Friday, July 25, 2014

Kiwi Music: "Smell of Strangers' by Flip Grater

Shaun Evans confirms Series 3 of Endeavour

"Have you seen this news, sir?": Roger Allam as Thursday, Shaun Evans as Endeavour ©ITV
Yesterday brought good news for fans of the ITV drama series Endeavour, as Shaun Evans confirmed during an online video chat that there would be a third series for Detective Constable Morse. Viewers had been left on tenterhooks by series 2, first broadcast back in April, and by the lack of official confirmation the show would return.

Interviewed on Spreecast, Evans talked about meeting earlier this week with the Endeavour producers and the show's deviser/writer/executive producer Russell Lewis to discuss series 3. He said four new episodes would be set in 1966 and/or 1967, but revealed no other details. [You can replay the event here, it works via Google Chrome.]

It's hard to speculate about series 3 without spoiling the end of series 2 for anyone who hasn't seen it, but I'll try. There are plenty of unresolved questions to answer - the challenge for Lewis will be how best to do that? Devote a significant chunk [or, indeed, most] of the first episode to it, or jump ahead in time and slowly drip-feed the answers?

Series 2 took an unusual step for a series based on Colin Dexter's characters - it ramped up the serial elements. Each story had a standalone, story of the week conundrum for Endeavour and Thursday. But there were also a tangle of plot threads that grew round the characters, slowly tightening like a Gordion knot in that shocking finale.

Previously, the TV iterations of Morse - Inspector Morse, the Lewis spin-off [back this autumn], and Endeavour - were pure standalones. Yes, the regular cast and their inter-relationships evolved, but each episode could be watched in isolation. A series arc in Endeavour is a new approach, and a tougher needle to thread for the creative team.

It will be fascinating to see how Russell Lewis and Mammoth Screen take Endeavour forwards. It may well be series 3 is broadcast later in 2015 than it was in 2014. Russell Lewis has written every story to date, which is equivalent to scripting four new feature films a year - a massive task for any scribe, and quality takes time.

As a dedicated follower of Dexter's characters, I'm just happy we'll be getting a third run of Endeavour in the next year or two. The return of Lewis and Hathaway this autumn will help to pass the long wait. In the meantime, it might be time to rewatch some Inspector Morse. Been a while since I saw The Dead of Jericho...

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Kiwi music: "...Wintergarden" by Tiny Ruins

This video - shot and edited by Neil Finn - features the opening track from Tiny Ruins' cracking album, Brightly Painted One. Me, I think Chainmail Maker should be a single...

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Good stories just need to find their place

Nearly six years I applied for the TV team writing workshop at the Lighthouse Arts Centre in Brighton. Led by the inestimable Phil Palmer, it was a scheme that gave writers experience of team writing a putative TV drama series. To apply, you had to pitch a new show. From all the entries, six writers were chosen and I was happyto be one of them.

For the scheme we all agreed to write one episode of whichever idea was chosen for development. Unfortunately my pitch was turned down before we all met for the first time. Why? It was a period drama [WWII, to be precise], meaning extra production cost. Plus period drama was out of fashion in 2008, before Downton Abbey disproved that.

So I had to come up with a replacement series idea if I was going to join the scheme. Hedging my bets, I developed two pitches. One was a contemporary police procedural with a science fiction twist, the other was a spy-fi thriller in a contemporary setting [I'd learned my lesson about period drama!]. But which one should I submit?

After feedback from script development maven Lucy Vee at Bang2Write, I opted for my spy-fi thriller with the working title Tealeaf. It got me on the scheme and received some valuable feedback from Phil, but wasn't chosen as the series to be developed and scripted. So I filed it away for the future - because you just never know...

Fast forward to this summer. Inspired by Debbie Moon's cracking CBBC series Wolfblood, I've been itching to develop the pilot for a returning children's drama. But what to write? Then I remembered Tealeaf, and Phil Palmer's suggestion it might be better suited to a younger audience. I dug out my notes and found something worth reviving.

For the past few weeks I've been developing my pilot script for Tealeaf. [The BBC writersroom deadline for submitting children's TV script was a helpful call to action.] Now I'm sending it out for feedback, and then rewrites loom. Hopefully, this project has the makings of a new calling card for me. It was fun bringing Tealeaf back to life.

Oh, and if you were wondering what happened to my other idea, the contemporary police procedural with a SF twist? That also came back to life this year, proving raw material for a transmedia project I've been writing for a new Scottish games company. All of which demonstrates that - with patience - a good story will find its place eventually. Onwards!

Crossing the Rubicon: a forgotten Doctor Who pitch

Yesterday I posted the long forgotten, original version of a Doctor Who pitch that mutated into a rather different [and underwhelming] published novel. Today it's the pitch for another long forgotten Who project, a sort-of sequel to my book Who Killed Kennedy.

Looks like I pitched this to BBC Books in 2002 but the cost of licensing the Cybermen meant it got no further. I pitched it to Big Finish the following year as an audio adventure - no sale. The scale was all wrong for audio - too many individual voices, for a start.

Anyway, here's the audio pitch that got nowhere. Apparently I described this as 'Magnolia meets Independence Day in Who continuity' - can't think why it never got commissioned!

Crossing The Rubicon

[Cross the Rubicon: commit oneself irrevocably to a course of action]
There are moments that change the course of history, events that become imprinted on the memory forever, days whose significance can never be forgotten. December 6, 1941: the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. November 22, 1963: the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, Texas.

