Thursday, July 22, 2021

Master Switches - An Interview with Gerard Power


Gerard Power, author of the Master Switches story 'Master Brightside' talks to Altrix Books about the roots behind his killer idea... 

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My tendency is to write macabrely surreal sci-fi, from what I must grudgingly describe as an Irish Catholic perspective. Someone I briefly spoke to at a house party circa 2012 recommended I watch something called ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’, unwittingly derailing my life from whatever God intended it to be. Since then I've been trapped in Doctor Who's gravity-well, and more recently gotten sucked into the redoubtable fan-to-writer pipeline: my first professionally published short story can be found in last year's Cwej: Down the Middle, and I've since written a novella for the hopefully forthcoming Cwej: Hidden Truths. Both involve cannibalism, strange skies, and the vexations of waking up in a human body on a planet you don't quite understand.

What made you want to write for Master Switches?

What clinched it for me was the guideline that the Doctor must somehow contribute, through action or inaction, to the Master's evil. This seemed like the kind of sweeping, overarching context that would give the collection a heft and scope which you might not get when, say, publishing a story as a stand-alone fanfic. A great deal of Doctor Who's appeal for me lies in those lucky half-accidents where different stories synchronise and resonate as they touch upon similar concepts, so I'm very much looking forward to seeing what the other writers have done with the same brief.

How did you decide which Master/Doctor combo to run with?

The kernel of the idea, which I'd had at the back of my mind for some years, came from watching the video of ‘Mr Brightside’ (The Killers), in which Eric Roberts plays a fabulously oleaginous arch-villain draped in Edenic imagery, a manipulative master of his own little self-contained universe, and thinking ‘hang on, this is a Doctor Who minisode’. It was only after I read the Master Switches guidelines that this tongue-in-cheek counter-reading began to crystallise into something resembling a plot. The guidelines encouraged mixing eras, so the Eighth Doctor was out, and the War Doctor seemed the most rational way into the Master's harmonious predicament. It also struck me that Roberts's life-lusting performance would make for an interesting contrast with Hurt's dutiful weariness.

Can you describe your story in a nutshell?

It's a take on an implied but untold event: just how did the Time Lords retrieve the Master from the Eye of Harmony? How might he have entertained himself during the long years he spent trapped in there? And might it, perhaps, have looked a bit like a music video from 2004?

How did you find the writing process?

My main memory is of poring endlessly over the ‘Mr Brightside’ video for research, squinting at freeze-frames as I attempted to catalogue the somewhat abstract geography and populace of its Moulin Rouge purgatory. I like that song, but it will be a very long time before I can listen to it again. Because of my slightly amorphous grasp on deadlines, however, I ended up doing most of the actual writing over one caffeinated weekend. As someone who's more comfortable writing glacially and revising forever, I hope this has given the story a chaotic, freewheeling energy appropriate to the subject-matter.

Which aspect(s) of your story are you most proud of?

I'd have to say the tone. The stories I enjoy best are often those that anchor outlandish, even baffling scenarios with solid, down-to-earth character work: stories that initially seem like pranks, that make you think “how does this even exist?”, but which somehow have you riveted by the second page. The more ridiculous the concept, the bigger the reward when it makes you care. This kind of earnest absurdism is a delicate balance, but hopefully I've managed to pull it off.

What is your favourite line from the story?

‘Paramedic, treat thyself.’

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Master Switches - An Interview with Jon Arnold

In the latest in our series of Master Switches author interviews, Jon Arnold gives us the lowdown on his poignant two-hander Time War story 'The Battlements'.,,

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

By day a humble civil servant, by night a masked vigilante author, mainly for the Black Archive range but frankly also for anyone who'll take me. I was fried by a dragon once, but got better.

What made you want to write a story for Master Switches?

The chance to remix Doctor Who’s rich history – why should the same Doctors and Masters always be paired off bar the limiting factor of availability of actors? That’s the beauty of prose and comics – your playground becomes limited only by your imagination. It’s not rewriting history, but it’s a chance to at least have fun remixing it and see the chemistry

How would you describe your story in a nutshell?

