalment went live in November, it had been rather undercut by the announcement, in September, of the series’ imminent return to our TV screens.
Further animations were being planned, and since it took a while for the producers of the television version to put the kibosh on all that, for a while work continued on a second story: “Blood Of The Robots”, another six-parter, written by horror novelist Simon Clark. It was a dream job for the author, who’s a life-long fan of the series.
“ Doctor Who has been the video track of my life,” Clarke explains. “I was five when the first episode aired and I've seen every episode since. Somewhere emblazoned on my neurons must be memories of all those mythic lost episodes. When I was five or six I wrote to the BBC asking them to send me a Dalek. They didn't, but they did send me a signed photograph of Bill Hartnell, which I still have on my shelf beside me.”
Clark suspects that he was approached back in 2003 because around that time he was writing The Dalek Factor , a Doctor Who novella for Telos Publishing.
“Perhaps the producers got wind of this. I was told about the animated Doctor Who , and asked to submit a very brief outline. They liked what they saw and I was then asked to submit a more detailed synopsis. On the basis of this I was given a contract to write the scripts."
The synopsis Clark used in his first script gives a good flavour of what the finished story would have been like:
“A blend of adventure, drama and humour. The Doctor arrives to find a world full of intelligent, sensitive robots that have been abandoned by their human owners, who are too squeamish to 'kill' them when they're obsolete. Now ruthless salvage squads are hunting the robots in order to make room for human settlers forced to migrate from their dangerously over-crowded home planet.”
“There would have been some frightening elements, and a dash of gruesomeness too,” the writer explains. “I'd planned shocks for the viewer, too, as it struck me that, back then, people watching a drama on a computer would mean they were sitting much closer to the screen than a TV, so there could be exciting ways of creating a much more intense impact.”
“There was also scope to have things happen in the animated Doctor Who that couldn't have been done in the classic TV episodes. For example, one of the robots dumped on the scrapyard planet was a Funeralbot. He'd been junked because his pneumatics were at fault and instead of gently lowering the coffin into the grave it always ended up flipping the coffin high into the air and out of the cemetery. My little homage to Robot Wars !”
Clark knew which actors had been cast in the lead roles, and was particularly excited to be writing for Derek Jacobi, who in “Scream Of The Shalka” played a version of the Master whose consciousness now resides in a robot body, confined to the TARDIS.
“I've been in awe of Jacobi since I saw him in I, Claudius ,” Clark says. “He has such a wonderful melodic voice. Right from the start, I thought of having the Master talking about his favourite tipples, just so I could have the great actor voicing the words Merlot, Amontillado and so on in such a resonant way.”
Clark’s work was quite advanced by the time the axe finally fell.
“The entire storyline was complete, and I'd written three scripts and started on the fourth when I got the call that sent my heart dropping like a stone.”
So, is there any chance of the story emerging in some other form some day?
“I don't know,” says Clark. “I guess that isn't in my hands, but the detailed storyline and three scripts are complete. It would just be a case of blowing away an accumulation of interstellar dust and work could begin on completing ‘Blood Of The Robots.’”
Ian Berriman twitter.com/ianberriman
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