In December 1986, mankind was confronted with incontrovertible proof it was not alone in the Universe. A new planet appeared in the sky, approaching the Earth. Two astronauts died on a routine test flight. Soon much of Earth was debilitated by a massive energy loss. Then came the landings…

Crossing the Rubicon focuses on this incredible day, adopting the same real world approach to established continuity used in Who Killed Kennedy. But instead of drawing together events from dozens of stories into a first person narrative, it examines the effects of a single story through multiple protagonists.

Think about it – what effects would the events of The Tenth Planet have on real people? A new planet appears in the heavens, approaching Earth. The image is broadcast around the world on International Television News. Result – panic in the streets, every kook comes out of the woodwork proclaiming they were right, apocalyptic sects take this as the precursor to Judgement Day.

Earth is dying, its energy being sucked away. Hospitals lose all electricity, patients die on operating tables. There’s anarchy on the streets as looting and rioting create a mob mentality. For the first time in decades, the churches are full as people pray for salvation. Others barricade themselves in their homes watching TV, or stand on rooftops staring up at the new neighbour to the moon.

Then silver giants appear, abducting people and flying off in spaceships. Armies around the world are mobilised. Street battles are fought against aliens impervious to bullets, disease, heat or cold, emotionless warriors with the strength of ten men. It would be unbelievable if it wasn’t happening. Life on Earth suddenly seems all the more fragile and precious and threatened.

Against this background, Crossing the Rubicon tells the stories of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events. A priest who has lost his faith… an investigative journalist undercover with an eschatological religious cult... a military advisor at the Pentagon searching for his missing daughter among the chaos… a scientist willing to sacrifice anything in her quest for knowledge…

Tales of heroism and cowardice, sacrifice and redemption. Intertwined stories about people forced to make irrevocable decisions, the crucial moments in an individual’s life that forever changes them.

Who continuity element provides the timetable for events. How people react provides the colour. A strong central plot is essential to propel the story forwards. Listeners will already know how events culminate - just as in From Here To Eternity or Titanic. In this case, Mondas melts.

A linking element is required to draw characters together and the obvious link is the Doctor. Like the listener, he knows the timetable of events. But he has to decide what to do with that knowledge, whether or not to influence events...

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Fireworks look even better from inside the boom!

The Turing Shroud: a lost Doctor Who novel pitch

In August 2001 I pitched BBC Books an idea for a Doctor Who novel called The Turing Shroud, about a post-millennial Earth where the computer was never invented. [Confession: the idea was inspired by a Guardian article, plus a dash of Gilliam's Brazil.]

The Turing Shroud was intended as an Eighth Doctor narrative to fit an alt-history arc with temporal antagonist Sabbath. It did get commissioned, but was much changed from my original pitch. The resulting novel - The Domino Effect - is among my worst.

I stumbled across my original pitch for The Turing Shroud while going through old files. Despite its eventual fate, I'm still rather fond of this lost version. So here it is, presented warts and all, straight from the original word processing document...

Imagine an Earth where the computer was never invented.

A world blighted by a Brazil-like blizzard of paper and bureaucracy. No faxes, no email, no web, no modems. Vast telephone exchanges struggle to maintain a service. Long wave radio is the norm. Power shortages are common. No direct debits, no cash machines. Newspapers are still typeset.

No photocopiers, just carbon copies. No jumbo jets or air traffic control – instead intercontinental travel is by sea or by airship. A trip to hospital is a lottery from which many do not return, as there are no computerised patient monitors, no scanners. Chaos on the roads as there aren't computer-controlled traffic lights.

The year is 2003 and Earth is on the point of anarchy. Human development has been deliberately suppressed for more than sixty years. The British Empire still rules the waves and waives the rules to suit itself. Events are being manipulated from behind the scenes by a radical offshoot of the British Intelligence Service But this reality is coming apart, fraying at the edges. The myth that this is the way life should be cannot be maintained much longer…

Enter the Doctor. He quickly recognises that reality has been altered – someone has been tampering with Earth’s recent history, halting technological progress. The Doctor believes he must find the culprits and undo the damage being done to the fabric of history. He aligns himself with an underground movement that believes new technology is the only way forward.

There is talk of a holy relic, the Turing Shroud – a cloth into which a genius has etched the secrets of a device that could revolutionise human life, a thinking machine. The relic and its author are held captive in the Tower of London. The Doctor tries to rescue Turing, only to find Sabbath about to murder the old man.

Sabbath dismisses the Doctor’s moral objections to this act, believing Turing to be the key to the focal point for this fractured reality. Sabbath says Earth’s history has been damaged but the effects are too slight – the perversion of history must be huge to collapse the focal point centred on the planet. Sabbath kills Turing but it changes nothing. The answer lies in the past…

The Doctor and Sabbath engage in a race back through time to reach the moment when the planet’s true history was first perverted. They trace the source of it all to the 18th Century and the machinations of the Service’s Star Chamber, which is itself being manipulated and directed by a single individual.

This individual is a harbinger of the creatures that will invade time from beyond the Vortex, a glimpse of the impending catastrophe. It possesses an almost limitless ability to toy with time and space, warping reality on a whim. Sabbath recognises the individual as the shape of things to come and venerates it. The Doctor sees the being as the dark destiny that awaits eternity unless the focal point on Earth can be saved. He knows he must destroy the individual.

But the being is a seven-year-old boy, born of man (perhaps even of Sabbath himself), and has all the capriciousness of a child. Can the Doctor bring himself to slay a child to save the future? Sabbath would not hesitate, but the Doctor is torn by his own sense of morality – what price murder?