BY JENNIFER M. CONTINO
Growing up in the UK, episodes of Doctor Who
were as common to scribe Tony Lee
, as episodes of Star Trek
were to those of us in the US. Lee was a big fan of the good Doctor and his several portrayers. He recently got the chance to "play" in the Doctor Who
universe with an IDW series that lets Lee explore the history of this sci-fi hero. Lee's working on most of the six issues with Y The Last Man's
co-creator, Pia Guerra
. If you need a history lesson in Doctor Who
, Lee's got a primer right here that should get anyone up to speed, and leave you eager to remember what's about to happen in Doctor Who: The Forgotten
. THE PULSE: I think a lot of people who don't know anything about Doctor Who just think of him as some afro dude with a crazy scarf. Just who is the good Doctor? What makes him such an important sci-fi figure?
I think he's an important sci-fi figure purely because of the length of time that he's been around, forty five years kinda gives him that 'Elder Statesman' position in the genre, a bit like Kirk, or Flash Gordon.
As for who he is, he's a Time Lord. From Gallifrey. Well, that's what he always says!
Back in the sixties, when he first started, he was simply an old man who traveled with companions and his daughter in a Police Box, the TARDIS. In fact, when Peter Cushing played 'Dr Who' in the unconnected (apart from names and Daleks) movie, he was simply a human inventor. But, when William Hartnell, the 'first' Doctor left the role, they had to find a way to change the actor and they'd already stated that he was an alien, so he was 'Renewed' into Patrick Troughton, the 'Second' Doctor. And of course he's done this several times now, each 'Regeneration' bringing a new 'Doctor' into the role. We had Troughton, then Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker (the crazy afro dude in the scarf you mentioned), Peter Davison, Colin Baker (no relation to Tom) and Sylvester McCoy. Then there was a long break, and fans all but thought the show was dead. But then we had the US TV movie with Paul McGann taking the title role. And then we had another
But by this point the world of Doctor Who had become quite confusing, with Time Lords and Gallifrey and Daleks left, right and center, and of course the 'revelation' (since ignored) that The Doctor was in fact half Human, and so when the BBC brought it back a couple of years back, they cut the Time Lords out totally. There had been a big war, the Time Lords were gone and like Superman, The Doctor (now Christopher Ecclestone, the 'Ninth' Doctor) was the last of his kind. And then when Ecclestone left (he had been contracted for just one season to give the show the 'oomph' it needed for a comeback) he became David Tennant, the current one.
The Doctor is a catalyst for change. He comes in, screws around with the status quo, sorts the problem out and then buggers off. He shows his companions that there's more to life out there than watching Scrubs and buying take out. He's the eternal do-gooder, and although he's had some hardships and some tragedies in the past, he'll never give up.
And I think it's this youthful exuberance and blind optimism that make us love him so. He's never too serious, even when the world is ending. THE PULSE: I know you're from the UK, so how big was Doctor Who when you were growing up? How important was this character to you personally? Were you a fan of the television incarnations?
Growing up in the seventies, I think every boy or girl around then was a fan of Doctor Who at one point or the other. I grew up during its heyday - my first memory is watching the last Jon Pertwee episode, Planet of the Spiders, and I was a diehard fan until the mid Eighties. When I was ten, eleven I would seek out VHS copies of old black and white episodes. Back in those days there wasn't such a market for DVDs of series, and so all I could do was find bootleg TV copies in sci-fi convention back stalls. Also, in the sixties the shows were never recorded for posterity, often being re-recorded over, or even not recorded at all, recorded live on TV. Many early episodes are missing because of this, or because of errors with the tapes that lost large chunks of video. And because of this there was a massive subculture of Who fans who hunted down every old episode they could find.
And then in the Eighties and Nineties there was a cable station called UK Gold that played a complete episode, usually consisting of four x twenty five minute episodes in one go every Sunday morning. And they started from the very beginning. I watched them all. Again and again.
I had signed postcards from the main actors. I went to small Doctor Who conventions. I had every Target novelisation that was out there. But then in my mid teens, I lost interest. The series seemed dead, and I'd discovered other things to take my time. It was only when it returned recently did I get back into it. THE PULSE: How did you become involved in this Doctor Who: The Forgotten six part limited series? Was this something you pitched from the get go or something you heard about and asked to be a part of ...?
I'd been talking to Chris Ryall, the EiC of IDW for a couple of years at this point about a variety of other projects and by pure chance I'd mentioned to him that I'd just done a three part Doctor Who story called 'F.A.Q' for Panini's Doctor Who Magazine, a total of twenty seven pages of Tenth Doctor and Rose. This was mid 2006.
Fast forward about six months, and IDW start going for the Doctor Who license from the BBC. Because he knows me and more importantly he knows that I've already written the characters, Chris invites me to pitch a couple of ideas. I throw one into the mix that involved the Tenth meeting the Fourth at a 1921 Hollywood party, and we bounce it back and forth. And then I hear from Chris that Gary Russell is doing the first six parter, and that my story would have to be put on the back burner. I have no ego where Gary is concerned - he's one of the mainstays of Who, and I was happy to step back and be a fan again.
