PREVIEWSWORLD.COM Exclusive: Interview With Doctor Who Writer Tony Lee

forgottenLast year, Lee worked with artists Pia Guerra, Stefano Martino, and Kelly Yates on Doctor Who: The Forgotten, the best-selling six-issue mini-series from IDW Publishing that featured the tenth Doctor, portrayed on television by David Tennant, in an adventure that spanned all ten of his lives. This July, he returns to the enigmatic Last of the Time Lords with a monthly ongoing Doctor Who series with art by Al Davison.

PREVIEWSworld.com spoke with Tony Lee exclusively about his work on Doctor Who, past, present, and future.

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PREVIEWSworld.com (PW): What is your first memory of Doctor Who?  How did you first become a fan of the series?

LEE: My first memory was the last episode of "Planet Of The Spiders," where Jon Pertwee’s third Doctor became Tom Baker’s fourth. I must have been about three years old, and I remember the entire family sitting around watching this. I think I remember this more though because the first fourth Doctor episode, "Robot," was just me alone on the sofa; I remember it being a big jump from full room to empty.

I think that was when I became a fan of the show. I remember being very young and scouring comic fairs and sci-fi fairs for bootleg VHS copies of old episodes. My childhood friend Gavin had a mock TARDIS in his attic and I remember being very jealous! I went to several of the John Nathan-Turner events in my early teens, had every Target novelization, and watched pretty much everything I could find.

PW: When did you first know you wanted to write for Doctor Who?

LEE: When I was about ten. I started writing a third Doctor story, not realizing that a) at the time they weren’t taking original stories and b) I was ten. I also remember convincing Andrew Cartmel to let me pitch for season 26, the last Sylvester McCoy season — I was eighteen, nineteen, and had been working as a games reviewer for a magazine and was full of arrogance and enthusiasm. Andrew probably allowed me to pitch just to get me off the phone — but in the end the season was cancelled, and we’d never know if I’d ever get that episode shot. Which, let’s face it, was incredibly slight!

PW: Uniquely, you have written for all ten Doctors in The Forgotten.  Which Doctor was your favorite to write for?  Which Doctor posed the greatest challenge to get "right"?

LEE: I love Tennant’s doctor, but I have so many favorites, having grown up with them. The problem with the stories was that due to the restrictions in length, each story was about eight pages long which is too short to do anything of note — and at the same time we couldn’t really play with the toys without putting them back in the box. Although we did cheat a little with the eighth Doctor story.

Because I was such a fan, I had the voices in my head as I wrote, which made things a whole lot easier for me. I think possibly the first story was the hardest, just because it was the first to write, but the sixth Doctor story was tough as it was a court case that had to make sense in eight pages.

But I think my favorite story was the third Doctor one, as it’s effectively a seven, eight-page conversation between the Doctor and the Brigadier, who’s my favourite supporting Who character ever. And he got to fire a bazooka.

betrothalPW: You have written comics for both Doctor Who Magazine and for IDW.  What are the similarities between the two, and what have you found to be the greatest difference?

LEE: I get a lot more leeway in the IDW stories. I was never happy with the way that F.A.Q. (published in Doctor Who Magazine #369-371, collected in Doctor Who: The Betrothal of Sontar GN) turned out, because we lost so much stuff from the original draft, including an incredibly dark ending that made sense of the entire story — but that was also because it was the early days of Who and the BBC were very tight on control back then.

Amusingly, I pitched Clayton Hickman (the editor on Doctor Who Magazine when I wrote for it) a watered down version of The Forgotten when I first spoke to him, and he blew it out of the water, saying it was "fanwank." I hope he enjoyed it! *laughs*

Both versions have to go through the BBC at the end of the day, though, so it’s not as if I can get away with anything. Everything we did we had to justify and explain why we needed to do it. There are a lot of hoops to jump through, but they’re all sparkly and wonderful.

PW: Your upcoming series from IDW is the first ongoing monthly Doctor Who comic.  What are you looking to do with this series that hasn’t been done in Doctor Who comics before?

LEE: Actually, it’s not the first, it’s the second — the first was Gary Russell’s run, which stopped at #6. So the first thing I’m looking to do is pass the #6 mark!

When I pitched for it, I wrote out a six thousand word pitch document that laid out my vision of the next eighteen issues, leading right up to where (in the IDW timeline) I could see the Doctor comfortably regenerating into Matt Smith. But there’s not a lot of "new stuff" that can or can’t be done in comics, because Doctor Who Magazine had years during the gap between the telemovie (eighth Doctor) and the revamp where they were pretty much left alone by the BBC, and they wrote some amazing and far reaching stories without any restrictions. Characters died. The Doctor was screwed around all over the place. So to say that I’m going to do something bold and new? Yeah, I’ll see about that.

I’m more about mixing classic with new — people loved the fifth Doctor story where he faced off the Judoon, and we have a few things like that coming up in the second story, "Fugitive." One thing I will be doing is bringing back cliffhangers. I loved the "wait ’til next week" aspect, and one of my very few complaints about the revamp series is self-contained episodes. It’s the two or three-parters that I enjoy the most — well, mostly. Some of the one-shots are beyond awesome, like "Blink" for example.

doctor whoPW: What can readers expect from your ongoing Doctor Who comic?

