Gallifrey One Meet-Up!

Hello to everyone who signed up since the last newsletter.  If you'd like to take a look at previous newsletters, the archive of all editions is here.  

I've decided to do another newsletter meet-up at a major convention!  Details below.  

My Gallifrey One Schedule and Newsletter Meet-Up!
I'm so looking forward to my annual excursion to the Gallifrey One convention.  It's like geek Christmas.  And, since the newsletter meet-up at San Diego Comic Con was such a success, I'm doing it again at Gallifrey!

If you're a reader of this newsletter (wait, how would you be reading this otherwise?) and are attending the Gallifrey One convention, on Sunday 17th February, at 10am (yes, I'll be bleary too), please come along to the Starbucks coffee place in the foyer.  We'll gather and find somewhere to sit down, and talk about the newsletter and stuff.  Do come along if you're there.  

My schedule this year can be seen here, and it's delicious.  Here are some of the highlights.

At 7pm on the Friday of the convention, I'll be running a game of Pointless, entirely with Doctor Who questions, based on the data you folk were kind enough to provide.  (After I'm back, I'll feature all the data in a newsletter.  Some of you came up with correct answers we hadn't thought of.)  My podcast partner Lizbeth Myles will be co-hosting, and we'll have some other well-known podcasters helping out.  

10.30pm on the Friday night is The Cornell Collective, which used to be a podcast, but is now an 18+ rated late night chat show/sort of game show thing, in that we chat a bit with guests, but I also set them things to do.  The rating lets us swear and talk in a risque manner, but we try to keep it tasteful.  Also, there is strong, bloody violence.  From the outset.  

On the Saturday at 6pm is the Deathmatch, where a panel of fans, with me refereeing, are going to scientifically decide on who the best companion is.  (Previous efforts have decided that the best Bond film is The Spy Who Loved Me, the best Doctor is Pertwee and the best season of Who is Capaldi's second, so as you can see, the process is completely foolproof.)  

And at sometime around 9.30pm on the Saturday (half time in the Masquerade), I'll be hosting the game show Would I Lie to You? with some celebrity guests.  (Some of the true stories they've already provided me with are jaw-dropping.)  

On Sunday at 1pm I have a kaffeeklatsch, shared with fellow comicker Alex Paknadel.  Since it's Alex's first Gallifrey, I'll be letting him do most of the talking, but I'm happy to catch people up on how my year has been.  

I really like that I can let my hair down (metaphorically, because it'll be gelled as hell) but at the same time entertain.  In the week before the convention, I have a whole pile of L.A. meetings scheduled, so I feel I'm getting the best of all worlds.  
I'm really looking forward to American breakfasts too!
Fancy a Beer?
This is sheer advertising for a local friend of mine.  If you're a fan of small breweries, then Big River has a beer for you.  I've very much been enjoying their range of citrus-inflected ales.  They have a Facebook page, and they've just arrived on Untappd.  And yes, having given this plug, I am hoping for some free samples! 
They're not all about the citrus, that's just what I most like. 
Hugo Award Eligibility
(This section is going to stay in place for quite a while!)  If you're able to nominate for the Hugo Awards, please consider the two works of mine that are eligible this year:

Hammer House of Podcast (for Best Fancast).

'A Conclusion', in the Audible anthology Jali (for Best Novelette).

Thank you!

My Week
I am still waiting to hear about everything (oh, I tell a lie, esteemed editor just got back to me saying the short story was pleasing).  So I've been having a great time writing the spec US TV script on a historical theme.  It'll be so satisfying to finally have an un-made pilot script of my own that I can use as a shop window.  My dentist, while my mouth was open, did, this week, come out with some words I've come to dread, the worst words a writer can hear.  'I'm writing a book,' she said.  'Glarragh?' I replied.  And she proceeded to tell me all about it.  As soon as I was able, I asked if I could have a general anaesthetic.  No, actually, it sounded pretty good.  (I wonder if she's reading this?)  

Those of you who read last week's newsletter may be wondering about Tom.  Having had a bit of a wobble, discipline wise, last week, he's gone back to having a run of Good Days!  If he has another today, then he'll have completed a week of them, and will get some pasta in his Good Boy jar!  This is a considerable relief.  None of us know why this change has occurred.  It may be just that he's got used to having wobbly teeth.  We went to his parent/teacher meeting yesterday, and heard a highly positive report about how his handwriting is becoming better every day, and how he actually got into the highest grade in one of his maths subjects.  The teachers and the class are being very supportive of their autistic little boy.  He's even started to play with other children and have small conversations with them.  And his behaviour, overall, was marked as 'outstanding'.  So perhaps we have less to worry about than we thought.

