Writer’s Commentary: Cavan Scott on ‘Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor’ Issue #1
When Doctor Who made its triumphant return to television screens in 2005, with Christopher Eccleston in the role of the ninth Doctor, no-one could have guaranteed that the show would still be a hit ten years later, on to its own fourth (or fifth) incarnation of its hero. Yet Doctor Who endures, and with it comes the comic book spin-offs from Titan Comics that explore and expand the stories of the ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth Doctors.
Writer Cavan Scott is the man behind the Ecclestone Doctor's comic book adventures, joined by artist Blair Shedd for a five-issue mini series that launched last month. Scott has agreed to exclusively share his writer's commentary for the series with ComicsAlliance, so we kick off with his notes for issue #1, with the introduction of the Lect and the Doctor's encounter with the Unon. Grab your copy of Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor #1 and read along!
For me, Doctor Who is as much about comics as a TV show. In the dark days between seasons back in the early 80s, Marvel UK’s Doctor Who Monthly kept this Who fan going. The black and white comic, the mainstay of the magazine since its beginning in 1979, was the first thing I read every month. New adventures with no BBC budget to hold them back. Perfect. Looking back, the TV Doctors still get mixed up with their comic counterparts in my head. The Fourth Doctor battling a cloth-faced Cyberman in a junkyard, the Fifth facing a malevolent Merlin, the Sixth travelling with a shape-shifting penguin and the Seventh teaming up with a psychotic Dalek killer. Yes, so none of that happened on the small screen, but it’s just as big a part of my head-canon as the televised stories.
Doctor Who just works in strip form, which is probably why his comic misadventures are nearly as old as the TV show itself. Getting the chance to write a new comic series for Doctor number nine has been a dream come true.
Thanks to ComicsAlliance, I'm going to be sharing with you a little behind-the-scenes info for Titan Comic’s Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor mini-series, going through each of the five issues page by page, talking about the decisions we made and pointing out some of the stuff we hid in the panels. With that in mind, as someone close the Doctor is fond of saying:
SPOILER WARNING! IF YOU HAVEN’T READ DOCTOR WHO: THE NINTH DOCTOR #1, THIS COMMENTARY WILL CONTAIN SPOILS GALORE!
Page 1: I wanted to start everything with Rose, just as Russell T. Davies’ 2005 series did, hence the monologue. I wrote this page longhand in my notebook, months before I started work on the script – probably around the time I first met with Titan Comics to discuss the storyline. The monologue itself was influenced by the beginning of Season 2’s Army of Ghosts
Pages 2-3: I love this spread. In fact, it's the wallpaper on my laptop right now. And it sets the stall for the mini-series. Right from the beginning, editor Andrew James said that he wanted to see the Ninth Doctor in space. On telly, we saw number Nine on a couple of space stations, but other than the TARDIS spinning across space to engage the Dalek fleet, that’s pretty much it. Our comic should throw him right out into the cosmos, so here’s the TARDIS floating in the debris of a planet.
Just for fun I also gave each issue an individual title. Issue one was, "A Graveyard in Space".
Page 4: The doomed planet was originally called Constanapia, until the note came back from the BBC that they kept reading it as ‘constipated’ and so it was rechristened Excroth. Oh, and those Post-It notes on the scanner in panel four? They spell out the names of our artist and his good lady wife in Gallifreyan, using an online generator.
Page 5: I first described the Lect Ship as ‘big and boxy’, something that wouldn’t look out of place in Aliens. When artist Blair Shedd delivered his first design, he included this wonderfully detailed annotation:
Page 6: And here are the Lect themselves. On reading the script, Blair asked me about color schemes. I originally envisioned blue, but worried that it would make them too much like the Sontarans. So I opted for terracotta for foot soldiers, getting darker and redder the higher the rank.
Andrew requested some kind of insignia or sigil for their helmet, so I suggested something based on an atom. This is what Blair came back with, trying to make it almost a tribal tattoo.
Page 7: After the first draft, Andrew requested that the Lect have more of a distinct way of speaking, something to help build their character. I turned to cult TV show Blake’s 7 and it’s cooler-than-cool space ship, the Liberator. The Liberator’s super-computer, Zen, would always categorize whatever it was about to say, with lines such as: ‘Information: Pursuit Ships on an intercept vector’.
