Will Hadcroft chats about classic sci-fi and Doctor Who

Scifipulse recently had the privilege of interviewing Will Hadcroft. He is the author of the BBC audiobook "Doctor Who: The Resurrection Plant" read by Frazer Hines.
Will

Scifipulse recently had the privilege of interviewing Will Hadcroft. He is the author of the BBC audiobook “Doctor Who: The Resurrection Plant” read by Frazer HinesWill is also the author of the “Mia” books telling the story of his cats. And the YA novel “The Blueprint.” Additionally, Will is celebrating the 20th anniversary of his “Anne Droyd” adventure series by relaunching the first three novels and publishing a fourth. During this interview, Mr. Hadcroft talks about what made him want to be a writer and his top 5 Doctor Who stories from both the classic and new series.

 

SFP: What made you want to be a writer?

 

Will Hadcroft: I was always imaginative and loved crafting stories. My first memory of having a piece of writing appreciated was at school, age seven. A teacher was entertained by my story explaining how a tortoise got its shell. From then on, I appreciated that I had a flair for telling stories and that they could elicit a response. Two years later I wrote my first book—in an exercise book—and was gratified during a library lesson when some of my peers asked the teacher if they could read my book rather than getting one from the shelves. He said yes, and my classmates read it and passed it round. This gave me a taste for what it’s like to have an audience.

Add to these experiences the reading of published works, not least Clive King’s Stig of the Dump, Douglas AdamsThe Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and subsequent sequels; the Doctor Who novelisations by David Whitaker, Malcolm Hulke and Terrance Dicks of televised scripts; and John Christopher’s Tripods trilogy, and I knew I wanted to be a writer myself. I can remember reading the author bio of Terrance Dicks in the back of one of the Doctor Who books, and thinking, ‘I want to be like him.’ I would imagine my own name on the front, on the spine, and on the main title page.

 

SFP: I understand that you’re a fan of The Prisoner and Blake’s 7. What do you think 21st century sci-fi could learn from these shows?

 

Will Hadcroft: The Prisoner is an odd one, because while there are sci-fi elements in it (futuristic control rooms, brainwashing, etc), it isn’t really a science-fiction programme. It crosses the boundaries of several genres. Script editor George Markstein saw it as an espionage drama, but co-creator and star Patrick McGoohan regarded it as an allegory symbolising the struggle between the individual and organised society.

I think 21st century sci-fi writers and producers would do well to make drama that operates on several levels, and explore aspects of society but without lecturing the viewer. The Prisoner was a wonderful platform for making statements without bashing the audience over the head with a moral baton. For example, what we now call ‘cancel culture’ is explored to great effect in the episode ‘A Change of Mind’. Sadly, modern television wouldn’t go anywhere near such a subject for fear of being cancelled!

While made very much on the cheap, Blake’s 7 was way ahead of its time. The heroes of the title were all criminals in the eyes of the totalitarian Federation they were rebelling against. Those who represented the Federation (principally Supreme Commander Servalan and Space Commander Travis) were utterly amoral and ruthless. Roj Blake was the ethical heart of the show, but he had plenty of blood on his hands. The series was not afraid to depict the future as bleak, and, while there was humour (in particular through the exchanges between cold computer genius Avon and the cowardly thief Vila), the show wasn’t laced with Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy style undergraduate jokes. It could be sarcastic but didn’t send itself up. I personally feel that the obsession with Douglas Adams in modern British writers sometimes gets in the way of telling a really solid sci-fi drama.

 

SFP: Following on from that question, do you think that there are elements of Doctor Who’s classic series that should be used more in the current version of the show?

 

Will Hadcroft: I love the approach of producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks, as outlined in their Myth Makers interview. They said that if a serial was starting to flounder during the scripting process and was running out of steam, they would get the writer in and say, ‘Right—let’s just think for a minute: What is this story about?’ And between them they would consider the core concept and theme of the tale, and come up with a few more plot points as a result. Terrance Dicks was at pains to say their show didn’t have a message as such, it wasn’t preaching or lecturing, but the stories did have a theme at their core.

