Making It Boring

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@RadioFreeSkaro’s semi-kind toasting/roasting @ http://tun.in/tcUeMc gets some facts wrong. I may tweet corrections if anyone’s interested.
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I don’t think I can even begin to describe the intense weirdness of listening to three evidently adult Canadians spending 45 minutes of their time discussing work I did over 30 years ago.

If I had to sum it up in one word, the word would be “squirmy”. But in a good way.

I’ve always liked Canadians, ever since CBC bought my first (and only) six-part radio serial “The Joke About Hilary Speight”. I particularly like the way they say “about”.  It’s an instant clue that they’re not Americans, and are therefore sensitive and intelligent and unlikely to hunt you down with drones, even if they don’t like you very much.

These three Canadians did seem to like me, on the whole. They’re friendly enough to be frank about my shortcomings, which mostly centre around the way I took all the fun out of “Doctor Who” and filled it up with a lot of fake science I’d meticulously researched; probably – because the Internet wasn’t yet available to the general public – in really boring places like libraries.

Seriously, though, the best thing about this for me was that they really got it. They saw what I was trying to do. It was unfortunate, of course, that they didn’t QUITE appreciate the important point that the failure to achieve these lofty goals of mine was always the fault of the set designer. Or the director. Or the actors. Or JNT and his cigarettes.

Really and truly seriously though, the main point they missed was that the sciencey stuff was why I got the job. It was this element that Barry Letts felt had gone missing from the show, and he wanted it back. So it really wasn’t my fault – you do see this, don’t you – that the show got boring and shed viewers in droves. It was Barry. I was just following orders.

Well, if the audience didn’t enjoy the Season, sod’em. I worked my butt off and had one hell of a good time. And to correct one of RFS’s wrong impressions, no I didn’t quit because I was overworked and underpaid. I was paid plenty. Getting locked in the offices after everyone else had gone home and I was still beavering away destroying some unfortunate contributor’s script with my endless rewrites, wasn’t because I was a gallery-slave under the remorseless whip of JNT or the BBC budget or the production clock. It was because it was what I wanted to do. It was the only thing I really ever wanted to do.

I left because, well, look…  I’d thought to myself: nobody values and respects this job nearly as much as I do. And they should. My cunning plan was to insist on a thirty per cent rise on the threat of leaving. That would make them understand. I didn’t need the money; I loved the job.

The BBC called my bluff.

By the way, Block Transfer Computation wasn’t a bit of fake science I dreamt up. It’s not gobbledygook. In fact it’s a rather good example of the kind of scientific extrapolation that Barry was so keen on (me too). I lifted the idea straight out of the CPU instruction set of the computer I was writing my scripts on, my Vector Graphic MZ System B. I’d been struck by the fact that the memory inside the machine was a new kind of “logical space”, inside which you could construct all kinds of logical entities just by telling the processor to move bits around. One of the instructions that did this was – if I’m remembering this correctly – LDIR, which was a mnemonic for something like “load indirect and repeat”. Because of the “and repeat” this single instruction could move an entire block of data from one part of the memory to another.

Kids today, paugh, this means nothing to them. But, boy, was I thrilled to bits by this. And I urgently needed to share that thrill with viewers. Did I instead bore viewers to death?

A few of them have come up to me over the years and said: “Mr Bidmead, your Doctor Who stories were what first got me interested in science. And now I’m an engineer/physicist/doctor.” So if thousands of others wasted away with ennui in the process, I shed a tear for them. But, gosh, it was worth it.

Finally, one point I’m very keen to correct – I’ve actually written two audio dramas for Big Finish. There’s “The Hollows of Time” (of which a critic wrote “Not one of Mr Bidmead’s better efforts”) and “Renaissance of the Daleks”, which I think must be the story RFS is accusing me of abandoning early.

This is entirely false. An Amazon critic is a little nearer to the truth:

5 Aug 2007 By Mr. D. Harris “duncle”

This audio play is a curious runaround that never achieves its undoubted potential. Because of the swingeing cuts and changes made by the script editor (the leaden-handed Alan Barnes) the author of this piece actually had his name taken off the cover to be replaced by a bizarre Alan Smithee-like compromise.

I did deliver a finished script, after about a year’s work, delayed because of numerous reviews and revisions imposed by an overseeing committee attempting to second-guess and/or implement evolving and mutating guidelines handed down from the BBC. The committee itself was a thing of shifting personnel, so the goal posts weren’t so much moving as running around the pitch playing Catch Me If You Can.

I did however finally nail it, and was proud of the work I handed in. This is probably the point to mention that Alan Barnes, far from being the “leaden-handed” nemesis of the script, was my centre of sanity throughout the development; a first-class script editor with a bucketful of useful ideas discreetly kept under his desk until needed, as it turned out they often were.

It wasn’t Alan who, over a weekend, as I understand it, rewrote the script from top to bottom in a frenzy of, er, creativity. I believe I know who it was. My lips are sealed.

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4 Responses to “Making It Boring”

  1. adventuresintimespaceandmusic Says:

    Just a note that, as an American, I would not call a drone strike on the script editor of my favorite era of the show – Series 18. I really appreciated intelligence in Doctor Who. Cheers Maestro!

    Dr. Phillip S.

  2. Gordon Jones Says:

    I am a big fan of Radio Free Skaro less so of your era of the show, Seven and Eleven are more my bag but when I look back what stands out for me are the big and bold concepts you introduced. The whole idea of block transfer computations and making matter from maths and logic is just so mindbogglingly awesome to me but the acting and the design makes it ridiculous. It must stand for something when you’ve created the best working ‘scientific theory’ as to how the tardis works.

  3. Tony Says:

    This was a very good read and some great insight!

    Mr. Bidmead, though I did not turn out to be a scientist or mathematician, I must say that your injection of science-heavy storylines really fit well with my hobby-like love of science and math. Personally, I think it’s a lot easier to forgive an “error” forged on an understanding of real science/math than trying to forgive a story’s shortcomings based on a little more than fluff and fake sci-fi shenanigans.

    If there is one thing that has remained from the time you left the show, it’s that the Doctor has a full understanding of science and math, and it’s his scientific mind that drives his curiousity. Nearly every story deals with a scientific theory or applies scientific logic in order to keep up with the Doctor. I guess that these are the reasons why I, as an adult, can be so heavily invested in a “kids’ program.”

    Though my thoughts we a bit wordy and rambling, I just wanted to say, “Thanks!”

  4. bidmead Says:

    Thanks for those kind thoughts, Tony. I’m very sorry you didn’t become a scientist. It may not be too late, though.

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