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Remember the first time?

Joy Wilkinson


This is my first time blogging. It could be a beautiful thing, but more likely it'll be a mess, as most first times are. As my first Doctors script was. I say script because it never became an episode. It was a trial script that got roundly rejected. First times can suck.

My trial was way back in the days when Mac ruled over the Riverside and Best Practices. The main doctor in my episode was to be Jude Carlyle. All I can recall of Jude is that she was Scottish and possibly rode a motorbike. There's one clue as to why my script didn't get made right there - I didn't know my lead character.

In my defence, I hadn't much time to prepare. Like most aspiring writers, I had a day job and spent the rest of my waking hours scribbling. If I'd stopped to watch all the TV shows I might like to write for, I would never have got anything written. And this was in the pre-series-link era, where daytime shows would have needed taping specially. Every day. Suffice it to say, I had not watched much Doctors.

But then a script for a TV pilot that I had sent to the BBC Writersroom put me in the running for Doctors. They sent me a pack with maps of the surgeries, character biogs and guidelines for how not to mess up my episode. I pored over them all avidly, watched a few episodes, and set to work on what I thought was a dynamite idea about a medical condition that surely hadn't been done on the show before.

There's another big clue as to why it didn't get made. I started in the wrong place, with the medical condition. Obviously Doctors is about people with medical conditions. It is well-researched and you can learn a lot about various unpleasant lurgies that afflict its patients, but those patients have to be people, not petrie dishes. If they start life as a vessel for an illness rather than a story, it will show.

But I didn't know that. So I wrote what I thought was a pretty good script about an old woman with an obscure eye condition that meant she could see things that weren't there. This was cunningly interwoven with a serial strand about Jude going on a blind date. Spot the resonance? If I'd wanted to be subtler, I could perhaps have had Jude wearing a big hat with 'RESONANT' written all over it.

One of the things this old woman hallucinated was a cat. Now, if the script was amazing in all other ways, the producers just might have made their lives hell by adding a performing cat into the mix of hectic shooting schedules and strict budgets. But as my script was already fundamentally flawed, the presence of a cat in the cast list probably did not help its chances.

I got a gutting letter. Thanks, but no thanks. Characters too thin. All the best. Bye bye now.

Back to the day job. No need to tape Doctors any more. Purposely avoid it in fact. The fools!

Except, when my sulk wore off, I started to watch it. Properly. Perversely spurred on by my rejection, I had finally taken the plunge of working part-time, and, with the pressure to watch Doctors gone, I actually began to enjoy following the stories and getting to know the characters. So when the first BBC Writers' Academy was announced, even though those skeletal characters still haunted me, I felt that now I was ready to have another crack.

Years later, Mac and Jude are gone, and here I am, working on a new episode and blogging about writing for Doctors as if I know what the dickens I'm talking about. I don't really, I'm still learning - the current script is my first serial-only episode, more of which in a future post. But for now, that's enough. That's one good thing about first times, they tend to be over quickly.

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