Tales from the Tardis

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In 2005 Executive Producer Russell T Davies's spellbinding vision of Doctor Who arrived on the small screen. It gave us a Doctor for the 21st century without losing any of the essential charm or quirkiness of the classic series. Three years on, and the good Doctor goes from strength to strength with two spin-off series, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, and a fourth season not that far off in the U.K. Reflecting this success, IDW's new Doctor Who comic debuts this January from writer Gary Russell (who also works as a script editor on the TV show) and artist Nick Roche. Broken Frontier caught up with Gary to find out what's in store for the last of the Time Lords in the coming months...

BROKEN FRONTIER:  A pretty obvious question to begin with but, after all those years when we thought we'd seen the last of Doctor Who on the small screen (barring the 1996 TV movie), it's a pretty exciting time to be a Doctor Who fan wouldn't you agree?

GARY RUSSELL: I think the last few years have been an absolutely amazing time to be a fan! Well, I've been amazed, anyway. And excited, thrilled and downright in awe of what we've had on our screens. And not just Doctor Who - the fact that's back is fantastic on its own, but who could've predicted Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures? A whole Doctor Who universe to wallow in.

BF: How did the new IDW Doctor Who comic come about and how did you find yourself involved with it?

GR: They asked. Simple as that. And I said yes. Simple, too. Hooray for IDW! (They pay me to say that, you know... At least I think they do... Eventually ...guys? Guys??)

BF:What can you tell us about the opening story arc and the setup for the new IDW series?

GR: There’s not an arc as such, but a series of threads running through the various stories that (one imagines, anyway) will pay off one day! There's a sort of villain who crops up, and a pantheon of aliens, oh and a series of planetary populations vanishing. But the actual issue by issue stories are stand-alones.

BF: The book is initially solicited as a miniseries rather than an ongoing title. What's the scheduling plan for the future?

GR: See above. It's not a mini-series, just 6 individual stories, but with a few background links seeded through them.

BF: Where does the IDW series "fit" with the television show and will the book weave in and out of that continuity in the future? With Martha’s inclusion as companion in the comic we'd seem to be somewhere in Season 3 of the new series.

GR: Yup, towards the end. I reckon somewhere between eps 7 & 8, or 9 & 10 or 10 & 11. There're some handy dandy gaps in there :-)

BF: David Tennant’s Doctor has a frenetic energy and pace to him. What challenges did this provide in capturing his characterisation of the Doctor accurately on the printed page?

GR: Enormous and yet actually quite easily dealt with by remembering that comics are a different medium to TV so it’s more about the sparky dialogue than David's unique delivery and energy. Then Nicky can capture that energy and fun in his panel layouts and facials. In other words, I make him do all the hard work.

BF: How much fun has it been giving Martha (who I thought was a wonderful contrast to Rose as a companion) a little more "screen" time in the comic?

GR: The best! Martha is my companion, in that although I was around towards the end of making Series 2, I only really got into my stride on the production team with Season 3, so observed the development of Martha and thus feel more in tune with her than with Rose. I had the chance to direct Freema Agyemen as well, when we did the animated Doctor Who episode, The Infinite Quest, so I took the opportunity to get to know her (and she's fabulous, I utterly adore and worship her) and hopefully can put a bit of her into the strips too, as well as Martha.

BF: In terms of familiar elements from the TV series what can we expect? Will you be following the philosophy of the new series which makes the return of old monsters feel extra-special because it uses them so sparingly?

GR: Yup. No Daleks or Cybermen. Great monsters, but I think the show has thrown our way some fantastic new races who I want to explore far more than the old favorites. Expect to see the Sycorax and Catkind at some point (well, all right, the Sycorax are in issue #1!!). I have mapped out a second set of issues (a four or five part story this time rather than individual issues) that showcase my favourite monsters from the classic series that have yet to turn up in the new show, so it’s a chance to give them a 21st century spin.

BF: One of the most fun things about Doctor Who is that nebulous feel about what is canonical, and what isn’t, across the many media the Doctor has appeared in (television, novels, comics, audio plays, stage plays and so on). I think almost every fan has mentally customised Who continuity to their own personal tastes and preferences. So I feel almost apologetic asking this question but is the IDW run to be considered as canonical or apocryphal to the TV series?

