TSV last spoke with Gary Russell in
1993 (see TSV 37), and many readers met Gary in
person when he visited New Zealand in 1994. Since then Gary has left his job as
editor of Marvel's Doctor Who Magazine and become a freelance writer. He
has had three full-length Doctor Who novels and a 42 part serialised
Radio Times Doctor Who comic strip published. An episode guide for The
Simpsons co-written with Gareth Roberts, and two more Doctor Who novels,
Deadfall and Business Unusual, are on the way. This follow-up
interview was conducted by email, between January and June 1997.
JP: What is your new job?
GR: I'm freelancing now, although after leaving Marvel, I spent a
year working on a computer games magazine. It was interesting simply because of
its novelty value, but computer games and I were not made to love one another,
so I left last September.
JP: Why did you leave Marvel?
GR: Why did I leave Marvel? Not through choice, rest assured. Marvel
US bought up a European company called Panini, based in Italy, because they
wanted a strong European base. They then suggested to the people at Panini that
as Italy was geographically closer to England than New York, they could take
over the day-to-day running of Marvel UK. Panini came in, decided that they
didn't like anything we were doing and closed chunks of Marvel UK down,
including the Magazine Group. And, as the new Managing Director (who appeared
to have no background in magazine/comic publishing, just sticker albums) said
to me one bright Wednesday morning at 10.00am, 'I don't need a Magazine Group
so I don't need a Magazine Group Editor, leave the building by 12.30'. With an
insult called redundancy cheque in pocket, I dutifully did so, although they
then had to re-employ me for a while to finish off a couple of projects on a
freelance basis. Am I bitter still? Oh, yes. Do I seek revenge? Probably not.
Would I like to see Marvel UK go bankrupt and the new MD and his Panini
groupies go under? Oh yes please!!
Seriously, I think I, Marcus Hearn, Paul Neary and all the other people
kicked out were shabbily treated and insulted. What is more distressing is that
those who they kept were all untrained, relative newcomers who, possibly,
didn't know enough about the publishing business to be able to point out the
errors the new MD and co. were making, whereas those of us who have gone would
have done. Maybe they didn't like that. Maybe they were just a little scared
that we might have shown them up at Marvel US. Either way, eighteen months on,
it matters very little in the grand scheme of things. And, like most of my
predecessors, I didn't like the way DWM went after I'd gone, so I stopped
reading and working for it.
JP: Although the editorial of the final issue of Doctor Who
Classic Comics said the best of the strips had been presented, this was
clearly not the case. Was cancelling the magazine part of Panini's strategy or
was it doomed earlier on? Do you think that Marvel is ever likely to resurrect
GR: No, I don't think it'll ever see the light of day again, which is
a shame as Marvel now own the strips. We spent a lot of money buying the
rights, making film etc. There were another two issues prepped and ready to be
printed that'll not be done, which is kind of sad. But Who fans are not great
comics lovers, so I guess it was a doomed project from the start. Yeah, it was
pulled for purely financial reasons, a long time before the company got into
the metaphorical bed with Panini, so no, not their fault. A decision that
saddened me, but nevertheless I had to agree with. Oddly it happened the
weekend I was in New Zealand in '94, and Marcus had to remove the editorial
prepared for that issue and do the new one. John Ainsworth actually went in and
helped him sort the strips out so we could wrap everything up nicely. I think
they did a nice job, and I was pleased that the cover by Colin Howard was used.
I liked re-hashing that Radio Times tenth anniversary special cover over and
over again. You may have noticed this!
INVASION OF THE CAT-PEOPLE
JP: Back in TSV 37 you revealed that your second book for Virgin was
to be called After Images. Did that eventually become Invasion of the
Cat-People or was it a different proposal altogether?
GR: No, Cat-People started off as After Images. There was another
title in between: The Phantom Dreamers.
