Sunday, 25 May 2008

Interview - Shades of Gray (Part Two of Four)

FEY (cont.)

(Darrell Patterson) Are we going to see any more of her?
(Scott) I hope so. Events were going so fast the characters didn't really have a chance to interact. I've got one or two ideas about what's going to happen. It's going to be a rocky marriage, Fey and Shayde. It seems very idyllic and noble to begin with but things are going to go a little bit wrong for them. Eventually we'll come back to them, but not for a while.


(DP) Was the Threshold saga intentional from the start?
No. When Gary [Gillatt] and I took over the magazine, the strip had been doing multiple Doctor stories. They didn't link together in any way. They were just these little stories stuck between giant slabs of continuity, and nothing important could ever happen in them. We decided to bring Sylvester and Ace back, but before we did that we thought it might be fun to try and find a way of linking the multi-Doctor stories together. So we had Peter Davison, Hartnell, and Tom. We decided to have this mysterious force watching them, planning something. They would be seeing these Doctors out of chronological order. For them it would be a young blond guy, and then this old guy a few decades later.

In the end we decided it would be creepier if we had someone stalking the companions, as they're far more vulnerable than the Doctor. We'd have them meeting this mysterious off-panel voice, then cut away, and when we'd cut back nothing would seem to have happened.

We were planting the seed that something wasn't quite right. To give you an idea of how little attention the comic strip was getting at that point, maybe three people actually commented on these weird-shaped word balloons creeping into the story.

The original plan for the Threshold was that they were going to be the Doctor's equivalent to SPECTRE, the James Bond baddies. They turned out a little bit differently in the movies, but in the original books SPECTRE is this mysterious mercenary organisation people could hire. They weren't out to take over the world. If you knew who to contact you could hire SPECTRE to kill people, or steal stuff.

I thought it would be fun to expand that into an interstellar, inter-dimensional group. The Doctor has always fought individuals like the Master, or alien races. He had never really fought an organisation before. I couldn't think of a case where the Doctor had fought a team of agents who could be anyone, anywhere.

(David Ronayne) Very much like the Illuminati, or a secret brotherhood?
The Threshold are the original conspiracy, really. They have fingers in every pie and are everywhere. You can never tell who is going to suddenly smile and crackle into Letratone. The monsters are interchangeable in Doctor Who. They just represent the unknown, and generally the unknown is scary and dramatic. The best ones represent some part of the darker side of humanity. The Daleks are the ultimate xenophobes. They're driven by fear. They're frightened of every other race in the universe, and that fear translates into hatred. The Sontarans are basically the love of war that humans clearly have. And you've got the Cybermen who are essentially the callous side of humanity who don't give a damn about anyone else. They have blocked off emotion and are just machines crushing people. The monsters that keep coming back are the ones people can relate to in some way.

So, the Threshold basically represent human greed. 'We want to own it all, take it all, grab it all, whatever we see, wewantit.' In Logopolis, the Master announces to the universe, 'You will bow down before me and obey me forever, and I will be your king.' The Threshold don't do that, they just take out a TV advert across the universe instead. 'We're here to help you.'

We are a business, we are offering a service and you have got to take it. Where do you want to go today?'. I was flabbergasted by all those Microsoft ads that were comparing Bill Gates to Thomas Edison. Bill Gates has just tried to force every other competitor off the market and own absolutely everything. The Threshold were eliminating all other forms of transport, and saying, 'It's just us, you've got nowhere else to go, but for a modest fee we're here to help you.' Which is essentially what Bill Gates is trying to do. That was my inspiration for White in Wormwood. When I was putting all this together I was quite pleased when I realised that the teleportation devices they used in Ground Zero were called Windows. It was just too perfect.

