One of the UK’s premier characters returns to one of the UK’s premier comic book publishers this July for Titan Comics’ “Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor” by veteran “2000 AD” writers Al Ewing and Rob Williams with art by Simon Fraser. “The Eleventh Doctor” continues the ongoing adventures of Matt Smith’s version of the time-traveling, dimension-hopping British sci-fi TV icon.
Ewing and Williams revealed to CBR News how their co-writing arrangement is working out, gave details about the Doctor’s new companion, named their favorite episodes and much more.
CBR News: Rob and Al, how did you two wind up as co-writers of “Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor?”
Rob Williams: Titan approached us after they got the “Doctor Who” license. They liked what we’d done with “Judge Dredd: Trifecta,” where we co-wrote along with Si Spurrier. The initial chats involved all three of us coming onboard for The Doctor but Si had scheduling problems so Al and I took it on between us. We’d written together once so figured we wouldn’t come to bloodletting this time around. From there it was a case of choosing which Doctor to go for. Al had a strong preference for the Eleventh (Matt Smith), so off we went. Together. Hand in hand. Two hearts, living in just one mind.
Al Ewing: Much as Rob said — I threw my vote in behind the Eleventh, as he’s the Doctor who spoke to me most out of the two while he was on the screen. I’m appreciating David Tennant’s performance vastly more now than I did at the time, and he really is one of the greatest actors of his generation, but there was something about the Tenth Doctor that didn’t quite click for me. A fascinating character and a great Doctor, but maybe not the one I was looking for at the time. (I’m very much looking forward to [upcoming Twelfth Doctor] Peter Capaldi, though. I’m practically salivating.)
Will you be writing stories together or alternate arcs?
Williams: The way it works is we’ve written the overriding series plot together, come up with the main players, the new companions, the villains, etc. That’s our A plot, effectively. From there it was a case of structuring out a year of issues and each of us pitching our own stories for that episode’s main plot (the B plot, in series terms). So some issues are purely written by me, some by Al, and some we’ve co-written. #1, for instance, is a 50/50 job, then Al writes #2, I write #3, etc. It’s an interesting process. You know you have to get to a certain point and drop the characters off there, but it’s up to you how you get there.
Ewing: The way it works so far is that we write our issues and then give each other notes. And then the BBC gives notes, obviously — although in real terms, there’s not so many notes as all that. At this point I think we’re pretty much in agreement about everything — we’ve got our virtual writer’s room, and we have the occasional Skype conversation. It’s a system that seems to work.
What’s your first story arc about?
Williams: Initially we’re introducing our series’ main new companion — Alice Obiefune, a woman of African descent living in 2014 London, who’s dealing with the death of her mother and the loss of her job. The color’s gone out of her world, and then the Doctor comes bounding in, chasing what appears to be a very colorful giant alien dog down a London street. Alice is a bit older than your usual companion, which is a nice change. Then my first solo issue, #3, is based around the Robert Johnson legend of the Crossroads. We show who is actually waiting at the Crossroads in Mississippi back in the 1930s. And it’s not who you expect.
Ewing: I’m thinking in terms of the first trade, and year, it is about introducing the companions, primarily Alice. She’s different — older, as Rob says, which means she’s less inclined to take the Doctor’s crap. (He isn’t entirely devoid of crap, let’s face it.) There’s something I keep going back to — while in terms of characters, the Doctor is exponentially older than Alice, in terms of actors, whoever would play Alice would be much older than Matt Smith. That’s a dynamic to keep in mind — it keeps the power from flowing entirely in one direction. Anyway, issue #2, my first solo issue, brings in a lot of elements we’ll be seeing later — various big and small bads — in a story about changing times, vomit on roller-coasters and getting what you want.
When in the Eleventh Doctor’s regeneration cycle will your stories be taking place?
Ewing: There’s a period in the show where The Doctor went off for a hundred years or so to let Rory and Amy have some time together. Our stories occur there, so there’s plenty of scope for stories with real stakes and threat. We might know how the Eleventh’s tale ends, but we’re introducing three new companions and if we do our jobs right you’ll care about them, and there’s no guarantee they’re getting out alive.
Williams: It’s just after the first series, or the fifth series, or however we’re counting. After the second Big Bang, where the Doctor rebooted the universe. I suppose symbolically, that makes everything slightly fresh and new — we’re quite short on classic monsters, and for the most part we’re building up a little library of threats and beasties you won’t have seen before. I’m going to have tremendous fun with the Amstrons of the Great Wheel, for instance, and August Hart is proving a very meaty human adversary for the Doctor to take on.
What companions will the Doctor be traveling with?
Williams: Alice I’ve already mentioned. The other two are fun and really unlike anyone you’ve seen The Doctor travelling with before. One has a certain similarity to a recognized pop culture figure — you’ll have to guess who — and the other is really playing on the strengths of comics. We have no budget constraints. For the TV show to do this character would be a massive struggle, as he’s quite… alien. And that’s fun to do. Why shouldn’t the Doctor have an alien companion? He’s not human. Why only humans. And while the TV show might be limited to prosthetics, we’re not.