JP: When you were in New Zealand in 1994 I recall a group of us
discussing Cat-People with you, which at the time you were still in the
stages of researching, hence your visit down-under. What influences, if any,
did this discussion have on the final book? Or did it make you wish you had
GR: I almost added a New Zealand subplot but it would have been too
complicated to work in. I honestly can't say - if anything, it just made me so
happy that people were receptive to the ideas. After the critical pasting
Legacy got in some quarters, I was expecting people to show little
interest in a book with a title as stupid as Invasion of the Cat People.
I do remember promising to write a book called Invasion of the Even Bigger
Bastards from Outer Space one day. Please, don't hold me to that!
JP: How much of your research visit to Australia actually proved
helpful in writing the book? What research did you do? Is research important
for a fictional series like Doctor Who?
GR: Yeah, lots. Nowhere in England could I have got the information
about Aboriginal history. Visiting Ayres Rock was inspirational. Learning,
completely by accident, about the mountain that the aboriginals believe to be
the equivalent of the Garden of Eden, where all life started, was the sort of
thing that could only happen while you're there. Added to the fact that
Australia and its people are wonderful and I would seriously like to live there
means that the whole trip (including NZ of course) was essential.
JP: Invasion of the Cat-People was originally announced as the first
Troughton Missing Adventure but Martin Day's Menagerie came out first. Why was this?
GR: Gary Russell (as Rebecca Levene and now Steve Cole will confirm)
does not understand the concept of deadlines. Martin Day, on the other hand,
not only understands them, but is that rare creature who can deliver before he
has to. Lucky bastard!
JP: Is Philip Jay, who dies on page 103 of Invasion of the Cat-People,
based on NZ fan Phillip J. Gray, whom you met in New Zealand?
GR: Sadly no. Pip Jay is the younger brother of a guy I was at school
with. And I always wanted to kill him then!
JP: Was writing for the Cat-People, your own creations, easier
or harder than writing for established creations such as the Ice Warriors or
the Silurians? Your books so far have followed the pattern of old - new - old -
new monsters. Was this intentional?
GR: Legacy (old) - Cat-People (new) - Scales
(old) - Business (not new exactly!). Sorry. Little difference I suppose.
With established creations, your reader has some kind of pre-created image, but
then in Scales, I deliberately created a third breed of Silurian-Sea
Devil crossover, so that still needed some description. To be honest, it never
really crossed my mind. I do enjoy buggering around with other people's work -
I did it in the Radio Times strips - sadly in the ones that you won't
see, although I will say that the policemen from the strip Perceptions were not
originally what they turned out to be in Coda.
THE MOVIE NOVELISATION
JP: How did you get the job of novelising the TV Movie?
GR: The Beeb rang me up out of the blue. I've known various people at
BBC Enterprises / Worldwide over the years, a lot of whom were very kind and
supportive when I left Marvel. Someone there must have suggested me to BBC
Books and they just went from there. I know they had read Legacy and Cat-People
because we talked about the stories quite a lot, and they seemed to like the
way I fleshed out some previously two-dimensional characters (i.e. Polly). They
presumably thought this was important when novelising something, and I think
they're right. Whether I was really the right person, who knows? Who cares,
actually! It was an honour and a thrill to do it, I'm very proud of the
finished result (I only had three weeks to do it in - and I had a full-time day
job as well -, and just one picture of McGann to work from - oh, and a photo of
Daphne Ashbrook from Star Trek Deep Space Nine) and it sold very well
for the Beeb, probably helping their decision to take the book licence back
from Virgin. Yes, folks, it's all my fault! Bwa-ha-ha-ha.
JP: I understand that several limitations were imposed upon you and
that you had to heavily edit your own manuscript to cut out all the continuity
references. Why was this done and what was cut?
GR: The only limitations imposed were that they wanted to book to be
accessible to a younger audience than Virgin's range (a mistake I think they
quickly realised and are very keen that their New Adventures range aims
squarely at Virgin's age range), and that they wanted it accessible to someone
who was unfamiliar with the show to a great extent, so no back-references.
