Back in March 2020, live experience company Escape Hunt updated its Doctor Who escape room in several locations with a brand new story – A Dalek Awakens. With the announcement of Time Lord Victorious the following month, Escape Hunt were listed among the participants but only later did we learnt that A Dalek Awakens was retroactively included in the storyline.
In October, Big Finish announced that, in partnership with Escape Hunt, Jonathan Morris – mainstay of Doctor Who audios, books and comics – would pen an audio prequel to A Dalek Awakens starring Tom Baker. Thus we find ourselves looking at Genetics of the Daleks…
There are 10,000 humans in stasis aboard Starship Future. Ten thousand humans expecting to wake up on a distant planet, their new home. But twenty years into their journey, Starship Future takes on board fuel – and something else. Something that’s been waiting, frozen in space, for a very long time.
Something with a plan.
Unless the Doctor can help, it looks like the people of Starship Future have no future at all…Synopsis
Interview with Jonathan Morris
The full-cast audio prequel to a Doctor Who escape room is, needless to say, not a typical brief. How did the idea come about?
It went through various iterations. Originally I was asked to do a prequel, or tie-in, to a different game entirely. I came up with a storyline, which now resides in my bottom drawer, as the brief changed to tie in with the Dalek game. Then I came up with several Dalek ideas, which also found their way into my bottom drawer, as the brief became more specific. Then it was realized it could tie in with Time Lord Victorious and James Goss gave me a couple of paragraph-long outlines of potential stories. I was also given lots of information about the Escape Room game by its designer, Bob [Rimington], and used that information to expand one of James’ outlines into the storyline of Genetics of the Daleks. I thought I would be asked to change the title but nobody ever did!Jonathan Morris
Jonathan has written the Fourth Doctor, played by Tom Baker, plenty of times including his work on Big Finish’s The Fourth Doctor Adventures range. But did the unique nature of this story affect how Jonathan tackled the writing process?
By the time it came to scripting we were in lockdown, so I had to bear in mind that it would be recorded remotely with the actors doing their parts from home. So I tried to keep it simple in terms of logistics and make sure that it wasn’t too focussed on any one character. Keep it all clear and straightforward so that it’s easy to pick it up if something goes wrong. And, of course, I had to tie in my beginning and my ending with the other parts of Time Lord Victorious, and use the setting from the Escape Room, so I didn’t have a entirely free hand.Jonathan Morris
So writing and recording under lockdown must have been useful to capture the sense of being isolated and trapped, but were there parts of the story that Jonathan enjoyed writing the most?
As I was writing it, the idea that it was thematically a kind of reversal of Genesis of the Daleks occurred to me – a Dalek with knowledge of the future given the opportunity to rewrite its own history – and as I wrote it I found that the confrontation between the Doctor and the Dalek turned out much stronger and dramatic than I had anticipated, because the Dalek isn’t just gloating or boasting, it is trying to use mind-games to destroy the Doctor’s self-belief. “I know that you will become something as bad as a Dalek!” So that was the part that was the most fun, where the situation and the characters were so strong that it generated its own dramatic momentum.Jonathan Morris
Time Lord Victorious
As well as the Time Lord Victorious meganarrative to think about, Genetics of the Daleks also has to set everything up to lead straight into the escape room. Was this a tricky balancing act?
Not really, as I had all the information up-front. I did work with the expectation that I would need to change some elements in order to tie in with the Escape Room and Time Lord Victorious. That’s why I kept the story quite straightforward, so that story elements could be pulled out and slotted in with the minimum of fuss, rather than some intricately-plotted story where any change would unravel the plot.
But in the end the only things I had to change were details, character names and so on, rather than anything fundamental or massive.Jonathan Morris
As a relatively late announcement in the TLV project, did having plenty of stories already in place help Jonathan craft the references?
As I said, the basic story came from James Goss, and my story was script edited by Jac Rayner who was involved in some of the other Time Lord Victorious stories, in fact she may have even written one. But beyond that, no – by the time I was involved everybody else had already done their things and moved on!Jonathan Morris
A Dalek Awakens
If you’re writing a prequel to a live experience it probably helps to…well, experience it yourself, right? I asked if Jonathan has been able to visit any of the Escape Hunt locations to try out A Dalek Awakens…
No. It was gonna happen but the shutters came down just before I was due to visit. I don’t think it would’ve made much difference, though, as I’d already been briefed on the world of the game.Jonathan Morris
The titular Dalek is a member of the Dalek Time Squad, an elite team of Daleks that have appeared in several Time Lord Victorious outings already. Did Jonathan have to reconcile his script with the others?
I was sent various documents outlining the entire Time Lord Victorious plan, which I read and assimilated, but in the end my story was one tucked away at the end, a sort of epilogue, added after the rest of the thing had all been worked out, so I didn’t really need to think in terms of links to the other stuff, and I deliberately avoided referring to it because my story needed to be ‘standalone’ and because, of course, the more continuity references you include the more chance there is that you will get one wrong. And, to prevent the Fourth Doctor gaining knowledge of future events, he had to believe that this was an ‘ordinary’ Dalek, so I wrote it as an ordinary Dalek. Daleks are all pretty much the same, anyway!Jonathan Morris
Day of the Comet
Finally, I asked Jonathan if he can tease any upcoming projects…
Well, I have a few stories coming up which haven’t been announced yet so I’m not allowed to talk about them. Around the same time I was writing Genetics I was writing Lightspeed, Ghosts, Queen of the Mechonoids and a fourth story, which sadly fell through, which was annoying as I think it was the best one! But maybe it will be revived one day. But I have various Doctor Who things ‘in the pipeline’ – still trying to tick off every Doctor on the list – plus I’m trying to get some all-new original stuff made. When I do, I will be calling in every favour I am owed to publicise it!
But in terms of what’s announced, I’m particularly excited to hear Doctor Who: Day of the Comet, with Tom and Louise [Jameson], which is out in January 2021. It was written back in October 2016 and recorded in March 2017, so it’s already an object of nostalgia for me! At the time I thought it might be my last ever chance to write for Tom, which happily has turned out not to be the case.Jonathan Morris
With thanks to Jonny Morris for taking the time to chat with me and Big Finish for their support.