Interview: Jake Arnott on writing the 6th Doctor

Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull interviews the author of Time Trips story, A Handful of Stardust.


It’s April now and the Time Trips series chugs on – this time Jake Arnott follows Trudi Canavan with A Handful of Stardust, a likeable Sixth Doctor adventure. I managed to have the chance to put a few questions to Arnott on Doctor Dee, the inspiration for the title and the absence of throttling.

The Time Trips venture by BBC Books asked you to select a favourite Doctor. Was it difficult picking a Doctor? In terms of nailing their dialogue and your knowledge of that era?

I chose the Sixth Doctor because I feel that there is something that is genuinely troubled and troubling about his character. He’s a bit insufferable but also very real with all his neuroses and insecurities. My one phrase idea for this story was Doctor Who meets Doctor Dee (the Elizabethan magus). If you look at Dee’s extraordinary life he seems like some Time Lord himself and appears as arrogant and bombastic as the Sixth Doctor so they seemed a good fit.

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.

Choosing the companion was as important as choosing the Doctor as Doctor Dee also has an assistant (the young Thomas Digges, another historical figure –a brilliant astronomer and a forgotten figure in the history of science). Again I needed someone who could build an interesting character relationship with him and who better than Perpugilliam Brown? Peri has this great energy and as a scientist herself can hold her own with all the blokes. I really wanted her to have a lot of agency in this story –she’s the one that keeps an eye on what’s really going on. And in the end it was her that gave me the title (though it’s also a nod to T S Eliot and Evelyn Waugh) but you don’t get that until the very last line.

Doctor-Who-A-Handful-of-StardustIn 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?

‘That’s a crazy idea’ is the best way of summing it up, simply because I never imagined that I would ever have a chance write a story like this. It’s not something I have any real experience of and it’s great that BBC books were willing to take a risk in commissioning a writer like me. I was just about to board a plane to Spain when I got a text from my agent. ‘That’s a crazy idea,’ I thought and, of course, they’re always the best ones. It came so out of the blue that I felt liberated. And it gave me a chance to work with forms I’d never really tried before so it was a real challenge.

How much research did you do for your story? Did you find inspiration in a specific story? And do you have a favourite Sixth Doctor episode?

Being an author is really like being a renegade Time Lord –I’m always jumping around the centuries looking for ideas. I’d done some research on Doctor Dee for another project that never came off so I had quite a lot of material on him. What really was the key in terms of the background for the story was the 1572 supernova –which really did change the way humanity saw the universe.

As for a favourite Sixth Doctor episode? I’m not sure, perhaps something from The Trial of a Time Lord  -a wonderfully ambitious and chaotic storyline.

What’s your earliest Doctor Who memory?

Oh dear, this really does make me feel as old as Gallifrey –I can dimly remember an episode with William Hartnell and these ant-like creatures called the Zarbi. I must have been about four.

Jake, does the Doctor attempt to strangle anyone in A Handful of Stardust?

No, and I really missed a trick there. Is it too late to put a throttling scene in?