Doctor Who: Non-Screen To On-Screen, Part 1

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Tony advocates for a handful of stories to make the leap to the screen.


While it has been a rarity, New Who has not been averse on very rare occasions to drawing on-screen stories from the world of non-screen Who – Human Nature, the Virgin New Adventure by Paul Cornell was updated from the Seventh Doctor to the Tenth. Spare Parts, the Big Finish story by Marc Platt, was credited as a significant source for Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel. Even Jubilee, by Rob Shearman, is credited as an inspiration for the writer’s own Dalek, though to be fair, the two have little in common besides the author and the Daleks.

But Big Finish has now been writing and producing top-class Doctor Who for over fifteen years, and Titan Comics has been doing the same in two dimensions for two years. Both companies are rich in stories that could easily be transferred to screen and stand among the very best in over 52 years of Who heritage. Here we take a look at a handful of prime candidates and how they could be translated from non-screen to on-screen.


1. Spare Parts, by Marc Platt
One of the joys about Spare Parts is that, with the best will in the world, it’s an omniDoctor story – there’s little that’s unique to the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa about it. That makes it ideal for updating with the Twelfth or any future Doctor, and any companion that shares a caring nature with Nyssa. Plus it’s a genuine, main-universe Genesis of the Cybermen story, as once proposed by their co-creator Gerry Davies (unconvinced, the Production Team got him to deliver the basis for Revenge of the Cybermen instead. Good decision, there…) and imagined by Platt with pathos and aplomb. What’s most of all, it calls for early proto-Cybermen, which could return the now somewhat smooth, sleek Cybervillains to their self-embalming body horror beginnings for a whole new generation. We’d suggest a pre-Tenth Planet variant, with visible, aged skin grafted with cyber-implants – not as BDSM as the Borg, but rather Cyber-zombie-style, with dead but human eyes. Oh did we mention the CyberHorses? Please, please, please can we have the CyberHorses by CGI. Give the Mondasian Cybermen the on-screen origin they’ve deserved for at least forty years, and bring back the body horror that makes them the avatars of fear they should always have been.


2. Embrace The Darkness, by Nicholas Briggs
A tough one to film, this, given the necessity of screens full of absolute darkness and sound, but if you get it right, the capacity to ‘scare the little buggers rigid’ is immense. The story of aliens who steal eyeballs from visitors to their planet is intensely horrifying, but there’s a solid story underneath all the shock horror too. As with Spare Parts, there’s not much that’s specific to the Eighth Doctor and Charlie about the story, so the dialogue would only need tweaking for any Doctor-Companion combination. You’d need a Production Team and particularly a Director prepared to take extraordinary risks with their screen-time, to plunge the viewer into pure darkness for sections of the episode’s run-time, but get it right and a nation’s children won’t sleep with the lights off for a year or more. A good time to invest in night-light stocks.


3. The Weeping Angels of Mons, by Robbie Morrison
The WarpedFactor comic-book of 2015, written by Robbie Morrison, was an extraordinary creative endeavour, saluting those who answered the call of the First World War, while condemning the carnage it embodied, giving the Weeping Angels new motivations and a new creepiness (always a challenge given their nature). While rich in Tenth Doctor dialogue, the story was richer still in human drama and characterisation, Angel thrills and philosophical underpinnings about the nature of war, the power of belief and the wonder of love. It’s a powerhouse story in two dimensions, and would take minimal dialogue rewriting to become one of on-screen Who’s towering achievements, proving it’s possible to condemn the folly of war while respecting the bravery of those called to wage it, and could possibly teach the Twelfth Doctor a better lesson about soldiers than Danny Pink was every able to do.


4. Master, by Joseph Lidster
While being a wholehearted supporter of Michelle Gomez’ take on the Master, there’s something both powerful, hopeful and agonising about Master, an out-of-timeline story originally written for Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor and Geoffrey Beevers’ scarred Keeper of Traken Master. The story of a Master ‘turned good’ for a decade and making a well-respected life for himself in a small village as Dr John Smith amid a spate of prostitute killings, until the fateful night another stranger comes to town could be said to have directly inspired the idea of Professor Yana in Utopia, but the reasons behind the ‘Good Master’ in Master are so deep and exquisite they represent a whole other storyline of longing, as if Yana could have a voice and a choice in his destiny. The backstory behind those reasons would materially improve our understanding of the Doctor-Master relationship if written into canon with an on-screen story. While McCoy makes a strong case for the story being unique to his Doctor, the Doctor could be rewritten for any incumbent, though certainly an older Doctor like Capaldi would work better in this story than, say, Matt Smith would have done. However, and here’s where things get controversial, Beevers’ performance is so singular and breathtaking, we’d advocate for this story to be the first post-Gomez Master story, and for it to bring the Beevers Master back to the screen.


5. Domain of the Voord, by Andrew Smith
Perhaps a controversial choice, but Andrew Smith’s re-imagining of one of the least successful Hartnell villains in the first Early Adventures story from Big Finish was a revelation in how they could be made not only ruthless and scary in a 21st century context, but in how Voord culture could be made to be both deep and realistic, and a telling satire on everything from patriotism to political coercion to market forces – how you can lead a population to willing enslavement to a greater, or at least more organised intelligence. The mask of the Voord, symbolising the surrender of individual agency to the State, could be a powerful symbol, making Domain of the Voord both meaningful in a Robert Holmesian way and a rollicking, terrifying invasion story, CG armies of black-clad Voord as far as the eye can see. The Voord, bless ’em, were very much an everymonster when they were first used to add a kind of time pressure threat in The Keys of Marinus. Two recent uses in Big Finish stories and a deployment in Paul Cornell’s Four Doctors comic-book has seen them knocking on the door of their 21st century potential. A translation of Domain of the Voord to the screen, with notably less for the companion/s to do, as there would likely only be one by the modern Doctor’s side, as opposed to three in the early Hartnell Tardis, and a more contemporary mixture of brain work and action heroism or powerful oration for the Doctor, could see the Voord finally scrub the memory of Marinus from the minds of fans, and establish them as a villain with regular return potential in the slick series of the 21st century.

Part 2 of this feature is coming soon, but in the meantime, what are your thoughts? Which stories in non-screen media would you most like to see translated to a 21st century on-screen version? Let us know in the comments below! 

Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk

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