The first people to read the script came away from Part One with one invariable comment: "They'll never produce it. You can't have a kids' cartoon show where somebody gets killed! Every parental watchdog group in the country would freak out if you tried it." This is, admittedly, probably true. I found it interesting, however, that everyone seemed to agree that the kids watching would probably handle it okay... it was their parents who would be most likely to have problems with the content (and the ones who hadn't seen it would probably complain the loudest).
Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, described his sacrificing of a whale in one of the early radio shows as being, in part, a reaction to American television shows:
Well, this came about as a result of watching an episode of a dangerously insane TV detective show called Cannon in which people got shot the whole time for incredibly little reason. They would just happen to be walking across the street, and they would simply get killed, regardless of what their own plans for the rest of the day might have been.This last comment bears some thought. If anything was going to be upsetting to viewers about the story of Dannon, it probably wouldn't be his death... it would be that others were left behind who grieved for him.
I began to find the sheer arbitrariness of this rather upsetting, not just because characters were getting killed, but because nobody ever seemed to care about it one way or another. Anybody who might have cared about any of these people - family, friends, even the postman - was kept firmly offstage...
I thought I'd have a go at this. I'd write in a character whose sole function was to be killed... and then damn well make the audience care about it, even if none of the other characters in the story did. I suppose I must have succeeded because I received quite a number of letters saying how cruel and callous this section was - letters I certainly would not have received if I had simply mentioned the whale's fate incidentally and passed on.
One thing that made the episode difficult to write was the sheer quantity of exposition. A good three-quarters of the episode is just setting up the circumstances which make the last five minutes of the episode possible.
Establishing Dannon's identity and character complicated matters as well. I only had about fifteen minutes to introduce him, and make him likable enough to remember; if that didn't happen, then his sacrifice would have no meaning for the audience. In short, I had to make him likable goddamned fast so that it would matter to them when he lost his life.
Luckily there was a large group of already-established "likable" characters for him to interact with, which made my job significantly easier. If Dannon had been forced to go through the entire episode by himself, the job of making the viewer care about him by episode's end would have been far more difficult.
I had to delve into Eternian history in order to put this episode together. A lot of research went into previous episodes, trying to put together a coherant picture of the last twenty-five years in Eternia. Just as I had worked out most of the problems, and finished the next-to-last draft, Filmation proceeded to release "The Secret of the Sword"... which introduced a whole slew of new historical problems, and forced a quick and extensive set of rewrites.
As an example of historical problems with Eternia, the flashback in "Teela's Quest" established that Randor was King of Eternia when Marlena, Adam's mother, first arrived... yet in "Search for the Past" King Miro, Randor's father, already knows who Adam is even though Miro was presumably long gone before Randor became King, married Marlena and fathered Adam. Similarly, the Orc Wars mentioned in "Double Edged Sword" appear to have taken place at about the same time as the Horde's occupation of Eternia (as described in "The Secret of the Sword").
There was a mass of contradictions to wade through.
The version of Eternian history I eventually accepted was the one which would serve the story best while being reasonably consistent with the episodes that had been released to date. It's worth observing, however, that it was obvious there was no Eternian Historical Advisor anywhere on Filmation's payroll.
One piece of history I neglected to catch was how Teelana had learned to change into a falcon. The second-season episode "Origin of the Sorceress" says that she picked up the ability as the guardian of Greyskull, but in the script I stated it was inherant in all those who were born by the Crystal Sea. I don't think the two accounts are mutually exclusive, but they don't exactly fit together well either. If there had been an Eternian Historical Advisor, I'm sure Mr. Straczynski and I could have eventually reconciled our divergent accounts. :)
Early in the episode, Skeletor is shown finishing his conquest of another world. I did this largely to make a point about Skeletor's character, a point which is worth mentioning here.
A number of episodes, particularly "The Greatest Show on Eternia" and "The Secret of Grayskull", portray Skeletor as little more than a buffoon - indeed, little more than comic relief. This sort of portrayal of the supreme villain undermined, and weakened, the entire series: if Skeletor was nothing more than a fall guy or a straw man, then He-Man's battles against him were pointless - and the triumphs against him, rather than having any meaning, would be empty. No, if you're going to have a meaningful battle of good against evil, then evil has to have some strength behind it. It has to be a legitimate threat, or it's not worth the hero's trouble... or ours.
Robert Ludlum, the bestselling espionage author who wrote The Bourne Identity and The Parsifal Mosaic, addressed the subject this way:
If you're going to create a villain, give him as much support as you can; give him as much reason to his beliefs as you can. If you make him a straw man, it's not gonna work... I try, in every instance, to give the arguments - the points of view - of my antagonists, the strongest I can, the most reasoned-out I can. Their fanaticisms, their zealousness, must have a basis - must have a real motivation to it; otherwise, it doesn't work for the protagonist.This is something I wish a few more of Filmation's writers had taken to heart.
(The "Council of Evil" was referred to in at least one other episode, "The Taking of Grayskull". I saw some potential for future stories in having a little more backstory concerning the Council, and Skeletor's past dealings with it; it seemed appropriate to have him be a former member of the Council gone renegade. As for the character of Monteik, he was established in the episode "Castle of Heroes". The character is an interesting one, and he helped the exposition at the end of this scene.)
I'm still not happy with the fight-scene in Snake Mountain. In retrospect it might have been better to have written the fight in broad strokes, and let the director have full rein over how the fight itself would be done. But at the time, I was too concerned about being thorough to notice it might be too thorough. Live and learn.
David Gerrold wrote a very effective fight description in his script for the STAR TREK episode "The Trouble with Tribbles". He simply put down:
ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE!and let the director have his fun with it.
For those who might have already guessed it, Captain Bonham was named after John Bonham, the drummer for Led Zeppelin. An early draft also had a wizard who was based on Jimmy Page, but sadly the narrative changed and he was written out early on.
My friends and I joked that, if the episode had been produced, Mattel would probably feel compelled to come out with a "Dannon" action-figure... and then we imagined little kids running out and throwing them in front of moving automobiles. "Oh, no! Dannon's dead," they'd yell. And then they'd laugh and get out their Sorceress action-figures and have them grieve a lot.
My friends and I, admittedly, have rather macabre senses of humor.
My first drafts are often chaotic. I write in ideas on the fly, often skip vital plot elements entirely until later, and fill in missing elements with bizarre jokes while I wait for inspiration to come.
As an example, it took me a while to think of a good name for Dannon... and so, for most of the first draft, his name was consistently given as "Fido". :)