Continuing our interview with Doctor Who and Primeval audio/novel/comic writer Simon Guerrier. You’ll find the link to part one, if you missed it, down at the bottom…
Which Doctors do you prefer writing for, either for audio or in novels/short stories? Any favourite companions to bring to life?
I like them all, really. And as I said [in the previous piece], I don’t often get a choice. The excitement is, when you know which ones you’re writing for, in finding new things to do with them. Writing The Drowned World, I knew the cast and director and sound designers were going to be the same as on Home Truths. They’d been brilliant, so it was exciting to write something else for them. I really like working with Lisa Bowerman – as actress and director – but that’s a different thing from my love for the character of Benny.
Do you find it difficult when writing Who to remember which audiences you’re pitching things at? There’s a huge difference between the Bernice Summerfield listeners and the readers of The Slitheen Excursion.
True, but then Home Truths and The Slitheen Excursion are written to exactly the same guidelines and are both very different. My three Benny plays are all quite different tonally, too. I try to vary the kinds of things I write, to stretch myself a bit. And make sure I don’t get bored. There are things you need to consider for different audiences – I wrote ‘Summer of Love’ specifically to do the things we could never, ever do in Doctor Who – but generally I’m writing stuff for my own sordid amusement.
With regards to your work on The Judgement Of Isskar, the first Key 2 Time story, did you deliberately set about attempting to make things different to the first ‘Key to Time’ serials in relation to the amount of segments that could be recovered in each story?
When we first talked about Key 2 Time, I was thinking of a sprawling adventure in the style of the Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials, with ever wilder locations and cliffhangers. I was keen that you never knew where mine was going next, that it would jump planets mid-episode, and on to a whole new story. And if I was going to set up the imbalance between Amy and Zara, with Zara pretending to have fewer segments than Amy but really having more, it needed lots of segments in that first story. We wanted to raise the stakes right from the beginning. That’s relatively easy to do on audio, where it would be very expensive on television. As a result, that sort of structure isn’t really part of the conventions of Doctor Who as we know them.
With the conclusion of the fourth episode of ‘Isskar’, were you sad to have to finish your association with the project, and with Isskar himself? Were you anxious to see what the next writer in the series would come up with in relation to resolving the story lines, or had it been agreed on beforehand?
I wasn’t anxious because I knew I was laying the groundwork for the author two authors to build upon, and part of the fun of it was seeing where they’d take it. I read the outlines for the stories that followed – and had quite a lot of stuff to set up for them in mine. I also read draft scripts and made comments. And then I got asked to write [the prequel] The Prisoners’ Dilemma after we’d all delivered our scripts, so had to pick up the various threads that Jonathan and especially Peter had added in their stories.
Tell us about your recent DWA comic, and please feel free to mention your Space Meerkats as often as you see fit.
I’ve written two strips for DWA – one with space-pirate meerkats and the other with an army of tentacled monsters sneaking up on the Empire of Whap. The editor, Moray Laing, asked me to pitch him something late last year, and though I’ve not got a lot of experience writing comics – these are the first ones I’ve been paid for – he and deputy editor Annabel Gibson couldn’t have been more supportive. They took a chance on me and I’m really very grateful.
I originally pitched space-pirate badgers as a sort of sequel to my novel, The Pirate Loop, which my editors weren’t so sure about. But that also established that all sorts of Earth animals have been made into servant-class hybrid species. Hence space-pirate meerkats and fiddler crabs. I wrote a magazine article about fiddle crabs about a year ago, and thought they’d be funny visually because they have one huge great claw and one little one. I think Annie suggested the meerkats, again because they’d look good.
It’s been an absolute joy to work on those scripts: you have to think very visually, and as big and bold as you can, while at the same time getting all the plot begun and ended within just four or five pages. And then the talented John Ross takes your script and makes you look good.
Out of the Who-Universe, you’ve recently written (and are about to publish) a book that sits in the Primeval Universe, namely Fire And Water. How did that come about, and what did you set out to achieve with regards to writing it?
Cath Trechman, an editor at Titan Books, got in touch, having read the Pirate Loop. I was just about to go on holiday for a month, so we agreed to meet up when I got back. She said the Primeval books tried to do things the TV show wouldn’t be able to – like going abroad or having epic-sized special effects sequences. So I came back fresh from my holiday, having been to a game reserve just outside Johannesburg, and pitched a story about dinosaurs in a game reserve while, back home, London is flooding.
When they commissioned that, they said they wanted it to fit in amidst the third season of the show – which at that time was still being written. So I read outlines and then scripts, and then went along to the filming. That was good fun: everyone was really helpful and let me ask lots of questions. My ambitions, I guess, were to get the new characters of Danny and Sarah just right, since they’re making their prose debut in my book. And I hope its a rollicking adventure that fits neatly between episodes five and six. We’ll have to see what people think.
Finally, do you have any potential themes lined up for further Big Finish ‘Short Trips’ compilations, and would you care to tell us about anything else that’s currently in the pipeline?
I don’t think I’ll be editing another Short Trips: I decided in 2007 to get out of editing and producing and concentrate on writing, since that’s what I went freelance to do. I don’t regret editing or producing, it just ate up all my time.
As for things in the pipeline… I’ve just done some work as a researcher for a documentary on a Doctor Who DVD. You can see it on the Cyberman Collection, which came out this week. I’ve a handful of projects in the pipeline but they’re all waiting an official okay, so I don’t want to jinx them by saying anything just yet. But there’s a Robin Hood audio book out in June, read by Richard Armitage. And then Drowned World is out in July.
And slightly more finally, if you could have written just one television episode for the Tenth Doctor, what would it have entailed?
Blimey. Um… Off the top of my head… Maybe a celebrity historical. With Mozart and an army of vampires.
Thank you, Simon Guerrier.