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.


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