It’s loosely inspired by the Game of Thrones episode A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms - a character piece with the Doctor meeting the Master on the eve of the Time War – well, as much as Time Wars could be said to have an eve!

What made you decide which Master and Doctor combo to go with?

At the time I pitched it, it was a little odd that this combination of Doctor and Master hadn’t met, so I wanted to see how they sparked off each other. Big Finish have announced a box set with them since, so I’m looking forward to seeing how they’ve imagined it.

How did you find the writing process?

Given this was written with the pandemic as backdrop, slower and stranger than usual – I could relate to Steven Moffat’s guilt at having all the time in the world but little headspace with what’s going on around us. The real key was working out why such a relatively quiet story might matter, and hopefully I’ve come up with a satisfying reason.

What aspect of your story are you most proud of?

I like to think it’s capturing the voices of this particular Master and Doctor, finding why they’re still friends and where they’re similar despite some profound philosophical differences.

What’s your favourite line from the story?

‘All that power over time and you still couldn’t stop night falling.’ As a summary of the impotence of even the Time Lords. And the last line, which might indicate the Master scores a kind of small victory…

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Master Switches - An Interview with Ellen Montgomery

Image (c) 2021 BBC.

Altrix Books talks to Ellen Montgomery, whose Master Switches story 'The Genoai Tango' introduces us to a whole new incarnation of the Master...

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Ellen Montgomery and I'm a Dutch/Scottish American from Detroit, Michigan, USA. I write a lot of fan fiction for varying age groups and plan on releasing my own original fiction series in the future. I'm a trained screenwriter and have been writing short/long-form fiction stories for longer than I care to admit. After a couple of aborted attempts to get into the show, I first got into Doctor Who in 2010, as I didn't have reruns of the Classic seasons on television growing up and my interest didn't fully catch until series five. Since then I've done a lot of backlog bingeing, timeline sussing, and fic concocting.

What made you want to write for Master Switches?

Not only is the book for a good cause, I'm a bit self-conscious (or self-aware? Both? Neither? Who knows) that the only way I'll likely get to write for Doctor Who as an American is via fan projects including, but not limited to, ones such as this. An international cluster of fans pooling their talents to raise money for charity just checks solidly. As an added bonus, it was a very fun and interesting exercise, thinking about the Doctor needing to team up with the Master on something, and it's one of those sorts of things that when executed correctly, it works really, reallyreally well.

How did you decide which Doctor and Master combination to go with?

It was natural for me to write the Twelfth Doctor - I tend to write him a lot in other works. Peter Capaldi's acting chops are heavy-duty and he brings so much depth to the character that he essentially is the Doctor. The Master in question is a little more complicated: born of my like of alternate universe interpretations and the desire to see how an alternate Master – who has none of the history with our Doctor that we've seen from Delgado to Dhawan – would react to someone like Twelve who is not having any of the haughty-god-like disregard for life. A decent Master is the opposite of the Doctor they play against, but a great Master-Doctor combo is one being the antithesis of the other, and sometimes that involves some disturbing similarities. It's the "how did you and I have the same upbringing but we're so different" idea, though showing that these differences are often just on the surface. Deep down, these characters are brothers to the end, no matter what they look like or how they present themselves or what's happened in the meantime. Plus, this Master is a bit more hard-nosed and practical than we're used to seeing, and how interesting a flip is that for a character who is increasingly unhinged with each consecutive casting? Very, to me at least.

In a nutshell, what is your story about?

An alternate-universe version of the Master running into a mainline Doctor, finding that the universe doesn't always churn the same person out… well... the same.

How did you find the writing process?

