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Bigger on the Inside: The Secrets of Titan’s “Doctor Who” Comics

by  in Comic News Comment
Bigger on the Inside: The Secrets of Titan’s “Doctor Who” Comics

SPOILER ALERT: This interview talks about the last few years of “Doctor Who,” and contains offhand spoilers for anybody who isn’t caught up with the latest episodes.

in 2014, Titan Comics acquired the “Doctor Who” comics license, allowing the publisher to launch a new range of comics spinning off from the long-lasting BBC TV series. With all three of their ongoing books regularly arriving in comic shops, readers follow new adventures featuring the Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctor.

In order to take a closer look at this new line of “Doctor Who” comics, we reached out to Titan about their plans for the famed Timelord. Editor Andrew James walked us through each of the different “Doctor Who” titles, shared an exclusive look at “Doctor Who: The Twelfth Doctor” #4 and filled us in on some of the details for a fourth “Doctor Who” series, set to launch in March, 2015.

CBR News: Andrew, what’s your take on the concept of the character, as a whole? In many ways, “Doctor Who” seems like the perfect type of show to bring to comics.

Andrew James: The Doctor is a fantastic character, and so is the concept. It’s impossible to get bored with a show, or a comic, that can be in a completely different era and location every couple of issues — although balancing that narrative flightiness with a desire for long-form storytelling and seeded mysteries with big, emotional payoffs is the biggest challenge of Who.

It’s perfect for comics — all of space and time is our canvas and our playground! Historical, science fiction, fantasy, kitchen sink drama, procedural, etc. “Doctor Who” slams a big blue box down into any genre you fancy and documents the results. So it’s a lot of fun, and it gives us so much latitude to play with. It’s almost like a sketch show, in some respects. If there’s a time period or story you’re not too keen on, just hang tight — there’ll be another one along in a minute!

There’s also a lot of opportunity to do medium-specific things with the comics that really add to the storytelling. Whether it’s the black-and-white to color opening of “The Eleventh Doctor” #1, the integration of Gabby’s sketchbook with the art in “The Tenth Doctor” #4, or the issue told back-to-front in “The Eleventh Doctor” #6, there’s certainly no shortage of stylistic ambition. But it’s key that it’s all in service to the stories, not just gimmicks for gimmicks’ sake.

You have ‘architects’ working on these books — writers who are working together on the stories, alongside each other and apart. What has that approach brought to the stories, do you think?

Robbie Morrison is doing all the heavy lifting on the Twelfth Doctor series, of course, but in many ways he’s sharing direction with the TV series, so there were fewer aspects to set up — we knew we were launching with Clara as the Doctor’s companion, where we could set stories within the run of Series 8, what the emotional bits of their relationship would be, and so on. That short sells the amazing plots Robbie’s conjured for the first year, of course — rest assured they’re stunning!

On the Tenth and Eleventh Doctor series, it was more a case of bringing as many brains to bear as we could! At its hearts, “Doctor Who” is an anthology show — every episode jumps to a new incident and time, strip-mines it for the most interesting bits of story that it can, and then jumps out again once the narrative is resolved, having exhausted its possibilities. So being able to attack that challenge from multiple perspectives was key.

Let’s start with a look at “The Tenth Doctor,” then. What defines this version of the Doctor?

As I mentioned a little bit above, it’s very much about capturing that elusive Russell T. Davies flavor The last thing we wanted was for any of the books to have a sort of ‘Find and Replace’ feel — that we’d just dropped the Tenth Doctor into a story that would have worked much the same with any incarnation in the lead.

When we catch up with him in the comics, he’s a Doctor in personal crisis — he’s just lost Donna, the person he was coming to regard as his best mate. Can he pick up the pieces and learn to trust himself around someone else again? We’re striking a balance between the happy-go-lucky-with-a-dark-side Doctor of the early Tenth era, and the brought-low-by-hubris Doctor of the Specials.

He’s just rejected Christina De Souza as a potential companion — so what makes Gabriella Gonzalez from Brooklyn any different? And why haven’t we seen her around on the TV show? Is there something horrific in her future that sends the Doctor down an even darker ‘Time Lord Triumphant’ path, or will she be his final success before it all falls apart?

And, most importantly, how do Gabby’s adventures in the TARDIS affect her, her relationships with her family, and her friendship with Cindy Wu? Will she ever be able to go home again?

Was it a specific editorial choice to have the Tenth and Eleventh Doctor books feature new companions for the Doctor, rather than established characters like Donna or Amy?

Definitely! We’re all huge fans of the TV companions for the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors, but everyone knows how Donna and Amy join and leave the show (to say nothing of Rose, Martha or Rory) — and knowing that both the Doctor and companion make it out of each adventure alive robs them of a little bit of impact. You can surround them with red shirts, but they’ll always be red shirts.