Observations about Ace, previous incarnations of the Master and Susan all got
the chop. It was their book, they pulled the strings, I saw no reason to argue.
I found them as easy and fun to work with as Rebecca Levene at Virgin and
everything was great from my point of view. I just wish I'd seen some pictures
before the day I handed it in! As it was, my manuscript and 500 photos arrived
at the same time and I had the weekend to rewrite the book to encompass (and
correct) many of the things, descriptions and locations I'd learned from seeing
the visuals. I even got to see about twenty minutes worth of rushes (the scene
in the hospital, leading into the Doctor and Grace in the elevator; the
ambulance interior and Chang Lee's escape from the hospital). The one thing I
didn't see was the TARDIS interior except for two Polaroids of the console.
JP: In your interview in TV Zone 80 you said Paul Cornell owed
you a fiver for sticking in the reference to Cheldon Bonniface (on page 6). Did
he ever pay up?!
GR: No! Nor the tenner for another reference in the Radio Times
comic strips! Of course, I never actually asked him in the first place!
JP: What were your impressions of the film on reading the original
script for the purpose of novelising it?
GR: I quite liked it. It was better than I expected, but I cannot
pretend I understood all of it. I hated the bringing them back to life bit and
thought it negated everything the TARDIS stood for. Of course, on seeing the
movie, I realised it wasn't quite that simple, but that's how it read in the
script. I didn't go a bundle on the story, but the dialogue was cool. Of
course, I opted out of the killing Grace and Lee bit in the novel because it
felt it was firstly a visual thing and wouldn't translate to prose easily and,
more importantly, Grace and Chang Lee were my viewpoint characters throughout
the book (bar the opening sequences) so to kill them would have denied the
reader a 'voice'. So I cheated.
JP: Did you like the movie? Was it 'true-Who'? And what were your
impressions of Paul McGann as the Doctor?
GR: Yeah, I liked it a lot. It didn't strike me until I saw it how
half-arsed the thing about the Doctor was at the end. You're trying to sell this
guy as a hero to the US public (a majority of whom don't know who the hell he
is) and you tie him up and the companion has to be the hero for the last act. I
thought that was bad plotting. There were a lot of times I sat there going 'Oh,
that's what such-and-such was meant to be', and seeing what people, costumes
and sets looked like was fascinating. I don't think I got too much actually
wrong, but I would have preferred to have seen it prior to writing the book!
McGann was fine - some people have said he's such an improvement over the
Eighties Doctors, but I think he was far more Peter Davison / Colin Baker than
anything else, which is no bad thing. I'd certainly have liked to see more of
him. Was it true Who? Yeah, of course it was. Despite claims by
unimaginative fans who can't see beyond their rose-tinted spectacles, I don't
think the kiss or the half-human thing spoiled the Doctor. Each new version has
to give it a kick in a new direction to make it fresh and interesting. Much as
I love and, importantly, respect the likes of Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks as
people and professionals, some of the comments they've made about it seem a bit
silly. They, and more importantly, a lot of older fans still seem to want to
see the show produced along the lines it was in the Seventies, but I don't
think Doctor Who can do that. It has to move, cut a few ties with the
past and forge a few new ones if it is going to survive. I don't think the kiss
or the half-human thing were detrimental to the pilot in any way. Slapping it
against John Goodman's heart attack [in Roseanne] and a major ball game
in the US, now that is detrimental. Fox's lack of faith or vision is
detrimental. But I don't think the show itself was at fault. And the US critics
loved it. But no one watched it (although those that did, at least liked it).
THE MAKING OF THE MOVIE
JP: Rumour has it that you're working with Philip Segal on a proposal
for a book about the making of the TV movie. Can you tell us more about this book?
