Monthly Archives: August 2014

Retreat of the Daleks (fourth stage)


The fourth part of my writing exercise. Again, a strict four hours work, including thinking time. So this is what it looks like after sixteen hours’ work. It’s nearly complete. It now has a sketched in ending, but one that needs to be beefed up. It’s that awkward point where the Doctor stands around explaining what you’ve been looking at all this time, with the writer desperately trying to disguise (or at least distract) from that. I still have placeholder names, I still don’t establish the other monks well enough. Bits of the ending are rushed. It’s roughly the right length, I think.

This is a tricky bit of the process. I need to go back and polish the whole thing, I need to make sure that everything connects up and makes sense, or at least the Doctor Who version of ‘sense’. Again, I think it’s a bit light on the religious satire stuff. The idea is that the Daleks are cherrypicking a religion, finding the bits that agree with what they already believe and running with those, ignoring the rest. That’s not coming across at all.

Again, I wrote this yesterday, before I saw Into the Dalek … a story about a lone ‘good’ Dalek with a crisis of conscience who ends the episode in a fight with a bunch of mean Daleks, with the Doctor being a rather negative influence. Hmmmmm. retreat


Daleks III

Cadet Card 41+a


Another four hours’ work on this writing exercise. I wrote the new stuff yesterday morning, so before I saw Deep Breath, and I’ve not re-read it since I’ve seen Peter Capaldi in the role (or the relaunched Clara). Feels a little like the home stretch now, which are always famous last words for a writing project. Now I’ve decided to complete the script, I’ve had to go back with an eye to giving it a proper story and set up a few twists and reveals better. There’s still quite a lot missing. The Daleks-as-Buddhists thing is a funny idea, but there’s meant to be something with bite behind it, and I need to get more of that across. If only to make it seem like something a Dalek would do, rather than a silly idea a writer had. There needs to be a better sense of what the human monks are doing, more of a sense of community. I realised that this story is yet another ‘Daleks pretending to be friendly / one Dalek on his own is OK’ variation on The Power of the Daleks, and that’s played out, now, so I’m trying to get across – and I’m not quite there yet – that it’s more like Bruce Banner, that it’s about keeping the lid on genuine anger and violence.

Reading it, I also started to wonder what would have happened if the Doctor hadn’t shown up. One of my golden rules when I’ve written Doctor Who is that I ask that question. What difference is the Doctor making? I’ve found that the stories that work are ones where the answer is ‘everything is different’. There are stories, particularly in some of the early EDAs, where the Doctor just kind of observes and doesn’t disrupt. Asking that question is really useful, because it crystallises what the stakes are, what the threat is. ‘If the Doctor hadn’t shown up, then … ‘ is a sentence that any Doctor Who writer should be able to complete very early in the plotting process, and which they need to keep in mind right to the end.

Not that there’s been a ‘plotting process’ here, as such. But it’s interesting: if the Doctor hadn’t shown up, perhaps ‘Gandalf’ (sorry, still using a placeholder name) and the Eternal Dalek would have reached a stable point, perhaps there would have been peace. Not going to happen, is it? The Daleks haven’t fired a shot, yet. You can’t have a Dalek story without at least something getting shot, can you?

And at some point I really need to time it, to make sure I can tell this story in the, er, 47 minutes. Does that sound about right?

I’m going to try to get this finished before the actual Dalek episode next week. So … yeah, more famous last words for a writing project.

Normal caveats apply: this is unfinished, it’s a writing exercise, so on and so on.


Return of the Daleks!


As another four hour exercise, I’ve continued to work on my ‘Retreat of the Daleks’ script. Rather than continue the story, I’ve tried to fix problems with the first draft. I thought it was a little too confined, there were no parts for human actors – a huge flaw in the story – and, er, that haiku wasn’t a haiku. So this opens things up a little, adds a couple of characters (with placeholder names, at this stage!). I’ve realised it’s basically the same trick as my Big Finish audio Davros: start with quite a silly premise, gradually ramp up the darkness. They’re the Daleks. They’re going to snap at some point and start killing everyone. I’ve tried to make things in this first half a little less silly and introduce a few more elements of darkness and discord. Now I’m semi-committed to finishing this, I’ve also had to come up with an explanation of some of the mystery, whodunit, aspects of the story. I know what’s happening and why, now. It’s become a locked room mystery, and that means there are rules I have to follow to play fair with my audience. Thanks for the feedback, everyone, particularly Stephen Graves. 