In this particular story? A little more difficult than normal. I signed on just before the COVID-19 pandemic kicked into high gear and let me tell you that I'm pretty envious of people who were able to start a ton of pandemic projects and finish them all. There was a lot of staring and typing two words and trying to distract myself from overthinking and brain-stalling. Most of the time I sit down and just write until it's done if it's a short story (not a method I generally recommend), but not this time. I never stopped working my job(s) in-person, so it's safe to say that the stress was taking its toll. I'm so glad I put in with this project though--it served as a good distraction in of itself.

What aspect of your story are you most proud of?

That I finished. Ha! But in all seriousness, I am proud of the fact I was able to get in an original Master and still have a Master-y feel. I'm used to the Master being absolutely bonkers and wacky and positively mental that getting to pare the character down to some form of semi-calm only possible pre-Delgado is kind of neat. It also suggests that in many instances, the roles of the Master and the Doctor can be reversed, with the latter being the loose cannon of ambiguous morality instead while still not making it to Valeyard stage; the fact the Doctor is always roughly two shades from Master and five shades from Valeyard at all times is something that can never be reiterated enough.

What's your favourite line from your story?

‘He is sickly,’ the Master interrupted. ‘My brother’s pallor has long been an issue since we were small.’

‘Koschei,’ the Doctor hissed. His ire made the Master smirk thinly.

These two lines right here radiate such strong Sibling Energy that... well... I can see this exchange happening between almost any Doctor-Master team. Plus it gives nothing about the story away.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Master Switches - An Interview with Graham Tedesco-Blair


In the latest in our series of interviews with the authors of Master Switches, we talk to Graham Tedesco-Blair about his epic story 'A Most Peculiar Infection.'

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Graham Tedesco-Blair, and I've been a student of economics, philosophy, and literature for many years now. I've published stories with Altrix and Obverse, and I blog very occasionally at LiteralMachines.com.

What made you want to write a story for Master Switches?

It was a lovely concept, mashing up the ‘wrong’ Masters with the ‘wrong’ Doctors. There are so many wonderful and awful possibilities that simply could not happen due to the limitations of the real world, but which, on the page, we are free to explore.

How would you describe your story in a nutshell?

It's my favourite kind of horror story, the sort where the end is inevitable due to the nature of the heroes, but they haven't recognised that yet. Stopping the oncoming doom would require them to do precisely what they don't want to, admit what they don't want to admit, and come to terms with the full implications of what they are and what it means.

I realise, of course, that this tells you exactly zero about what's in the story, but I hope it's tempting enough that you'll give it a try anyways.

How did you decide which Master and Doctor combo to go with?

Delgado's Master and Tennant's tenth Doctor are two of the most theatrical and dramatic versions of those characters. Both are prone to very ‘big’ gestures, with all the drama and tears that come alongside those types of things. There's a sort of amused cruelty that Delgado embodied that I think plays very well off of Tennant's confidence and enthusiasm.

How did you find the writing process?

Oh, goodness. So much research! The problem when you're writing a ‘big’ story that happens over so long a time period is that you have to check every little thing. You don't want to be wrong or say something embarrassingly inaccurate. At the same time, the temptation to dig deeper and deeper, to haul out ever greater details and Easter eggs that don't really contribute to the story but might add to the atmosphere… you could theoretically go on forever. There's so much you have to leave out when trying to just get a brief snapshot of an idea this big. It's such a tricky balance alongside making sure that the central plot and idea don't get lost in the mix.

Which aspect(s) of your story are you most proud of?

I quite liked tracing the thread of an historical idea and following it through to its logical conclusion. There's a quote from John Maynard Keynes that I think about a lot. It's the conclusion of The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (1935): “[T]he ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back. [...] But, soon or late, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil.”

Ideas are bizarre things. I recall speaking with a very rational friend about minimum wages. He was convinced that there was no way they could be helpful, and they merely upset the balance of economies. Unfortunately for him, the minimum wage is one of the most studied and analysed subjects in all of economics, and basically all of them conclude that a minimum wage is better for society. And you'd think, given that he's such a rational guy, he would accept the results of study after study after study. But he wouldn't. He kept insisting that they must be bad. And he was exactly the sort of guy to tell you that he only likes science, isn't influenced by any ideology, and bases his ideas on facts, not opinions. It's been eighty-six years since Keynes wrote that, and we're still on it. It'd be nice if more folks would do a genealogy of their ideas, not necessarily to condemn or find fault with them, but simply to understand why they think the way they do.

