When I was ten, my year 5 teacher asked us to come up with a three sentence idea for a story we wanted to write. Then he bade us hand the idea to our desk partners, who would write the story we’d suggested, while we wrote theirs. I can see what he was doing, but as someone who’s always relished creative control over things like this, it was an uncomfortable experience for me, particularly as I was partnered with someone who hovered around the lower end of the gene pool. There’s something a little painful about reading a great idea you’ve had reduced to rack and ruin by a kid who was far more comfortable with a football than a fountain pen. I had to console myself by doing the best possible job with his idea, the bones of which I can still remember, nearly thirty years later.
I’ve grown up a fair bit since then, but the hoarding impulse remains: having a committee build a story is generally not a good idea. There are too many cooks hovering over a small pan. It’s why Snakes on a Plane was rubbish. On the other hand, as an exercise done purely for fun, it is a wonderful, almost humbling experience, a way of surrendering your ego and allowing someone else to take an idea and run with it. And so it was that a few weeks ago, while I was in the pub with an old friend putting the world to rights, a whole bunch of people were sitting at phones and laptops, eagerly adding sentences to a thread I’d started instructing them to help me build a Doctor Who story.
Did you ever play that consequences game where you tell a story one sentence at a time? Or where you write it down on pieces of concertinaed A4, the fragments forming a loose, nonsensical narrative? This was kind of like that. You lose creative control – and greet the absurd, occasionally incoherent direction that things take with a mixture of amazement and alarm. Alarm because it’s not the way you hoped it would go – but then you learn to relax and go with it. I won’t pretend that what follows makes any sense, or is even particularly good, but it was an awful lot of fun seeing it develop and grow.
Imagine, if you will, a large Facebook group – one of the largest Doctor Who groups on the entire site, if not the very largest – teeming with imagination and ideas. It was the perfect playground to try this out, although I ran the risk of being totally ignored – that’s what happens when you get so many posts. But the community came out in force. Old companions forged new alliances. Monsters were dropped in and flushed out with nary a mention. Tangents were briefly explored and then brushed aside as the story went somewhere else. The fourth wall was painstakingly demolished. And Steven Moffat wound up the subject of several wish fulfilment fantasies. Cosmetics aside, it is presented as is. The first and last lines are mine; everything else was from other people.
There weren’t many rules: any and every Doctor or companion was available, although when I read through the dialogue people had submitted I could hear Matt Smith’s voice, and thus it became a story about the Eleventh. When we were done – in other words, when things had ground to a natural halt – I locked the thread. Then I cleaned up the spelling, Anglicised the dialogue, chopped up a few bits here and there, and adjusted it so it was all in the correct tense, adding a few hastily assembled images to break up the text. It was fun, and we will probably do it again.
In the meantime, the story we wrote follows. I call it…
It was dark. Night had a habit of being like that.
Except night on Derrimilanicum, where night tends to be bright green due to the effects of a world-wide aurora. But it was dark still because it was cloudy. Derrimilanicum was a peaceful place…except for the night when the encroaching darkness known simply as the ‘Vashta Nerada’ came to invade.
The doctor sat in the TARDIS, eating a bagel. He remembered the Vashta Nerada painfully well…
He clapped his hands suddenly and stood up, as there was suddenly a knock at the Tardis door. The Doctor answered to find his old friend Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart.
He was holding a fez – always a fez – and the Doctor threw it in the air just so it landed on his head. But it missed, the fez missed the Doctor’s head landing in a puddle. He picked it up and invited the Brigadier into the Tardis.
“Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart! What are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be dead?” The Doctor asked gleefully. “And upon such a cloudy day?”
Then the Doctor lifted a finger and said, “Unless that hasn’t happened yet. I never quite know where in the time stream I am.”
“Coming from you, Doctor, that’s a relatively normal thing to say,” the Brigadier muttered from opposite the TARDIS console. “But you say I’m to die?”
The Brigadier looked shocked. “Did I say that?” the Doctor asked. “I don’t remember saying that.”
He rubbed his hands together quickly and said, “Ah well yes, uh, spoilers…foreknowledge is no good, dangerous even!”
“OK, OK…let’s forget that for now. We have bigger problems at hand,” said the Brigadier.
The Doctor straightened his bow tie. “Yes…the fish fingers are burning. And I need a bowl of custard to dip them in.”
“Now, Doctor, I really must insist…” began the Brigadier, only to find himself interrupted by a loud yelp coming from somewhere deep inside the TARDIS.
“Doctor, what was that?”
“Probably just Rose crying again”, said the Doctor. “She likes to cry when we run out of her favourite food; silly, really.”
The Doctor turned in confusion only to see that K-9 had come into the room to report on… sausages? Then he remembered that ‘sausages’ was an old codename for something long ago…long before the TARDIS was even created and thought lost in legend for all eternity.
The Doctor pondered whether he should get a new codename. “Could my new code name be ‘Sausages’?” he wondered.
“Run!” River yelled, emerging deep from the bowels of the TARDIS, rapidly firing shots behind her.
“RIVER, what are you doing here?” asked the Doctor.
“K-9 becomes a human girl,” said River, “and we’ve got to stop her!”
“Before she steals all of Rose’s cookies! Allons-y and onward!” proclaimed the Doctor. “And to think, all of this is Moffat’s fault,” he added.