GR: I spent some time with Phil in Chicago last November and was
astonished by how much trivia and stuff he knew about his movie (unusual, to be
honest, in media folk). He was looking at stills and going, 'see that control
panel on the TARDIS? That's actually a Ford logo, glued on upside down' - that
kind of thing. And I was thinking 'Hmmm, this is interesting'. I love 'making of'
books, Stephen Whitfield's Star Trek one from the Sixties is still the
best ever and, it turns out, Phil agrees. We wanted to do something along those
lines, reprinting memos, listing casting auditions and a very detailed day-by-day
account of the movie's creation, but large full colour format akin to The
Eighties, Ace! etc. Phil has every piece of paperwork going back to
1992 about the movie, all the drawings, designs... just everything. It was too
good an opportunity to miss. Phil and I get on and he agreed that doing the
project together, as a 100% joint effort, would be fun. So we put the proposal
into BBC Books, who turned it down flat. We then took it to Virgin, who are
very interested indeed, but the Beeb are showing interest again, which is odd
as they aren't that keen on dealing with the commercial side of the TV Movie.
So, we'll just wait and see what our next step is...
JP: Does this lack of interest in the TV Movie mean there will be no
references to the events of the movie in the Eighth Doctor novels, and indeed,
was this why Grace was removed from the BBC New Adventures?
GR: I'm not going to tread on the toes of professionals I may need to
work with here but maybe the Beeb think they got in over their heads with
Universal and, quite unnecessarily, feel that the McGann movie might return to
haunt them in terms of a lawsuit or something if they over-market it. I don't
know the ins and outs, but that is how it looks to an outsider. I am very
pleased to see that Steve Cole has not allowed anyone to get away with
pooh-poohing the TV Movie in a book, reverting the TARDIS to its BBC proportions and
rubbishing the whole event as little more than a bad event best forgotten. I
suspect Grace's disappearance is something to do with that character being a
Universal / Matthew Jacobs / whoever creation in which the Beeb have no
control, unlike the Doctor, TARDIS, et al.
DREADNOUGHT (10 parts)
(1-7 June 1996 to 3-9 August 1996)
The Eighth Doctor lands on the spaceship Dreadnought when it is boarded by
Cybermen. The Doctor defeats his old enemies by ejecting them into space. He is
joined by Stacy, the sole survivor of the Cybermen's attack.
DESCENDANCE (10 parts)
(10-16 August 1996 to 12-18 October 1996)
The Doctor and Stacy witness the Rite of Ascendance of a young Ice Warrior
noble, Izaxyrl. The Doctor finds himself in the middle of a conspiracy to usurp
the Martian throne...
ASCENDANCE (10 parts)
(19-25 October 1996 to 21 December 1996/ 3 January 1997)
The Doctor discovers that the threat to Izaxyrl is closer to home than
PERCEPTIONS (10 parts)
(4-10 January 1997 to 8-14 March 1997)
The Doctor and Stacy, and their new travelling companion Ssard the Ice Warrior
visit Victorian England. They meet a benevolent horse-like alien whose mate is
the prisoner of a group of shape-shifters.
CODA (2 parts)
(15-21 March 1997 to 22-28 March 1997)
After leaving Victorian times the Doctor discovers that Stacy has been replaced
by one of the evil shape-shifters.
JP: How did you get the Radio Times commission for their comic
strip? What was their reasoning behind doing a strip?
GR: Hmmm, I'm trying to think about this one. I think the 14-page
Radio Times pullout special on Doctor Who came first (to coincide with
the UK screening of the TV Movie in May 1996), and because of the BBC Books
connection they asked me to check it for accuracy. In meeting them, we all
seemed to get on. I don't know when they decided to do the strip but I was the
first person they asked and immediately said yes. I love the idea of doing
traditional three or six panel newspaper-style strips - they're much more
challenging than a DWM style one. We started talking about artists etc and I
suggested Lee Sullivan, with whom I'd enjoyed working with at Marvel. I also
put them in touch with Elitta Fell, the letterer, who had been my main letterer
at DWM. Lee gave them Allan Craddock, because they were currently working
together on a Judge Dredd strip. And so it all fell into place. I think they
wanted to see if they could stop DWM doing McGann strips briefly, but soon
realised that the DWM ones weren't in colour, and only read by a tiny
percentage of RT readers, it wasn't worth the storm of stopping Marvel.