If modern Doctor Who is lacking in any way, I would say it’s that balance between having a core idea and lecturing the audience. Chris Chibnall and his team have been accused of preaching morals and ethics to their audience in a heavy-handed manner, making their material unpalatable to some. Whereas, at the other end of the spectrum, in the Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat eras, we have had some stories that clearly aren’t about anything and are quite obviously being made up as the writer goes along.

I heard one showrunner say in an interview that he just thinks up a scenario, drops some characters he’s created into it, and however they react to the situation and to one another, that’s the story. Well, that strikes me as the soap opera method, really. It has its merits, but I prefer a plot worked out by the author before the main writeup is embarked upon. He also said he approached one particular series he was writing—I don’t know if it was a Doctor Who season or one of his independent projects—and had no idea how it was going to conclude until he was writing the last script. I think sometimes that approach pays off, but on other occasions the audience senses that the writer doesn’t know how to end it. They feel cheated. A few Doctor Who season finales have left me thinking, ‘Is that it? Is that what I waited 13 weeks for?’

I appreciate that I come from a tradition of writing prose novels where one has the time to think and ponder for long periods, allowing the plot to gestate and brew. I can write with a definite conclusion in mind, and even if the route to that conclusion changes during the writing process, I know where I’m going and how the adventure must end—there is a theme to my story, I know what it’s about. I guess a television showrunner doesn’t always have that luxury, having to structure, in effect, 13 short novellas, liaise with other writers, and work out a climax to the whole season.

I’m not knocking the free fall method per se—I mean, the final episode of The Prisoner was written that way and very quickly, and it’s an astonishing piece of television—but I much prefer the Letts-Dicks approach.

 

SFP: What are you working on at the moment?

 

Will Hadcroft: I have several unpublished first drafts on my laptop, including a full YA novel and several novellas. I’m talking with an audio producer about the possibility of adapting one of them as a play or serial. Also, as this year marks the 20th anniversary of my children’s adventure series Anne Droyd, I am looking to republish the first three books before launching the fourth. Ideally, I want to place the series with a mainstream publisher.

 

SFP: Do you think that children’s and young adult literature has become more sanitised over the last 20 years?

 

Will Hadcroft: I haven’t read a great many books for young people for some time, but the ones I know about suggest to me that children’s literature has continued to pack a punch over the last two decades. Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, published in 2004, had high praise heaped upon it for its depiction of a young man on the autism spectrum, and has since been turned into an award-winning play.

Ten years later there was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling, which did not hold back from tackling emotional and psychological issues like betrayal and the death of a close friend.

But my favourite has to be The Humans by Matt Haig. In this an alien is sent to Earth with a view to killing a mathematician who has cracked the Reimman hypothesis, potentially making the primitive human race a threat to extra-terrestrial species. If the alien is unable to rectify the situation, he must recommend the annihilation of the entire human race. Initially he despises us and regards us all with contempt, but the longer he lives on planet Earth, the more he finds in his human acquaintances redemptive qualities that save us. The author is a notorious misanthrope who has grappled over the years with dark depressions, and so he pulls no punches here, and I love him for that.

Have books for young people in more recent years become sanitised? I don’t know. But television does appear to be dumbing down.

There seems to be a culture of late whereby the young must be protected from disdainful and challenging viewpoints, in television drama, especially. Things seem to be presented in simplistic good vs bad, black vs white terms, when the reality often is more complicated, and full of grey areas. To my mind there has been a shying away from debate in drama, of discussing all angles of a subject, including unpalatable beliefs, for fear of offending the audience or negatively influencing the youngsters viewing the material. The ‘this is bad and that is good’ approach frustrates me. Lecturing is seldom palatable. Nor is rewriting history in period dramas to make the racism of yesteryear a non-fact.

If you’re going to tackle sexism or racism, or any other controversial issue, it should be done in an intelligent way that acknowledges all points of view, so the young audience is aware of the complexities and can decide for themselves what they think. If you’re not going to approach it intelligently, don’t approach it at all, and stick to escapism.

 

SFP: What for you are the top 5 Doctor Who stories and why?

 

Will Hadcroft: If I was to answer this literally, I’m afraid all of my top five would come from the original series, because I was born in 1970 and grew up with it. So, I’ll do my top five from the classic run and my top five from post 2005. My choices are not all necessarily the best plots or greatest productions, but the stories I keep going back to.

