Charles Norton interviewed me as part of an article he wrote for Sci Fi Now Magazine. Inevitably, there’s always more to the interview than gets published. The article itself appeared in the magazine earlier this month, and I commend it to you — it features other interviews with Doctor Who people. For a flavour of how these things get constructed, here is the original Q&A for my bit.
Charles Norton: Gary Russell told me that he felt that Doctor Who was the kind of programme that encourages its fans to work in the media. Star Trek fans tend to become scientists and astronauts. However, Doctor Who fans tend to become writers, directors and producers. Doctor Who seems to get people interested in the mechanics of TV and story-telling. Has it been like that for you? To put it another way, do you think that Doctor Who made you want to write?
Peter A: I enjoyed writing as a child, whether for my school essays in English or History, or for my own interest. Doctor Who was an early childhood enthusiasm, so it certainly featured in my writing then, or the games I acted out,or the films I made on Super 8. Followed by fan magazines. Followed by the chance to get published professionally.
CM: How do you feel that that the past five years has seen Doctor Who change? Is it still the same show? Does it matter if it isn’t?
PA: Television has changed since the “classic” series was last on the the late 1980s, its entire context — multichannel broadcast, acting styles, editing and cutting conventions, and the whole panoply of alternative media that surrounds contemporary TV programmes. Doctor Who plays into that really well.
Classic Who was a very splendid product of its time. The new series is a fabulous modern version. It’s all the same show. A whole generation never knew Classic Who and, for the most part, that won’t bother them in the slightest, any more than today’s Coronation Street fans would worry that they’ve never heard of Ena Sharples and Minnie Caldwell.
CM: What different disciplines does writing a Doctor Who story now demand, as opposed to five years ago?
PA: Depends on the story. The media is more varied, so with audios you have to work with the expectation that families listening to it on the car CD player have it as a shared experience like watching the telly, and aren’t going to skip back a few tracks to work out what happened, whereas with a novel it’s a solitary experience that you can scan back over if you wish. You can see a greater variety of styles and tone (yet paradoxically all still “true” to the TV series) in things like the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip and the Doctor Who Adventures one, or the tie-in novels and the “Darksmith” stories, or the short stories in the annuals.
CM: The return of the TV series has brought Doctor Who much greater public attention, but do you think that there’s been any down sides? Do you feel that giving the series a new future has come at the expense of remembering its past? Has the old become sidelined by the new? I’m thinking particularly about the BBC’s decision to axe the ‘Past Doctor Novels’.
PA: I think that’s a bit parochial. There is hugely more tie-in merchandise than ever before in the show’s history, and the Beeb are very conscious that it’s a huge hit and so needs to meet the needs of a mass market, and quite right too. There are some niche things (do they still do those wildly expensive Doctor Who chess sets?) You only have to look at the “Monsters and Aliens” type books that include Classic Series monsters, or the BBC website that meticulously lists information and reviews of the old stories, or William “Yikes! He’s old” Hartnell pictures in Doctor Who Adventures, or listen to the Big Finish CDs or the Eighth Doctor on BBC Radio 7, or the Fifth Doctor on Children in Need, or all the Doctors appearing on screen in Matt Smith’s debut, to spot that the Classic Series undeniably isn’t forgotten. So I am entirely phlegmatic that they haven’t got round to publishing some more Past Doctor Books. I notice that they haven’t done any new Weetabix cards since the 1970s, either, but that doesn’t mean Nabisco are snubbing the show.
CM: Through people like yourself, Doctor Who kept on going throughout the wilderness years, even without a TV series to support it. If the BBC were to axe Doctor Who again and take the TV series off the air, do you think that it would still somehow manage to stay alive? Would it come back again? Will Doctor Who ever truly end?
PA: I can’t see it ever stopping completely, in one form or another. It’s the show that comes back. But I don’t really stop to think about that. Why worry about it? Be in the moment. Enjoy it wholeheartedly for what it is while we’ve got it, right now. The glass isn’t half empty. It isn’t half-full either, it’s spilling right over the edges.
CM: One last, really obvious cliché of a question, but do you have a favourite period of the show? Is there an era or set of stories that never fails to enthuse you? Perhaps you’re an Andrew Cartmel fan or a big follower of William Hartnell.
PA: I love it all. For example, the Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker years were really important parts of my childhood, and I’ve loved that the Eccleston and Tennant years have been important to my children. But I loved being part of the group of writers working on the Eighth Doctor novels, too. And now I’m relishing the chance to write for Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy, because that reminds me of when they were the Doctors. Plus, we’ve got all new Who with Matt Smith! What’s not to love? You can’t ask someone which of his kids is the best looking!