For me, the most flattering thing is to see something I've written being
seen by a potential five million people each week. Five million! You know, a
DWM strip was initially exciting (20,000 readers) or a novel (maybe 25,000) but
the RT is the biggest selling magazine in the UK. The Christmas issue (and I've
waited years to find a way to have the Doctor say 'And a Merry Christmas to all
of you at home' in print) was read by between 11 and 15 million people. The
Sci-Fi page had a very good reaction from the research RT did, and of that 73%
liked the Who strip. To say I'm proud to be doing something in a
magazine I've grown up with an admired all my life is an understatement. The
strip was initially commissioned for two ten-parters. Then a third, but it was
You see they guaranteed us a further 30 weeks so I created a spanning story
which would culminate in the return of one of my favourite monsters that, up to
that point, had not featured in any Virgin/BBC Books. Ironically, I see now
that Mark Morris' book [The Bodysnatchers] is not only set in Victorian London
but features those very same old enemies. I think that's rather funny, really.
There's no way he knew that was what I was doing and there was no way I knew
what he was writing. One of those wonderful coincidences.
So in Perceptions I set up the disappearance of Stacy. In Deceptions,
the Doctor would have begun to suspect that he had a fake companion aboard and
deliberately took her somewhere very cold and very alien, somewhere she clearly
didn't want to be. Then in the final story, 'fake Stacy' would force the Doctor
and Ssard to take her 'home', while the Doctor would want to head back to
Victorian London to rescue 'real' Stacy. Then Sue Robinson, who originally
commissioned the strip and actually gave 'thirty extra installments' the green
light when she became editor changed her mind and decided to expand the film
pages of the RT. Bye bye kids pages and sci-fi pages, including the strip.
Because Perceptions ended on a cliffhanger, I got a two week repreive
(the new RT re-jig wasn't due till Easter and they originally planned to dump
the SF page early) and so wrote Coda. Well, you try condensing twenty
scripts into two!
For the record, Deceptions 1-6 were fully written and the last four
plotted. Lee had certainly pencilled and inked (and Elitta may have lettered)
Deceptions Part One. And he had done roughs of Part Two. I think. One
day I'd like to find a way to finish it properly. Maybe Titan Books...
I think someone will be issuing a collection of the strips, by the way,
maybe with a unique one included. Lee and I hope so. They're very good people
to work for as they're all Who fans as well, so ideas like taking an Ice
Warrior along as a new companion was immediately accepted and encouraged.
Developing linking threads, especially from Perceptions onwards was similarly
okayed. I hope someone will be issuing a collection of the strips, by the way,
maybe with a unique one included. Lee and I want that to happen. The Radio
Times gang are very good people to work for as they're all Who fans
as well, so ideas like taking an Ice Warrior along as a new companion was
immediately accepted and encouraged. Developing linking threads, especially
from Perceptions onwards was similarly okayed. I had hoped that BBC
Books would use Stacy in the novels but Terrance created Sam Jones and so they
went with her. Anything's better than Grace, though...