There's another quote from Keynes that has stuck with me, from A Tract of Monetary Reform: “But this long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the ocean is flat again.”

Between those two quotes, you have the genesis of my story.

What’s your favourite line from your story?

“The entity knew Number needed to go up.”

It's probably meaningless without context, but I think it accurately describes a particular situation in the world today that's at the root of most of our problems.


Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Master Switches - An Interview with Andrew Blair


We talk to Master Switches writer Andrew Blair, whose story 'Time Signature' takes us inside the twisted workings of the Simm Master's mind...

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I‘m a writer and performer based in Edinburgh, mainly writing poetry, and I’ve also contributed Doctor Who articles to Den of Geek. I’ve had some fan fiction published in the first Time Shadows anthology, and last year I had a pamphlet of poems out with Speculative Books where every poem is about a version of Robert Pattinson.

What made you want to write a story for Master Switches?

I was starting to get back into writing after my son was born, and this was an anthology where I formed an idea for a story pretty quickly, so I made a pitch knowing that a deadline would help me.

How would you describe your story in a nutshell?

I wanted to explore how the Master comes up with his evil schemes, and bring together the epic and ridiculous aspects of that.

What made you decide which Master and Doctor combo to go with?

My initial pitch involved the Sacha Dhawan incarnation and we couldn’t use that, so I talked to Paul about which incarnations had fewer stories in the anthology and who I’d like to write for.

How did you find the writing process?.

Fun. The Simm Master especially is big and sassy and gleeful so you can lean into that and be bold. It gets you into the headspace of ‘I might never write another Doctor Who story so I might as well act as if I own the entire franchise’.

The brief did present some challenges which I overcame by saying ‘Sorry, this doesn’t really fit the brief, is that okay?’

What aspect of your story are you most proud of?

I think it treads a good line between interrogating the character and how they work and massive great dollops of fanwank.

What’s your favourite line from your story? 

One that came from a note from Paul:

“But you are hitting me with my own hands”.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Master Switches - An Interview with Iain McLaughlin


Iain McLaughlin, prolific writer and creator of the popular Big Finish/Thebes Publishing character Erimem, talks to Altrix about his continuity-bending Master Switches story 'Re-Genesis of the Daleks'... 

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I've been a writer since 1985, and writing Doctor Who related stuff since about 2000 when Gary Russell at Big Finish gave me a chance. Since then I've written a pile of stuff in the Who universe - for the Doctor themselves and for various spin-offs. It’s a lovely big universe with lots of scope and potential.

What made you want to write for Master Switches?

Roger Delgado. My favourite Master, the best Master. I wanted to write for his Master.

How did you decide which Master/Doctor combo to go with?

Once I had decided on Roger Delgado it had to be a pre-Deadly Assassin Tom Baker. I loved Delgado’s interaction with Jon Pertwee but we'd seen that, and we never saw him with the mighty Tom... and we never heard what he thought of the Fourth Doctor.

Can you describe your story in a nutshell?

Why is the Master on Skaro during Genesis of the Daleks?

How did you find the writing process?

I was incredibly busy with a pile of work and kept putting this off. I wound up writing it in a couple of hours on a Sunday, while listening to football on the radio. I had a limited amount of time, so it had to be done in that time. The story was worked out for the pitch months earlier, and was thankfully one that had come very quickly and arrived fully formed. So, it was a case of sitting down to turn that pitch into a story. It was a case of sitting down and not getting up till it was finished.

What aspect of your story are you most proud of?

I really liked the chance to follow the story from the Master's point of view, to get into his head a bit. He's charming but he's convinced he's utterly superior and he has disdain for almost everyone. That can be very funny without dragging the Master into the territory of being mad or a comedy figure. I like the Master to be, well… not mad.

