Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Always spell-check your email headers

It’s just occurred to me that as Steven Moffat’s run on Doctor Who has finished, I can now tell you how I sent the worst typo IN HISTORY to the production team without worrying I’ll be giving away any potential spoilers or anything.

The Doctor Who series before the last one (or possibly the one before that), I was approached for possibly writing an episode for the series, which as you can imagine is quite an exciting thing to be asked to do. The odds weren’t great, I think they had four episode slots free, and they’d asked sixteen or so writers to come in and do a pitch. So after submitting a few one-paragraph ideas, I got on the train to Cardiff and had a preliminary meeting with the lovely script editors Richard and Derek (*waves*), then worked the ideas up a bit more, and then was asked to come to another meeting in Chiswick, in front of script eds, producer and S. Moffat. I’ve met him before, he’s very nice.

The pitch meet opened thusly:

MOFFAT : So, what's your relationship with Doctor Who?
ME: Well, I wasn't allowed to watch it because it was deemed 'too scary', but my library had the Target novelisations, so in my mind there was only one Doctor who sometimes had a scarf and sometimes didn't, but didn't really have a face because I'm not great at faces, but either way, he always seemed more of a literary figure than a visual one.
MOFFAT: (shocked) You weren't allowed to watch Doctor Who?
ME: *sad face*
MOFFAT: That's basically child abuse!
ME: (getting phone out) I KNOW, RIGHT?! Please call my mum and tell her.

(I didn't actually do the last bit but MAN I wanted to).

I then did the worst pitch I’ve ever done. Started off well, then my brain clagged up I said ‘and then’ a million times and forgot bits and had to go back and start again at least twice I DON’T RECOMMEND THIS and I was reduced to asking for some water, and the sound of the water jug being slid across the table to me was exactly the screeching sound from Men In Black when Will Smith drags the table across the interview room, it was uncanny.

By then, the odds had already narrowed to eight writers for two eps, although if you’re a Doctor Who fan, you’ll have spotted my name isn’t on any of the credits, so you know how this ends. Well sort of, smarty pants, although you don’t know exactly how I get there, so settle down.

Sadly, the big ideas I’d had were already taken (the Doctor organises a heist! we go deep inside the Tardis for a thing!), so I was given an idea to muck about with: Strax the Sontaran, member of the Paternoster Gang the Doctor’s occasional chum, is taken back to his home planet by his fellow Sontarans, who view him as a traitor for his regular helpings-out with the human race, not to mention one Time Lord, and place him on trial, the sentence: death. And probably a horrible death too, because if you’re not familiar with the Sontarans, they’re basically the angriest baked potatoes in the galaxy, and enter every room like this: GAAHHHHHH!

So it doesn’t look good for Strax. I had an idea for how you’d explore this, and Steven Moffat was throwing better ideas at me like one of those baseball machines in American films, I was sort of juggling his ideas while mine fell all over the floor and rolled under tables and so on, but we got somewhere in the end, and even though it was the worst pitch I’d ever done, I got to go away and write it up.

This reminds me, I had another idea about an old battle Tardis. A Tardis specifically designed by the Time Lords for WAR, and they said ‘ah, we’re just about to do this’ but clearly they never did. Where’s Battle Tardis! I LOVE Battle Tardis!

Anyway I wrote it up, and they batted it about, and by then it was me and another writer up for one remaining slot and to cut a long story short (too late!), they went with the other writer, so I didn’t get to write for the Twelfth Doctor in the end (sad face).

But that’s not what this is about. What this is about is, during the development process I got an email from the script editors/producers of Doctor Who with the RUDEST TITLE HEADING EVER.

Crikey! I thought, and also Gosh, and I Don’t Think They Meant This Email Title For Me. Had they perhaps replied to another email, forwarded it to someone, then it had got all caught up with their email to me? It seemed unlikely, but I couldn't think of a better explanation, I decided to reply to it, not mentioning the somewhat enormous faux pas in the email, they’ll spot if themselves, I thought, and realise what they did.

Only a day or so later did the horrid truth assert itself, like a Battle Tardis would have done if they’d ever done that episode. Because I suddenly realised that the email was in reply to ME, which meant the original title had been written by YOURS TRULY, and they’d just politely not mentioned it and replied back to me in much the way I’d decided to do to them.

So remember, the idea for the episode was for 'Strax' to be put 'on trial'.


... as I'd written...


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