Interview: Jenny Colgan on Writing Who
Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull talks to the author of Doctor Who: Dark Horizons about the book, her future plans, whether she’d like to write for the TV show.
Note: This interview took place before Peter Capaldi was announced as the Twelfth Doctor.
The Doctor Who BBC Books line have all been commonly written by well-known science-fiction writers, but you were different. Did you have to convince the BBC to let you write Dark Horizons?
I asked them very, very nicely.
Dark Horizons had Matt Smith’s the Eleventh Doctor travel solo, did you ask if you could use a companion or did the plot dictate that an assistant was unnecessary (although a couple of characters do aid the Doctor in a similar fashion)?
No, planning the books is quite collaborative, so at first we thought it might be with Amy, then with Amy and Rory, then just him on his own. I was completely happy whichever way it turned out, though I wouldn’t have minded a shot at writing Amy, I loved that character.
After writing Dark Horizons you became an official part of the Doctor Who writers community, and a lot more fans noticed you. What has your reaction been to being initiated into the Who society?
Ooh they are lovely! It’s very exciting, it’s such a strong community and it’s lovely to indulge my big Doctor Who side, which doesn’t get much of an airing with my romantic comedies. When I was a fan of classic Who growing up, I honestly thought I was the only girl who loved it in the whole world. Discovering a world of fans out there is absolutely heartening. Plus I can’t talk about it for hours at home; my poor husband isn’t a fan.
Which two episodes of Doctor Who would you take to a desert island? And why?
Hmm, that is a very tricky one. EPISODES? Can’t I have two stories? Otherwise Forest of the Dead which just has so many astonishing moments- River telling the Doctor his name; Donna falling in love; the jump cut conceit; ‘Hey, who turned out the lights?’, the skeletons in the spacesuits; ‘Time can be rewritten’- ‘don’t you dare!’.
And I have a massive soft spot for the teacher John Smith in The Family of Blood, I love that story. My favourite The Family of Blood trivia: when the Doctor gives Martha the list of things to let him do or not do whilst he’s human, one that was cut from the edit was ‘don’t let me eat pears, I hate pears’, and in the very next scene you see him eating a pear.
What is your favourite classic and modern Doctor/companion duo or trio?
10 and Rose really was something. My favourite bit is – I can’t remember which episode, although I’m sure you do – they come out of the TARDIS at the beginning and one of them says ‘this looks boring’ and the other says ‘yeah, shall we just go back in and forget all about it?’ and they both absolutely crack up laughing [I believe that’s The Impossible Planet – Patrick] and it gives more insight into their characters than wads of exposition ever could. But I will say I loved Martha, I really want to write for her again, so ballsy. I genuinely do not think she’d have married Mickey Smith, I have been lobbying for ages for them to let me write a 10 book about Mickey and Martha’s marriage and they look at me very dubiously and say ‘hum hum hum’ but I think it should happen. .
Classic Who I loved both versions of Romana, it was so good to have an equal companion for the Doctor.
It was recently announced that you and other authors such as AL Kennedy and Nick Harkaway would be participating in a new BBC Books project entitled Time Trips. Can you tell us anything about it?
Very little, except they gave me Matt Smith again, which I am absolutely delighted about, and I am halfway through it, and it has snakes and skeletons in it.
You also have another Doctor Who book in the works, which you announced on The Wright Stuff and it’s provisional title is Into the Nowhere. Could you tell us what it includes, what Doctor will it be for? Do you have any titbits for us?
Oh, that is the Time Trips novella, it’s called Into the Nowhere. So. SNAKES! SKELETONS! And after that I shall return to badgering them into letting me do a 10/ Martha/ Mickey divorce special.
The last time a woman wrote an episode of Doctor Who was the divisive Sontaran reboot, The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky way back in 2008. With talks of a female Doctor, we thought it topical to ask your opinion on female writers for the show, and would you personally like to write an episode?
I don’t care about the gender of the writers, just the quality of the stories. Would I personally like to write an episode? HELL YEAH.
And finally, who do you want to be the Twelfth Doctor?
Ha, by the time this goes up we’ll know! And I will be completely wrong, whatever I say. I would have liked Ben Whishaw, Idris Elba, Sue Perkins or Ben Miller. If it is Peter Capaldi I will be utterly rejoicing, as he is a distant cousin of mine (compare the noses).
Jenny Capaldi Colgan, thank you very much.