Titan Comics’ Doctor Who line has been thriving in terms of the last trio of Doctors, but now it turns to one of the original trio: Jon Pertwee's Third Doctor.
Launching this August, Doctor Who: The Third Doctor brings writer Paul Cornell back to the franchise, alongside artists Christopher Jones, Rodney Ramos, and Rodrigo Fernandes. In this new miniseries, Cornell and company pits the Doctor, Jo Grant, and UNIT against a new alien adversary with only the Doctor’s penchant for karate chops, and the Brigadier’s “Five rounds rapid!” to protect them.
Newsarama recently got a chance to talk to Cornell about his upcoming series, entitled “The Heralds of Destruction," as well as his favorite Third Doctor stories, his approach toward writing the Doctor, and his interesting take on crafting stories for each incarnation.
Newsarama: Paul, first things first, why the Third Doctor? What made that particular incarnation the one for this story?
Paul Cornell: I've always had a rather complicated relationship with this Doctor, loving certain aspects, really disliking others, and when I found I had a story that would work best with him, I thought it'd be fun to take on those contradictions rather than avoid them.
Nrama: Jon Pertwee’s tenure threw out the format of Doctor Who at the time, anchoring him to Earth and taking away his TARDIS, do you find that that hinders your narrative or instead provides a solid base for the kind of story you want to tell?
Cornell: It enables the story I went to tell, and allows me to do something specific. I do think the circumstances of production - budget; quality of effects; creative decisions - of the TV show determine the flavor of the stories one can tell about that Doctor's era in other media. Broadly speaking, if I did a First Doctor story, I'd make sure the aliens looked like they could be achieved on a BBC budget of the time, I'd keep it a bit stagy, I wouldn't refer to the Time Lords even in internal monologue and if we were in history it'd be slightly dodgy history! But the Pertwee era gives me an interesting out on that, because they clearly wanted to present things like tanks, bomber attacks and platoons of troops, so broadening the story in that way feels interesting to me rather than wrong. So we're going to visit locations (like the Doctor's club) that we didn't get to see on-screen, but are only just past the edges of it.
Nrama: Pertwee’s tenure also famously took a more low-fi take on the stories as well as the Doctor’s approach to problem solving, replacing the era-hopping and broad science fiction stories with Avengers- inspired cases and monsters of the week, do you feel that that allows you to focus less on the otherworldly and more so on the characters and plots?
Cornell: Kind of beside the point, really. There's an alien invasion at the heart of this, and it all gets a bit Malcolm Hulke.
Nrama: If you were going to take inspiration from somewhere, you could do much worse than the creator of the Silurians! Moving on though, how big of a role does UNIT and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart play in this series?
Cornell: Huge, they're beside the Doctor throughout. I love the Brigadier. I love his compassion, intelligence and the way he gives the Doctor just enough rope.
Nrama: With Jo Grant as the main companion of the series, did the rapport between Three and Jo come naturally or did you find yourself revisiting old Third Doctor stories for inspiration?
Cornell: I am rewatching, selectively. I love Jo, and I want to show, in the way the show did, as has become clear with new critique of that era, that she's incredibly qualified under that ditzy exterior, she just has to choose how she's going to show it, hemmed in by 1970s gender politics as she is.
Nrama: Just to add to that, your Whovian nature is well known and documented, so what is your personal favorite Third Doctor adventure and did you find yourself tempted to include nods to it in this series?
Cornell: I love “The Time Warrior” or “Invasion of the Dinosaurs”... and alongside that one basically all Malcolm Hulke. I don't do 'nods,' though. Hate in-jokes. Fans will find them in here, but they're either no such thing, have another function, or are accidentally. I always say 'why are they called in-jokes when they're never funny?'
Nrama: The title “The Heralds of Destruction” is not only just a great classic era story title, but also hints at a worthy foe for Three, Jo, the Brigadier, and UNIT. Without spoiling anything, of course, are we dealing with a brand new Doctor Who antagonist or a returning classic monster?
Cornell: A brand new antagonist. Of course. Obviously.
Nrama: Be honest, how excited were you to write a scene with Bessie?
Cornell: Err... a bit? You did say "be honest." There's actually quite a lot of Bessie in this.
Nrama: Doctor Who, and your Doctor Who stories in particular, are known for their big ideas and narrative hooks. With this series, did you start with a big idea and build the narrative out from there or was it the other way around with you deciding to use Three and breaking a story to fit into his tenure?
Cornell: No, I had a big idea, the nature of which will become clear by the third issue, and this Doctor just fit the telling of it very well.
Nrama: Having now having handled multiple incarnations of the Doctor (Five, Seven, Eight, Nine, Richard E. Grant’s “Scream of the Shalka” Doctor, Ten, Eleven, the War Doctor, and now the Third), what do you think makes him so compelling and sets him apart from his other regenerations? Apart from his amazing clothes and Venusian Aikido, of course.
Cornell: He's got this interesting combination of arrogance and the vulnerability that comes from being trapped. He's charming in a deliberately human, capitalist, rather stuffy way, but with these hippy frills to that, as if this incarnation has deliberately grabbed hold of any and all camouflage. I love it when we see underneath that. I hate it when he's rude to perfectly kind and decent people. All these contradictions. But I intend to explore that using only the tools available at the time.
Nrama: Jon Pertwee’s Doctor had a famously compelling on going rivalry with Roger Delgado’s Master, who made his debut in this era. Without giving too much away, can fans expect an appearance or mention of the Doctor’s Time Lord rival?
Cornell: As I said, I intend to explore the Doctor's contradictions and vulnerabilities using the tools available at the time.
Nrama: Finally, since this title is your return to the franchise after the weekly Four Doctors event, are you looking ahead at all to other new stories? Can fans expect more Third Doctor adventures from you or perhaps another arc with another incarnation?
Cornell: I'm not sure. It has to come from me having a big idea. In other words, I need to be having fun and want to do it. I love what Titan are doing with every Doctor, though, and it's great to be part of that. Chris Jones, who's drawing this series, is a friend, and we were both taken on separately, so I got to tease him about it. He's doing an amazing job.