GR: Canon is in the eye of the beholder. Is that cop-out enough? Certainly Russell T Davies wants everything involving the Tenth Doctor to have the option to be canonical, which is fab. My personal philosophy is tell the story and let everyone else keep the charts, lists and retcon buttons.

BF: Tell us a little about what artist Nick Roche has brought to the book.

GR: I dunno he keeps saying things like "deadlines" and "How any panels per page?" and "There are how many different aliens in the bar sequence? And none of them look alike?" and "Please can I get some sleep one day?". I take things like that as challenges. My job is to make life hell for him. Bwahahahahaha.

But it's his fault. He keeps drawing things better than I imagined. Like the milk shake sequence. Or the sand statue of Martha. Or the... well, that'd be telling. But each time I see a page of pencils, I want to write even better.

BF: How far ahead is the comic plotted and are there any spoiler-free tidbits you can share with us to whet our appetites for future story arcs?

GR: Done that above. In my head, I have 18 issues loosely plotted, and already a few ideas to get me to 24! IDW will have sacked me long before then I'm sure but you know, I like to be prepared, just in case... Doctor Who offers such a unique scope, there's no chance of running out of stories for these characters.

BF: Here's a hypothetical question for you. If IDW were ever to bring out a series in the style of DC’s Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, focusing on past incarnations of the Doctor, which of his preceding nine selves would you most like to write for in the comic strip form and why?

GR: The Sixth, 'cos he got such a bad deal on TV, and in my former life at Big Finish (producers of original Doctor Who audio plays - Editor's note) I spent eight years giving the Sixth Doctor what I hope (and believe) to be some good stories, and in my head, I still have more to do! I’d also like to have a go at the First or Eighth too. And I’d avoid the Fourth. Unless I could pair him up with Leela because she’s such a great character. But then, if you find you are only writing a Doctor because the companion is so good, perhaps that's not a good enough reason to write for that Doctor.

BF: IDW are also repackaging the Marvel UK material that debuted in 1979’s Doctor Who Weekly. The Doctor’s comic exploits though stretch from the heady days of TV Comic’s Hartnell adventures and TV21’s The Daleks strip in the1960s, all the way through to the plethora of new series-related comic strips that we see in IDW's new book and  Panini 's Doctor Who Magazine and Doctor Who Adventures. For you personally, Gary, which Doctor Who comic strip runs of the past do you remember with the most affection?

GR: Blimey, that's a question. The Third Doctor strips from Countdown and TV Action are, I believe, the best. But I love a lot of the Marvel stuff that the Fifth and Sixth Doctors were in. And the stuff Scott Gray and Alan Barnes wrote for the Eighth Doctor’s strips are unbeatable.

BF: Finally, there can be few Who alumni who can claim to have been involved with the Doctor in so many different media as you: comic strips, novels, audio plays at Big Finish, the newspaper-style strip for Radio Times, editorship of Doctor Who Magazine and your current work as script editor on the new show (not to mention spin-offs Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures). That’s quite a resume! Can there possibly be any unfulfilled Who ambitions left for you?

GR: Yes, but Russell’s not going anywhere soon! Seriously, I couldn’t write for the TV show ‘cos I'm not equipped for that, but if I had a dream, it'd be to have a job like Russell’s, the show running bit of it, guiding, formulating the overall picture, deciding on characters and situations. But then I’d be far happier giving those ideas to other writers and sitting back and overseeing it all, as I did at Big Finish. But on the TV.

But back in the real world, I really have had the best gigs possible. I have made a "career" out of having a hobby. I mean, how cool is that? I honestly do believe I may be the luckiest guy around. That list of things I've done is pretty scary but I’m proud of it all. Along the way, the most important thing for me has been being in the position to give far worthier writers than I a chance to do stuff, particularly when I was at Big Finish. It’s karmic - treat your mates well, treat your fellow pros with respect, and you get somewhere. I'm proud of what I’ve done for myself but I'm infinitely prouder of what I've seen my peers do.

All I really want now is to write the Fantastic Four or The Avengers for Marvel. Or a Captain Britain series. So much unfulfilled potential in that character...




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