Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Interview - Shades of Gray (Part Four of Four)


(David Ronayne) How did you get involved with the show?
(Scott Gray) My earliest memory of watching any TV is the cliffhanger of part one of The Tenth Planet. The one where the guy gets clubbed to the ground by these big figures. He tries to shoot them but it doesn't work, and then the camera pans up and you see the Cybermen. I remember that so clearly, it just scared the hell out of me.

I've always loved the Cybermen. They are my favourite baddies from the TV show. They haven't always been used terribly well. They've had good stories and bad stories, but I still think they looked pretty nifty in that first episode.

(DR) You worked on Razor. What was that?
Razor was put out by Cornelius Stone, who designed it, edited it and published it. It was mostly written by him, too. It was basically a big fanzine. I used to draw some of the stories. When I look back at them now they are really embarrassing. It taught me a lot about what to do and what not to do, in terms of constructing a story. Cornelius sent me the first TSV, that's when I discovered Who fandom. I started sending in bits of artwork, because I was really liking the Sylvester McCoy stuff more than I had liked anything since the early Tom Baker days. There seemed to be a proper vision of how the show should be working. It was also very comic-booky. I wasn't surprised to learn that Andrew Cartmel was a comics fan. Sophie and Sylvester translated really well into the comic strip. Fast-paced stuff, lots of action.

(DR) Most people remember you, before DWM for your TSV covers (21-27), and The Dreaming Book. Do you still draw much?
I haven't drawn very much at all. I've done a few covers recently for the superhero reprints I edit. It was part of the agreement when I came on to do these titles, but as it turned out I haven't really done that many. Generally I try to avoid doing that as the artists on my books are much better than me and it seems kind of corrupt to commission myself to do them.

(Darrell Patterson) Why did you come to London?
To do comics. John Freeman bought a story off me. I did two stories for TSV and had sent them both to John. I received a reply after the first one, The Resurrection Test. It was a brilliant letter, really detailed about what I had done right and wrong. He seemed genuinely interested, and told me to send something else. I did the second one, The Dreaming Book, and he wrote back and said although he wasn't terribly keen on the art, I should send a script in on spec. So I sent him Memorial (DWM #191) and he bought it. I just couldn't believe it. At that point I decided to go to London and try and get more work. The comics industry was doing really well and there were lots of opportunities to do stuff for about a year. After that everything seemed to collapse.

(DP) How did you become assistant editor for Doctor Who Magazine?
I was just coming in to the office on a regular basis when I was writing scripts. If the artwork changed some aspect of the story I had to do on the spot rewrites and edits. Characters' expressions or emphasis may change, so you have to adjust the dialogue to suit. By this stage Gary Russell had taken over. He is a wonderful guy and I got on really well with him. He seemed to think I understood the strip, understood Who, and could spell, so maybe I could work on the magazine. When he was promoted to oversee a whole load of magazines he just offered me the job. Then, around ten months later, we had this major implosion. We were taken over by another branch of Marvel called Panini and they axed everything except DWM. It was such a terrible day. It had been a really great time. It was a shame it had to end.

(DP) What is it like working with Lee Sullivan?
Lee is great to work with. In Land Of The Blind I had a street scene set in a spaceport and just asked for 'lots of different aliens', just to see what he would come up with. When it came back, all the aliens were out of the Doctor Who Annuals. He had the Fishmen of Kandalinga, and all these other aliens just wandering around. He's a huge sci-fi fan at all levels. He worked on the Tek War comic, and got to know William Shatner pretty well. It's surreal, I know someone who has had dinner with Captain Kirk.

(DR) You used to be Warwick, why did you become Scott Gray?
The only reason I changed it was that no one could understand it through the accent. When I was on the phone I would say: 'Hi, it's Warwick Gray here from Marvel Comics ... ' Then I would have to stop and explain my name was Warwick ... W-a-r-w-i-c-k ... It was a terrible way to introduce myself. Eventually I went into Gary Russell's office and said, 'This is driving me crazy! I've got to change my name.' I was expecting him to say no, but he is an insanely nice man. He said, 'We'll do it in stages. First you will be Warwick Gray, then you will be W. Scott Gray, then Scott Gray.' So that's how it came about. I don't know where Scott came from. I was delirious with flu on the weekend when I made this decision. So now fifty percent of the people I know call me Warwick and the other fifty percent call me Scott.


