It was one of those ideas that I was surprised Who hadn't done before. Flat monsters that steal dimension. But no. It was just sitting there, waiting for me.
It has antecedents of course. I remember vividly the book Flat Stanley from my childhood. The jolly tale of a small boy who is flattened by a posterboard and then gets into all kinds of scrapes by sliding under doors or being posted back home in an envelope. The doomed cleaner Stan in Flatline is named in his memory. There is also the novella Flatland, (1888) a social satire about a two dimensional world. The Abbott estate, where Flatline takes place is named in memory of the author, Edwin Abbott Abbott. And then of course there is Roadrunner, with Wil E Coyote painting his fake tunnels on rock dead-ends, which the Roadrunner then impossibly runs through. I stopped just short of naming a character Coyote.
I had to get the gig first of course. I arrived at the pitch meeting with four episode outlines and drawings of four fresh monsters (my years at art college finally paying off). My first drawing of the Boneless accompanies this post. I also included a print-out of Holbein's stretched skull, a version of which I envisaged as at least one of the creatures 'kills'. (Pictured below)
And joy of joys, Steven liked it. He approved the writing of an outline and the process began.
One pitfall I tried very hard to avoid was the idea that these kills could be seen as silly. If we weren't careful the flattening of people could cause giggles rather than gasps. Every draft I wrote, I stressed the crunch of bone and the screams that should accompany each flattening. All insurance against the death of horror: mockery. Oh of course, there would be room for jokes. But never about the monster. Never about the death.
From the beginning the Boneless were silent and from another dimension. Anything I could do to make it difficult for The Doctor. He doesn't recognise them, neither does the Tardis. He can't talk to them. He doesn't know what they want. They're just killing.
The idea that he hopes the killings are accidental was a fairly early addition. It struck me as a very Doctorish attitude to a first contact situation. Filled with hope that maybe this time things will be different.
The move from 2D to 3D went through a few permutations. In early drafts the Boneless became 3D by wrapping themselves around the living like anacondas, snapping the necks of their victims before driving them around like puppeteers, their faces a smeared distortion of humanity. This is the version pictured. But this was soon deemed a little too grim for teatime on a Saturday.
Ultimately I think we succeeded in making a potentially laughable two dimensional flattening alien credible and scary. I don't think anyone is laughing at the Boneless. And if they are laughing, I hope it's a nervous strained laugh as they try not to think too hard about that slithering movement in the corner of their eye. They are very good at hiding, after all...