Tony Lee on the Doctor Who Ongoing Series
Tony Lee on the Doctor Who Series
Doctor Who #1 (preview here) by writer Tony Lee will begin the ongoing adventures of the Doctor after the critical success of a series of Doctor Who minis and one-shots from comics publisher IDW. The hit BBC television show, which returned in 2005 after its long run in 1963-1989, tells the story of the Doctor, a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey who travels through time in the TARDIS, disguised as a police call box.
Because the Doctor has the ability to regenerate into a new body with a new personality whenever necessary, several actors have played the character over the years. In fact, a new actor is set to portray the Doctor in the television show next year, as David Tennant is replaced by Matt Smith.
But because the comic is ongoing and involves time travel, it can not only reflect these transitions, but can actually include any version of the Doctor in any time period, although the first storyline will begin with the Tennant incarnation.
The Doctor Who franchise is so long-lived and popular, touching more than one generation of fans, that BBC has indicated there's a possibility of a feature film. Many fans are hoping plans for a movie will be announced at the Doctor Who panel at San Diego Comic-Con.
Until then, Doctor Who fans can get their fix from the comic book, which is being written by a self-professed Doctor Who fan himself. Lee, who also wrote the Doctor Who: The Forgotten mini-series and the Doctor Who: The Time Machination one-shot.
Newsarama talked to Lee about the upcoming story in Doctor Who, how it fits into continuity, and just how dedicated a Doctor Who fan has to be to read it.
Newsarama: For people who might be new to the Doctor Who series, is this new ongoing a good introduction to the characters and concepts who have populated the show over the years?
Tony Lee: Well, there are two types of Doctor Who fans that I've seen recently. There's the ones who are the 'Classic Who' type – they've watched Doctor Who for decades and know the earlier Doctors' stories as well (if not better) than the later ones, and there are the 'New Who' fans – the ones who came on board when Eccleston rebooted the show, or more likely, when David Tennant took on the role. It's incredible how many new fans a "dishy" Doctor brought on board!
I've written two previous stories for IDW and both tried to cater for both markets – to provide a solid tale for new fans whilst at the same time making sure that we could give the classic fans something fun to read. At points, it bordered in "continuity porn," but I think we managed to walk that tightrope quite nicely.
As for the new series, we try to cater for both fans once more, but there will be more of an emphasis in the series of solid stories rather than nostalgia for nostalgia's sake. In the first two-parter, we even have new characters and a new alien race. Although the following four-parter does feature three classic 'Third Doctor' villains!
NRAMA: Since this is a current television show, how does the ongoing comic match up with the ongoing series in continuity?
TL: We're setting it during the 'lost year' – the year we're currently having with the Doctor Who specials. Because they're one shots where the Doctor is pretty much alone, we can set the stories at any point between them. I personally have them set right before the final two issues of the one shots, after "Water Of Mars," but that's only for my own enjoyment. They could be directly after the Christmas special, Planet of the Dead – whenever you want. It'll only become important when it's set around issue #17, and by then we'll have Matt Smith as the Doctor on TV, and nobody will remember anyway!
But this is post-Martha, post-Donna, post-Rose.
NRAMA: How does the first issue set things up?
TL: Well, we start the series in '20s Hollywood, where The Doctor is in the middle of a party. We wanted him to be looking for Charlie Chaplin, but at the last minute we were told we couldn't use him for legal reasons, so the Doctor is chatting to another, not-so-famous silent movie star, Archie Maplin. He's come here because it was one of Donna's last wishes, and more importantly there's a static point in space and time here, and these things always interest him. He's also curious about a movie star that to his knowledge never existed, and the fact that when wannabe stars and starlets audition for a particular studio, they lose their hopes and dreams.
So the Doctor, with a little help from a couple of studio folk he meets – a wannabe actress named Emily Winter and a studio runner named Matthew Finnegan, and of course Archie – delves deeper into this mystery, discovering an alien conspiracy and ancient artifacts.
NRAMA: What other familiar characters might we see show up?