(DP) Have you ever had Paul McGann or his agent react to any of this?
Paul McGann is just brilliant about this stuff. With all the other Doctors, apart from Tom I think, we have to pay them or their estates to use their likenesses, but Paul McGann doesn't even ask for money. I don't know if he has even read them. Doctor Who was just a gig for a few weeks and then he was on to the next thing, and I suspect it doesn't weigh much on his mind. The only time I bumped into him was at BAFTA after the screening and everyone was just milling about. It was surreal, because I just went to the loo, and the door opened and Paul McGann came out. Doctor Who goes to the john. He just smiled and went 'Hi.'

(DR) So, what was it like at BAFTA?
That was such a brilliant night. It was so great seeing it on a big screen, and everyone was there. There was also a big batch of fans who had won the competition, so we saw it with all the bigwigs and again with all the fans. It got such a great reaction. People were laughing and cheering. There was a really great bit at the end, where the Doctor is finally in control, and he's got Grace and Chang Lee in the TARDIS. He smiles at them and starts fiddling round with the machine and suddenly everything stops dead. There's this pause, and this guy behind me started whispering, 'Do it, do it!' And sure enough he just bangs the console and everything starts again. It just seemed so right. The bit where they're in the ambulance and the Master corrects Grace's grammar. I think Eric Roberts came up with that. It certainly wasn't in the script. When I heard he was going to be the Master, I thought it'd be great. He just looks the part, as scary as hell.

A lot of people watched the TV movie with their arms folded, saying, 'Convince me this is Doctor Who, convince me this is the show I love.' And that's probably the wrong attitude to take. I really enjoyed it.


(DR) Do you think that would work in an American 45 minute Star Trek format?
Star Trek is about dialogue and characters interacting. In a weird sort of way it's not terribly visual. I can't imagine Doctor Who like that.

(DR) Do you think they will bring it back?
Maybe with computer generated imagery. If things get cheaper to create. I kept thinking if it came back as a series you couldn't have that many men in rubber suits. There would have to be a lot of CGI aliens, and virtual sets. I want to have that feel in the strip. The Pariah couldn't be a woman in a costume, she looks totally alien. Stark in The Fallen, if he was done on TV, would clearly have to be a CGI monster. We want to up the special effects content of the comic and do some stuff that is new and strange.

TV isn't big on serials now, or cliffhangers. If you take away the cliffhangers, is it still Doctor Who? Will it still be perceived as Doctor Who if they land for fifty minutes and have quick adventures? It wouldn't feel quite right to me.


(DP) How far ahead do you plan?
Probably not as far as I should. I've got the next one forming in my head now. Alan's got a book to do on Sherlock Holmes, so I'll be writing the strip full time for now. I think the phrase I used was, 'You will have to prise it from my cold, dead fingers.' I would like a decent run on the strip, and I love working with Martin. He is just an ego-free zone. I feel privileged to have the chance to write this stuff, because comics and Doctor Who are two things I really love.

(DR) Do you ever see yourself losing interest?
Yeah, I think getting Whoed out' is a very real possibility. You tend to use up ideas at a very alarming rate. Any writer who comes into it may have four or five good ideas, but after a while you have to go, 'Okay, have I got another really good idea for Doctor Who?' I've done thirteen Doctor Who stories in the last seven years for Marvel. Of course, I started off with Sylvester and Ace, and now there is McGann and Izzy, so it does feel like a different strip now.

(DR) Any non-Who related projects?
I'm working on something with Roger Langridge at the moment. It will be done the same way as Tintin and Asterix; kids will be able to buy it and enjoy it, but adults can read it too.

It's about a young boy who lives on an island in the South Pacific and has adventures. The first one is all about an artifact that falls out of the sky and starts altering things on the island. Various parties become very interested in getting hold of it. It should be fun.

