The successful entry in Big Finish’s 2018 ‘Paul Spragg Memorial Short Trips Opportunity’ is out now. Harry Draper, author of Doctor Who – Short Trips: The Last Day at Work, told me about his experience developing his idea and working on the story.
The Last Day at Work
Two strangers arrive at the retirement party of Constable Bernard Whittam, a man whose life doesn’t make sense. In a search for answers, Bernard faces a terrible choice and the Doctor must confront a consequence of his travels. Clocking in just shy of 40 minutes, The Last Day at Work is a light but thoughtful, moving tale. The Doctor and Jamie unexpectedly have their friendship tested in a way that’s afforded a very satisfying resolution. Without giving anything away, the central premise is a very clever expansion of one of Doctor Who’s oldest conceits and an expansion of the lore that really fires the imagination. Draper has been very efficient with the script, giving Bernard plenty of characterisation early on. Since his arc becomes the heart of the story, it was essential to get this right and this manages to sell the significance of the resolution without sacrificing on the pace.
Big Finish executive producer and actor Nicholas Briggs narrates. It’s well known that he’s got a versatile vocal range but I’d never heard him take on the Second Doctor or Jamie. Both get a decent rendering but it’s definitely imitating Patrick Troughton where Briggs seems to be having the most fun.
Paul Spragg Memorial Short Trips Opportunity
Paul Spragg was a production assistant at Big Finish whose many talents helping the day-to-day running of the company. He sadly passed away in 2014. Beloved by employees and fans, Spragg was eager to encourage new talent. In his memory, Big Finish has annually run the Paul Spragg Memorial Short Trips Opportunity – opening its inbox for writers to submit ideas for Doctor Who stories in the Short Trips range. Harry Draper is the third person to be selected after the Selim Ulug in 2017 and Joshua Wanisko in 2016.
When I spoke to Harry about his inspiration, he had kind words about Paul…
The inspiration for ‘The Last Day at Work’ was Paul Spragg. It’s a pleasure but also a responsibility to deliver something which, at the end of the day, commemorates and celebrates his memory. This needed a sense of something special, which ‘Forever Fallen’ and ‘Landbound’ absolutely embodied. This led me to consider what could be my “definitive” Doctor Who story; if I only ever have one shot at writing this, what is going to be the story that speaks the most about my love for the programme? That’s what Neil Gaiman did so brilliantly in ‘The Doctor’s Wife’. It’s absolutely a love letter to the Doctor, the TARDIS and the companions. And then, from out of the smog of London, emerged Constable Bernard Whittam and the deeply thrilling idea of spinning a tale from a leftover thread in the very first Doctor Who serial.
Draper & Shaw
Harry and I chatted about his submission and collaborating with producer, script editor and director Alfie Shaw…
The submission itself took a month. Once Big Finish announced that the opportunity was back again, I combed my TARDIS notebook of ideas. I began to develop two pitches: one for Paul McGann; one for Matt Smith. I didn’t send these in, but it was worth writing them out, just to become familiar with the format again…I’d submitted pitches in the preceding two years. But the idea of ‘The Last Day at Work’ was constantly in my mind and I couldn’t resist it any more. So I started again from scratch and wrote a new pitch. When I developed it with the wonderful Alfie Shaw, we fleshed out Bernard Whittam and Emma Clarke, cut out and wove in details, and generally edited it until we were satisfied with the storyline before I began to write.
Luckily, he found plenty to keep him busy while waiting to hear back…
The truth is there was simply too much to do after sending the pitch, I didn’t have time to be nervous! I graduated along with my friends, went to London, just wrote and wrote and wrote. Obviously, this was the gig I wanted more than anything else, so there had to be a degree of anticipation. Fortunately, we had the Jodie Whittaker era to look forward to, so that kept me occupied…by the way, isn’t she brilliant?!
Finding out his story was selected was a suitably British celebration…
I was flabbergasted, I actually said aloud, “No, no, this can’t be happening” and then, in a Patrick Troughton manner, just chuckled and felt very mischievous. I broke the news to my Mum and Dad, and I have truly never seen anybody as overjoyed as them in that moment. Mum was climbing over the sofa! My younger brothers, Leo and Oliver, were quite excited at the prospect that I would be writing for the BBC. I had to keep the secret from everybody else for a long time, which again gave me that sense of mischief. I remember I had a cup of tea to celebrate, which suited me perfectly.
Game of Chess
As the script took shape, did the finished story resemble the pitch?
I agree with Russell T Davies in ‘The Writer’s Tale’ – the only book I’ve read throughout both my childhood and my later years. It’s not so much that the ideas don’t exist, it’s that they don’t take the right shape. There’s one line in there that I think offers an idea as to how I work out plot: “To the Doctor, everybody was a chess piece, occupying their appropriate place on the board”. I had to work out how the Doctor would meet Emma and Bernard, how Jamie would begin to suspect that something was very wrong in this ordinary pub, how the Doctor discovers the truth – all chess pieces, needing the right moves.
A few ideas materialised along the way. One was about the phone hatch being on the wrong side of the police box, but I realised that this would be a continuity error, as ‘The Wheel in Space’ follows on from this story. Clayton Hickman [artist, Doctor Who fan and noted police box accuracy enthusiast] would have been sent to an early grave! Another idea was developing Beatrice the barmaid. She was introduced as comic relief at the beginning of the story, but becomes a tragic figure by the end, all alone in the inn, drying her glasses…
The script locked in, did Harry get the chance to see Briggs ply his craft?
Alfie [Shaw] was incredibly kind to invite me to the recording…in London. Unfortunately, in an age without T-Mat, it wasn’t possible. But I was utterly confident that Nicholas Briggs would deliver a stunning reading. All I would have done is ask him endless questions about the Dalek Time Controller and the modulator settings for the voices of the Cybermen from ‘The Tenth Planet’.
So what’s next for Harry Draper? Any writing projects currently in the pipeline?
I’ve recently had an original short story published in Chapel Gallery’s new historical collection, Opening the Gates, entitled ‘Alice and the Queen’. It’s set in the Crystal Palace… but it’s a spaceship! If you’re a fan of ‘The Ark’ from the William Hartnell era, you’ll recognise the homage. Alas, no Security Kitchen in mine. As for 2019, who knows? Watch this space…and time! I’ll be completing my Creative Writing MA at Edge Hill University, which I have a feeling will lead to pastures new. Along the way, I’ll be offering my services to various fan projects by my unbelievably talented friends. On with the motley!
Best of luck to Harry in his future work and thanks for taking the time to speak to me! Remember you can download his new Doctor Who story for FREE at the Big Finish website.