Sunday, 18 May 2008

Interview - Shades of Gray (Part One of Four)

Interviewed by Darrell Patterson & David Ronayne (in 1999)

Over the past few years something very strange has happened to the travels of the Doctor. His adventures have fragmented and have split across a series of canons as fan authors have had the opportunity to create new adventures. Few, however, have had the ability or freedom to reach, and surprise such a large audience as Scott Gray. An expatriate New Zealander, and previous regular contributor to TSV, his tenure as writer of the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip has been marked with controversy. New villains have come into play, companions have died and the Doctor was briefly 'regenerated. Darrell Patterson (DP) and David Ronayne (DR) track him down at the Fitzroy Tavern in London, and pester the life out of the poor man:

(DR) So what actually is your job?
(Scott) You mean in terms of DWM? I really don't have much to do with the mag at all. It's Gary [Gillatt], Alan [Barnes] and Peri [Godbold] doing the magazine. I'm just connected with the strip. I write parts of it, and am the 'hands on' editor. I go over the layout and pencil roughs with Martin [Geraghty] and Elitta [Fell] as well. I take a photocopy of the pencils and indicate where all the balloons are supposed to go, and where the text can be broken up and laid out. It takes a surprisingly long time, but I'm a bit picky about things. When people say, 'Oh, I'm a bit of a perfectionist', they generally don't see it as a flaw. It clearly is, because it drives everyone else around you completely insane. I get quite possessive about the strip which is a bad thing to do, because it is a team effort. There are a lot of people involved.

(DP) So how much input does everyone have in developing characters?
A lot. We sit down and talk about it, particularly regarding Izzy and Fey. Alan formulated both of them, so he will say, 'No, Izzy wouldn't say this. Fey wouldn't do that.' And we sometimes end up arguing and tussling. [Laughs] Funny thing is, we don't argue about what the Doctor would do. We are more or less in agreement about him. I think it's important not to overwrite the Doctor. If anything I'm guilty of underwriting him.


'Dashing' seems to be the best word to describe him. Mister Darcy. You could see him in a sword fight, swinging off a balcony on a rope. He's kind of a template you fix your own ideas about what the Doctor is to. We have seen so little of him. He's a bit manic in the TV movie because he's just regenerated, so you get the feeling he's only just come right in the last fifteen minutes of the show. He struck me as a pretty cool character. He's essentially an English gentleman. A romantic figure from the past, one that would appeal to American women. Always making this last minute dash to freedom, battling the villains on the balustrade and making this constant sacrifice.

(DR) Funny you should mention sacrifice. You have put him through the wringer a lot. Lots of the cliffhangers have the Doctor plunging a syringe into his hearts or being exterminated by Daleks.
It's not something we consciously set out to do, but it seems right for the character. There isn't much point in the Doctor saving the day by simply pushing a button and reversing the polarity of the neutron flow. If the guy is going to be the hero, he has to do heroic things, and there is nothing more heroic than putting yourself on the line to save other people. That for me is the whole gist of the Doctor. There is some pretty obvious Christ imagery in the movie and Alan had great fun in the end of The Final Chapter with what appears to be the Doctor saving Gallifrey in the crucifix position. It seems very right for him.

You've got to give the impression that the Doctor is a kid at some level. It's too easy to simply have Izzy as the young, bubbly, youthful figure, and the Doctor going, 'Oh, Izzy! I can't believe you are being so childish.' You want to remind people that the Doctor is just as innocent in his own way as Izzy is, sometimes even more so. There is a great line in Nightmare Of Eden where someone says to Tom [Baker], 'Who are you working for?' 'I'm not working for anyone - I'm just having fun.' Which is him to a tee. We're trying to get back to that. We don't want the Doctor to have any great plan. He's wandering about and seeing what's happening.


(DP) Is Izzy based on anyone in particular?
Izzy was originally based on several people. Particularly Louise Weiner, the singer from Sleeper. Easy on the eye, and she looks the part. Her and Dianne from Trainspotting were the initial inspirations. Someone skinny and hip in look and attitude. A bit of a Britpop girl. If you look at Endgame she starts out looking very different. She looked like she worked out, and we were saying to Martin that she's got to be skinnier, more this kind of waif type. So if you look at Endgame now, over the course of those four issues she goes on this crash diet, so she has the right physique by the end of part four. At the beginning of part one she wasn't quite there. You see her bursting through a window with a laser gun and it's a kind of 'Ace' thing to do. It's how Izzy would imagine herself to be rather than how she really is. In hindsight, it's not quite right for her as an introduction. She's more the kind of person who would try that and end up bashing her head against the window.