(DR) What really stands out for you most in the job?
At the last Panopticon we had a nine-year-old boy come up with his maths text book. He had drawn a complete Doctor Who story in it, which instantly brought back memories of doing the same thing. It was the Doctor and Izzy fighting the Daleks, and the Threshold appeared. It got me so chuffed, actually sparking this kid's imagination. We were encouraging him, telling him it was brilliant, to keep doing it, and thinking fifteen years from now he'll be actually writing the strip or drawing it, which would be kind of cool. These things do happen.

I always try to think of children when I'm writing the strip. You have to get the young readers excited, kids who have never had to deal with a cliffhanger because they're too young to remember the series on TV. And it's so great getting letters back from the young readers going, 'I'm dying to know what happens next.' That's Doctor Who.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Interview - Shades of Gray (Part Three of Four)

(David Ronayne) How did it feel to kill off Ace?
(Scott) Ground Zero was the first story that really clicked for me. I had a very strong idea of what the story was about. It's funny, because the initial idea was that this would be the beginning of the McCoy period again. Then news filtered in about the TV movie and it ended up as Sylvester's final story. As Ace wasn't in the TV movie, Gary [Gillatt] wanted her written out. Originally I planned that only Ace's spirit would die, but her body would be OK and the Doctor would hold on to it so we could bring her back later. When I mentioned it to Gary he said, 'That's Abslom Daak, and his girlfriend stuck in the tube. The Doctor would always be trying to find a way to cure Ace and bring her back. He couldn't go off on adventures and forget about her, that would be really callous.' He was right, and it was at that point I realised she had to die. It's not like I got the knife and fork out and thought, 'Right, let's get her!' Ace was my favourite companion, I didn't want to see her dead.

It was quite an emotional moment for me in a bizarre way. If you psyche yourself into writing this stuff, the characters become very real to you. When I finally met Sophie Aldred, we sat down in a pub and Gary introduced me by saying; 'This is the bloke that killed you.' She thought it was great, which was a relief. I still believe it was a brilliant way to go out. Dying by her own hand to save the Doctor in a big explosion. It just seemed so fitting for the character.

Martin did it brilliantly with lots of silent panels and the broken umbrella in the background. We stripped the Doctor of everything. He loses Ace, he loses his symbol, the umbrella with the question mark, and the TARDIS gets totalled. By the end of the story he is left with nothing. This great chess player ends up as a pawn in a game the Threshold have been playing with the Lobri.

At the last Panopticon there was an interview with Chris Boucher and Terrance Dicks on stage. I was in the audience with Martin, and Terrance said, 'I can't imagine a Doctor Who story where the villains win.' Martin and I just looked at each other. That wasn't actually the intent, but we ended up doing it.

(Darrell Patterson) You have several upbeat stories as well, like By Hook Or By Crook, and Happy Deathday. Was it difficult to write the anniversary story?
It was fun. You've got everyone kicking back and relaxing for eight pages. Initially I thought that the Doctors would have to have eight separate scenes. Then it occurred to me you can have four scenes and they can just bounce off each other. You've got to have Hartnell and McGann together, and Colin and Patrick Troughton paired again. Then you've got Tom and Sylvester having this surreal conversation about allergies.

(DR) Very Eddie Izzard.
Yeah. Gary is a huge Eddie Izzard fan, so am I, and Roger Langridge is too. That's why jam features in By Hook Or By Crook, because "jam" is just an Eddie Izzard word.

(DR) Do you think he will make a cameo appearance?
I hope so. We're continually casting real people in the strip. Everyone kept asking who the Beige Guardian was based on, and all I had to say was, 'Do you watch Frasier?' and everyone suddenly slaps their foreheads. 'Oh yes! It's Niles!' Wouldn't you just love to see David Hyde Pierce as a Doctor Who villain?