LEE: Lots of running around. Humorous Doctor lines. Returns from characters and villains from new Doctor Who and classic Doctor Who, sometimes even in the same scene. An ongoing subplot. Four episodes where the Sonic Screwdriver isn’t used. Stories on alien planets. Stories on Earth. New characters who travel with the Doctor through this arc. A villain with a devious plan. And a great sacrifice, because something is coming from the darkness.

PW: Your next Doctor Who story, "The Time Machination," will be arriving in comic shops in the next few weeks.  What can readers expect from this one-shot special?

LEE: I’m almost tempted to just suggest you copy and paste the above reply *laughs* – but seriously we have H.G. Wells and The Doctor on the run from the Torchwood Institute in Victorian London, while he tries to stop something related to the 4th Doctor’s incarnation. And Paul Grist’s art is incredible.

PW: Who is your favorite Doctor Who Magazine companion? 

LEE: Frobisher, all the way. I’m actually gutted that I can’t use him somehow. Wasn’t able to use him in The Forgotten.

PW: The Forgotten was announced at roughly the same time that Russell T. Davies was writing the scripts for the fourth season of Doctor Who.  When the story was published, it tied in strongly to the events of the season finale.  Was this always your intention, or did your original pitch/outline go through revisions during the process to make the story more integrated with the mythology of the fourth season? 

LEE: More the latter. We always had the ending of the book from the first pitch, and the story was always set in Season 3, but as the show went on, I realized that the season was going to end with a similar set of circumstances. Added to that, I was worried that a comic with Martha was now dated, as Donna was around for all of the season before my story came out. And so I spoke to Gary Russell (the main BBC / IDW liaison and top chap) and suggested some additions to the story — at the time I was scripting #3, I think — and re-dialogued some of #1 and #2 to start throwing some red herrings in. Mentions of the Medusa Cascade, things like that. And then after the finale ended, I was able to link things seamlessly into it.

And scarily, as we worked it out, I realized that the story had been pushing along the lines of the eventual script, without me even realizing it. And I was able to throw some massive red herrings into the tale without compromising anything.

I never worked with [Doctor Who producer] Russell [T. Davies]. I never had advanced knowledge of the stories — it was pure dumb luck, which, with a small amount of hindsight while rewriting managed to match all together.

outlawPW: You have some interesting projects coming up later this year — the Dracula sequel Harker, Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood, and some others.  What can you say about these?

LEE: Outlaw: The Legend Of Robin Hood comes out in June from Walker Books, a children’s book publisher, and already it’s been nominated as a US Junior Library Guild nominee, which I believe means that every library in the US will most likely order it, or something — which is massive news for me.

It was written and created in 2006 with Sam Hart on art. We’d just come off Starship Troopers together and wanted to do something different, and a 144-page Robin Hood book seemed just the thing. I wanted to do a traditional tale but 21st-century it up a little, but in the years it took to do things like the BBC Robin Hood show and the upcoming Russell Crowe movie have made the outlaw popular again. It really is a fun story and more importantly, Sam’s art is incredible. And it’s part of an ongoing series of Heroes and Heroines books — Pendragon: The Legend Of King Arthur is hopefully slated for 2010 (Sam’s already drawing it), and we’re discussing a third title right now.

Harker is another graphic novel, this time about 112-pages, which will be coming out from AAM/Markosia in October. Markosia are a small publisher, but they’ve always been good to me and when they asked me to look at something like this, I came back with Harker, a ‘sequel’ to Dracula, set between the end of the book and the "seven years later" note. It takes place six months after the novel ends, and covers six months, up to the anniversary of Dracula’s death and the birth of Mina and Jonathan’s son, Quincey.

But of course the path isn’t easy. Mina’s starting to dream about Dracula, Arthur Holmwood is seeing the long-dead Lucy in the street, Dr. Seward finds himself facing the un-dead Renfield — and the Count’s fourth bride, one not killed has arrived in London, hell-bent on revenge against the Hunters for what they did, with a strange connection to Van Helsing’s past, including his dead son.
harkerBeing a massive Dracula fan, and with my fiancée Tracy having used elements of it in her thesis, I was able to put together a story that used pretty much every character, alive and dead as well as linking Dracula’s Guest at the same time.

But the icing on the cake is the introductions — we have two, one by Leslie S. Klinger, writer of the New Annotated Dracula and respected academic, the other by Ian Holt and Dacre Stoker, writers of the actual, Stoker family approved sequel Dracula: The Un-Dead that comes out in October. By Dacre agreeing to write the introduction, we effectively become the first direct sequel graphic novel to get any kind of endorsement from the Stoker family, and that’s big news. But the story has been read by several people in the Dracula community and every single one has given it a solid thumbs up, so all we can do is hope it sells!

PW: Finally, you have a column with Comics Bulletin, "He’s Only A Writer," where often you talk about the process of writing.  What’s the best piece of advice you can offer an up-and-coming writer?

LEE: Network. It doesn’t matter how great a writer you are — if they don’t know who you are, they’re unlikely to look at your stuff. A good writer who knows an editor will get more work than a great writer who doesn’t.

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Tony Lee’s personal website can be found at www.tonylee.co.uk, and his column, "He’s Only A Writer," runs weekly at Comics Bulletin.