THE SCALES OF INJUSTICE
In the back of Invasion of the Cat-People Gary included a 'cast-list'
of the actors he would have liked to see bring his characters to life on
screen, had the story been a television serial. Gary kindly supplied us with
this 'cast-list' for The Scales of Injustice:
The Doctor JON PERTWEE
Liz Shaw CAROLINE JOHN
Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart NICHOLAS COURTNEY
The scarred pale man in dark glasses and a suit ALAN CUMMING
Tahni VICTORIA LAMBERT
Sergeant Yates RICHARD FRANKLIN
Marc Marshall PAUL NICHOLS
Major-General Scobie HAMILTON DYCE
Sir John Sudbury ROBERT LANG
Corporal Bell FERNANDA MARLOWE
Mr? FREDDIE JONES
Jana Kristan MARGI CLARKE
Corporal Hawke GYPSIE KEMP
Bailey FRANCIS WILLIAMS
Ciara ANNA CHANCELLOR
Cellian JAMIE GLOVER
Sir Marmaduke Harrington-Smythe CBE JOHN SAVIDENT
Doctor Peter Morley RICHARD DERRINGTON
James Griffin DOMINIC ARNOLD
Dick Atkinson PHIL WILMOTT
Fiona Lethbride-Stewart JANET McTEER
Sula PETA BRADY
Baal DANIEL NEWMAN
Auggi JUDITH PARIS
Krugga CLIVE MANTLE
Fortescue CLIVE REVILL
Sergeant Benton JOHN LEVENE
Sarah Marshall PENELOPE HORNER
Chukk PHILIP WHITCHURCH
Icthar NORMAN COMER
Scibus STUART BLAKE
Tarpok VINCENT BRIMBLE
Kate Lethbridge-Stewart BEVERLEY CRESSMAN
Corporal Osgood ALEC LINSTEAD
Corporal Tracy GEOFFREY CHESHIRE
Corporal Champion JAMES HASWELL
JP: The Scales of Injustice is cleverly linked with David
Bishop's Who Killed Kennedy. How much of this was deliberate? Did you
have discussions with David to tie the two books together or did Virgin simply
supply you with notes on what he was doing?
GR: Well, it's the chicken and the egg really. I think I'd submitted
Scales before David submitted Kennedy but he got to work that bit
faster. I wanted to use the Glasshouse concept of his, he borrowed heavily from
my version of C19 - using the two protagonists from Scales in very minor roles.
So lots of give and take. I borrowed a UNIT soldier or two of his, but Dave
works far more efficiently than I do, so he'd finished a lot earlier. I had to
add a line to Scales because his physical description of the Glasshouse
and mine were so different that I had them move location after Scales to the
old manor place he used. And put in the hint that the Master was the new owner.
It was fun to do and I think the two books gelled really well. And Dave is a
much under-rated writer who should be doing more Who stuff.
Scales not only acts as a continuity 'buffer' to explain the
continuity anomalies between Doctor Who and the Silurians and Warriors
of the Deep but it also contains links to the Audio Visual play Endurance.
[Audio Visuals were a series of fan-produced Doctor Who plays released
on audio-cassette. They were produced by Bill Baggs and later Gary Russell, and
featured Nicholas Briggs as the Doctor. Endurance was written by Nick Briggs].
The Endurance throwaway reference was there [pages 181 and 222] and a
lot of people picked up on it - including people I didn't know had ever heard
of Audio Visuals. Endurance was set at the Antarctic in the Twenties
where a British explorer uncovers a Silurian base there and wakes them up. He
and his cohorts, not understanding what they are of course, try and kill them.
It was even more influenced in its concepts by Lovecraft than Malcolm Hulke's
originals. It was a delightful play, one of my favourites of those which I was
JP: How important is continuity in the books? I mean continuity on
the basis of putting in references just for the sake of it as opposed to being
crucial to the overall story. Some New Adventures have very few past references
and yet your own books tend to have something on virtually every page.
GR: That's a gross over-exaggeration. Legacy had more than it's fair
share, but those in Cat-People and Scales are there for the
story. Scales was incredibly continuity-laden because I wanted to tie so
much up. And, let's face it, dealing with the 'Earth Reptiles' and the various
UNIT invasions / C19 automatically brings essential baggage with it. So, if
you're doing a 'sequel' or somesuch, continuity is essential. And it's fun.
These are Doctor Who books after all, not plain fantasy novels about 'the
Dentist' or 'Professor Nightshade'. If the back story is there, use it. Apart
from a few surly nitpickers on rec.arts.drwho, a vast majority of people who
mention the continuity references in my (and other people's books) enjoy them
and get a kick out of identifying them.
JP: In your introduction to Scales it is clear that the
Pertwee era was particularly slack with respect to scientific accuracy, and yet
to my mind Scales is the only Pertwee Missing Adventure (of the few I
have read) that captures the era to a 'T'. What are your thoughts on scientific
accuracy in Doctor Who?