(DR) What's it like working with Roger Langridge?
He's a writer's dream. Roger is a writer himself and really understands that aspect of producing a comic. He's one of the most talented comic artists to ever come out of New Zealand. In a fairer world, where the comics industry was doing really well, we wouldn't get him in a million years! He'd be busy doing graphic novels for huge amounts of money. He added in his own little jokes as well, like the penultimate panel, with all those little games cartridges. I suggested a few of those and Roger did the rest. "Measles to the Daleks" and "The Chalk Pit of Slough", that's all Roger. He actually contributed my favourite line in the whole thing, which was, 'The colour blue started to smell of Swiss cheese.' Cheese again, another good Eddie Izzard word.

In Happy Deathday there is a line; 'I could do that, I just don't want to: That comes from a New Zealand sci-fi fan, James Benson. We'd watch a guy on TV doing a triple somersault, and James would go, 'I can do that, I just don't want to.' Hi, James, if you're out there!

(DR) I liked the bit with the Preacher in The Fallen. 'Pride will be your downfall.'
All the Doctors have this arrogant streak in them. McGann has this marvelously arrogant line when he's riding on the motorbike with Grace. 'The universe is tied together with such a fragile thread of coincidences that it's a terrible danger for anyone to play with it, UNLESS like me, you are a Timelord: That is the crux of The Fallen. The Doctor realises he is no wiser than anyone else in terms of playing with peoples' lives.

Pride comes before a fall, and the Doctor has fallen from Grace ... [Moans from all.] That's really bad, isn't it? I remember someone came up with an alternative title for the TV movie; "Grace: 1999". And then I realised this one is "2001: A Grace Odyssey". [Anguished groans.] I don't think puns work that well in comics. That's why we have the Wildean Wit Enforcer in Happy Deathday. Anyone who makes a pun gets killed instantly.

(DP) Why did you choose Brixton as a location for The Fallen?
I live nearby. It's the first time I've written a story around a real location. Just using things I've noted while wandering around over the past seven years, and thought, 'That's an interesting point – one day I'll do something with that.' The River Effra outlet really is underneath the M16 building for example.

(DR) You do lots of genre shifting and changing your formats.
In Fluid Links, Matthew Jones said Doctor Who's main strength is not travelling from setting to setting but from genre to genre. If you want to do a western, you can do a western, or an Agatha Christie murder mystery, or a gothic horror story, or anything you want. In the TV show they looked to films. They would do The Thing, and have them trapped in an arctic place with a creature going around killing them all. Then they would go on to Frankenstein. I'm beginning to understand that with the comic strip, it's not a good idea to keep looking to film for key genres. I should really be looking at comic genres and what works really well in comics.

(DR) What would you regard as your comic influences. What impressed you and got you into comics?
I remember collecting The Mighty World of Marvel, published by Marvel UK. A nice symmetry there, really. It would reprint The Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and Spider-Man by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. I just remember being hit by so many brilliant concepts. They really excited my imagination. Looking at them now they are still classic comics. Jack Kirby was a big influence. He produced a colossal amount of very powerful material. His sense of design is unparalleled. It was all huge and epic and amazing to look at. There is a lot of Kirby in the strip, particularly Wormwood with the Ziggurat. I just asked Martin to do something that looked like Kirby had designed it, and he did, and it looked fantastic. Huge black and white interlocking parts hanging in space. Kirby could always do size really well. In a tiny medium he could always do these massive images.

Alan Moore was another huge influence. Things like Swamp Thing and V for Vendetta. I would just sit there and actually read the comic out loud because I wanted to hear the dialogue. I would do this on my own, I should point out. His stories would start in one direction, move off into something else and then end on the same point you began with. I deliberately did that in Ground Zero. It starts with the Doctor and the door closing on him, and you're thinking Ace is narrating this part of the story, saying goodbye to him, and then at the end of the story you get those same three panels and you realise it's Susan, not Ace.

V for Vendetta is a work of sheer genius. We never really find out who V is. It's like the Doctor, we are never supposed to know who he really is, because if he's only one person then he suddenly becomes so much smaller than what he could be. Everyone has their own little theory about who the Doctor is, and without specifying anyone of them, he can be everyone in that sense.

I can clearly see a connection between V and Evey and the Doctor and Ace, the mysterious figure and his protege.