Writing Scream of the Shalka & Discovering Blood of the Robots

Sometimes it’s the unexpected turns you take that make a book more fun. The Black Archive #10: Scream of the Shalka began life as a very simple proposal: I emailed the editor with the idea that I’d use the same format I did with my first Black ArchiveRose to look at a less successful revival. So far, so straightforward. I’d already decided to incorporate a look at The Feast of the Stone, the only other officially sanctioned fiction to include the Richard E Grant Doctor. As I researched the book, I found that rarest and most exciting of things in Doctor Who research: an unexplored avenue.

The clues came from two places – James Goss’s DVD commentary and an Ian Berriman interview with Simon Clark for SFX. Clark mentioned that he’d been commissioned to write the second in the proposed animated series and Goss mentioned there had been several candidates for the slot. Given how under-examined Shalka’s been since it was made, it struck me that this was a part of the story of that era that needed to be told. Perhaps we could get details of this unmade story…

I started off by emailing Simon Clark, and he responded quickly to my request. He was willing to be interviewed regarding the story and was also happy to search his archive for any storyline and script material he might have. Simultaneously, I contacted James Goss via Twitter, and again he was incredibly helpful with the details of what had happened after the production of Shalka. I knew there had been four pitches for the second story, Blood of the Robots and by Paul Cornell, but that left two submissions which we knew nothing of. James happily filled in those gaps, giving me further avenues to research. I could fill in the details of Cornell’s submission and one of the others but attempts to contact the author of the fourth proposal proved fruitless and I was only left with a tantalising outline of what might have been…

Meanwhile, with a deadline looming, Simon came back and found that his copies of the outline and script were missing from his archive. He suggested asking James… James searched his loft and where the Blood of the Robots material should have been were a couple of old magazines and an empty bag wrap for a lost SFX. Was I too late? Would this story forever be lost to posterity? I already had a lot of good material but the jewel in the crown was missing.

Fortunately, James pointed me in the direction of New Zealand, and the inestimable Paul Scoones. Paul had written the info-text for the Shalka DVD and James had sent him scans of the material for Blood of the Robots. I knew Paul through the wonders of online fandom and emailed him – and on the other side of the world, like minor league Philip Morrises, we found the mother lode. Paul not only had the material, he was kind enough to look over an early draft of the book and give some constructive feedback that made it much stronger and tighter than it had been. Things wouldn’t be complete without one final hurdle, that of a malfunctioning scanner. I’ve rarely been as grateful for the ability to touch type as I was when transcribing so many pages, but to shine a light on an untold chapter of Doctor Who’s history? Worth every second.

Of course, being Doctor Who, there’s always a punchline. A few weeks after we’d sent the final manuscript in, James messaged me to say that whilst he’d been putting his Christmas decorations up he’d found his copy of the Blood of the Robots material, exactly where it wasn’t supposed to be. It’s the sort of truth Douglas Adams might have illustrated with a ridiculous yet brilliant anecdote: if you really need something, it won’t turn up until you’ve found a substitute elsewhere…

The Black Archive #10: Scream of the Shalka is out now from Obverse Books.