Farewell to the Doctor

Short_Trips_FarewellsLast time, I was discussing my involvement in 2005 with an anthology called Doctor Who: Short Trips: Farewells, which was to be published by Big Finish Productions (the folks whose line of Eighth Doctor audio dramas starring Paul McGann was officially deemed part of Doctor Who canon by a mention in the recent 50th Anniversary short, “Night of the Doctor”). I’d been invited to pitch ideas for a short story, and had intrigued my editor, Jacqueline Rayner, with the notion of explaining just why the Fourth Doctor (played for seven years by actor Tom Baker) had completely changed his attire from that of a lighthearted bohemian to a morose, burgundy-wrapped wanderer.

My reasoning was: It was because he knew his days as the Fourth Doctor were coming to an end and he was dreading, even resentful, of that event. Even more, he was worried that with his “passing,” he and the great work he’d done in his adventures would be forgotten.

(That’s right—long before David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor weepily uttered the phrase “I don’t want to go” in his two-part finale “The End of Time,” my story had the Fourth Doctor railing against the regenerative change he knew he couldn’t stop.)

The story’s title would be “Into the Silent Land,” taken from the 19th-century poem “Remember” by Christina Georgina Rossetti:

Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

Seemed appropriate for the subject matter, right? Jacqueline agreed, loved the pitch, and told me to proceed.

I wrote slowly at first, not because I didn’t know what to write, but because I wanted to make sure I got Tom Baker’s distinctive voice right in my head for the dialogue I was giving him. If it didn’t sound like something the Fourth Doctor would say, then I needed to change it. I also rewatched episodes from his final season so I could accurately describe Baker’s facial expressions and body language—in particular, a tic he’d developed of vigorously rubbing an index finger under his nose when he was thinking while agitated.

DW_State-of-DecayI decided to test out my research by drafting a rough scene between the Doctor and his traveling companion for the story, the Time Lady Romana (played on the series by actress Lalla Ward):

She found him in the TARDIS library, still wearing the burgundy-and-black ensemble.

‘Change of scenery, Doctor?’ Romana asked.

He slammed the book shut and spun round to face her. For a moment, he looked almost like a child caught doing something he shouldn’t, eyes wide in surprise, mouth slightly agape. Then he jammed his right hand into his trouser pocket, puffed out his cheeks, and exhaled sharply. One of those typically Doctorish gestures meant to stall for time while he formulated an answer.

‘I noticed you’ve been spending quite a lot of time in here since we left Earth,’ she added.

‘Well,’ he began with a small shrug, ‘ there’s nothing wrong with a little change from time to time, is there, Romana? Change of scenery, change of attitude—’

‘Change of wardrobe?’ Romana interrupted with a smile.

The Doctor glanced at his attire and grinned. ‘Precisely.’ He slid his hand from his pocket, to gesture at the coat and scarf. ‘It seemed appropriate, given Hannah’s passing. Besides, I think it looks quite—’

‘Morose?’ she offered with a playful smile. ‘Funereal?’

He frowned, clearly annoyed with her assessment. ‘Fashionable,’ he rumbled.

‘ “Fashionable”.’ Her smile broadened, and she pointed to the flared lapels of his shirt collar. ‘With question marks on your lapels? Isn’t that a bit—’

‘Questionable?’ the Doctor asked slyly.

Yeah, I thought, that sounds like the Fourth Doctor. Once I got a lock on Baker I went ahead and started writing full bore—incorporating an expanded version of the rough scene—and in what seemed like no time at all I had a finished draft. And after an edit and a polished final draft, it was off to Big Finish for approval.

So what was the response? After a couple of weeks I got an e-mail from Jacqueline, outlining a few minor changes that needed to be addressed—for example, in America we say that a talented gardener has “a green thumb”; in the UK it’s “green fingers.” But what made me a grinning idiot was her second paragraph:

“To put it simply, I loved it. Absolutely loved it. A beautifully written character piece, and the ending was so sweet and poignant.”

Fantastic! (As Christopher Eccleston’s Ninth Doctor would say.) And Jacqueline wasn’t the only one who enjoyed it— when the final version was published, so did critics who reviewed the book:

“ ‘Into the Silent Land’ is a beautifully written tale.”—Sci-Fi Online

“ ‘Into the Silent Land’ is a compelling story.”—Doctor Who Magazine

Unfortunately, I never got another invitation for a Doctor Who story, but these things happen. What made matters worse, though, was Jacqueline’s compliment in another e-mail: that if the BBC hadn’t decided to shut down their “Past Doctors” (Doctors 1–8) line of novels to focus their attention solely on the relaunched TV series, “Into the Silent Land” was solid evidence that I would have been a perfect choice for writing a Fourth Doctor novel.

Son of a—!

Hey, but at least I got to write one adventure, right? And for an old Whovian like myself, sometimes the opportunity to write one is more than enough of a reward. But getting paid to write it wasn’t so bad, either.  😀

You can still find copies of Doctor Who: Short Trips: Farewells available online. Give it a read if you get the chance.

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