The only thing linking the Threshold together is that they're all total bastards, and that is why they lose. There's a great quote, I think it's in L'il Abner; 'Good beats Evil, coz it's nicer.' The heroes all stand together, and make sacrifices for each other. Fey sacrifices her individuality to save Shayde, which in turn saves the Doctor, which in turn saves the day. The Threshold, on the other hand, are just at each others throats completely. White betrays Chastity, the Pariah betrays the Threshold, White betrays the Pariah. They are baddies, they are not very nice, and ultimately they don't cooperate. When I first came up with them, Gary Gillatt said the Threshold could be an eternal menace for the Doctor. We would never really find out where they come from, or what they're about. The Doctor would be always trying to get to the heart of the mystery, but never quite manage to do it. Then Gary turned round and said we should find out a bit more about these guys now, so I had to sit down and work it all out. No Cartmel masterplan here, I'm afraid. It was very organic, very natural, which is probably the best way for these stories to come together. It was Gary having ideas, and Alan coming in and doing stuff which I could react to. It was fun.

(DR) It does seem very planned, and it meshes together nicely ...
It does, doesn't it? Looking back it seems like we had the whole thing worked out from the start.

In Fire and Brimstone you've got the Time Lord box. What's inside? Ahh, big secrets, big secrets. I confess we didn't have any idea what was in that box. It took me months to go over all the different possibilities of what could be inside that box before I could come up with something that would actually fit into Wormwood.

I'm quite happy with Wormwood. I was worried it wasn't going to have a decent payoff, but I reread it the other day and it makes more sense the second time around. There is nothing harder to write than the ending. The solution can't be something that's pulled out of a hat. There has to be a set-up earlier on, there has to be some clues as to how the Doctor will win. It also has to be reasonably original. That's tough, particularly when you already have a hundred and sixty stories on TV, and god knows how many novels and comic stories. It's a challenge, and we never approach it in a casual way. We're all very committed to doing the strip properly.

(DP) So are you going to bring any more characters back? You have brought back a few already ...
Yeah, from the Steve Parkhouse period, mainly because we're all fans of it. It's the best single run of the Doctor Who strip ever. Gary was quite clear when we were going to Gallifrey that it would be The Tides of Time Gallifrey rather than anything we've seen from the television series, and Martin specifically drew it to look like the Dave Gibbons version. The strip should have its own identity. However, you can get into a trap where you think, "Who shall we bring back this week?" (Points to Part One of The Fallen) Case in point!

(DR) Do you have any rules for writing your stories?
Keep the readers guessing, and give them a reason to buy the next issue. Give them a really good cliff-hanger that will raise a lot of questions.

(DR) What about the full page cliff-hangers?
I don't know if that had been done before we took it over. I'm pretty sure Land of the Blind was the first one. It's not so unexpected these days as we have done a few of them now. It's not going to be every single time. If it was it would be very predictable and a bit silly. When you have a shot like that, [Scott holds up penultimate page of part one of The Fallen] you get used to seeing these small, narrow pictures, all exactly the same size. You don't think about how big the panel is, you're centered on the scene, so once you turn the page a full-page shot looks enormous. It gives you a sudden jolt.

(DR) Like the cliffhangers in the series.
Yeah. I remember Alan wrote an article in which he said the best cliffhangers not only end at a life-threatening moment, but move the story in a new direction. In The Curse of Fenric when Dinsdale gets up and says, 'We play the contest again, TIMELORD.' All of a sudden a little piece of new information is given. We always try to do that.

(DP) Like the regeneration that wasn't ...
Imagine if you were watching The Twin Dilemma, and at the end of episode three, Peter Davison returned. What a trick! I didn't want the ninth Doctor to be terribly sympathetic. I wanted everyone to feel the way Izzy was feeling. She was very alienated and upset by this. 'What is this? Who is this guy? He's not my Doctor.'

(DR) While the visual aspect of the Ninth Doctor was already established, where did you get his personality from?
To be perfectly honest he was based on Colin Baker. I think Colin probably would have been a really good Doctor with a different approach. He is quite a clever, witty man in person, but making him instantly unlikable didn't work. He tries to strangle Peri, preens himself in a mirror, none of this is the Doctor. I felt really alienated as a fan when watching that. That's the approach I wanted to take with this guy, coming in and going, 'Look at me. Aren't I stylish and wonderful?'

