Once Upon a Time Lord Is a Doctor Who Story That Could Only Be a Comic

Exclusive: Dan Slott takes some time away from the Spider-Verse to craft a unique Doctor Who time heist comic.

Doctor Who "Once Upon a Time Lord" Comic
Photo: Titan Comics

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Pretty much the first thing Dan Slott says in our interview is, “I got to write Doctor Who fanfic and got paid for it!”

It’s a feeling that permeates not only our interview but the book Slott is here to talk about, a whopping 66-page special for Titan Comics called Once Upon A Time Lord. Slott seems like a kid who has been locked in the candy store by mistake and intends to scarf down as much candy as he can before someone notices.

But there has been no mistake—Dan Slott is one of the most respected and prolific comic writers working right now, with runs on the Fantastic Four, the Silver Surfer, and, most famously, Spider-Man behind him. Indeed, Slott’s runs include the epic “Spider-Verse” comic event that inspired the wildly successful ongoing movie trilogy.

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In fact, Slott’s ties to the webslinger were perhaps his biggest obstacle to boarding the TARDIS.

“Whenever I was in town, the guys from Titan Comics would take me out to dinner and say, ‘How’d you like to write some Doctor Who for us? We hear you’re a big fan!’” Slott recounts. “And I’d have to grit my teeth and say, ‘I’m exclusive to Marvel comics, I can’t!’”

This continued until Slott had a contract negotiation with Marvel, where he had enough leverage to get them to agree to one exception to the exclusivity clause—for Doctor Who.

“The second they cracked, I called Titan Comics and said, ‘I can do one comic!’” Slott says, then gleefully adds, “‘But they didn’t say how long [the comic could be]! So, let’s make it a giant triple-sized comic! We can do it quintuple size!’ Which is why this thing is like 58 pages of content.”

Most of those pages concern the Tenth Doctor, as played by David Tennant (who is coming back as the Fourteenth Doctor for this year’s 60th anniversary special), his season three companion Martha Jones, and Slott’s newly created villain, the Pyro Meths, vicious aliens who demand their victims tell a continuous, endless story, destroying them if it ever fails to meet their standards.

As a writer moving from writing for the Marvel fandom to the Doctor Who fandom, one wonders where he gets his ideas.

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“You meet these aliens that live off fiction, and the minute you displease them, they will chuck you into the abyss and just get another storyteller,” Slott says. “And it’s like, Oh my god! That’s the fear I go through every single month!”

It is also an apt villain for Martha Jones to face, as a kind of indirect prequel to her final regular episode, “The Last of the Time Lords.”

“At the end of her season, she has to walk the Earth and tell stories, and this is how she got good at it,” Slott tells us.

The story Martha tells, meanwhile, is a smash-and-grab tour of all the monsters Slott is dying to write.

“So much of this was just everything and the kitchen sink because I thought they were going to wise up and realize letting this American write Doctor Who was a bad move,” Slott says.

As well as writing all these monsters, Slott got to see the book’s artists bring them to life. Once Upon A Time Lord has three artists. Those artists include Mike Collins, who storyboards for Doctor Who on TV and has been doing so since the days of Christopher Eccleston.

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“I met him for the first time on the set of the TARDIS,” Slott boasts.

What was Slott doing on the TARDIS?

Slott beams and says, “I wanted to go onto the TARDIS! So I used my Spider-Man powers for evil and personal gain.”

Collins is accompanied by Matthew Dow Smith and Christopher Jones.

“Christopher Jones is such a Whovian,” Slott says. “He got every single detail right, and it made me so unbelievably happy.”

This combination of artists is also needed because Slott isn’t just telling a Doctor Who story; he’s telling a Doctor Who story that can only be told in comics.

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“It’s very much a story about a storyteller and the story they are telling, and when you put that into comics, it gives you the option of having two artists,” Slott says.

The comic’s three artists are divided between the three perspectives. Christopher Jones is drawing what’s “really” happening, Matthew Dow Smith draws the story being told, and Mike Collins draws an additional tale of the Ninth Doctor (as played by Christopher Eccleston), Rose, the sorely underutilized villains the Terileptils, and an extremely comic-book plot device.

“You need word balloons for that,” Slott says. “It wouldn’t work as a Big Finish or a TV episode; it’s very much a Doctor Who comic.”

But while it is a unique comic book story, there are elements of the TV show Slott is keen to hold onto.

“If you look at the creatures from the Nightmare of Eden—you can see the zippers on the rubber suits, and my take has always been ‘Let’s see that in the comics!’” he says.

That said, the opening pages of Once Upon a Time Lord feature a scene you could never see in the TV show.

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“It feels fair, although you knew they could never film it,” Slott says, and once again, he sounds like he’s getting away with something. “I like dancing on that tightrope, doing stuff they couldn’t do in the show, but I’ve got my personal limits.”

Doctor Who: Once Upon A Time Lord is released Nov. 7.