(DP) Izzy seems like one of us.
That's always the role of the companion. You're not really supposed to identify with the Doctor, but you are supposed to identify with the companion. When the show has been less interesting to me, it's generally when the companions have been a bit odd, like Nyssa or Adric. They seem completely removed from your own experiences. You can't relate to them. You can't relate to the Doctor either. You can't get terribly involved. With Ace you could, she seemed much more down to Earth. It just seems sensible to have an Earth companion from a contemporary setting.

Izzy is a Doctor Who fan, or at least would be if there was a series in the Doctor Who universe. She'd be the biggest fan ever. She'd be Jackie Jenkins. The fun thing is that lzzy makes all these cultural references that all the readers instantly understand, and the Doctor doesn't get any of it. This notion that we know more about something than the Doctor does is quite enjoyable. He's kind of blind to the popular culture of the latter half of the twentieth century. It's not something he's paid much attention to.

There was a key moment when I understood the relationship between them. In By Hook Or By Crook Izzy's baiting the Doctor and they argue. 'Who got captured by the Threshold?' 'Yeah? Who got exterminated by the Daleks?' You realise he's just as much a kid as she is, and suddenly, Izzy comes across as the slightly more mature one in a weird way. Then a couple of pages later she's in prison with him. They both blunder into situations. They just think, 'Oh, I know what to do - don't worry.' They just go with whatever comes into their heads. So she just runs off and leaves him there and comes back with the sonic screwdriver baked in a cake. That's her brilliant idea!

(DR) In Endgame she says, 'I'm Izzy Nobody'. I thought her past may turn up again, but it hasn't.
'Izzy Somebody from Stockbridge' is sort of her official name. She's had several foster parents and has never really had a sense of stability. You don't get companions with lots of family ties, it's basically one of the rules. In the beginning the companions were adults. You never stopped to wonder if Ian's mother was worried about him. After that they tended to be orphans, or the family were just never mentioned. Jo, Sarah, Tegan - do we know about their relatives? Tegan had an aunt, but she didn't last long, did she?

(DR) There seems to be no playing games with Izzy.
No, that's been done. The Doctor can still be quite sly. Wormwood points that out better than anything else. But he doesn't play games with Izzy. When it comes to his friends he's not going to dick about with them.


(DP) So who is the visual reference for Fey?
No one really. The trick with Fey is that she wasn't meant to be a companion. She was originally fated to die at the end of Tooth And Claw. Alan just really liked her and said it would be helpful having her around, simply to have two people carrying the Doctor to the TARDIS. Fey can handle tough situations. She's a female version of the Doctor. She's been to all of these places around the world, had all these adventures, and she also name-drops lots of people. All traits of the Doctor. When he meets her for the first time he thinks, 'Hey, you're really cool!' simply because she reminds him of him.

Alan said he'd kill her off at the end of The Final Chapter. But when we got to the end, he came back and said it would deflect attention from the regeneration. So then Gary suggested Fey could be a Threshold agent ...

No! [Waves hands in the air in mock horror] That went against everything I had planned about the Threshold not being able to travel in time. We eventually got round that by having them simply plant a bug inside her. She is the perfect spy; someone who doesn't realise they are a spy. It's quite humiliating for her, because she's meant to be this cool secret agent, and the Threshold are laughing at her in the background. Once I got that in mind it all seemed to click into place. Then she became a really important figure in the overall plot.

(DR) She seemed to work really well.
Yeah, but as Alan said, it is very difficult to have two companions in an eight page comic strip. I'm very conscious of the amount of space we've got in each chapter. You have got to have a substantial amount happening. It's very easy to not write enough, or do the opposite and cram too much in. Then Martin doesn't have enough space. It can be tricky.

When I wrote Wormwood we agreed I had to get rid of Fey. I had considered killing her off at the end of part one. I thought that would be a really dramatic way of starting the story, with the Threshold saying, 'We're not playing around anymore, guys.' Then the idea of having her merge with Shayde came along and I thought that would be more fun. I liked her. Now she's too powerful to be a companion, and the Doctor wouldn't be terribly keen on having someone running around with a gun. Fey was essentially the Ian Chesterton/Jamie figure. McGann isn't going to anger easily and get into fights, but she could just beat people up. It just seemed fun to make that character a woman for a change.

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