Then, about six months later, late last year I get an email from Chris saying they had a green light on a second six parter - and what did I have for them? I wanted to do something that showed the newer fan the joys of the old Doctors, so I pitched The Forgotten. I expected to be shot down by the BBC, but in fact they've been incredibly helpful, even allowing us to re-edit the plot to bring it in line with more recent developments... THE PULSE: Just because you're a fan of something doesn't mean that you can capture all your enthusiasm on the page or in a complete story. What are the challenges of taking something you really like and making the audience appreciate it as much, if not more, than you yourself feel?
The biggest problem if you're a massive fan is that you forget that not everyone else is as well. And this is the main problem with a lot of 'fan fiction' out there. They forget that the fans might not know as much as they do, and they're too busy slapping themselves on the back about their oh, so witty in jokes
to do something about this.
It's incredibly difficult to write something that you're passionate about and not go off into a sprawling mess. At the same time, being a fan to this extent helped me a hell of a lot, as I had a far easier time nailing the 'voices' of the characters, as I could simply close my eyes and remember the first time that I ever heard them.
In addition, Doctor Who is a very fluid children's show, it weaves this way and that and to put this into a format that relies on five, six panels a page static beats is incredibly complicated. Remember, a comic of twenty two pages will only have about a hundred and twenty odd beats, moments that the artist draws, and to ensure that not only does each 'beat' deliver, but that the artist also hits it out of the park? daunting. THE PULSE: The story's called "The Forgotten." Just what has Doctor Who forgotten? I'm guessing it's quite important ....
Oh, he's forgotten everything. And then again, perhaps he hasn't. He's forgotten his past 'selves', so to speak, enemies from his past - but at the same time he remembers snippets, things from the past that he shouldn't be able to remember. And as the story moves along, he starts to realise that he's forgotten his future as well - and Martha? She knows far too much for 'his' Martha to know, so how much of his life has he really forgotten? He only realises the true extent in the penultimate issue. We have twists, turns, old friends and enemies and a familiar looking fob watch... THE PULSE: One of the things that confuses me about Doctor Who is there were a few Doctor Who's but it's all the same person right? I don't get it ... can you shed some light, please?
Well, hopefully I have at the top of the interview - but essentially a Time Lord is the ultimate split personality. It takes a serious trauma (read: the current actor having enough of the role) for the Doctor to pretty much regenerate all of his cells. This act? Makes him a new man. Literally.
There's a lot of discussions as to how many 'regenerations' a Time Lord has, I mean, they weren't even named in the show until the end of the Third Doctor's tenure - and it's usually taken that a Time Lord has twelve regenerations, 'Thirteen' lives. That said, with the Time Lords all gone now, and the current Doctor being on 'Ten', I'm sure this could change. After all, this makes the BBC a lot of money!
But yes, they're all the same person, and even though he travels in time and space, he's bound by laws that state that he can't cross his own timeline, meet himself.
That said, of course he has occasionally. Usually on anniversaries. *laughs* THE PULSE: How are all these Doctor Who's featured in these six issues? That seems as if it would be quite the challenge to incorporate them all seamlessly into one story ...
In the main, they're standalone 'untold tales' of about eight pages, each one a triggered memory for the amnesiac Tenth Doctor. We have the first meeting Egyptian Pharaohs, the second meeting giant space lizards - the third fights space alien dogs in giant spider suits with UNIT beside him, the fourth meets a Minotaur under Paris - the fifth faces off against the Judoon, sixth is in a courtroom, seventh is running through a warzone, eighth is in a cell and ninth is in the trenches of World War One. And as it goes on, with the ongoing story weaving in between these flashback tales, of the tenth Doctor and Martha running for their lives in a strange museum, the story starts to alter slightly and you realise that each story is a message to the Doctor. Literally. Does he meet them all? Well, he remembers them all. To say whether any or all of them appear in the final issue, around the middle, in a double page splash? That'd be saying...
THE PULSE: What, if anything, does this story have to do with the bigger Doctor Who picture that encompasses more than just the field of comic books ....?
Not a great deal, to be honest. The BBC 'yays or nays' the scripts we send and there have been some changes here and there, and because of this the stories are 'Canon' - that is, this is a canonical Doctor Who tale. It's a valid part of 'the world of Who', or the 'Whoniverse'. But, we're keeping it out of the way pretty much, in a little IDW sandbox off to the side so that we don't piss anyone off.
That said, we've got some real big things that we've been allowed to do - We have the Fifth Doctor meeting Judoon, creatures not introduced until the Tenth Doctor episode 'Smith and Jones' (he says he knows them, so we know he's met them before, you see), we discuss the Eighth Doctor's 'half humanity', we even look at previous companion and Torchwood leader Captain Jack and what he did while waiting for the Doctor to return at the end of season three. And that's not even the half of what we've been allowed to put into this 'canon' tale. It truly is an eye opener. Apparently Russell T Davies said that there was no way we could do what I had proposed and I'd hang myself doing it - I hope he did
say this, as I really want to prove him wrong.
