We Can Do This
We Can Do This
© David Hutchison

Doctresses:The Book of Skulls

Gender bending period crime project in development.

Logline : A cross-dressing Victorian doctor and her assistant track down a killer phrenologist.

Premise

In 1870’s Edinburgh; a time when there are no female doctors, a doctor’s assistant discovers that her boss is female. The two women use early forensics to help the police to catch a killer phrenologist.


Origins

Loosely inspired by the Edinburgh Seven I had created The Book of Skulls, a video game for the interactive writing section of my MA in Screenwriting at Screen Academy Scotland in 2010. Liz Moliette, student doctor, investigates a series of gruesome murders in Edinburgh's Old Town. Over the course of the game Liz discovers clues which seem to lead to a phrenology obsessed antagonist. But all is not what it seems… is the killer even human?

Liz had all the feistiness of the Edinburgh Seven distilled into one person but she also had an action figure's weapons such as a rope disguised as a bustle on her dress and an umbrella with a dagger point.

I later came across James Miranda Barry, who in 1812 graduated in Edinburgh as a doctor, passing as a man. Barry had been born Margaret Anne Bulkley and took on their uncle's name. Only on their death was it discovered that they were female and had possibly given birth to a child.

After completing the MOOC Identifying The Dead , set up by Prof Sue Black and crime writer Val McDermid at Dundee University, I dropped the sci-fi elements for a forensics based plot. Liz also changed, becoming less of an action figure, more cerebral and teaming up with lecturer and police surgeon Dr Florian Blyth and servant Danson. Liz discovers that Florian is female after treating an infected wound after a mugging. The aim was to write The Book of Skulls as a double episode pilot for TV series Doctresses, that could also stand alone as a feature. I introduced fellow student Indian woman Amuyla Patel, reporter Hector Findlay and student Campbell Preeble. I also added Inspector Frazer MacLeod who was partly inspired by Victorian Edinburgh policeman James McLevy.

The author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a medical student at Edinburgh University. His lecturer Joseph Bell was also a police surgeon and is said to be the inspiration for Sherlock Holmes. Doyle's fellow student and serial killer Dr Thomas Neill Cream is also said to be a possible inspiration for Holme's nemesis Professor Moriarty. This gave me the idea for antagonists Dr Paul Love, a lecturer obsessed with phrenology. In real life one of the key opponents of the Edinburgh Seven was Professor Robert Christison who inspired my fictional Professor Atticus


I'm developing the script as a novel, which I plan to publish in 2020. In the meantime I've added short extracts to some of the Doctresses paintings.