It had to be like the first episode of a new Doctor story. You had to spend a bit of time in the TARDIS examining him and his companions' reaction to him. We just ticked all the boxes. He gets Izzy's name wrong, you get all the old clothes thrown out, that kind of thing. Just all these little nods to the past so people would think this was the first story of a new Doctor. It had to be convincing, so we put all that in there.


(DR) There was no problem with getting Nick Briggs' likeness?
No. Gary went out to a car park and got lots of photos of Nick grimacing for Martin. Martin now has more reference photos of Nick than he does of Paul McGann. He was going, 'Are you sure we can't keep this bloke?' He's actually very good in the audios. Bill Baggs has got him in for the new pseudo-Doctor Who thing. He's called the Wanderer.

(DP) And now there's Grace?
We kept that one close to the chest. It had to be a surprise. Dave Owen thought it was another incarnation of the Doctor floating around in the helicopter in Part One.

(DP) Oh yeah, I thought it was the Doctor too.
Oh, excellent! One of the duties of any writer is to make the reader think the story is going in one direction when it's really going in another. That's the whole crux of Wormwood. You can sit there and think this is the first adventure of the ninth Doctor, and then go back and reread it and it's a different story.

You couldn't do that in a TV show. You can't assume people will be able to go back and look at it again. And what producer in his right mind would get rid of Paul McGann for four episodes? The fake regeneration could only really have been done in a comic. You couldn't do it in a novel because they announce these things months in advance, and I there would be no visual element to it, anyway. But in the strip it worked perfectly. If something can only be done in one particular medium, it's probably a good idea for that medium.

The Daleks, as popular as they are, don't look very good in comics. They're designed for TV. The great thing about them is the way they move and the way they sound, neither of which translates at all into comics or books. The Cybermen are the same. You can't show any facial expression or body language, and this is vital in a comic strip.

I'm quite keen on getting new monsters in the strip, like the Pariah, and Stark in The Fallen. I liked the Pariah. She was fun. Miranda Richardson would do the voice in the TV show. I was imagining her character from The Crying Game when I wrote it. Such an incredible bitch, absolutely reveling in her evil. The villains should really enjoy their evil. It should be their prime motivation.

(DP) Now the Threshold saga is over is it likely to be published in one volume?
There has been talk about it. It would be very big. Two hundred and eighty pages all together. It would be consistent in its appearance because Martin has drawn all the Threshold stories.

We are incredibly lucky to have Martin. He loves doing it, and is a huge Doctor Who fan. He works a day job in an advertising company doing storyboards, and then he goes home at night and draws the strip. He does two pages a week, which is pretty heavy going considering he does them in the small hours of the morning. It's just astonishing that it comes out looking as beautiful as it does. He takes great effort, care and love. He wants everything to look right. We're also very lucky to have Robin Smith inking it.

(DP) It has been a huge project.
There are probably a lot people scratching their heads, wondering what all those references to previous stories were about. Apart from the reference to Ace right at the end, I cut out all the references to Ground Zero when I got to Wormwood, because I thought it was a bit far back. But it was one of the first things that came to mind, having Ace's baseball bat delivering the final blow. She had to be acknowledged in some way. Poetic justice. I'm a big fan of poetic justice.

I was just so glad that Wormwood had a happy ending. We hadn't had a happy ending for so long. The stories just tended to blend together from crisis to crisis. They just sail off into the universe with the Doctor talking about going off to get something to eat.

(DR) So a few more happy endings from now on, just to get the average up?
Well, I'm looking forward to seeing what you think of the end to The Fallen. The strip was a very cozy thing for a long time. People had clearly stopped reading it, because nothing major ever happened. Ace dying was the key moment when we slammed everyone in the face and said, 'From now on, all bets are off. Forget about continuity, forget about anything else, anything can happen.' So when the Doctor seemed to regenerate, people believed it. If Ace hadn't died in Ground Zero people might have been a bit more suspicious, but after that, we could do anything.

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