Tony Lee Talks "Doctor Who" Ongoing

Thu, March 12th, 2009 at 9:28am PDT | Updated: March 12th, 2009 at 3:30pm

Comic Books
Jeffrey Renaud, Staff Writer

"Doctor Who" #1 on sale in June

At the IDW Publishing 10th Anniversary Celebration and Road Ahead panel Saturday at this year’s New York Comic Con, Editor-in-Chief Chris Ryall shared news that the publisher would be boarding the TARDIS to keep things moving forward. With the critically acclaimed Doctor Who miniseries “The Forgotten” now complete, British writer Tony Lee’s next project is a 22-page story called “Doctor Who: The Time Machination.”

While the one-shot, featuring art by indie legend Paul Grist (“Jack Staff”), had the New York crowd excited, the next announcement was what had them wishing they could leap into the future like a Time Lord. Ryall announced Lee was writing a new “Doctor Who” ongoing monthly with a rotating team of artists. The title launches in July.

CBR News caught up with Lee in New York to ask about the series, specifically who the Doctor would be and who would ride shotgun aboard the TARDIS.

Story continues below

CBR: Tony, the big news for Whovians coming out of New York Comic Con was that you are writing a “Doctor Who” ongoing monthly for IDW Publishing. How did you ever get the BBC to agree to that one?

Tony Lee: I didn’t. This is the thing: IDW got the license about two years ago and they did the six-parter with Gary Russell. They then asked me to do a six-parter, which was “The Forgotten.” “The Agent Provocateur,” which was Gary Russell’s miniseries, went down really well, but for some reason “The Forgotten” just checked people’s boxes. I have had so many people come up to me and tell me how much they enjoyed it over the last couple of days. I even believe the first three issues are sold out, totally, IDW doesn’t even have back issues left.

So I started doing some other bits and pieces and then one day Chris Ryall said, “Hey, do you want to do another story?” And of course I said, “Yeah sure, why not?” And I pitched him another six-parter and then the following day, I was speaking to Chris about something else and he made a comment about an ongoing. I said, “I would totally put my hat in the ring for that.” And he was like, “Duh. You’re the writer.” I thought he wanted me to a pitch a six-parter but he wanted me to pitch the series.

And so I said, “Don’t give the BBC what I gave you” and I went off and wrote this 6,500-word pitch. It was basically how I saw an ongoing working, how I saw things changing and about 18 issues’ worth of plot ideas. And then he sent it to the BBC. And the BBC came back with a couple of changes. They wanted a character removed and some more information about something else and I turned it back in. I wasn’t too sure what happened but the next thing I know, it’s the day before the panel and Chris is saying, “Yeah, we’re announcing it tomorrow.” We’ve got the art team. It’s all sorted. The first issue is coming out in July.

The problem they have always had with the “Doctor Who” books, generally, is that we’ve had to keep bouncing around with the artists. Pia had [a very close friend pas away] that affected her during “The Forgotten,” which delayed the book, so they had a fill-in artist and then the second artist couldn’t do the third issue in time, so they had to do another fill-in artist and it’s been an ongoing problem like this.

So one of the things we’re doing with this series is that we’re having a variety of two-part stories intermingled with three and four-parters and basically we’re going to make sure we have enough art teams involved so that we never miss an issue, so that we’re always on time. So the first two-part I’m writing is for Al Davidson, who is obviously a very recognizable name in comics. He’s done Vertigo, he’s done Dark Horse. But at the same time, I’m also writing #3 so we can have the two parts hit the art teams at the same time.

And it was announced at the IDW panel that the Doctor starts as David Tennant and regenerates into Matt Smith, right?

The general plan, at the moment, is it starts with David Tennant and it’s going to be a season. It’s hopefully going to be an 18-issue season. And there’s a reason why we only pitched 18 to start with and that’s because it brings us to a natural break which will be about seven months into the television career of Matthew Smith. Because Matt Smith’s run as the Doctor basically comes in around March/April 2010 on the BBC, our final Tennant story will hopefully be out around November 2010, the artists will have enough time to see what Matt Smith is going to look like, it gives me enough time to see how the new Doctor is going to sound and act like and basically, it’s a nice time to move on.

So the stories are going to feature David Tennant and they’re going to lead right up to #18 which will, with luck and licensing rights all sorted, be the first with Matt Smith, the eleventh Doctor. And then we’ll just carry on from there. We’ll carry on the same format and the current hope is that it will be Matt and whoever the fifth season companion is at that time.

And in the panel you said you will introduce new companions too.

“Companion” is a telling word and one we misspoke, unfortunately. We’re not introducing new companions, but there will be characters that are pivotal to both the “season” and the Doctor during the eighteen issues, in the same way that there are pivotal characters in each of the specials.

The problem we had was that when the second TV series (the first one with David Tennant) came out, you had a plot point running with Rose Tyler from the very beginning where you believed she’s going to die at the end of the season. And then with Donna, you really didn’t think she was going to be alive at the end of season four. And as it was, her eventual fate wasn’t expected by anyone. So as the TV show aired, week by week you never knew what’s going to happen. It’s a great thing but when you are writing a comic and Martha is the companion in the comic, which is the problem we had with “The Forgotten,” you can’t have a cliffhanger involving her because everybody knows what is going to happen. Does Martha survive? Of course, she does. She’s in next week’s TV episode. In fact, she’s already left the series, still alive. So with “The Forgotten,” we turned it on its head. We made everyone think it was the third season and then suddenly we’re talking about Donna, so this isn’t a third season, this is obviously a fourth season story and then onwards and onwards.