What's your favourite line from the story?

There's a bit about Gallifrey I really like but a single line from that would be nonsense. I do like Ossian's first line in the story. It means nothing out of context, but in place in the story… I do like it.

‘Pretty sure it would ruin mine more than yours,’ a young female voice replied.

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Master Switches - An Interview with Stephen Hatcher


 We talk to Stephen Hatcher, author of the Master Switches story ‘Merlin’s Dragon’. No spoilers, but don’t be fooled by the title of this clever and evocative tale set in 5th century Britain.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I am Stephen Hatcher. I am a sixty-two-year-old retired teacher of Modern Languages, living in the Derbyshire Dales (without a ‘k’) in England.

I started writing for political publications in the early 80s and much later contributed reviews and articles to a number of Doctor Who fanzines; but my first published fiction was for Big Finish, for the Short Trips book range, for which I wrote five stories in the noughties. At around the same time, I started contributing to the Canadian Doctor Who fiction fanzine Myth Makers and to a number of charity fiction anthologies and essay collections, including work for the two Time Shadows books for Pseudoscope Publishing (the second of which I edited); Watching Books; the Outside In books for ATB publishing; Obverse Books; Miwk; and Hidden Tiger. I’ve written about Star Cops, Catweazle, Star Trek, Buffy and Angel, Kolchak the Night Stalker, Millennium, The Tomorrow People and The Goon Show as well as Doctor Who; and wrote a Jonathan Creek/Jason King crossover story for Obverse Books’ The Curse of Fanfic. Recently, I have been thrilled to contribute twice to the official Doctor Who Magazine.

What made you want to write for Master Switches?

My story One Night in Wartime was in the previous Master anthology, Master Pieces and working with our editor Paul on that was a very positive experience; (we had previously worked together on Time Shadows: Second Nature, when the roles were reversed), so I was very keen to contribute once more, when this sequel volume, Master Switches, was announced.

How would you describe your story in a nutshell?

Merlin’s Dragon sees the Seventh Doctor in a guise that was foreshadowed in the TV story Battlefield. The setting is the days immediately following the final withdrawal of the Roman Legions from Britain, where our hero encounters a member of a familiar species of intelligent reptile, and has to deal with the Master, as played on TV by Anthony Ainley.

How did you decide which Doctor and Master combination to go with?

Once I had decided on a setting of the early 5th Century C.E., then the Seventh Doctor followed from that. We know that he was around at the court of King Arthur, around eighty years later, so I just had to find a way to get him into place a little early. The brief included the option to mix and match Doctors and Masters, so I had initially avoided the Ainley incarnation in my pitch, but with a shortage of Ainley pitches in, Paul felt it would be good to use him here and I was very happy to go along with that. The pairing of this Doctor and Master sets the story much more naturally into the Doctor Who continuity, somewhere between Survival and the TV Movie.

How did you find the writing process?

Like many of us who write, I have found getting down to work quite difficult during the 2020-21 Lockdowns. On the face of it, there should have been so much more time to think and write. However, in practice, with my daughter not at school and my wife not at work, there have been so many unavoidable demands on that time. I’m not complaining, many have been far worse off than I have, but it has been a challenge to keep focussed. Then in the autumn, the creativity dam burst and I ended up writing three stories in a fortnight, which is unusually productive for me, at the best of times.

What aspect of your story are you most proud of?

I loved writing for Draco, our Dragon, and I hope I’ve made him a fun character. It was quite difficult capturing the Ainley Master – making him not just a generic Delgado clone (which he was a bit on TV, if the truth be told). I think I’ve managed to do that - I’m told it’s worked; so I’m happy with that. I’ve called him Arlodh – anyone with a Cornish dictionary might try looking that up.

What’s your favourite line from the story?

My favourite line? Well, it’s a whole scene, actually. It’s the one between Draco and Arlodh that I stole shamelessly from my favourite film, almost word for word. I think it fits rather nicely – it made me chuckle anyway.