Suddenly the TARDIS came to a jarring halt – just as the toaster popped; the Doctor, grabbing the toast, flung open the door, which revealed the barren landscape of a comic-con twenty minutes before opening.
“I never could get the hang of Blurgdays,” the Doctor muttered to himself, half-ruinously.
Just then, a young 20 something worker came up to the group and asked “Hey, Moffat wants to know if you’ll be dressed and ready to go for the Q&A panel in 10 minutes.”
The Doctor looked terribly confused at all this fourth wall breaking, and decided to tune it out. But then a loud *BANG* was heard coming from within the quite and empty comic-con.
“Crikey Moses!’ the Doctor exclaimed. “What on Gallifrey was that!”
“In fact it was me, said Strax, “looking for the Adipose.”
“Adipose?” said the Doctor. “What are they doing here?”
“Shall I drown them in acid?” asked Strax. “Or offer a hand grenade?”
“No, no,” replied the Doctor. “There’s going to be a convention here soon and we can’t have any of that going on, Strax! Just find me one and bring it to me – gently!”
“You ask me, a mighty Sontaran warrior, to be gentle? How dare you insult the glory of my nation!”
The Doctor placed a hand on Strax’s shoulder and looked at him tenderly. He gently broke it to Strax. “I’m not asking you. Steven is,” before popping a Jammy Dodger into his mouth, pulled from who knows where.
“At least you’re not plastic,” said Rory.
“Or dead,” said River.
“EXTERMINATE!!!!!!!” came many a cry from down the hall.
“Ohhhhhh, who invited them?!” growled the Doctor.
“Are you my mummy?”
“Shut up! We need to think!” The Doctor snarled.
“Well, well, well…it’s you again Captain. COME in! We’ve BEEN waiting for you…” the Doctor chuckled as he grabbed the arm of Jack and brought him into the circle hurriedly as he used his sonic to lock the doors behind him, only the door to the northwest opened that led through a red-linen walled hall; the Doctor tussled Jack’s hair in enthusiasm as he fixed his bow tie while he placed his sonic screwdriver into his coat, smirking smartly as he said to Captain Jack – who appeared a little shaken as he overheard – “Now, lad…have you seen what has been occurring through the masses of people and aliens here? Jack give me details, observations, inquiries – GO! Go!”
He clapped his hands briskly, looking to the others with a concerned, but lighthearted, eccentric face.
“U-uh, D-Doctor?” Rory looked at Jack with a stern, but frazzled scowl as he asked the Doctor quietly, “who the smeg is this?”
Captain Jack looked at Rory then back to the Doctor, tilting his head sideways. “We travelling with the crew from Red Dwarf now eh, Doc?”
Just then River came through the door, looked Jack up and down and said “Well, hello Sweetie.”
After giving a smirking Jack the side-eye, the Doctor turned to River and said “No!”
“Now, honey…” River pouted.
Jack turned to River. “You know the Doc has a problem with sharing.”
River smirked slightly, then turned to the Doctor. “Sweetie, you know there is more than enough of me to go around.”
While shaking his head, the Doctor threw his hands up in the air and shouted “We’ve got Daleks, Adipose and a lost kid wearing a gas mask to deal with – hanky panky LATER!”
Just then from behind them a small voice said “Are you my mummy?”
A rasping laugh filled the convention halls as, from out of the shadows, a beast of fathomless ages crept out, exuding a terrible horror. “I have the latest script for you,” the monster rasped, as he held out a finished script entitled ‘The Gasping Death by Steven Moffat’. He laughed evilly, knowing he was protected by his lack of continuity…but the giant stamping cartoon foot from Monty Python descended suddenly, with abrupt finality, and Moffat was no more.
Then out of nowhere… A PLOT TWIST!!! Steven Moffat was still alive to continue his evil plan. No one was safe, even us.
“How did you do that?” the Doctor asked, interested to learn about the apparent regeneration of humans.
“It’s in the script!” he cried.
“I shall melt him with acid,” Strax gleefully volunteered.
“No Strax! You can’t just kill people, even if they are evil!” said the Doctor.
“Wait, Moffat’s human?” asked Captain Jack suddenly confuzzled.
“Well technically yes,” said the Doctor, “but it’s relative, you see – and shut up, River!”
“I’ll shut up when you all hear what I’ve been trying to tell you!” insisted River. “There’s only two kinds of bathrooms at the comic-con conference, not seven! What shall we do?”
“Accept that humans have two genders?” Rory asked with a shrug half expecting to get punched by his more manly counterpart Amy.
The Doctor rolled his eyes a tiny-bit smugly, regaining his spunk as he led the way towards a glass observatory with various costumed people in it, smirking uncomfortably.
Then the Doctor, trying to be meta, jumped into the TARDIS, went back and made out with his father in law, Henry the VIII.
When he arrived, he found out that his father was actually none other than…THE MASTER!
“My father is the Master…MOFFAT!” the Doctor thought with a groan in his throat, as a vision of his next-two incarnations appeared next to him in his TARDIS; 12 looked a little…testy at 11, as did 13 – though she was shocked at her previous selves and Jack. Rory smirked.
“Who turned out the lights?”
“This,” sighed the Doctor, “is going to be a very long evening.”