So with the ongoing, Chris Ryall asked, “Are we bringing in Martha?” We needed to have a companion of some kind because with these one-shots we’re doing [so far announced are “The Whispering Gallery” by Leah Moore and John Reppion with art by Ben Templesmith, and “The Time Machination” by Tony Lee with art by Paul Grist, with others to follow], some of them have a companion once more in the form of Martha Jones and some of them don’t. But if we bring back Martha or we do something like that, basically, you have a difficult time fitting it into the chronology.

And we’ve got these three or four TV specials that are being done and each one of specials are, effectively, the Doctor and a new “companion.” So for example in the next one you’ve got Michelle Ryan, who was the Bionic Woman, but in the following one it’s another actress that’s rumored to be in it. So we’ve got this opportunity where we can effectually go this entire run of stories set between two of the specials. You don’t know what he’s done between these things, and I believe only the final two specials are interconnected, so we’ll most likely be set directly before those. He could have done hundreds of years of traveling and came back during that time. So if that’s the case, we can create new characters that can get involved with him, even travel with him. We can build up an entire storyline and the fans won’t know what’s going to happen. Fans will be able to look at it as a cliffhanger and they won’t know if the character in danger will even be alive in the next episode. Will they love, will they leave, will they die, will they become evil or will they become bad? All of these things can possibly happen. And what is it that happens that makes the Doctor go off on his own once more before he regenerates at the end of the specials?

And so we get to play with all this. It’s just amazing. And that’s one of the reasons I wanted to do the stories without established companions more than anything else. It brings back the unpredictability.

In terms of villains, are we going to see classic villains or are you creating new ones specifically for this series?

Basically, we wanted to try and keep some old characters in, which is one of the reasons why “The Forgotten” worked so well. You had new fans going, “This is great. It’s Tennant and it really sings.” And the old fans are going, “This is great we have all the old characters and references.” And we kind of wanted to do that but at the same time, there was this level of professionalism versus fanboy wank. Because I am a fan of “Doctor Who” and I was like, “I want to put this in. I want to do this.” And there was this point where Gary Russell (he’s the main BBC liaison who approves these scripts as well as a Doctor Who writer himself and is involved in the script editing in some degree on most of the Doctor Who-based shows) actually sent me a message saying, “You don’t need to use old characters as a crutch. You are better than that.” Because we were discussing how we were going to put things in and he kept saying, “You don’t need that. Just play it cool.” Which is fine, but then you have IDW going, ‘The fans love the old characters. Put more classic characters in’ and so it’s a fine line to walk.

But you obviously have to keep a bit in there because one of the things most people loved about “The Forgotten” was that we had past Doctors facing aliens from the new series.

Where do we pick up with the Doctor in the first issue of your new ongoing?

The first one is just a standard Doctor Who story. It’s set in 1920s Hollywood and it’s the Doctor hanging out with Charlie Chaplin. After all, Chaplin comes from London – quite close to where the Powell Estate ends up, I believe! There’s a Jimmy Olsen kind of guy called Matthew and an aspiring actress called Emily who both want to help out. And basically, they are trying to figure out the reason why a lot of actors and actresses are losing their hopes and dreams. And obviously there are also some aliens and stuff like that.

And as we’re in the Silent Movie era of Hollywood, in the second issue, we have a massive, madcap chase where buildings are falling down on the Doctor, he’s jumping through windows and he’s hanging off clock towers – think Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin, you get the idea.

And then we fall into an intergalactic, futuristic chase story where you’ve got the Shadow Proclamation and things like that. And that’s when you start realizing there is a main bad guy, and that they run throughout the whole “season arc.” They’re the main person who is trying to screw the Doctor’s life up and we don’t quite know why. You know pretty much from the third issue who they are but you don’t quite know why or what’s going on. They are a new character, but involved with an established race.

At the same time, we have races from the Third Doctor’s era with us. And we’ve got races from the Tenth Doctor’s era. Basically, at the end of the day, with “The Forgotten,” we wanted to see what we could get away with and it gave us a very large benchmark of what we can and can’t do, and once more I walk that tightrope.

One of the problems I had with “The Forgotten” was when I was given the chance to do it, I obviously said, “Right, this is the only opportunity I’m ever going to get to do this.” So I did the best damn story I could. I pulled out all the stops. I put everything I had into it and they said, “Hey. Now we want that level of story again. And we want a continual.”

So I need to sit down and bring the A-game back for this. And if that involves bringing in fan favorites, I will, if it works in the story. If it’s because I think, “Hey, people like Daleks. Let’s bring in the Daleks.” Well, that’s never going to work. But if we bring in a Doctor Who bad guy from the 1970s because the character actually works in a story that’s set from that era, we’ll do that.

The ongoing “Doctor Who” launches in July from IDW Publishing.

TAGS:  doctor who, tony lee, idw publishing

 
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