Echoes and Fingerprints

Gargoyles, by Adam Baker

The photo right is entitled Gargoyles and is by Adam Baker. It is used in accordance with his Creative Commons license.

Reviewing Steven Moffat’s fantastic Doctor Who episode Blink, some have noted that there are hints that the story may have originally been more complex than what appeared on the screen.

For those of you who need a little reminding Blink is the first story to feature the Weeping Angels, but it primarily follows “minor” character Sally Sparrow as she deals with four of these creatures who are out to grab the Doctor’s TARDIS. The Angels feed by zapping people into the past and living off of the temporal energy of the lives they could have had in the present. With the Doctor and Martha zapped to 1969, Sally’s friend Kathy Nightengale zapped to 1920 and policeman (and Sally’s sudden boyfriend) Billy Shipton zapped to 1969, much of the story centres upon the attempts by these individuals to contact Sally in the present and warn her of her imminent danger.

The story is an adaptation of a print short story that Moffat wrote a couple of years earlier entitled What I Did on My Christmas Holidays, by Sally Sparrow. The main character is the same, and the Doctor is caught in the past without his TARDIS, but with the Weeping Angels not written yet, this story is primarily about the temporal loops that Moffat weaves as the Doctor goes through a wibbly-wobbly, timey-whimey dance in order to get the TARDIS back, with the help of 12-year-old Sally Sparrow.

But there is something more in Blink if you look carefully. When 24-year-old Sally’s friend Kathy Nightengale is zapped back to 1920, she falls in love with the first young man she meets and goes on to raise a family. The youngest of her three children is a daughter that Kathy decides to name Sally. Now flash forward to Billy Shipton, a British policeman of African origin who gets zapped back to 1969. Unlike Kathy, he manages to survive to the present day, and Sally manages to meet him again, this time as an ailing old man. But Billy has also made a life for himself and raised a family in the past. He notes that the woman he fell in love with was also named Sally. And there’s a picture of Billy at his wedding, posing with Sally, who’s Caucasian.

Isn’t that an interesting coincidence? And although forty-nine years pass between Kathy Nightengale’s appearance in 1920 and Billy Shipton’s appearance in 1969, Sally was Kathy’s youngest daughter. She could have conceivably have had her twenty years hence, meaning that Kathy’s daughter would be in her mid-to-late twenties in 1969.

It’s fairly clear what Steven Moffat is hinting at here, but there’s no payoff. We never see Kathy’s daughter Sally. We do see Kathy’s grandson, Malcolm Wainright. If he is related to Kathy’s daughter Sally (either son or nephew), and if Sally is indeed the woman who marries Billy Shipton, why does Billy Shipton die alone? The threads are there, but they’re never tied together.

So, why are they there? Are they an Easter egg that Steven Moffat inserted into the story for geeky, obsessive fans? Or did Moffat have plans for a more complicated plot that didn’t pan out? Did he leave some of those elements from that earlier plot in place, just to excite those geeky, obsessive fans?

It would be intriguing to know if Steven Moffat outlines his stories. You would think that a man as obsessed with timey-whimey dances would basically have to do so. But this does not feel like something he outlined. I also eschew outlines, and tend to explore my story as I write it. For me, writing a story evokes the same sense of discovery that I have when I read somebody else’s story. I don’t know, when I start, where the tale is going to end, or what interesting detours are going to be encountered along the way. I have a general idea of where the story could go, and I gather a laundry list of scenes I’d like to see, but that’s no guarantee that my book will end up looking the way I expected it to look when I started writing it.

So it was with The Night Girl when I launched into the story back in 2003. The original story idea was that the Toronto Transit Commission had dug its subways too deep and uncovered a goblin nest. It soon morphed into a bit of a wacky tale about a young woman who finds work as a secretary for a goblin/troll employment agency. The story’s climax, its themes about prejudice, even the final fate of young, star-crossed lovers Fergus and Perpetua wasn’t known to me when I started writing, and was only discovered after months, if not years, of work.

And sometimes I went down paths which, while intriguing, ultimately did not contribute to the novel in the way I liked, or obstructed the flow of the story, or just plain didn’t work. I struggled mightily with the character of Perpetua’s mother, Felicity. Should she have a role? Shouldn’t she?. It made sense to me that Perpetua was estranged from her mother, and one of the reasons she gives is because her mother lied about why Perpetua’s father was not around.

She cradled her coffee cup and looked into its depths. “The same thing drove my father away,” she said. “Not that I blame him. I don’t blame Mom, either. Much. Sure, she spent my teenage years protecting me as if the whole world was a field of dragons she had to keep away from me, but what mother doesn’t? We drove each other crazy, me testing limits, Mom reinforcing them. But then I found out that the story my mother told me about why my father left wasn’t true. For the longest while I believed that he was a spy who had to go underground. All those years she told me to tell the truth, and it turns out she’s been lying to me? That’s when I walked out.”

Fergus looked at her sidelong. “I’m sensing a little hostility, here.”

Here you see the hints of another blind alley I examined, but abandoned, this time earlier on in the writing process. The phrase “going underground” is referenced a few times. Goblins, living up to their reputations of being born of the ground, have in my story the ability to hibernate. Bury them underground and they’ll sleep indefinitely, waking up with no memory of their previous life. This feature is called “Amnesia Reset” but is also referred to as going underground.

Finally, in the climactic battle, Perpetua’s boss, Earthenhouse, (spoiler alert!) takes over the task of collapsing a tunnel, sacrificing himself so that Perpetua can live. His last words to her? “I’m going underground.”

I have to admit I had notions that Earthenhouse’s relationship with Perpetua was more than just employer-employee. With this hint and more besides, I wanted to suggest that Earthenhouse was actually Perpetua’s father, and that he really did “go underground”, erasing his personality, and his memory of his life with Felicity and newborn Perpetua.

But that didn’t sit well. The story is about the complicated relationship between goblins and humans, and the goblins’ struggle to survive in the human world. It’s important in the story to see the goblin struggle through human eyes, and making Perpetua half goblin complicated matters too much. So I dropped it.

But I kept in the elements that hinted at the bitter relationship between Perpetua and her mother, and the unanswered questions regarding the whereabouts of Perpetua’s father. Why? Because it gave the story texture. In sort of the same way that Steven Moffat added two references to Sallys other than Sally Sparrow for geeky fans to obsess about, these loose threads helped give the story hints of depth. There’s more to Perpetua’s character than meets the eye. No, it’s not important to the plot and it’s not going to be taken up, but by golly it’s there. It helps show that Perpetua is a rounded character with skeletons in her closet.

This could be Moffat’s motivation, or maybe not. It’s impossible to tell unless he tells us outright. But I’m wondering if that is what he’s thinking.

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