Classic Series

5) The Invasion. The Second Doctor, Jamie and Zoe catch up with Colonel Lethbridge-Stewart, now promoted to Brigadier, to do battle with the Cybermen and their human mediator Tobias Vaughn. Brilliant performances all round, and love the Get Carter style incidental music. One the very best from the black and white era.

4) Day of the Daleks. The Third Doctor, Jo, the Brigadier and UNIT. The first Dalek story following a five-year absence and it’s terrific. Guerrilla fighters are being sent back in time from a dystopian future where the Daleks hold humanity in slavery, hoping to change a pivotal moment that will alter the course of future history, but in so doing ensure that future. A clever time paradox story with wonderful performances. I love the moral wrangling of the human Controller, who in the end betrays the Daleks with the line, ‘Who knows? I might have helped exterminate you!’ The Special Edition release with modified effects and new Dalek voices is sublime.

3) The Robots of Death. The Fourth Doctor and Leela. A sandmining vessel piloted by humanoid robots and a skeleton human crew on a barren planet. One crew member has reprogrammed the robots to murder. It’s a simple Agatha Christie style mystery, but rises above the sum of its parts with clever throwaway remarks, culture building, brilliant model work, great sets and costumes, evocative incidental music, and believable performances. It rattles along. This along with The Deadly Assassin and The Talons of Weng-Chiang from the same season withstand many repeated viewings.

2) Genesis of the Daleks. The Fourth Doctor, Sarah, and Harry. The Doctor and friends are sent to Skaro to prevent the creation of the Daleks. In this setting we meet their human ancestors the Kaleds and their genius scientist Davros (his first appearance in the series). But Davros is obsessed with making the Daleks in his own image and programming them to exterminate all ‘lesser’ lifeforms. He has made one fatal error of judgment, though—they don’t consider Davros himself to be a Dalek … Everything about this is marvellous—the concept, the characters, the presentation, the music, the final moments. Michael Wisher as Davros and Peter Miles as Nyder make one of the series’ best villainous double acts.

1) Logopolis. The Fourth Doctor, Adric, Tegan and Nyssa. Some readers will be appalled that I didn’t put Peter Davison’s swansong The Caves of Androzani here. I do love that story a great deal—its writing, direction, casting, music, and the contrast between Davison and Colin Baker at the end are all wonderful.

But I go back to Logopolis (and its immediate predecessor The Keeper of Traken) more frequently. I was four when Tom Baker debuted, and ten and three quarters when he relinquished the role, which means he was the Doctor throughout my primary school years. I loved him. The return of the Master in Traken had me on the edge of my seat, but the atmosphere throughout Logopolis was intense. The Watcher; the Cloister Bell; Tegan being drawn into events; the doll sized corpses; Nyssa thinking the Master is her father (and him playing up to that); the flashback sequences; that funereal music score; ‘It’s the end …’ and the regeneration—all etched on my memory forever.

Other close contenders for the top five: The Daleks, Terror of the Autons, The Three Doctors, The Green Death, Terror of the Zygons, City of Death, Earthshock, Mawdrin Undead , Enlightenment, The Five Doctors, Revelation of the Daleks, Remembrance of the Daleks, The Curse of Fenric. It is sooo difficult to choose!

 

Post 2005 Series

5) World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls. The Twelfth Doctor, Bill and Nardole. While I had never been a massive fan of the Master changing gender and then renaming herself Missy (I think she should have just continued as the Master, as the gender change would have meant nothing to her), the reveal of John Simm as the Master and him joining forces with Michelle Gomez’s Missy is must-watch TV. The birth of the Cybermen is brilliant, as is all the stuff with Bill and the Twelfth Doctor’s eventual demise. His willing the regeneration to stop put my heart in my mouth.

4) The End of Time. The Tenth Doctor, Wilf and Donna. This is another one of those where the story doesn’t entirely add up but it’s the sum of its parts that makes it special. The Doctor knows his days are numbered; the return of the Master; the return of Gallifrey; ‘He will knock four times’; David Tennant’s final moments and then Matt Smith checking that everything is present and correct (‘Chin? [beat] Blimey!’). Lots to love.