TL: Well, there's a surprise at the end of #2 when all looks to be settled, and this leads directly into a four-parter tale called "Fugitive," where the Doctor is on the run from the Shadow Proclamation who, with the Krillitanes allied to them, are hunting him down. He's trying to save the universe as ever, but this time he's doing it with a Sontaran, a Draconian and an Ogron. Not exactly the team you'd expect.
NRAMA: It sounds like there's enough new here to keep it fresh, but there are some fun references to characters we've seen in the show. Is there anything else that long-time Doctor Who fans might particularly enjoy about the series?
TL: Well, I walk that tightrope where I try to keep the stories new, yet bring in a whole load of older elements. That said, we do have stand alone stories set on colony worlds, Lovecraftian horrors in Oxford, UNIT in modern day Greenwich, and a two parter set in the TARDIS.
The biggest thing I've been allowed to do is bring back the cliffhanger. This was a massive part of the old Doctor Who, and with the new series primarily playing with "done in one" stories, it's nice to have a who-will-live/what-will-happen cliffhanger during these. And with new characters involved who have no relevance to the show, we can push the boundaries a little.
NRAMA: It's interesting to note that Doctor Who has been credited as being the longest running sci-fi television show, since it's been around, off and on, since 1963. Why do you think Doctor Who has been such a strong franchise over so many years?
TL: I think it's primarily the fans that have made it so. In the UK, pretty much every fan of sci fi has "their Doctor," the one they grey up with. And when Russell brought it back, he made sure that all the angles were watched. The characters were solid, the stories were well-crafted, and the whole show was polished. And it brought it back into the mainstream.
But it's the fans that kept it alive. And it's the people who kept the stories going during the dark years – the writers of the audio adventures, the books, the strips in Doctor Who monthly – they never believed that the show was dead, could be dead. We still had a handful of regenerations to go, after all.
NRAMA: And the artists for the series are going to change with each storyline? Who are we going to see drawing the series?
TL: The first two issues are by comics legend Al Davison, which is great, as he's also a good friend and we were able to sit down and really hammer out certain scenes. Then after that we have Matt Dow Smith, who's equally as awesome, and his art has a distinctive style that both contradicts and compliments Al at the same time. Matt will be doing issues #3 to #6, and then I think we're back to Al. Paul Grist is doing covers, and to be honest, I'm having a ton of fun at the moment telling people "Matt Smith is in #3" and watching them try to work out if I mean the artist, the 2000ad editor, or the Eleventh Doctor.
NRAMA: With a franchise as popular as Doctor Who is right now, how has it been working with BBC on all these stories?
TL: Great. I'm blessed to have one of the best liaisons in the business working with me here, Gary Russell. He's been where I am and knows the joys of effectively writing for two masters, IDW and then the BBC, and every now and then he'll slap my wrist for something. But it's usually because he knows I can do better without relying on some old Who crutch. I was using loads of previous races, and he was saying to me "invent your own." But it's still irreverent for me to do that. I'm still in awe that I'm being allowed to write this, let alone tell my own stories with my own characters.
NRAMA: The idea of inventing your own aliens for the Doctor Who universe sounds exciting, though. Plus, aren't there freedomsas a comic writer to explore things the TV series can't do?
TL: To be honest, with CGI like it is, there isn't much that comics and TV differ on these days, but with The Time Machination and Forgotten, I was able to bring in old Doctors, including ones that of course have passed on in real life. So being able to have all 10 Doctors standing together in a TARDIS control room was quite nice.
The biggest problem for me is that as it's a license, I find myself trying to emulate the show more than go off on my own tangent, as people who buy the comic buy it because they love the show, so I want to give the the closest experience that I can.
The one thing I do like is the fact that I can use an underlying arc, a subplot that runs through all the issues. By writing them all myself, I can ensure that little hints and nods sneak into the earlier issues that kick you later in the run, whereas with a show you have separate writers and that becomes a lot harder to do, although not impossible.
NRAMA: Is there anything else you want to tell readers about the Doctor Who ongoing series?
TL: Buy it; it's awesome. But seriously, if you're Jonesing for some Tennant action with only a few specials on this year, you can't do worse than picking up The Forgotten or The Time Machination and having a read. If you like them, I'm positive you'll love the ongoing. I'm a fan of the show and I'm reverent to the characters, whether they live, die, or are altered forever.