But who knows, down the line something I write here might influence something that someone puts into the television show. I put a plot point into 'F.A.Q' in 2006, a sonic screwdriver being used on a P.A system that bore a strange similarity to a moment of the following Christmas's special... THE PULSE: You're working with Pia Guerra on these six issues. What's it like having a collaborator like Guerra, who really knows a lot about the intricacies of storytelling?
Well, at the time of writing these answers, we've had a bit of a tragedy here. Pia's had to drop off two of the six issues, three and four to be precise as she has been supporting a close friend's desperate battle against terminal cancer. It's eaten up a lot of her time and she's spent days, weeks even in a hospital ward with friends and family. I heard last week that her friend lost the fight and passed away, but even so, Pia still needs time to heal herself.
That said, Pia is a trooper and she's already on #5 with a vengeance. Personally, I'd have told her to take another couple of weeks, but she's such a fan of the series, she really wants to get it done. She's doing some amazing things with the pages - in the earliest draft, we had the items of the Doctor in front of paintings, but it was Pia's idea to use the costumes and mannequins. We have great brainstorming ideas for things we can put into the museum, and she's as passionate for the story as I am, which is why it's even more gutting for her that she had to drop two issues.
Trust me - this is some of the best work she has ever done.
As for working with her? It's scary as hell - I mean, she came off Y The Last Man's Eisner award winning sixty issue run to do this book. I feel like I have a major league hitter coming to play for my minor league team. And it's made me a far better writer for it. THE PULSE: How is working on a character like Doctor Who, different than working on one of your own creation or one that isn't as iconic as that sci-fi staple?
It's not that different in the scripting, blocking and planning phases, but the main differences is in the agreements from the BBC. You have a story that goes to an editor or a department in the BBC that has a very specific idea and plan of how a character thinks, talks and acts, and if you deviate one iota? You have to redo the whole thing.
Luckily, I'd had my baptism of fire a couple of years earlier with the Panini Doctor Who story. For each issue I did seven plot documents, thats one document and six revisions, five issue page plans and eleven script revisions for a nine page story. Compared to that, this one's a cake walk.
That said, I have my own buffers in place, I have friends, Craig Andrews, Matt Marshall, Lee Barnett and Mark Corden, four massive Doctor Who fans who read over my scripts before I send and give their own opinions. It might be a comment on a character, it might be an unknown piece of information on an item used that makes it unusable - things like this help me when I hit the BBC's first wall, as it gets me past a lot of the first run problems.
I've had a lot of experience with this kind of thing though - I had the same with Starship Troopers, X-Men, Wallace and Gromit, Shrek, Spider Man - pretty much every work for hire gig license I've done has had the dance of the freelancer. But it's just so. Much. Fun. THE PULSE: How does it feel to have an opportunity to work on a character you grew up with?
Absolutely amazing. When I first wrote 'F.A.Q', I had to stop and text friends that I'd just written 'Time Lord' in a story. And this time its ten, no a hundred times more intense, especially with the things I was allowed to do with later issues. I'm a fan, and as such I enjoy the story I wrote. And as a fan I enjoy seeing what other readers write about it. And because of this book, I'm now a guest at Gallifrey 2009 in Los Angeles, where I'll meet hundreds of fans who all read my comic. And going on the reviews? I'm going to have a blast.
I could write Doctor Who for ever. And the reaction to my comic has made me decide that I'm going to use this to try to write for the series, or tie in novels at some point in my career. But currently? I have another idea for a six part, six single issue stories miniseries involving six well known artists all doing an issue each, stories bouncing around various Doctors but definitely including a steampunk Tenth Doctor single issue story... I'm hoping I can convince Chris to pitch to the BBC and Ben Templesmith to draw... THE PULSE: What other projects are you working on?
Currently I seem to be one of the most prolific bloody writers out there. I have a lot of projects that have been finished and are just waiting to come out, Outlaw: The Legend Of Robin Hood now has a June 2009 release and Dodge & Twist is hoped to be out by Christmas 2009 for example, but things I'm currently working on include Necrophim, a kind of 'Point Blank in Hell' tale for 2000ad, The Prince Of Baghdad for the DFC, on which I'm lettering the last issues and working out book two as well as lettering book one of St Spookys for them, I'm writing the 'sequel' to Robin Hood, the next in the heroes and heroines series called Pendragon: The Legend Of King Arthur and I'm scripting Journal, a romantic comedy graphic novel for AiT/PlanetLar, with Bevis Musson.
I've just done an eight page story with Kevin Colden for an end of year Image anthology and I'm playing around with a few novels, screenplays and a possible game show for ITV. And of course, the usual pitches...
The first issue of Doctor Who: The Forgotten should be in stores now.