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.

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