Paul Magrs interview: the man who brought Tom Baker back to Doctor Who

In a Den Of Geek exclusive, Stephen talks to the man who lured Tom Baker back to the world of Doctor Who...

The most reluctant Doctor of them all, Tom Baker, has finally been persuaded – after 28 years lost in the vortex – to return to the TARDIS once more in the five story serial Hornet’s Nest. This news was wholly unexpected when it was revealed last month, but the development of the new series has been going on for some twelve months now, being masterminded – very secretly – by the man himself, BBC Audiobooks’ Michael Stevens and long-time Who author, Paul Magrs. Den Of Geek recently had the pleasure of conducting a very Tom-heavy interview with the latter.

Firstly Paul, the question on many lips is: how did Hornet’s Nest come about?

[Tom] said himself to the people at BBC Audio that it would be great to work on brand new stories for his Doctor. He and Michael Stevens [Commissioning Editor, BBC Audiobooks] came up with some ideas for the series’ format and I worked with Michael on fleshing out the whole saga.

Were the scripts written by you specifically with Tom’s Doctor in mind?

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The scripts were written expressly for this Doctor and this series. I was shown the briefing document at the beginning of last autumn by Michael Stevens, and invited to pitch a story for one of the five slots. I kept coming up with ideas that BBC Audio liked and I ended up being commissioned for the whole lot.

I was so glad Tom was so pleased with the scripts and that they are the place that we will hear his Doctor return for the first time.

Upon the series being commissioned, did you have the chance to attend any of the recording sessions?

Yes, I was there for about half the recordings and it was electrifying and exciting. [Tom] was delighted to be back in the role – especially when there were other actors there for him to work with. He seemed to be having a ball. He cares passionately for his Doctor and wants everything to be exactly right. He had loads of wonderful suggestions to make about tiny tweaks to lines. It was a collaborative and marvellously creative atmosphere. [The setting of the series in] Sussex was also Tom’s suggestion, I believe.

Ah yes, Sussex. The setting in which the retired hero finds himself in the company of a long time colleague, a housekeeper and, erm, lots of bees. Shades of the last days of Sherlock Holmes there, perhaps?

There are certainly touches of Holmes and Watson about the way the Doctor and Mike [Yates, played as ever by Richard Franklin] sit by the fire and relate recent adventures to each other. We even have a housekeeper to hand, in the form of the formidable Mrs. Wibbsey [as played by Susan Jameson].

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You’re a very prolific Doctor Who author with five BBC Books and nine Big Finish audios, as well as the two Iris Wildthyme short story compilations which you edited. Where do you think Hornet’s Nest sits amongst these other works?

I’m very proud of it. In many ways it’s much more ‘me’ than some of my other Who work. It’s in the genre I’d call macabre mystery or Gothic adventure – which is exactly the kind of Fourth Doctor stories I always enjoyed the most.

What else does the future hold for you with regards to Doctor Who products?

I’ve got a Big Finish Companion Chronicle disc coming out in November, Ringpullworld, which is about the wonderful Turlough, a character who always intrigued me and who was a joy to write for.

I’ve no other Who writing plans at the moment. I’ll just have to see what turns up. I hope someone will commission me for something lovely!

I’ve also got my next novel, Hell’s Belles, coming out with Headline Review in November, my collection of short fiction, Twelve Stories, in the same month from Salt Publishing, and Obverse Books’ second Iris Wildthyme anthology, The Panda Book Of Horror, edited by Stuart Douglas and myself, sometime round the end of the year. My next teen novel, The Diary Of A Doctor Who Fan, comes out in March from Simon and Schuster.

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And finally…if you could get Tom’s Doctor travelling the Universe with your character Iris Wildthyme, where would you have them go?

The Fourth Doctor and Ms Iris Wildthyme and [her companion] Panda would be found hanging out together in Belle Epoque [late 19th Century to pre-World War I] Paris, I think. I could see them kicking up their heels at the Moulin Rouge, can’t you?

Yes, I rather think we can. And if Tom can be convinced to switch from Sussex to Paris, then I’m sure any potential second ‘new’ series would be as eagerly awaited as Hornet’s Nest.