One extraordinary thing that's been happening with him, though, is that his autistic specialist subject has suddenly changed.  He was entirely into Thomas the Tank Engine fan videos on the iPad.  Now he's entirely into... BBC News on the iPad.  He finds the BBC iPlayer app, and plays either the New Year's Eve broadcast over and over (which has fireworks and space exploration, but also includes a long feature about knife crime which I'm worried he might quote in its entirety at the next Show and Tell), or short bursts of everything from the Asia Business News to the News in Welsh.  I'm learning a lot.  We're both in favour, because it's great for his reading (he reads out every caption) and his wider understanding of the world.  We also hope it might move him on to TV shows other than CBeebies (which he's growing out of).  He's started to enjoy Pointless already.  (It's mainly logos and title sequences he likes, and game shows are all about the graphics.)  He particularly likes the BBC radio idents.  The other day his class teacher was singing a BBC Radio 2 jingle to herself, and he ran up to her and said 'where did you hear that?!'  He had found someone else who liked the BBC!  There is a downside, however.  Sometimes, when he can grab a second iPad off one of us, he'll play the same broadcast on both screens, a little bit out of sync.  The other day it was Theresa May talking about Brexit.  Several times.  It was a vision of hell.  

Still, we're delighted by this sudden ability to change, and the broadening of his horizons.  It feels like this might be much more easily directed toward material that could help him grow.  So, all in all, good week, Daddy!  
My Who History #29: Scream of the Shalka (and its novelisation).
This is a series where, gig by gig, I talk about my professional encounters with Doctor Who.  This week we're in November 2003 and Febuary 2004.  

This is a weird one, the road not taken.  I've written a lot about the making of this animated version of Doctor Who, starring Richard E. Grant, notably with a full essay in the back of the novelisation.  So I'm going to try to hit a few bullet points with this one, try to concentrate on events I haven't mentioned before, and keep the fan political theme of these features going.  

I was first asked to do the project out of the blue by email, from the original producer of the project, Jelena Djordjevic.  She was instrumental in setting everything up, right to a few weeks before recording, and I remember her as supportive and kind.  She was then replaced by Muirinn Lane Kelly, who was much more aggressive, and insisted on major rewrites.  I think that combination worked very well as a one-two punch, or a two stage rocket.  (Muirinn was the producer who ran into Robbie Williams in a night club and asked him to be our Doctor, which was genuinely on the cards for a couple of days.)  

As my Making Of goes into, this was a BBCi project, an outfit I'd hung around with a lot, under their boss Martin Trickey, who's still a good friend.  It's odd to recall how much producer James Goss and I were at odds during the making of Shalka.  I reacted particularly badly to being told that I wouldn't automatically be writing the second script, but would instead have to compete for it.  (And I lost.)  I think James was under a lot of pressure.  These days, I think he's one of the kindest, most caring people I know, and an amazingly good writer.  (We've had him as a guest on Hammer House of Podcast.)  Back then, I regarded him with some suspicion, considering him to be one of the in-crowd around Doctor Who Magazine, who, as I've mentioned in previous columns, had at that time broken the consensus of professional fandom and splintered the culture I'd grown up in into many different factions.  

It was ironic, and doubly hideous, therefore, that James would get on the wrong side of that group.  The trouble with Shalka, as far as the remains of the fan culture I'd come from saw it, was that it was made by the wrong people.  It wasn't from BBC Drama, but from BBCi, one of the many fiefdoms that make up the commonwealth that is the BBC.  It wasn't from one of the writers DWM expected to create new TV Doctor Who, Gareth Roberts or Mark Gatiss, but from me.  (James had nowhere near the connection to that group of fans that I'd arrogantly assumed he did.)  I don't know if Russell T. Davies had got DWM onside with his own plans at this point.  It may be that they knew he was involved in discussions with BBC Drama, were willing him on and saw us as about to spoil the party.  Also, BBCi didn't talk to DWM first, but invited them along to a launch with the rest of the SF media, having given the exclusive to SFX Magazine.  All in all, one bit of pro fandom had decided where the next attempt at TV Doctor Who was going to come from, and it wasn't from that other bit of pro fandom they didn't much care for.  (Can you imagine the current Doctor Who Magazine mocking and minimising any official BBC project?  It just goes to show how fannish and warring we all still were.  It took Russell to put a stop to all that by, wonderfully and completely against the tide of history to this point, grabbing Doctor Who from everyone's hands.)  

That day of having the press at the recording of the dialogue, with tension in the air and Richard E. Grant being distant and uncertain, not seizing the moment... ouch.  I recall Sophie Okonedo as being lovely, though.  I never got meet Derek Jacobi, as he was quickly recording his part as the Master, then rushing back to record Rob Shearman's Big Finish story at the same time, playing a character who was probably the Doctor.  Charmingly, he didn't want to mention either project to the other for fear that he'd get in trouble!  (I've covered the business of how the show got made so much, that I fear I'm going to skip past it here, sorry!)  

