A little something different, this week...I'm going to recycle old material!
Directly, that is, instead of writing new stuff about my old ideas. This is a short story I wrote for a Doctor Who charity anthology (Doctor Who fans have a history of producing short-story anthologies with the proceeds going to various charities. Obviously, it violates copyright, but the BBC has traditionally looked the other way so long as the money really does go to a worthy cause. Some of them, like the classic 'Perfect Timing', got some fairly well known professional authors to contribute alongside the fan writers.) The anthology in question, 'Atypical History', was supposed to come out in 2003 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the series. I think it's pretty unlikely that it'll make it in time.
The brief for all writers was as follows: Write an original short story using the name 'Doctor Who' and the concept of time travel that could serve as the springboard for a series of further stories. In short, we were to imagine another way that Doctor Who could have gone back in 1963, using as little of the original as possible. So here was what I did with it...
‘Doctor Who’s Wacky Funtime Playhouse’
by John Seavey
The energy of the crowd felt almost like a physical force as it washed over Dale Townsend, and for a brief moment he forgot everything and just basked in the cheers of adoring children. He couldn’t see them—right now, the spotlight he stood in kept him from seeing any of the audience—but he didn’t need to know what they looked like. All that mattered, for now at least, was their excitement, their applause. They had been infused with the excitement of the mob, each child feeding off the energy of the others and getting more and more enthused, thrilled, and energetic, and now it poured off them in waves as he stood there in his white coat, big shoes, and mint-green surgical outfit waiting for them to finally cool down enough for him to speak. It was a tiny moment. It wasn’t enough. But he’d remember it, he was sure, for the rest of his life.
Finally, the applause died down, and he spoke. “Well, kids,” he said, his voice filled with forced warmth, “the 1000th episode of ‘Doctor Who’s Wacky Funtime Playhouse’ is just about done!” He ended the sentence in an acclamative shout, the same way he ended all of his sentences when speaking in character. It was another thing he wouldn’t miss. “And I’m grateful to all of you for helping make it the best episode ever!” Not true, he thought as the crowd roared again—the 500th episode was much better. He’d gotten a few celebrities to do guest appearances, big stars who’d grown up in the area and had watched the show with fond memories. Nobody cared anymore. The show was still on because it was cheap to produce, mostly old cartoons that didn’t cost much and just one emcee to keep the live audience occupied.
He waved at the crowd, and they quieted down once more. “So thank you all once again, and here’s to a thousand more!” Another roaring crowd, but this time, he heard the beginnings of the theme song playing and knew that he didn’t have long. Quickly, using the same voice projection talents he’d once hoped would take him far in Shakespearean theatre, he uttered his trademark closing line: “And remember, kids, Doctor Who prescribes love, luck, and laughter for the rest of the day!”
The spotlight darkened and Dale Townsend, known for the past twenty years in the major Chicago markets as “Doctor Who”, let himself relax. Another episode, another paycheck, and that was just the way life worked. He didn’t see any reason to get emotional about it anymore.
He headed back towards his dressing room, only to have Tom, his producer, run up next to him and put his arm around him in what was probably meant to be a gesture of good-natured camaraderie. Tom probably had a last name, but Dale never bothered to remember the names of his producers anymore. He just noted whether they were the young kind on their way up, doing the show as a way to build credits for their resumé before moving into bigger and better things, or the kind on their way down, broken-down and weary and scraping the last few dollars out of their career by doing a local kiddie show in Chicago.
“That was great!” Tom said, in much the same tone of voice that Dale used on-camera. Tom was one of the young producers. Frankly, Dale preferred the old ones. They might drink, they might shout at the kids, and they might occasionally lapse into weepy tirades about how they used to direct Gwyneth Paltrow, but at least they had the good grace not to be enthusiastic about a show that forced people to dress up in mock surgical gear and entertain small children. “Really, Dale, I think that was truly super. Your best performance yet. You were…” He acted for a moment as though he was lost for words, which Dale privately suspected wasn’t hard. If you removed the words “great” and “super” from Tom’s vocabulary, he’d probably be mute.
Dale smiled wanly and said, “Thanks,” in a weary voice. He made a feeble effort to get out of his producer’s friendly grasp, but Tom wasn’t having any of it.
“So,” Tom said, “about next week’s show—I see us as leading off with some of the older black-and-white stuff, a sort of retrospective if you will—it’ll be a great way to start building our reputation again as the bleeding edge of children’s television.”
Inwardly, Dale sighed. ‘Doctor Who’s Wacky Funtime Playhouse’ never had a reputation as any kind of edge, except perhaps blunt and dull. It made ‘Mister Rogers Neighborhood’ seem “bleeding edge”, and Mister Rogers had been dead for six months. Speaking of which… “Say, Tom, could we take this up in twenty minutes or so? I’m feeling a bit drained, just want to rest in my dressing room for a bit. You know how it is.”
Tom let go of him, then gave him a solid, bone-jarring last handshake. “Sure thing. I’m sorry, Dale, I should have thought—you must be overwhelmed. One thousand episodes…it’s amazing, it really is. Super, absolutely great. Tell you what—you take a half-hour, then you and I can go out to the bars and celebrate.”
Dale nodded awkwardly, and headed towards his dressing room. Great, he grumbled mentally. Now when they report the news, they’ll talk about how I “seemed happy”, how I was “already planning the next show”.
They probably won’t even read my note.