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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

"Dark Media" ~ Non-Canonical "Who" with a Modern Horror Twist


The lovely Stuart Douglas of Obverse Books whispered to a few of us that there was a Shalka Doctor charity anthology in the works looking for contributions. I loved Scream of the Shalka, I love Richard E. Grant, and writing about a rarely-written-about Doctor for a good cause sounded like a fun exercise. I hit up Scott Claringbold of Red Ted Books with a resume and an offer of sample writing.

In return, I got: 'I know who you are. Welcome aboard.'

Nine Lives is a wonderful mix of writers (and artists, as you can see from Paul Hanley's cover work above), offering their spin on Grant's alternate Ninth Doctor as penned by Paul Cornell prior to the return of Doctor Who on the BBC. For those unfamiliar, he had only two outings: the aforementioned Scream of the Shalka, Cornell's voiced/animated web feature co-starring Derek Jacobi as an android build of the Master, and Cavan Scott and Mark Wright's short story 'The Feast of the Stone.'

There were a lot of ideas brewing as to how to approach this Doctor. Effectively, his story had been undone, after all. While traces of the ideas exist (running away with the President's daughter, for example), the meat of his reason for existing disappeared in the 21st century series. Some writers went for explanations of this. Others went for fourth-wall breaking. I played with these ideas for a while, realised I wasn't satisfied with my ability to do any sort of explaining, and finally just opted to write a straightforward horror story.

An inspirational screen from NES Godzilla Creepypasta
One thing I've not done in my limited Who writing yet is true horror. I did fantasy horror for my Iris Wildthyme story, but I'd never yet truly tried to deliver scares. Which surprised me, because I love a nice scary Doctor Who story, and my favourite thing is unsettling my readers.

My dissatisfaction with modern horror led me to indie creators, as many of you already know from my mad love of creepypasta (expressed in other writings). And my first toe into the world of creepypasta was BEN Drowned, a prose/video project that led to a now-obsolete ARG (though it looks like it's being turned into a legit game as we speak). It captured the raw fear, the ruined childhood, and the liminal imagery I find myself drawn to in my horror.

My story for Nine Lives, 'Dark Media' (a reference to the catch-all phrase currently used for multimedia fiction of this particular bent), is, straight up, a haunted video game story. It was the best way I could think of to write true 21st century horror: both with the indie-popularized medium and the delivery of the scares via video game. Plus, it allows me to, as I love to do whenever possible, put a child at the centre of the story.

Both BEN Drowned and NES Godzilla Creepypasta were heavy influences on both the mood of the story and the aesthetic of the fictional game within it. I also pulled heavy influence from Nick Nocturne of Night Mind, the A+ channel for dark media decoding and analysis, largely by observing (as ever) his steps for what makes effective immersive media and ARGs and integrating them into the video-watching part of my story. Which will make sense later.

And existing Slenderverse fans will notice that the two central boys are named Jeff and Evan. Yes, that's a deliberate EverymanHYBRID reference. I'm shameless.

There are tons more stories for all tastes in Nine Lives, which you can keep track of via its Twitter feed. Proceeds will go toward the Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Stroke Association. I'll announce when it's available -- and if you sponsor me on Patreon, you'll get to read a snippet before anyone else!