3) Blink. Sally Sparrow and Larry Nightingale, the Tenth Doctor and Martha. A genuinely chilling story about living statues; time displacement; ‘Don’t blink!’; a guest lead who should have become a companion; and that clever ending where the Weeping Angels are all left looking at one another. Utterly spellbinding.

2) The Parting of the Ways. The Ninth Doctor and Rose. Such an emotional episode as the Doctor realises he can’t beat the Daleks this time; the attack on Platform 5; the Doctor’s recorded hologram message; sending Rose home; the realisation of ‘Bad Wolf’; opening the heart of the TARDIS; the Doctor explaining that he is going to change. What a rollercoaster ride.

1) The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances. The Ninth Doctor and Rose. This was the moment the modern series really hit its stride for me. The World War Two setting; the child; ‘Are you my mummy?’; the gas masked zombies; the hospital ship’s nanobots and ‘Everybody lives!’; the rescue of Captain Jack. There is so much heart to this story, I find it uplifting and life affirming.

Other contenders: Dalek, Father’s Day, The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, Human Nature/The Family of Blood, The Fires of Pompeii, The Waters of Mars, Amy’s Choice, The Name of the Doctor, Flatline.

 

SFP: Do you have any advice for those who want to write scripts for Doctor Who?

 

Will Hadcroft: It depends what you mean by ‘scripts’. My BBC Audio Original isn’t a play performed by a cast of actors—so, not a script—but rather a short story written as prose with a single voice (Frazer Hines who played Jamie opposite Patrick Troughton’s Second Doctor in the TV series) reading the whole thing.

But anyone who aspires to be a published writer can work on particular skills regardless of the different disciplines one must apply to specific formats. There are certain generalities that apply to all, such as crafting an engaging storyline with relatable characters. The story must draw in the reader. Years ago, an editor rejected a submission of mine, not because it was badly written, but simply because it didn’t engage him. I was gutted at the time, but I took the advice to heart. Your work must connect with your audience, and in terms of submissions, with your prospective editor.

Another must is a good grasp of English grammar. A lot of hopeful writers have great ideas and believable characters, but they let themselves down by not knowing even the basic rules. Again, an example from my own past, is being criticised because my proposal was full of tautologies. I didn’t even know what a tautology was! So, you can shoot yourself in the foot with simple errors that an editor will spot a mile off. They can often tell whether or not you know what you’re doing just by reading the first couple of paragraphs.

The flipside to this is being well educated in English language and grammar, knowing the technical rules thoroughly, but not having a great imagination or being unable to create characters the reader will care about. To stand a chance you must have the technical knowledge of how to write well and the ideas.

Regarding Doctor Who specifically, I would say hone your craft by submitting short stories to fan publications. There are online journals and collections run by fans. A good one is The Doctor Who Project produced by Bob Furnell in Canada. He has his own ongoing series with his own incarnation of the Doctor. Read some of their published stories, then their submission guidelines, and get in touch with an idea. Write stories for Doctor Who Appreciation Society publications like Cosmic Masque. If you’re more into scriptwriting than prose, seek out fans who produce their own audio and/or video series and submit ideas for those.

You don’t get paid a penny for any of these (and neither do those editing and producing them), but the experience and exposure is invaluable.

Finally, I would say it’s important to become a known name in fandom. One of the reasons it’s taken me as long as it has to become established is I have borderline Asperger syndrome and I’ve been prone to social phobia over the years. Because of this, I’ve been on the fringes of fandom instead of in the heart of it.

I should have been attending conventions regularly and getting involved long ago, and it’s only since Big Finish Day has been operating from Derby (from 2018) that I’ve really been doing that. There is an element of ‘who you know’ to the whole process. You need the ideas, yes—you need the skills as a writer, yes—but you also need to be known by the fan community. If you think of the most recent additions to the Big Finish writers stable—people like Sophie Isles, Lizbeth Myles and Dominic G Martin—they have all been active in fandom as well as writing for various fan things before they were commissioned.

