Moving onto the Eighth Doctor: To The Death was an excellent end to the four seasons of Lucie stories, which had the courage of its convictions. Are you stuck with this harder Doctor, who seems prepared for the Time War?
Well, it’s not the Time War, and I do not ever want to do the Time War! I think it’s a non-story. Showing it would be like showing Arthur Daley’s ’Er Indoors. We know it was a vast cataclysm – and we don’t necessarily know it’s the Eighth Doctor involved.
We were aware that having done these four series which we thought were tip top, we knew we had to go out in a blaze of glory. Best to do that, rather than fade away. We also didn’t want to string that part out, and stretch it to a point beyond which it would not go. In some respects, the fourth season was a lap of glory. We wanted to put the Doctor in a place where we start afresh with a blank canvas. We are going to follow up what happened there – not straightaway but we are – but the Doctor needs some time to sit and reflect, and where we find him next will be interesting.
We head back in his timeline then for the next trilogy featuring Mary Shelley…
The Mary Shelley stories are my fault. Way back when I wrote my very first script for Big Finish, Storm Warning – eleven years ago – I wrote a little prologue which was him in the TARDIS. He was plucking one of the books off the shelf, which happened to be Frankenstein, and saying something about, “Oh Mary, that shouldn’t have happened like that.” That became a running joke in several other plays: when he’s conscious or semi-conscious he’d mutter about Mary, or Byron, or Polidori. When we came to do the Companions release, I thought we’d do that story and think no more of it.
But Julie Cox is brilliant! So we’re doing three stories with Mary which are out later this year. The Marc Platt story that starts it off, The Silver Turk, again features the Mondas Cybermen which we did in Spare Parts, and I think he’s done them brilliantly. A completely unique Cyberman story: you’ve never heard anything like this before. Every now and again you get a script in and go, “This is special,” and that was one of them.
You’ve switched to doing stories in batches of three, with a trilogy for each Doctor. What was the logic behind that switch?
There was an awareness that when we were doing the Eighth Doctor adventures separately, they were getting a real forward momentum, and we were able to do far more exciting involved arc stuff, and get people more excited with the unfolding story. You don’t necessarily want to be running an arc where you only get one instalment every three or four months.
It seemed a natural way to bind things together in a quite interesting way. Sometimes they’ll be based around a companion, or a place – we did the [Fifth Doctor] Stockbridge trilogy set in different times in the village from the Doctor Who Monthly strips – or the chance to do an unfolding story and connect stuff up, the way that Project: Destiny segued into A Death in the Family. And it means of course you can do end of season cliffhangers as we did with The Angel of Scutari, and Hex getting shot. This arc based storytelling was introduced by the new series, and has become an essential part of Doctor Who now, and people’s expectations of it.
We have an incredibly loyal listenership who are paying attention, and they will pick us up when we get various continuity things wrong. The ability to do the ongoing storylines is a mark of respect I think. We’re not saying we’re just here to grab you with one four parter, then another, and it doesn’t add up to anything. I think it’s very important for them all to add up to something more than the sum of their parts – although at the back of your mind is the possibility that every release is somebody’s first!
Has the change in production team from Russell T Davies to Steven Moffat altered what sort of stories you can tell?
Not at all. The approvals process is exactly the same. We still have to conform to the values of the Doctor Who brand, which is only right and proper. I think it would be terrible if somebody’s aunty bought one of our plays from Forbidden Planet for their Doctor Who-mad nephew, and they listen to it and go, what’s this?! It has to be broadly in line with those values.
The big change was when Doctor Who became a big property again and people were paying attention to it. When I was doing Doctor Who Magazine in the late 1990s, we were the guardians of the brand! Having had that semi-custodial role, you become aware of how important it is to behave responsibly in that regard.
It’s not your playground, Doctor Who belongs to all of us. It belongs to us culturally, and you’ve got to be aware of that. It’s not a thing that one person can plop themselves in and say, “I’m going to do my thing now”… unless you’re the showrunner!
Do you ever worry that you’re going to run out of Doctor Who stories to tell?
I do think the well is inexhaustible. The world keeps on moving on and throwing up interesting things, and fascinating things to talk about. If a writer is ever stuck for ideas, first thing to do is go read a newspaper, and you’ll find 30 interesting stories in there. Like putting the Sixth Doctor with Flip – you’re changing the combinations and moving them along to do new things.
The old monsters always sell well for us, and they’re part of the universe, so we want to do them in new and interesting ways. But the trick is to not do the original story redux. We’ve done Auton stories that are completely unlike the TV ones. The modern world helps with that. Some of the stuff is putting two contradictory things next to each other, which couldn’t have happened then because they didn’t exist.
We’re not doing retro stuff, the Second Doctor ‘base under siege’ stories, which were very much a reflection of where the world and sci-fi and the tropes were then. We’re moving on and doing more exciting modern things, because you’ve always got a future to move them into. Glibly, the present always becomes the past, and that throws up interesting things you can do.
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Thanks to Paul Spragg for help in arranging this interview.