GR: I thought that was plain in that intro. I don't think I was
saying the Pertwee era was 'particularly' bad in this respect - the Troughton
era was far worse. But ultimately, who gives a toss. Star Trek often gets
impenetrable because the scientific gobbledegook is too clever-clever. Doctor
Who is about action adventure stuff. The Doctor builds a scientific
contraption and it probably needs to be incomprehensible by us mere humans to
maintain the mystery of the character. If we can understand his or other alien
science, why not hire a real professor to save the world instead of this
wonderful Time Lord. I have little truck with real science (no doubt aided by
my complete ignorance of even the most rudimentary scientific principles) and
think Doctor Who needs to gloss over it, not examine it.
JP: The end of Scales seems to suggest a sequel in the offing,
other than Warriors of the Deep. Was this intentional? If so, are you
going to write one?
GR: Hmmmm... read Business Unusual in September and you decide
if I've succumbed to sequelitus! But no, there are no Silurians or Sea Devils
or reptiles of any sort in it.
JP: Which was hardest, writing Troughton and co, or Pertwee and co?
GR: Well, most people feel I missed Troughton by a mile, but I
preferred writing him and feel I got him right. Certainly easier than Pertwee.
Troughton is the Doctor. With Pertwee I had to separate him from the real actor
as he was in 1995, which was difficult. And I was very aware of not making him
or the Brigadier the hideous caricatures they were in Paradise of Death or
Ghosts of N-Space where they'd become the characters built over fifteen
odd years of convention reminiscences rather what we'd actually seen on TV.
JP: What can you reveal about Business Unusual, your first
novel for the BBC range of books?
GR: Business Unusual features the Sixth Doctor, companion-less
(but not negating the existence of Grant Markham [from Virgin's Time of Your
Life and Killing Ground]) and gaining Mel. It is set in South
England (Brighton area) in 1989 - I've chosen to go with Craig's dating of Mel
rather than Steve Lyons' because it suits the technology of the story. It's
about the video games industry, in which I worked for a year, and so I needed a
period where although the consoles were mostly 16bit technology, the concept of
64bit (ie what we have with the Nintendo64 today) isn't a pipe dream. Someone
is creating a CD-based 64bit games system, the Maxx, and the Doctor suspects
that the technology to do this isn't human. In which case, why? What is really
behind this apparently benevolent leisure concept? And why are the Nessie
Burgers chain of restaurants freely giving away Nessie action figures? Is it
simply because the first game launch for the Maxx features the chains' TMed
JP: The original title for this book was The Chains of Commands. Why
the change? The new title is so un-Whoish.
GR: When the cover proofs came back, people told Steve Cole that The
Chains of Commands looked like a misprint (it's a deliberate plural... read
the book to find out why) so he asked me to change it. I came up with some very
silly titles to try and dissuade him but when I realised that I was onto a
loser, I went for Jeaux Sans Frontiers, Games Without Frontiers
or Business Unusual. I preferred the former, he quite liked the second
but we both loved the latter after some discussion. I think it's actually very
latter Colin Baker - after Mindwarp, The Ultimate Foe, Time Inc,
etc. There's also a play on words there that will become apparent on reading the book.
