Sunday, July 16, 2006

An American in Wembley

When the E-mail came from Ian Farrington, asking if I cared to contribute to The Centenarian, of course I jumped at the chance. Write Doctor Who for Big Finish? Yes please!

And then Ian asked me to set the story at the 1936 FA Cup Final.

Me, the non-sports-fan American. Eek! Did I even know what FA meant going into this? Did I hell!

But I was game for the challenge. Writing to order for a theme antho is really quite fun; when I know the parameters, I also know exactly how wild I can get within them. And if I wasn't really familiar with the footie, at least I knew which companion would share my confusion: Peri, the Doctor's only American companion in the original series.

Perpugilliam Brown, bless her soul, is my age, give or take a year. On top of that, Peri's backstory includes spending part of her youth in Pasadena, California. Whaddya know, I lived in South Pasadena. (Hi, neighbour!) During the 1970's and early 1980's, "soccer," as it's unfortunately known here, was a marginalised sport mostly played by Latino youths. Most high schools didn't even have soccer teams, so Peri wouldn't know anything about the sport beyond what she may have seen while flipping past a Spanish-language television channel.

So I asked Ian if I could use Peri as my POV character. At the time I'd planned on pairing her with the bombastic Sixth Doctor, but I didn't mention that to Ian. His suggestion was the Fifth Doctor, which immediately made sense to me; after all, this was the sporting Doctor. Of course the Doctor would drag Peri to matches. Cricket, football . . . I'm sure he got rugby in there as well.

With my main characters in place, the next step was researching the match. There's actually a fair amount of information on the 1936 FA Cup Final available on the internet, including moment-by-moment accounts of the match, which apparently wasn't terribly exciting overall. I got lucky by discovering there had been an eBay auction of a community sing broadsheet for that specific day at Wembley, so I E-mailed the auction winner and asked him which songs had been sung at the match. He responded promptly and comprehensively.

Now that I had background details, my next step was trying to see through Peri's eyes. I decided early on to have her narrate the story. It's not often that a companion tells the story in the first person -- the most notable example being segments of Jim Mortimore's Eye of Heaven (BBC Books, 1998). It seemed to me that -- due to her age and her generally accepted backstory involving her stepfather, Howard -- Peri would have tendencies toward being an unreliable narrator, which can often be the most fun to write. . . .

But that's enough background. It's time for "The Church of Football" to speak for itself. It's a romp, with subtext. I hope you like it.


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