The tension all came to a head at a Fan Olympiad, after Shalka had been announced.  (Fan Olympiads were invented by Stephen O'Brien and I, a weekend gathering of fandom where we'd divide into teams and play silly games against each other.  A convention without guests, that was the original idea.  They persisted for years, but grew increasingly harder to organise with the splintering of fandom, as nobody was sure any more who the core group they wanted to invite was.)  James Goss and I were both there.  The organisers were kind enough (without any prompting from us) to regard Shalka as part of ongoing Doctor Who, and included mentions of it in the games, with Richard E. Grant's new Doctor part of the list of Doctors that answers were about.  Every mention of it was booed.  Various fans got in my face about it.  I have to say, I think that's the only time in my life where I've experienced what has to be called jealousy.  James felt so bullied that he went home early.  I'm back to being friends with most of the people involved now, so I'm not going to name names.  But it was an experience I'll never forget.  It was karma coming back at me for my own attitude at that initial Big Finish meeting, that these new owners of Doctor Who were doing it wrong, that the wrong people were involved.  My own jealousy and spite were reflected back at me, and thankfully that payback brings a close to that loop in this ongoing story.  I learned many lessons that day.  

In the midst of that, I want to mention Nick Pegg, who saw what was going on, was having none of it, and pointedly came over to sit with me and chat.  I'll never forget that kindness either.  

To give my critics their due, a part of their objection was the nature of the project.  Instead of a live action big budget TV show, this was a tiny flash animation on a computer screen.  The parameter we'd been given, that it had to be ready to view immediately, rather than the viewer having to wait to download, meant that we had a tiny bandwidth to play with, and so the animation was very primitive.  Cosgrove Hall actually won awards for what they achieved within those limitations.  But compared to the vision of future Doctor Who that was in fans' heads... well, I can see that it was a shock.  I regret not being more aware of that, and writing scenes that were too big for what could be achieved.  

I also regret one of the choices I made, to go for a distant, alienating, un-relatable Doctor.  It took several years before the TV show risked that.  Mind you, some zeitgeist things we did first... a modern day working class companion who leaves a family and boyfriend to go with the Doctor, a mobile phone that connects the worlds of outer space and home, a lost Gallifrey and the last of the Time Lords... 

For years afterwards, I didn't feel great about Shalka, seeing it as a lost opportunity.  Russell called me very early on when he finally got a solid offer to do TV Who, offering, as his first words, his apologies (which I think shows the quality of the man, given the joy of his own news), so I watched BBCi's attempts to keep the animated series going (with a second story from Simon Clark), with some incredulity.  I actually think I knew about BBC Drama's Who before BBCi did.  It all got to feel rather meaningless, a last hurrah for the fan pro battlefield.  

But, over the years, as a tiny fandom has arisen for Shalka, I've started to appreciate it more and more.  Getting to write the novelisation helped, with a big screen version that adjusts and broadens what the little screen showed, so I feel that what I wanted to achieve was out there all that time also.  (I was able to do that, and write a very accurate Making Of, very swiftly after writing the show itself.)  The DVD release was an absolute joy, and saw James and I both concentrating on the positive and talking about the fun of it.  The Shalka fans love the Doctor/Master shipping that both Grant and Jacobi seemed to play up to.  Their domesticity is still unique to this version.  Russell once told me he had it in his mind when he had the Doctor and the Master talk about travelling together at the end of 'Last of the Time Lords'.  I like that Shalka gave a fan community something specific and beloved like that.  

I also very much want to thank Martin, Jelena, Muirinn, James (and BBC producer Martha Hillier, who I'd worked with on Casualty and who championed my cause) for my chance to do this.  I think Casualty allowed me to write televised Doctor Who.  But Russell, in his call, treated me as the creator in possession of the franchise at that moment, the person he was taking it from.  So I think Shalka contributed to where my career was about to go.  

At the end of that phone call, when I was dancing up and down to hear Russell's news, he ended with 'and if you're not careful... well, you know'.  And so I spent the next few months being very careful.  But I fitted in a few other Who projects before the fan culture around me took another lurch, and my life changed forever.  
Region 2 DVD cover by Lee Binding.  
The Region 1 DVD. 
The novelisation cover, designed by Black Sheep. 
The audiobook cover, a take on the same design. 
The archive of the original Scream of the Shalka webcast is here.  You can no longer download it.  The Region 2 DVD is still widely available for £8 or so.  And the paperback, ebook and also now audiobook edition (read by David Collings) are all still on general release.  The only sequel, the short story 'The Feast of the Stone', by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright, can be found here.  
To Be Continued
I hope those of you who are going are looking forward to Gallifrey One as much as I am, and I hope those of you who aren't going don't feel too left out by me going on and on about it.  

Thanks for joining me, and I hope to see you next week.   
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