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Thoughts on Doctor Who

I think I’ve finally put my finger on what’s been dampening my enjoyment of New Who since 2005.

In the original Doctor Who, with only one or two exceptions the Doctor’s companions were just people. Everyday, regular, ordinary folks trying to cope with his weirdness. They were us, in other words. They were there to give us a frame of reference when viewing the universe through the Doctor’s old, tired, jaded eyes. Sometimes they were useful (Sarah Jane, we miss you!), sometimes they were a bit hapless (poor Harry), and sometimes they were victims of the Doctor’s zeal and unconscious tendency to push people to be as larger-than-life as he was (poor Adric).

With the exception of Martha Jones (who the writers couldn’t seem to figure out what to do with), NONE of the new Doctor Who companions have been “just people.” They’ve been destined to travel with him, been vital to his continued travels in more than support ways, become something other than normal people while traveling with him, or – twice now, Donna literally and Clara figuratively – have effectively become the Doctor for a while.

They have a greater purpose in the universe, which stunts our ability to identify with them. They are, in other words, almost as alien as the Doctor himself. Something Liz Sladen managed to capture in her own series is that even after growing out of being ‘just a reporter,’ Sarah Jane was still only human at the end of the day. She had no great destiny, no special powers. She was just…us, trying to follow in the Doctor’s footsteps and make him proud.

Most of the Doctor’s new companions have not been us. We can’t follow in their footsteps.

Ask Alys – 6/15/14

Mandy asks: What do you like to do in your spare time? It seems that you are on cases, learning or training a lot. In the last book, you went on a few dates with Ben…but other than that, what interests you that isn’t in a way related to your work?

Alys: I’m studying to be a professional wizard. That has a tendency to eat up time like you wouldn’t believe. The end result is not having much spare time for hobbies.

Athena: Or sleep, sometimes.

Alys: Too true. That said…the best thing about studying to be a wizard is how spectacularly multidisciplinary a field it is. Since I began my apprenticeship with Jonathan Tremane, I’ve studied – in addition to the Art of spellcasting – an incredibly wide variety of subjects, including psychology and sociology, comparative religion and mythology, chemistry, physics, woodworking and metalsmithing, law and history.

Jonathan assures me that if I decided to sit for exams at Oxford or Cambridge, I could get degrees in at least half of those. Frankly, I don’t doubt it…while my peers were in grammar school, I was already studying college-level material.

Unfortunately, that means that the worst thing about studying to be a wizard is that everything you do is eventually related to your work in some way or another. Whether you mean it to be, want it to be, or not. For example: I’ve been playing the Celtic Flute (a wooden flute with a lovely, rich sound) since I was a little girl. At first, I did it because I thought that learning an instrument of some sort would help me be accepted by the other kids. I stuck with it because I enjoy the discipline of it, and because it’s very relaxing to let myself go in the music.

I’m not professionally good, but I get by without making people wince.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that some species of supernatural predators can be calmed and lulled into sleep through the proper application of music. I have no doubt that sooner or later, playing the flute will come in handy in my work. In the meantime, it’s a lovely hobby.

What else? I read voraciously (obviously), and I have a fondness for Breton poetry (the works of T.S. Elliot and Robert Browning are amongst my favorites) and mysteries. Conan Doyle is a special favorite.

I also love going to the theater, be it for concerts, musicals or plays. And I’ve been known to go to the occasional film, though I find the tendency of movie theater owners to turn up the sound to deafening levels rather annoying.

Athena and Ben have been conspiring recently to get me out of the house as often as possible, and not just for work. But we lead busy, active lives, and our schedules don’t always mesh. Fortunately, I love what I’m doing…and as the saying goes, if you love what you’re doing, it doesn’t feel like work.

I’m not even all that popular or well-known yet, and I’ve already had a few people ask me the question all authors dread…”Where do you get your ideas?”

I could steal a joke from an author (I wish I could remember who) that I read years ago and claim that I get my ideas from a P.O. Box in Schenectady, NY. “Only $19.95 will get you a dozen top-quality ideas that you can use to produce your very own stories! Checks, Money Orders and Paypal accepted, no credit cards.”

If only it were that easy. :-D

I could talk about how my ideas are drawn from experiences in real life. The plot ideas are drawn from news items and things I read online, the characters from people I’ve met, and so on. But since I’m writing urban fantasy, that’s a little bit of a cop-out. Sure, the plot of Alys helping track a kidnapper (for example) and the details of the kidnapping could have been drawn from something that I read about which really happened…but magic certainly wasn’t used to find them, and there weren’t real monsters involved.

Okay, there probably were…but human monsters, not supernatural ones. You know what I mean.

I could talk about my inspirations: The different authors I love to read, the TV shows, movies and anime I’ve consumed over the years. All of them helped shape my imagination, and I have no doubt that some of my ideas come from there.

The truth of the matter is, I don’t precisely know where my ideas come from. My subconscious is a minefield, and I never know what sort of mine I’m going to step on when I go poking through it. Sometimes it’s not even that clear cut. There have been times when I’ve woken up in the middle of the night with an idea that I absolutely have to get out of my head and onto paper. That’s why I kept a pad and pen by my bed for years, until my iPad took their place (thank you, Apple).

Sometimes, the next morning, I don’t even remember waking up and writing the idea down. A lot of the time they’re fragments, disjointed bits of imagery or pieces of a scene. Quite often, they have no bearing on whatever my current project is.

Fortunately, I’m a long-time fan of Stephen King, and remembered him saying (I believe it was in the forward to The Gunslinger, or possibly in Danse Macabre or On Writing) that the first line of The Gunslinger was written twenty years before the rest of the book. As I recall the story – I should have gone hunting for it before writing this – he pinned the scrap of paper it was written on to his bulletin board and swore that something would someday come out of it. That scrap of paper, the story went, travelled with him from home to home over the years, until one day the rest of the story started to take shape.

I have two bulletin boards today; one is a physical one, covered with pieces of paper with little scraps of ideas, some as small as a single sentence, some several pages long; the other is a digital one, stored in a Scrivener file and backed up religiously.

So…where do my ideas come from? The deepest, darkest corners of my mind. I don’t always understand them, I don’t always know what brought them about…but I know they’ll all come in handy. Sooner or later.