I – ahem – borrowed Zen’s habit for the Lect, resulting in all those ‘Questions’ and ‘Directives’. Well, if it was good enough for Terry Nation, it’s good enough for me!
Page 8: Originally, issue one didn't take place on the Lect ship at all. After visiting the destroyed planet, the Doctor tracks a time distortion to the trenches of World War One. There the Germans are being overrun not by British Tommies, but by dinosaurs! My thinking was that we visit Earth at least once before heading back into space. Unbeknownst to me, the Tenth Doctor was about to visit the trenches in an upcoming Weeping Angels arc written by Robbie Morrison, so the idea was scrapped. The Lect themselves weren’t scheduled to appear until issue two, but on Andrew’s request, they made their debut here.
Page 9: And here are the mysterious Unon – or ‘space centaurs’ as they are simply called in the margin of my notes. Originally, they were to be glowing angels (to tie into the WWI legends of the Angels of Mons) but Andrew quite rightly pointed out that there had been a lot of glowing aliens in the Doctor Who Magazine strip of late. So, glowing was out and chrome armor was in. In the script, I asked for the armor to be highly polished, inspired by the shining armor of Excalibur, a film I was obsessed with as a teen.
Page 10: One of things I wanted to make sure was that the Doctor is seen enjoying his crazy life. The Ninth Doctor is often stereotyped as being angst-ridden and angry, but he spends a lot of time grinning in the 2005 series. But, don’t worry, there’s plenty of anger coming.
Page 11: See those binary groups on the last panel? One spells out Blair Shedd and the other Cavan Scott. Clever old Blair.
Pages 12-13: Blair’s original design for the Unon’s helmet were smooth, as per my description in the script: ‘The Unon’s faces are covered by completely blank visors that seem an extension of their Spartan-like helmets’. Andrew came back and asked for glowing eyes. I’m glad he did.
Pages 14-15: There’s lots of Rose reaching out on this spread. That might be a motif you’ll see again later in the series, just as a bit of foreshadowing for those who know Rose’s future.
Page 16: None of this business with the force field was in the revised outline. When pacing the issue, it soon became clear that I needed to up the jeopardy. The issue was supposed to be the mini-series ‘pre-titles series’ but was getting very talky. It needed more movement and action.
Page 17: Back in the original pitch for issue one, the Doctor was investigating how the German trenches had been transported back to prehistory around this point. It turned out that a time-tourist had been visiting the Western Front using dodgy temporal tech that shifted the whole caboodle to the time of the dinosaurs. Careless.
Page 18: The Doctor referring to Jack as Rose’s boyfriend was added at the last minute before I emailed the first draft of the script to Andrew.
Page 19: Bye-bye Square Gun. I couldn’t resist a little nod to continuity here, answering the question of why Jack’s Square Gun appears in The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances, but was never seen again.
Saying that, in Night of the Whisper, the Ninth Doctor audiobook I wrote with Mark Wright, we find out that Jack has a spare stashed on the TARDIS. Shhh, don’t tell the Doctor.
Oh, and that reference to bananas? That harks back to Jack’s first dealings with the Ninth Doctor too.
Page 20: In the original pitch, an Unon was about to make its first appearance in the German trenches. It arrives, blazing with light, and blasts the tourist back to his correct place in time and space – although the irate Doctor mistakes the teleportation for an execution.
Page 21: I had a big grin on my face when I first typed this variation of classic TARDIS dematerialization SFX. To engage Doctor Who Comic Geek mode, during the 1960s and 70s, the comic strip TARDIS appeared and dematerialized in silence. Then in February 1980, "Timeslip" by Paul Neary saw the Doctor’s time ship gaining its first sound effect – ‘Vw-aarp!’ Eight months later, we would be treated to the first ‘Vworp Vworp’ in Steve Moore and Dave Gibbon’s "The Collector." The old girl has been Vworping ever since!
Page 22: You’ve gotta love a Doctor Who cliff-hanger! In the original pitch, it was very different. Back when issue one took place during World War One, the Doctor succeeded in sending the displaced trenches back to 1914. The only snag was that Rose was left trapped in the Cretaceous period with an injured German soldier and a pack of hungry Deinonychus for company. Gulp!
Of course, when we lost WWI we needed a new ending, so things got even worse for Rose…