Andrew Merkelbach is an Australian Doctor Who fan and low budget film-maker. Some time in 2005, he got in touch to ask if I wanted to write a Doctor Who on a space station versus the Daleks film. To me, this immediately sounded too ambitious: even without all the usual problems and compromises involved in making a fan film, this story would need a convincing space station set and convincing Daleks. Fortunately, this was around the same time that the first series of Russell T Davies’ relaunch of Doctor Who came out, and the difficulty the BBC had getting the rights to use the Daleks were well documented: I told Andrew that as someone who had written for the BBC before, I couldn’t risk offending them by writing a script that breached their copyright and potentially damaged their reputation with the Dalek copyright holders.
Andrew mentioned that he had recently released a fan film starring a Doctor Who proxy named The Traveller, played by Andrew himself. The Curse of the Del Garia had been edited by Jon Blum, a fellow BBC Books author and somebody who I had met in person a couple of years before at the Gallifrey One convention. When I asked about Andrew, Jon said that he had a tendency to overestimate what was possible and advisable, but he could be talked round. He was also someone who would get a film finished, no matter the obstacles.
When Andrew asked instead if I’d write a follow up to his Traveller film, I said yes.
Andrew sent me a copy of The Curse of the Del Garia, and I watched it before I said yes. The story and the lead character didn’t grab me, but it did give me confidence that Jon Blum was telling the truth: if I gave a script to Andrew, I would see it on screen. Mercenary as it may sound, that was my main reason for saying yes: I had been reading about how to write for television, and the idea of having a free testing ground where I could see if I liked it and whether I could write something that would translate into images and dialogue was very tempting.
When I first started writing Doctor Who fan fiction, it gave me a safe, uncritical environment where I could make my mistakes. In writing a fan film, I hoped I could give myself that same environment for screenwriting. And there was – I have to admit – a part of me that needed the confidence boost of being brought in as the expert, the professional writer.