Fellow MGK contributor Matthew Johnson posted a couple of weeks ago about his undeniably unfilmable (but interesting) idea for a Doctor Who story, and the comments section turned towards everyone else’s idea for a Doctor Who story they probably couldn’t do. Which, in my case, has perhaps less to do with the story idea and more to do with the fact that I can’t really see the producers of Doctor Who accepting an unsolicited pitch from a novice screenwriter based on his blog post about the idea, but I’ve accepted a long time ago that I have no idea how to break into television. (Television studios, I can do. But that’s another story.)
My idea comes from noticing the pattern that the series has established over its first five seasons in its “Doctor Who meets a famous creative person” episodes (‘The Unquiet Dead’, ‘The Shakespeare Code’, ‘The Unicorn and the Wasp’, ‘Vincent and the Doctor’.) The creative person runs afoul of a menace that is peculiarly fitted to their creative endeavors, with a Doctor Who twist (Dickens meets alien “ghosts”, Shakespeare fights evil witches from another dimension, Agatha Christie wanders into a murder mystery that involves space wasps, and Vincent van Gogh discovers aliens that, due to his unique perception, only he can see.) The menace brings the creative person to a personal low, even as the Doctor finds himself unable to thwart it; he succeeds by using praise to bring out the creative person’s unique gifts, allowing them to defeat the menace in a way the Doctor can’t. Finally, the Doctor reveals a hidden truth to the creative person: Their gifts are unique and their works will endure throughout eternity.
Naturally, I had to subvert the formula.
In this story, the Doctor and Amy wind up in England, in 1844. The politician and author Edward Bulwer-Lytton is at a personal low, having been forced out of Parliament, separated from his wife, and dealt with the death of his mother…and he’s not handling it well. In fact, he’s having a nervous breakdown, hearing voices that tell him to excavate a massive hole on his estate.
The Doctor finds this highly suspicious. Not because he thinks Edward is insane, but because the TARDIS is picking up high-end telepathic broadcasts that suggest he very much isn’t. He insinuates himself into Edward’s company in order to find out just what’s at the bottom of the hole, and isn’t surprised to find that it’s an alien race. The Vrilya, as they are called, came through from another dimension that was losing its cohesion, and when they escaped, well…beggars can’t be choosers. A portal to a maze of subterranean caverns, with no way up to the surface, still beat a world where the laws of physics were breaking down.
The Vrilya are angelic, intensely powerful, and bring with them a miracle substance that is the pinnacle of their technology, called “vril”. They plan to offer Edward, and by extension Britain, the substance in exchange for a path for the rest of their species to come through. With the prospect of all his shames and failures erased, Edward is sorely tempted.
But the Doctor realizes that vril is more dangerous than it appears. Its energies are actually the cause of the destabilization of the Vrilya’s home universe, and if they begin using vril in large quantities on Earth the way they did back home, well…”unmitigated disaster” barely begins to describe it. The Vrilya don’t take well to what they see as a death sentence for their people (they see life without the miracle of vril as a fate worse than death) and use their powers to banish the Doctor to their universe.
But the Doctor makes contact with Edward through the TARDIS’ telepathic circuits (the ones that let him instantly understand any language.) He convinces Edward that his mind is receptive to the Vrilya, but that link works both ways–he needs to open himself up completely to the Vrilya, let them see the fullness of the human condition as expressed through the mind of one of its most celebrated authors. Startled back to normality by the Doctor’s praise, Edward does so…and unexpectedly, the Vrilya flee back to their home dimension. The Doctor pops out as they pop back in, relieved to be back. “Where did they go?” asks Amy, who really hasn’t had much to do in this episode. “Oh, probably off to try again somewhere else. Anywhere the portals can open. Anywhere that’s not here.”
“And my works, Doctor?” Edward asks. “Will they endure? Will I be remembered, in ages hence?” The Doctor smiles thinly, and assures Edward that the name Bulwer-Lytton will be famous for centuries to come. But unlike Vincent, he decides not to give him a ride in the TARDIS to show him exactly how…