"Hi. We're the makers of a TV show about a guy with a Time Machine."
"Ah. You want me to write an adaptation of H.G Wells' The Time Machine."
"No. We produce a children's television series about a man with a Time Machine."
"Oh. What does he do with it?"
"Travels in Time. Goes to the past and the future and meets historical characters and stuff."
"Crazee. Can't see it ever catching on. Why are you telling me about it?"
"We want to commission you to write a story."
"About Time Travel?"
"About people from the present day visiting an historical period. Because you're, like a mainstream writer, who writes period drama. Crossover appeal and all that."
"Any particular historical period you have in mind?"
"No – you choose. The sky's the limit. That's the whole idea. Mainstream writer, thinking outside the box."
"Can I bring historical characters into the present day?"
"Sure. It's, you know, as limitless as your imagination. We generally try to avoid our hero changing historical events too much, though. And he probably shouldn't create established history, either. Saying he caused the Fire of London would probably be a bad idea."
"Or the Fire of Rome?"
"Or the Fire, as you say, of Rome."
"It sounds like a fun, open ended format that will run and run. Here's my idea. Just extemporizing, but could your hero go back in Time and meet Van Goff."
"Van Gow. I'd show all the scenes from the famous paintings – the cornfield, the church, the cafe...and how about this, I'd have the hero bring him some sunflowers, and suggest that he paints them. I'd get lots of irony out of all Van Gock's contemporaries thinking he's a terrible painter, but our hero knows that history will have the last laugh. I'd do a sensitive portrayal of Van Goff's depression, but steer right away from obvious cliched stuff about him chopping off his own ear. I'd probably take the line that he was bipolar. I'd allude to his suicide too. What time does this show go out?"
"Tea-time, but that's okay, we can drop in an 'If You Have Been Affected By' line at the end. Those chaps at the Samaritans get awfully bored if we don't encourage people to phone them, you know."
"But I haven't told you the clever bit yet! The clever bit is that we'll start the story up in an art gallery, doing a Van Goff exhibition. We can show all the paintings, so the young kids will get the references even if they don't know who Van Gock is. And we'll have an art critic doing a tour, talking about Van Gow's life. We'd need a really high class actor to do the cameo."
"I reckon we can get that guy with the tentacles from Pirates of the Caribbean. But we probably wouldn't credit him."
"Great. So he can do some funny dialogue with your hero. Maybe they can compete about who has the best..."
"Bow tie, great. But then, here's the clever bit. At the end, after the hero has visited Van Gow and got to know him a bit, and Van Gock has even developed a bit of a crush on your hero's beautiful young red-headed assistant, then...and this is the scene I want to write, this is the scene I've wanted to write all my life...your hero puts Van Goff in his Time Machine and takes him back to the present day and shows Van Gock the exhibition. So Van Gow knows that he'll be vindicated and dies happy. He even hears the famous actor lecturing about what a great painter he was, and what a great man he was. And, we'll do this subtly, but wouldn't it be cool if the art critic almost, almost, just out of the corner of his eye, sees his hero for one second, in the flesh! Oh, why I have I wasted my career working within the constraints of narrow social realism! This is the sort of moving, slightly surreal, magical realist material that only the conceit of a Machine that travels through Time can achieve! I hope your series lasts for 46 years and seven months!"
"It sounds excellent. Exactly the sort of thing we're looking for. How does the monster fit in?"
"I'm sorry. I don't quite follow you."
"The monster. We don't feel that a TV series based around a charismatic hero who can visit any historical time period (or, in fact, any place in the universe, but we've played that down, because the punters aren't very interested in stuff set on the planet zog) is exciting enough. So we have a rule that wherever or whenever he goes, and whoever or whatever he meets, there always has to be a monster."
"That's right, a monster."
"You mean, like a giant chicken or something."
"Exactly. Van Goff, an art critic and a giant chicken."
"You mock me and my muse, Sir. Please do not waste any more of my time. I bid you – adieu."
"What a pseud. I was hoping for something more like Blackadder."
If you have enjoyed this essay, please consider buying a copy of The Viewers Tale or Fish Custard which collects all my writings about Doctor Who to date.Alternatively, please consider making a donation of £1 for each essay you have enjoyed.
Who was it that made the much-quoted "Planet Zog" comment, exactly?
And how the hell can the producers believe that people will be fine with increasingly complex time-travel plots, but will have their mind blown by a trip to an alien planet?
I really want a Doctor Who/Blackadder crossover now.
Prankster, it was Russell T. Davies himself who made the Planet Zog comment, very early on in his time in charge.
"And how the hell can the producers believe that people will be fine with increasingly complex time-travel plots, but will have their mind blown by a trip to an alien planet?"
Because they are two different producers. Davies never used time-travel in his stories; Moffat often does.
I didn't think that the episode was that bad, Andrew, but yeah, I know what you mean. It was a bit bodged together.
Aside from the weak plotting, it suffered from being a time travel story written by somebody who wanted to use time travel for wish fulfillment - and Dr Who doesn't really do that (except in end-of-series episodes, sort of). Somebody once said that, strictly considered, all time travel stories are horror stories, because of everything that lies at the other end of the trip. There are two ways to deal with that; confront it or ignore it. Who mostly, wisely ignores it; when you let somebody try to fix any of the horrors of the past, well, they're never going to stop, and anyway they probably have to fail. This episode didn't solve that problem.
I liked the sets, though, personally.
Ok. I'm giving up.
Or, rather, from now on I'm going to limit myself to simple, declarative sentence.
"I liked Vincent and the Doctor.
It was good.
The man in the straw hat was sad.
The man with the glasses was nice.
It was nice that the man in straw hat heard the man in the glasses say he was a good painting.
It was all very nice.
It would have been nicer without the monster."
Or maybe I can just get the critical vocabulary down to two or three words:
Time of Angels: Yes.
Flesh and Stone: Yes.
Vampires in Venice: No.
Amy's Choice: Maybe
Hungry Earth: Maybe.
Ah, Andrew, the trials of the misunderstood artist. I feel your pain. The good news it, I popped forward 150 years and it turns out that your articles are still widely read and deeply loved, and you're widely considered the greatest painter^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hblogger of all time.
Ah. Sorry. I take no pleasure in misunderstanding people.
But, honestly - I re-read the post, and it really is rather hard to infer an "I liked" or a "Yes" from it.
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