My own path began in the 1990s by writing for fanzines. I had my first novel published by a small press in 2002, then another by a bigger publisher in 2004. I met the person who would later become my BBC editor in a non-media setting in 2005. He pointed me in the direction of Hirst Books when they were going strong. I published something through them before the company collapsed.

After that I co-ran an indie publishing outfit of my own, and that editor-producer-director friend did some graphics and typesetting work for us. I met him again three years ago at Big Finish Day. So, when, in 2019, his BBC Audio producer was looking for new writers for the Audio Originals range, he recommended me.

I was invited to submit ideas. I submitted three—a couple of paragraphs apiece—and was delighted when they settled on The Resurrection Plant. I was asked for a two-page synopsis demonstrating how the story would unfold. Although not requested, I included a couple of pages of prose to demonstrate how it might read. Based on these, I was commissioned to write the story. It took five drafts to get it right. When the cover artwork appeared on the Penguin website and then on Amazon, I was ecstatic.

I cannot wait to hear Frazer Hines’ reading!

 

SFP: And finally, if you wanted to convert someone to sci-fi, what one book, film or TV show would you suggest they read or watched?

 

Will Hadcroft: Hmm, that’s a good one. If they weren’t naturally inclined to the genre, I would go for something that has sci-fi elements mixed in with more typical ‘normal world’ plots and characters.

One of the reasons I have always loved Kenneth Johnson’s TV series of The Incredible Hulk is that it’s nothing like a comic book. Apart from the central concept of someone metamorphosing into a green skinned man-beast when their anger peaks, and then back again when they calm down, there are no comic book elements to the stories at all. There are no other mutations in it; the bad guys are regular underhand, corrupt human beings.

The Ang Lee movie starring Eric Bana didn’t quite hit the spot because it tried to be both a comic book experience and a deep psychological drama. Same goes for Edward Norton one. Mark Ruffalo in Avengers Assemble was good, but again that is packed with lots of other characters getting dressed up in primary colours and spandex and fighting mutations, monsters and supervillains, which isn’t really my cup of tea. My ten-year-old self would love that stuff, but I don’t now. So, in spite of its budgetary limitations and dated presentation, The Incredible Hulk TV series of 1977-82 remains the most believable and digestible version of it for me, and it’s because of the humanity in it.

A 21st century example would be the Channel Four Television production Humans, which is set in an alternate present day where families have android servants that do all the menial tasks. And, of course, some of the androids become self-aware and begin to revolt against the humans. So, it has well established SF tropes that have been done before, but because it is set in a recognisable domestic world of family life and people going to work, and ordinary relationships, someone who wouldn’t normally watch a show about robot rebellion would watch this.

It is intelligently written and considers very thought-provoking themes about AI taking over, about attitudes towards slavery and prejudice, while at the same time being an urban soap opera and a crime thriller.

Another show that will appeal to non-SF fans is the American production Travelers. Again, it’s a combination of genres rather than being full on science fiction. People from a dystopian future target individuals in the present day who are at the point of death and, at the very moment they draw their last breath, the persons from the future ‘leap’ back through time and into their bodies, assuming their identities and living as them. So, there is this thing of the family and friends of these deceased people being deceived by imposters. The travellers are, of course, trying to alter the path of present day events to avert the creation of that dark future from which they come.

As the series progresses, we get to know more of the travellers’ origins, about their relationships with one another, and the backgrounds of their unsuspecting ‘surrogate’ families and friends. Emotions get intense when some are discovered for what they are, and there is always the threat of a pro-totalitarian faction from the future trying to cripple their strategy.

There is not a single episode that fails to engage the audience. It is well written and realised, but while the premise is definitely sci-fi, the world in which it all occurs is recognisably ours and therefore instantly accessible. My wife, who isn’t a big sci-fi enthusiast, has watched the series three times over!

 

Scifipulse would like to extend our most heartfelt thanks and warmest best wishes to Will Hadcroft for so graciously taking the time to answer our questions.

 

Will’s website: Will Hadcroft (fbs-publishing.co.uk)

 

His Twitter: @willhadcroft

 

Check out our Dominic G Martin interview here

 

Check out our Christopher Bidmead interview here

I'm an autistic writer who loves sci-fi, cosplay and poetry. I'm also an actor with Theatre of the Senses.
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