Interview: Cecelia Ahern on writing the 10th Doctor
Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull interviews the author of the latest Time Trips story, The Bog Warrior.
Following on from Jake Arnott’s rather flawed A Handful of Stardust is Cecelia Ahern with the equally faulty Tenth Doctor yarn, The Bog Warrior. Now before the Time Trips series takes a brief hiatus I had the chance to chat to Ahern about her story, bog bodies, and earthy names. Do be warned that there are some light spoilers about The Bog Warrior.
Hi Cecelia, thanks for taking the time to chat to us. What I found about The Bog Warrior was that it was very unique and I got a real sense that you took a lot of inspiration from the Cinderella fairy tale. Did that story help form The Bog Warrior?
When I was asked to write a story I was incredibly excited, however it is something I had to think hard about because despite the excitement and the desire to do anything I’m asked to do, I have to know that I can do it, that I’m right for it. I wanted to respect the fine institution that is Doctor Who but also bring my own voice to it, and not compromise either thing. Growing up, I always felt that Doctor Who was a male show, with strong male characters and although it has had many fantastic female characters over the years, the overall energy is male. I wanted to bring some feminine energy to it and I did this by introducing the Cinderella story, but turned it completely on its head, as I was never keen on the message for girls and boys in old fairytales.
I came up with the idea for The Bog People when I was watching the news in August 2013 and the body, known as Cashel Man, which was found in Cashel in Co. Laois was discovered to be the oldest bog body in Europe, dating back to 2000BC. I immediately wanted to create a race of Bog men and women.
When were you approached to participate in the series?
I was asked in July/August of 2013 and I was so honoured to be asked. I knew, immediately, that I wanted to do it but could only say yes if I came up with an idea first. I was on holiday in Co. Kerry in Ireland when I saw the bog body on the national news and knew that I had my Doctor Who idea straight away. As soon as my son had his naps I put pen to paper and scribbled furiously. As a result of being in Kerry surrounded by the most beautiful lakes, mountains, rivers, the story is all about the earth and natural elements.
Of course, you were asked to select a Doctor to write for. Was it difficult for you to pick an incarnation, in terms of nailing their dialogue and your knowledge of that era?
I chose the Tenth Doctor as that is the Doctor that really pulled me to the show. It was his relationship with Donna, and the Christmas special with Kylie Minogue who played the waitress Astrid Peth that I connected most with it. In the first draft I kept the Doctor as very much an observer, I was kind of tip toeing around him, trying to get comfortable with him and as my confidence with him grew, the more vocal he became and more involved he got in later drafts. I learned how he thinks aloud, how he can’t but help jump into the middle of trouble; he is not one to turn away from an adventure, a disaster, or from simply helping people. People were surprised by the sci-fi element for me, though I’m not sure why as many of my novels and short stories have contained that element, but what was very different for me was to write a story where a character hasn’t originated in my own imagination. I have never and could never write other peoples’ ideas and so trying to see the world from his eyes, and trying to live in his head was a challenge for me, but one I enjoyed.
Can you tell us which companion you used and why you used them? You are permitted to be coy and mysterious but it doesn’t make as good reading.
The Tenth Doctor is travelling alone in this story and he meets new characters on the planet Cashel who he helps to find freedom. A character named Ash is the strong feminine presence.
In four words describe your reaction when that email/phone call/text message/video/carrier pigeon (delete as appropriate) came through saying you were writing a Doctor Who e-book. Or if you were in a meeting but that’s boring.
I was asked to be involved in an email and I was honoured, surprised, intrigued and excited!
How much research did you do for The Bog Warrior? Did you find inspiration in a specific Tenth Doctor story? And do you have a favourite episode of that era?
I set the story on the Planet Cashel. Because it’s about bog people rising from the dead, I researched how people would have lived during the Iron Age, where they lived, what they ate, what they wore in order to recreate their villages and armour. All of the characters have names relating to the earth and each name represents their character – Princess Ash, Root, Prince Zircon, Moss, Queen Mica, King Quartz, Queen Xenotime and her daughters Erbium and Terbium. So for example Xenotime, the stepmother character, is a rare phosphate mineral, which may contain traces of arsenic, and rare earths Erbium and Terbium are the expressive secondary components, which was ideal for the two sisters’ names. I really enjoyed creating this world.
Cecelia Ahern, thank you very much.