So, this is the state of the script at exactly eight hours working on it, including a rather abrupt ending.


Is True Detective Plagiarised?

Is True Detective plagiarised? There are, as I and others have noted, aspects of the first series pretty much straight from Alan Moore, but now readers of Thomas Ligotti’s work have stepped up to cry foul.

I’ve read The Conspiracy Against the Human Race, and it’s blindingly obvious Nic Pizzolatto has, too. I’d recommend the book, a work of philosophy that reads like Marvin the Paranoid Android wrote it – an alternative title might be Life, Don’t Talk To Me About Life. Do not, in all seriousness, read it if you have or are at risk from depression. The central thesis, echoed by Rust in True Detective, is that consciousness was an an evolutionary accident, one that allows us to understand a fundamental truth unknown to everything else: that the universe is very big and long-lasting and indifferent, and we are none of those things. Ligotti argues that, basically, we have conspired as a species to use various methods to pretend very hard that life and consciousness are good, valuable, special things that we should cherish, when, to lift a line from Douglas Adams, there’s another school of thought that says emerging from the oceans was actually a big a mistake.

On a technical level, the series gives a dozen or so lines to Rust that are fragments of things Ligotti says, or near paraphrases of them. It’s there, but I think there’s more appropriated from Alan Moore – I can’t swear to that, I’ve not rewatched it using a clicker or a chess clock – and there’s also chunks of some of the more trippy Grant Morrison sections. This is part of the joke, if you like, of the series. Rust is seen as being out there, weird, unique … he says himself he just reads books. He’s explictly tapping into a vaguely delinated techno-occult esoteric tradition, one that tries to use the language of modern physics to talk about mystical experiences. Of course he quotes Lovecraft, Moore, Morrison, Nietzsche and Ligotti.

The article I linked to quotes the University of Cambridge’s definition of plagiarism … and there’s the rub. True Detective is not an academic paper, it’s a work of fiction. No, that isn’t some magic wand that means someone can pass off other people’s work as their own. What it means, though, is that Pizzolatto (who has acknowledged Ligotti in interviews) is doing what art does: taking existing things – the serial killer, noir, a Deep South setting, the works of people like Moore and Ligotti and Lovecraft and so on – and transforming what he’s found into something new. He’s not writing philosophy, he’s writing fiction informed by philosophy. Every adventure movie since Star Wars has been informed by the Campbell monomyth, but they’re not ‘plagiarising’.

What might complicate things is that Ligotti is best known as a horror writer. His book isn’t a hardcore work of philosophy so much as an explanation of what the ‘horror’ underlying much horror fiction is, why we’re scared of zombies, pod people and so on (they are ‘like us’ while celebrating the extinction of consciousness). It is a great ‘how to write horror’ book, and I’d recommend it for that – it’s why I bought it, and it’s proved helpful to me. It makes the plagiarism charge more complicated, though. At one level, it means Pizzolatto only did what Ligotti invited his readers to do, which is use art to explore the grand themes discussed in the book. At another level, it means the two writers are engaged in the same kind of writing. Joseph Campbell wrote an essay in 1961 called ‘The Impact of Science on Myth’ that George Lucas read and used as a template when he was writing Star Wars, it’s that essay, rather than the Hero With A Thousand Faces that really spells out what Star Wars is, what it needs to be, and the appeal it would have. Campbell was an academic, not a filmmaker pitching a movie that put his ideas into practice. He was not Lucas’ peer or rival.

True Detective is not plagiarised. The fact that True Detective is ‘very Alan Moore’ is what appealed about it to me. I know a lot of Lovecraft fans loved the show for the same reason. It’s informed by Ligotti’s work, too. Writers absorb their life experience, their reading, the work of their peers and contemporaries, what they read in the news, things about people they meet, they synthesise all that into new work. The whole point of The Conspiracy Against the Human Race is to demonstrate that ‘pessimism’ is a worldview that a strain of artists and philosophers have had in every culture since the dawn of civilisation, and it quotes extensively from those people. As a fan of Moore’s work, I’d invite anyone who liked True Detective to read the graphic novel of From Hell. This, I think, is the healthy response for a Ligotti fan – ‘you liked True Detective … OK, let me show this guy’.