With brand new characters that don’t appear in the show, that frisson is back, in a big way.

There’s also a sense that, since the show returned, the emotional lives and narrative arcs of the companions are what drives the series. Bringing in fresh companion characters allows us to show the Doctor in a brand new light, from new perspectives, and to have those all-new characters grow, change and challenge and be challenged by the Doctor and their experiences in the TARDIS. We’re only four issues into the lives of Gabby and Alice, and they’re already putting a firm stamp on their respective eras!

If readers come to care for them even a fraction as much as they do for the TV companions they love, then we’ve achieved our goal. Getting our first pieces of fan art was a wonderful moment, and some of my favorite interactions with fans at conventions have been about the new companions — especially the woman at NYCC, whose Hispanic, David Tennant-loving best friend lived in Sunset Park!

How did Nick Abadzis and Elena Casagrande come onboard “The Tenth Doctor” as the creative team? What about their work made them feel like the right fit for the book?

As well as being a terrific writer, Nick’s a strong, award-winning artist in his own right, so there’s a propulsive visual inventiveness to all of his scripts — whether it’s humorous in-jokes, interesting panel layouts, or even ideas like integrating Gabby’s sketchbook into the story in “The Tenth Doctor” #4 and #5. He plots densely, so there’s always a lot going on, but he’s got an eye for moments of emotional truth and for cosmic beauty that stop you dead in your tracks.

As for Elena — I’d seen her work on the Tennant issue of “Prisoners of Time” and thought her Tennant likenesses were exquisite, but she (and her colorist, Arianna Florean, not to mention their ink and layout assistants) has really raised the bar across the first five issues of the series. She thought she’d only get one chance to work with her favorite Doctor ever, and was thrilled to get the opportunity to make her mark on an ongoing!

Okay, so let’s next move on to “The Eleventh Doctor,” played on the show by Matt Smith.

On “The Eleventh Doctor,” the team is crafting an intricate, achronological mystery — twinned with a story of grief and reconciliation — that would fit right into Seasons 5-7. A little more “timey-wimey,” for want of a better phrase. As well as Alice, Jones and a third companion who will also be with us for the first year of stories, the Eleventh Doctor likes to travel with a gang when he gets the chance. So that gives us three new perspectives and an all-new dynamic on life in the TARDIS.

Not to mention, Alice is a little older than the Eleventh’s previous companions, so playing with that contrast is a lot of fun, too!

Al Ewing and Rob Williams are working on the book together, as co-writers, almost. Why have them both writing on the series?

Al and Rob impressed while writing together on “Trifecta,” a fantastic “2000AD” stealth-event they wrote with Si Spurrier, to which I have to tip my hat. (Check it out if you haven’t already, folks!) You can’t replicate the masterful surprise of three separate weekly stories suddenly bursting into one another and crossing over, of course, but it showed that they were comfortable working together and, indeed, brought out the best in each other.

And so it proved on the Eleventh Doctor series! From the creation of Alice to the corporate machinations of SERVEYOUinc, from the cosmic rock god of Jones to the mysterious companion who’ll stick around from #5… they’re both firing on all cylinders, and each of their issues is 22-page a challenge to their writing partner to keep their game high. It’s been amazing to watch.

They’re definitely co-writers, though — not just of the first issue, but of a number of the issues this year — every few solo issues, they team up for a really big one, or they hand off on alternate parts of a two-parter. It keeps things interesting!

Like with Doctor Ten, Doctor Eleven is a lighter, perhaps campier take on the series. Does that play into your decision-making when looking for an artist — in this case Simon Fraser — who can handle that lightness without going over-the-top?

To me, he was the ‘uncool’ cool Doctor. That’s where his sweet spot lies — the dad dancer, the bow-tie wearer, the man in the fez at the end of the world. He’ll chase the weirdest gimmicks, but his true virtues, of compassion, acceptance and his mad enjoyment of anything and everything, were why people loved him. And why they started wearing fezzes and bow ties as a result.

Everyone will always think of the rainbow dog in the first issue, and that’s why it makes such a good statement of intent! — but don’t forget that the thrust of the series is a woman dealing with grief and loss. Alice may look alright on the surface right now, but she’s not fine, not yet, and there are things brewing that will push her to her limits, and beyond.

The sweet spot of “Doctor Who” is always to be found in the balance between deep emotion and oddball humor, I think; in our darkest days, and most illuminated nights. “Doctor Who” is never just one thing — it’s the whole mad whirl of human experience, amped up to eleven and scattered across the entire universe. It’s dark and it’s camp and it’s mad and it’s funny and it’s sad and it’s absolutely, positively too much of everything and anything to be pinned down.

The third and most recent of the books is “The Twelfth Doctor,” focusing on the present version of the character, as played by Peter Capaldi.

