Saving Lieutenant Carpenter was not actually inspired by Saving Private Ryan. The title was. And then only after I finished the story and decided that it was a better title than the one I originally chose. What it really was inspired by was the various sad, tragic stories that were on TV around Remembrance Sunday. World War One is a sad, tragic story as a whole, but it is also a collection of individual stories, thousands upon thousands of them.

Originally, I was going to have Ben become one of the ‘Shot at Dawn’ – those unfortunate souls who were deemed to have acted out of cowardice when in fact they were mostly suffering from shellshock. But I found it difficult to write a story on that subject that fitted into a Doctor Who world. And besides, I couldn’t approach the research into that without becoming too upset to go on.

So Ben became missing in action on the last night of the war. That, actually gave me a slight puzzle. I knew about all the big battles of 1914-1918 like the Somme, Paschendale, Ypres. But I found that I knew very little about the state of play on that very last day when the Armistice was called. I had to do a bit of research into it. I eventually found a small website, mostly text based, which listed exactly where the British and Allied regiments were in November, 1918. I found from that page that the London Division were at Lessines in Belgium, and that seemed ideal. Lessines, incidentally, was the scene of the last cavalry charge of the war – and therefore the last ever cavalry charge under fire of the British Army, since nobody was stupid enough to take horses into war after that. But I wasn’t going to touch any actual historical event that closely.

Google Earth provided a delightful view of Lessines, and I noticed that there were some very spectacular quarries outside the town. Wikipedia confirmed that quarrying had been going on there since the days of Charlemagne. So it was a safe bet that these quarries were around in 1918. They were a perfect location for an adventure that had nothing to do with the war going on around them all.

Karl Zimmerman came into my mind next, a German soldier of equivalent rank to Ben. It was quite by chance, when looking up German surnames, that I discovered that the equivalent to Carpenter was Zimmerman. The two characters slipped into step together as they fought against a nasty alien force that had landed in the quarry.

These creatures were similar to a nasty lot that I used in a Torchwood story actually set in 1919. I wanted something that was completely inhuman and an utterly separate horror to the war, and these re-used aliens did the job. They really are only window dressing to the story, though. I’m really not interested in monsters and aliens most of the time. What they serve to do is put Karl and Ben in a position where they are able to see each other as men and not just enemies either side of no man’s land.

The weapons the German and British use took a little bit of research. The British standard rifle was a Lee Enfield, the German a Mauser. The British service revolver is the Webley – exactly the kind Captain Jack Harkness carries in Torchwood. The German one is a Luger. The British used the pineapple shaped ‘Mills bomb’ hand grenade. The Germans had the stick shaped one. All of these details, I hope, also emphasised how the ordinary soldiers on both sides were much the same. That was the underlying thread of this story.

And, of course, I fully intended it to have a happy ending. The Doctor, aided and abetted by both the British and German soldiers stopped the aliens. Ben survived. So did Karl. The war ended at 11 am on November 11th and Karl was no longer a prisoner of war. It was over.

But like The Doctor, I can’t help wondering about those men who died in the hours between those telegrams going out and the eleventh hour – and even a little while after where the message didn’t get through. I think I’d like to dedicate this story to those who didn’t make it through those hours – on both sides. Ben Carpenter and Karl Zimmerman would want that, I think.

I kneel behind the soldier's trench,
I walk 'mid shambles, smear and stench,
The dead I mourn,
I bear the stretcher and I bend
O'er Fritz and Pierre and Jack to mend,
What shells have torn

John Finley