By the time I handed in draft one of Oxygen the monsters were fast space zombies, with all that that implies; running down corridors, jumping through space with no need to breathe and murder on their mind.
The focus of the episode, the high concept, was the search for oxygen, making the monster of the week a secondary issue, so I didn't bother thinking too hard about them. They would be a background threat, nipping at our character's heels. Then I had a meeting with Steven Moffat and a casual question from him changed everything, as it often does.
'What if the monsters were the spacesuits, like robotic suits, carrying corpses around and chasing after you?' was the gist.
I was initially skeptical, worrying it might seem a little too much like the astronaut skeleton in Silence In The Library. But then I starting thinking. Set pieces started occurring to me. And surely, our heroes would be wearing the same suits. What complications could that cause?
There were lots of questions that needed answering, but the directions they pointed all seemed interesting. Why exactly were the suits trying to kill everyone? Who programmed the suits? A sinister corporation, surely...
Over the course of maybe fifteen minutes in a meeting, bouncing ideas back and forth, we came up with a thrilling new direction for the episode. And bouncing ideas off Steven Moffat is always a wonderful way to stress test them really quickly.
(Great ideas fly off Steven like sparks. You only have to look at his output to see that. Concepts that lesser writers would build an entire episode around are thrown away as one liners. As showrunner he's throwing out ideas all the time, shoring up scripts, smoothing out the bumps in the road. In fact, he does it with such frequency that he loses track. I was discussing Oxygen with him the other day and he was half way through complementing me on the smartsuit corpse idea when I reminded him that it had been his...)
So I went back to my keyboard ready for my next draft with a new monster in my back pocket and a spring in my step. But I soon realised I had a problem. I could have just slotted the smartsuits into the script as it stood, but it would have felt like a botch.
The first draft took place in what I described as an 'elephant's graveyard' of spaceships, all dead and drifting in an asteroid field that our survivors were hopping between, pursued by our zombies. But crucially the ships were all from different planets. All our survivors had different suits. They couldn't all be smartsuits.
Surely it would make more sense if everyone wore the same suit and they all came from the same place. So our elephants graveyard is now a space station. Doing what? Mining the asteroid field, obviously, owned by our sinister corporation.
These changes and their knock on effects necessitated a complete rewrite. Only two scenes from draft one remained: the pre-credits with Ivan witnessing the death of his wife and Bill's suit malfunction leading to her exposure to vacuum. Everything else was brand new.
And it took me a long time. You are usually given four weeks for a first draft on Who, with the number of weeks going down as the draft numbers rise. My second draft took me five weeks.
Part of this was due to the fact that I was also struggling with another note of Steven's which was to focus on the low tech nature of our heroes' plight. He wanted the episode to be an Apollo 13 flavoured struggle where not having the right sort of ratchet or the exact piece of wire needed could be the difference between life and death. I found this note very hard to reconcile with the new high tech monster of the week. They felt like two opposing forces.
Ultimately I had to give up on this note and delivered my second draft with an email of apology to Steven. But luckily he responded immediately in the positive – he loved the new draft. Most of the set pieces in that draft are still in place in some form or another in the finished episode.
I hope you enjoyed it.
Or that it traumatised you into incoherence. Either way is a win, frankly.