Thursday, 12 September 2013

Doctor Who: The Lurkers At Sunlight's Edge interview

By the way, was recently interviewed by the estimable Kenny Smith of Finished Product fame for volume 3 of the Big Finish guide and thought I'd include here my answers to his questions relating to the writing of my Doctor Who audio, The Lurkers At Sunlight's Edge.... (The audio itself is available here:

Alan Barnes and David Richardson seemed very happy with NIght's Black Agents as they got back in touch almost immediately asking for another script.,,, As for the fallout from the likes of {preceding story] Death In The Family, to be honest I wasn't really informed of the details of any of that: I was essentially asked for a free standing story for Doctor, Ace and Hex with no other proviso. In the very late stages of scripting, Alan suggested a couple of lines for Hex referring to a recent experience of death, so I knew something was going on, but the details of this weren't spelled out for me: I think they were playing their cards close to their chest in case anything leaked out. So I had no real knowledge of my story being part of a 'trilogy': I worked on it very
much as a self-contained story.

...I had always been fascinated by the work of H. P. Lovecraft and the basic idea was to take that very gothic science fictional world and bring it into collision with the Doctor's world. The combination of horror and a weird kind of beauty in Lovecraft's work is very haunting: the great big slimy monsters in Lovecraft are never JUST big slimy monsters - they're ancient Gods and have all the strangeness and sublimity of that. But, in a way, the personality of Lovecraft is
almost more fascinating than the work itself: this slightly nerdy introverted man who had all these weird universes exploding in his head, so obviously that inspired the character of Doveday, pushing it all the way so that Doveday's actually one of the strange alien creatures he writes about.

But there's another side to Lovecraft: although in many ways he was a decent, kindly, sensitive man, at certain points in his life he was attracted to fascistic ideas about white supremacy and racist ideas about supposedly 'lesser' races... a story like 'The Horror At Red Hook' is a real racist diatribe and the dread of human/alien interbreeding that runs through virtually all his stories would seem to have undercurrents of that. So, rather than make Doveday himself a
hateful character, I split that other, nastier side of him off into the character of Whytecrag - so it's really a sort of bifurcated dual portrait, Jekyll & Hyde style: Doveday is obviously Lovecraft, but
Whytecrag's his other, nastier side. I would have liked, in a way, to make him more overtly a foul-mouthed racist - but you have to be careful with things like taste and decency in a Doctor Who context.

The Lovecraft story that's most directly an influence in plot terms is "At The Mountains Of Madness". The likes of James Cameron and Guillermo Del Toro have been trying for years to do a mega-budget direct adaptation of that, but they never seem to have licked the
script problems. I think it's kind of fun that we at Big Finish sneaked through a sort of unofficial quasi-adaptation when no one was looking!

There was one very key change to the plot in the early stages. The original idea was that the Doctor, Ace and Hex travel not to an island off the Alaskan coast, but to an alien planet, a moon of Saturn or something like that. And there, impossibly, they find an exact
reproduction of the New England coast that was native to Lovecraft. And Freya and the other people at the mental hospital would actually belong to a whole other alien race, a peaceful race wanting to contain the risk of the Karnas'Koi - imprisoning Doveday in a sort of 'velvet
cage' version of his natural environment and assuming human form to keep up the illusion. But Alan Barnes, rightly I think, thought that was just too weird and baroque and encouraged me to set it on earth and have Freya & co. be real human beings. The only thing I regret is
that in that original version Sunlight would have had an 'edge' in the most literal sense... you'd wander so far in this New England landscape and you'd come to something almost like the back edge of a theatrical backdrop and there'd be a while other alien landscape beyond. That's slightly lost in the earthbound version - and I wondered about revising the title, but Alan loved it, so we stuck with it.

 I thought the finished thing worked pretty well. I liked Michael Brandon in the Doveday role: I was really impressed by the interview with him - he seemed a guy who had really thought seriously about what he was doing, he wasn't just camping it up or fooling around. That's what you need, writing in this kind of genre. And it means there's only degree of Kevin Bacon
between me and Dario Argento! And I wanted to give Ace, who I always liked, something more touchy-feely to do than the usual tomboy running around. The scenes where she's embracing Doveday to try and hold him in human form have, I think, a kind of weirdly erotic, romantic
quality... they show the inspiration of an old Scots folk tale I've often done in my storytelling act - the ballad of Tam Lin. On the back burner, I have a novel called "Eyes Of Tree" based on the same story. That'll see the light of day, someday.

....Sylvester McCoy was actually just back from a cruise around Alaska - so he had the real scenery fresh in his mind! The name 'Whytecrag' just popped into my mind - it was months after
Lurkers had come out that I realised where I'd got it from: I was travelling on the Glasgow southside suburban train line that I'd known since my childhood and passed through the station at 'Whitecraigs', which is the station closest to my childhood home.

The very first Doctor Who I ever saw was "The Sea Devils" - that was my proto-Whovian experience and I suppose, in retrospect, there's echoes of that here: the coastal setting, the reptilian monsters linked with a more human(oid) megalomaniac. I suppose if it works on
that kind of old-fashioned atmospheric monster story level, then I 
succeeded in what I was aiming for.

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