The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Friday, 17 December 2010

What If...

If you are reading this, then you must rush out and buy the latest issue of Doctor Who Magazine, out this week. It has all sorts of exciting Christmas stuff in it, much of it fascinating, much of it hilarious, a little of it impenetrable, but that’s only to be expected. No, what is particularly exciting about this issue is that it has a stunningly beautiful comic strip with artwork by the phenomenal Rob Davis and colours by Geraint Ford. Script-wise, it’s one of my better efforts. It's called The Professor, The Queen And The Bookshop.

Already rushed out and bought it? Marvellous. And thank you very much. So if you’ll forgive the self-absorption, here are a few words on the background to this story.

It’s an idea I had back when Big Finish were doing their Unbound stories, which were based around Doctor Who ‘What if...’s. A ‘What if...’ that occurred to me was ‘What if... Doctor Who had started thirty years earlier.’ Which gave me the idea for a Doctor Who story, but one as written by CS Lewis, or E Nesbit, or John Masefield. Those authors who mixed up ideas of time-travel and travel to other planets with magic carpets and talking animals. However, by the time I’d had the idea Big Finish had stopped doing the Unbounds, so the idea got filed in the back of my mind under Lost Opportunities.

Anyway, seven years later, I finally got the chance to write the story, as a comic strip. Because of the limited space in a one-issue story, and because it would have been far too confusing, the editor Scott Gray – who never lets me get away with anything less than my very best - suggested to me that it might be better to make it just a Doctor Who story as written by CS Lewis, but including as many Doctor Who elements as possible. And there are quite a few, there must be a couple of dozen at least.

In effect, it’s a mash-up, like those remixes where it’s the vocals of one song over the instruments of another. There is probably some clever literary term for this, I don’t know what it is, this all happens by accident as far as I’m concerned. It’s not Doctor Who, and yet very Doctor Who at the same time, because the Narnia stories aren’t all that far removed from Doctor Who anyway. The strip takes the first two Narnia books, combines them with various Doctor Who stories, and becomes a synthesis of the two. Doctor Who ‘in the style of...’.

The other thing it does, another happy accident, is that it’s another ‘What if...’, the ‘What if...’ being ‘What if... Doctor Who wasn’t science fiction’. Without wishing to get drawn into an argument about whether Doctor Who is science fiction or not (of course it is, it’s just not hard science fiction) it does show that Doctor Who can still be recognisably Doctor Who even with all the science fiction taken out and replaced with magic. Because the science fiction elements are just trappings; myths with technology.

I think it works. I’m very proud of it, and Rob Davis did a superb job with it. I think maybe the idea of a magical time-travelling bookshop would have made a good children’s novel – if it had been written eighty years ago. I’m not sure that second-hand bookshops have the same romance for the youth of today. Another one for the Lost Opportunities file.

Anyway, next month the Doctor Who comic strip* is back into more familiar territory. Gothic horror!

* Other Doctor Who comic strips are available. I don’t read them so I don’t know if they’re any good or not. Please don’t tell me if they’re better than mine, that would only serve to upset me.