“The Twelfth Doctor” series takes its cues from the current season of the show, where the Doctor and Clara have a really interesting, nuanced relationship, both with themselves and with each other, and there’s perhaps a little more of the ‘real world’ intruding into the fantastic trip.

We’ll also see more of Clara rising to the challenge of ‘being’ the Doctor — understanding his morality, becoming all-too-comfortable with lying, as he does, and being thrown into life-threatening situations without the Doctor at her back. And all the while, the series will be embracing the epic scope and joy of exploration for its own sake that the Twelfth Doctor has rediscovered after hundreds of years stuck on Trenzalore.

“The Twelfth Doctor” seems like it must be the hardest to put together. You have a new Doctor, only just being defined onscreen, and not much room to go off and tell original stories set in-between episodes of the show.

It was certainly tricky, putting the first few issues together, but I think it speaks to how well-defined the Twelfth Doctor’s voice was that Robbie was able to capture him so well from the off.

It’s always more difficult when you’re keeping pace with the status quo of a series that’s currently on the air, as opposed to with previous incarnations of the Doctor where we can go back and build significant new eras in the gaps between seasons — but we do know an awful lot in advance, we do get briefed on where a new season is going, and we do get to read the scripts, under the most heightened security possible!

Where will Robbie Morrison and Dave Taylor be taking the Capaldi-era Doctor?

It’s a little more reactive to the status quo of the TV series, as I’ve said, but there are still plenty of places and emotional nuances with which to play. You’ve seen across the course of Series 8 that there’s been a thaw in the Twelfth Doctor’s manner, as well as an increasing understanding of the kind of man he is, and those are themes with which Robbie and Dave will continue to grapple.

Lastly, it remains to be seen how the series will be affected by the fall-out from the Series 8 finale, and from the Christmas Special, of course. Not long now until you all find out!

There’s a feature story and a backup story in each issue — how did you find the artists for the backups?

Other publishers have been doing back-ups like this for a little while (I won’t pretend to be the pioneer!) but there’s such a wealth of fun and funny content around these big franchises online (you just have to scroll through Tumblr) that it now seems like an essential part of the fan experience, it’s part of how these characters are consumed, enjoyed and disseminated.

Some of it was about growing the number of voices and styles tackling each Doctor, some of it was having an outlet to introduce readers to these great indie press talents, and some of it was offering a lighter palate-cleanser at the end of every issue. A few of these stories are going to some dark places, and I felt there should always be something there to leave you with a smile!

As to the artists, some of them, like Marc Ellerby, I’ve been a fan of for years, from “Ellerbisms” through “Chloe Noonan” and more, and had been looking for an outlet where I could work with him.

Others, like Rachael Smith, I’d only come across recently (through the fantastic “House Party” Kickstarter and “Ask Flimsy”), but again, I was struck by a style and sensibility that was funny, refreshing, and unique. Emma Price, who’s perhaps best known to Who fans as one of the Time Team from the great “Doctor Who Magazine,” and as the illustrator of the “Doctor Who: Monster Invasion” partworks, actually used to work at Titan as a designer, which is where I first met her. That she’s excellent at gag strips and cartooning as well as everything else is both brilliant and sickening.

Colin Bell and Neil Slorance impressed me (and everyone else!) with their award-winning “Dungeon Fun” comic, and their Twelfth Doctor strips are very much in the same vein.

So it’s not much more complicated than that! They’ve all really risen to the challenge, and I love the fact that their styles are so diverse. I love Marc’s Doctor being defeated by the self-service tills, Rachael’s lovelorn Ten and his adopted cat, or Emma’s spin-off of a psychic paper service hotline. Not to mention Colin and Neil’s Twelfth Doctor, stunned by a selection of chips and dips.

What are your goals moving forward now, as editor, for the “Doctor Who” franchise at Titan?

You’ll have seen that we’re launching the first of our past Doctor miniseries in March next year — a “Ninth Doctor” miniseries — in time for the Tenth Anniversary of the show’s return in 2005, so that’s pretty exciting.

And just to clear up what we’re doing on the miniseries, as I’ve seen it reported various ways — we’re running them as a fourth ongoing monthly ‘slot,’ in addition to the Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth series.

Each miniseries will be five issues long, and after each miniseries ends, you’ll get a new #1, with a new incarnation of the Doctor and a new creative team. So “The Ninth Doctor” series will run from March through to July — with a new Doctor taking over that slot in the schedule for five issues from August!

We want to make sure that fans from every era are getting the chance to read new stories with the Doctors they love, and that they’re being surprised and challenged by those stories, too. How to do that without spooking readers or retailers on a budget — that’s always the balancing act, and one over which we take the greatest of care.

I’m really passionate about the comics we’re producing, and I hope that that passion, and the love shown by all of the writers and artists who work on them, shines through on every page!

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