Ewing: Ah, yes. Companion number three. I don’t really want to spoil it at this point, but Rob’s right, in that I wanted to do something that was completely alien, and thought differently to humans. It may be quite hard to empathize with our third companion, at first, but I’m confident he/she/it will grow on the readership. In terms of the number of companions — I think we both intersected with the Peter Davison period, when the TARDIS was so full of companions that the Doctor had to lock one of them in a cupboard, and frankly I’d be all in favor of bringing that back. Wild four-in-a-TARDIS romps on the edges of space and decency! Rated ‘XI.’
What’s special about the Matt Smith incarnation of the character? What sets him apart from other Doctors?
Williams: He’s got his own sensibility. They all have. I guess one of the interesting things about the character and the show’s longevity is that there’s the same core being inside that shell, but they always act a little different. Have their own character. I loved the dichotomy of Matt’s youth compared to the old man behind the eyes. His sense of joy and playfulness and wonder was lovely, but there was a great righteous anger there too. There’s a definite ‘don’t mess with me’ feel to the Eleventh Doctor. He can flash a menacing look in a second.
Ewing: One thing that really struck me about the very first series of Matt Smith is that every episode seemed to have some form of dreadful mistake on the Doctor’s part. He seemed very fallible, which I think was what was needed — or I thought so, anyway. I always compare him to my absolute favorite Doctor of all time, Patrick Troughton — he’s got a spark of that same anarchic spirit. Mercury in the veins. And he’s absolutely, completely, not perfect — he’s a madman in a box who tends to get involved in things. There does need to be that balance between making the Doctor just a goofy temporal joyrider and making him a supreme cosmic messiah who everyone has to love or else, and I think Matt Smith straddled that line fairly well.
What are your favorite episodes of the show, both with and without Matt Smith?â€¨
Williams: I’ll give a nod to the three-week run of Paul Cornell’s “Human Nature” two-parter followed by [Steven] Moffat’s “Blink.” That was a real high point I think. I loved, in Paul’s episode, how he asked Jessica Stephenson’s character to come with him and she tells him off, asks how many people die when he’s on his adventures. I love the joy of the Doctor’s adventuring but I also love the occasional glimpse into the fact that this is a god we’re discussing here, and the weight that offers.
Favorite Smith episode — I thought the 50th Anniversary special was a superb bit of writing. It was such a tightrope but I thought Moffat nailed that one. “The Pandorica” at the close of Smith’s first season was pretty great too.
Ewing: A toughie. If we’re talking Matt Smith, Rob’s already picked the 50th, but in terms of sheer excitement I’d have to say my favorite was the first ever — “The Eleventh Hour.” Which is a horrible thing to say, because it makes it sound like it was all downhill from there — but that was the episode that introduced us to the new Doctor, and it was a barnstormer. You can’t ever get back that feeling of euphoria at seeing a brand new Doctor and knowing that he’s going to be brilliant in the role, and the new show they’re creating around him — because it’s always a brand new show — is going to be brilliant too.
In terms of the classic series, the last couple of episodes of “Enemy Of The World” are fantastic, now that we get to see them. “Power Of The Daleks” episode one would be an automatic win if we only had a copy. The ending of “Caves Of Androzani” has a special place in my heart, and I’m a massive fan of the strange avant-garde theater of “The Web Planet” — and an honorable mention goes to the last episode of “Resurrection Of The Daleks,” purely for Rodney Bewes. “I CAN’T STAND THE CONFUSION IN MY MIIIIND!” “I wouldn’t mind a taste of revenge.” And the way he flops like a penguin on the self-destruct button. One of the grimmest and darkest episodes of the classic series, skillfully and expertly undermined by the bloke from “The Likely Lads.” If they’d swapped him with Dirty Den I’d be suggesting it seriously.
What’s the coolest thing about writing “Doctor Who?” Would childhood Al and Rob be proud?
Williams: It’s a fun job. Partly because of the weight and history of the character, partly because it’s still such a current phenomenon and, from a personal point of view, my son’s 8 and he loves watching it. So writing “Who” gets me some cachet with him. But the character is loads of fun to write. His voice is so strong, and he can do funny and tragic and dramatic. The tough thing writing The Doctor is cutting back dialogue, I find, because he verbalizes so many jokes and observations. But also, you go back to the core concept, and you can tell stories in any era, on any world. That’s fantastic for a writer. And you have this trickster god at the center of it all, and he’s got a good heart(s). That’s wonderful.
Ewing: I think childhood Al would be amazed that “Doctor Who” existed at all in 2014, if I’m brutally honest — those post-McCoy days were dark times — and the fact that not only did it return, it picked up where it left off, is nothing short of miraculous in television terms. But I think after I’d finished wowing him with that information, it’d be the icing on the cake that his future self was involved with the Doctor at some small level. But I agree with Rob that what’s really cool about the idea is how limitless it is. You can tell stories about anything, featuring anyone. Even the protagonist is subject to change. You can do anything at all. All of time and space. Hold on tight.
“Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor” is out this July from Titan Comics.