JP: Your first book under the new Virgin Benny New Adventures series
GR: Deadfall is a New Adventure set in the Benny series but
not really featuring her at all. She kind of tops and tails it - I was
originally hoping this and Simon Bucher-Jones' subsequent novel would be like
Birthright and Iceberg - running simultaneously so, from Benny's
point of view she starts in Deadfall, has Simon's adventure and so the
epilogue for Deadfall is after Simon's book. But that was never sorted
out so it was just me pipedreaming. Had Virgin not lost the Doctor Who
licence I would have submitted it as an NA anyway, with Benny and Jason, but
now it's Chris Cwej and Jason, helped by someone else from an earlier NA who I
think was such a good character he needed to make a return. He's not
mega-important, but its an audience identification character who brings an
interesting perspective on Chris, Jason and even Benny. It's set, for the most
part, aboard a vast scavenger spaceship, brimming over with female convicts
with little to lose. A sort of B-movie version of Prisoner Cell Block H meets
Alien 3 meets 2001 with a AI computer who can't decide if it's
Marilyn Monroe or someone's maiden aunt, a couple of clapped out old pilots, a
one-eyed cat and a prison governor who loves tropical fish. For obvious reasons
it can't have any Doctor Who back references (huge sigh of relief goes
up from readers) but Audio Visuals fans may spot one or thirty. It's an amalgam
of three Audio Visuals scripts I wrote, two of which were actually made. One of
these was also titled Deadfall, the other main one is The Space Wail,
the Audio Visuals pilot from which I have reused the sadistic Marilyn Monroe
inspired AI, BABE. None of The Space Wail plot is there however, don't
panic. It ain't that bad!! The other story I borrowed from was my original
script of Justyce, which was dropped early on. From that I have reused a
race of dog-like aliens called Grutchas and two characters Ryne and Blummer, a
sort of Robert Holmes inspired (ie ripped-off) double-act who don't interact
with the story much, but act as observers (they're the co-pilot and navigator
of the Scavenger ship) and basically tell the reader what is going on away from
the main plot. I like 'em, their fascinaton with tiddly-winks, Happy Families
and yeast substitutes. I've also given them Smokey, the one-eyed cat who chases
space mice and space moths around the ship. He's on the cover along with (for
those who know the original audio play) Charlene Connor (the cropped blonde)
and Marianne Townsend (the dark-haired vixen). Oh, and that very horny man in
the James Bond pose is, of course, Chris.
JP: Are you happy to simply stick with writing Doctor Who
books or would you prefer to branch out and do something wholly original? Would
you consider trying your hand at an original Star Trek novel?
GR: Difficult question. Yes, I am happy to write Who novels for as
long as the BBC want me to. But I'm enjoying Deadfall enormously. I've
just done my first non-fiction book, Oh No It's A Completely Unofficial Simpsons
Guide for Virgin, co-authored with Gareth Roberts which has, to be frank,
been more of a nightmare than it needed to be [the book was published as I
Can't Believe It's An Unofficial Simpsons Guide, with Gary and Gareth
writing under the pseudonyms Warren Martyn & Adrian Wood]. I've had that,
Business Unusual and Deadfall all to be delivered within a six
week period while Gareth has gone to work full time on Coronation Street. But
now it's finished, I'm rather pleased with it. Being an unofficial book, it's
not as behind-the-scenes as I'd have liked, but Virgin have been great about
it. And the ever stretching deadline. I have to say one thing that will keep me
working for Virgin is Rebecca Levene, who is great to deal with. She's no
pushover but she's always fair, and I appreciate that. Having been an editor
and dealt with people to whom a deadline date is some kind of fantasy, I
appreciate more than most what a pain I am when it comes to deadlines. Bex is
great because she'll squeeze as much time as possible but you always know when
the limit has been reached. And I work better under pressure anyway, so it's a
good relationship. Steve Cole at the Beeb is lovely, we spend most of our time
sending insulting emails at each other - he shares my sense of humour - and he
likes Gary Numan, so we're off to a good start there. Then again, Business
Unusual ran late so he might have hated me. Also, I'm aware that Business Unusual
was one of a large pile of books he was given to edit rather than commission
himself and so although lumbered with me for this, he might have thought I'm a
shit writer and never used me again, in which case, I'd have to find something
else to do. As it is, he's accepted my Eighth Doctor story, Placebo Effect
(although we've not signed any bits of paper yet), so I can stop holding my
breath now. I don't consider myself the next John Buchanan or Stephen King. The
term hack writer suits me - I'd love to do more TV/ film novelisations or
teenage adventure books. But I'm never going to write the next New York Times
bestseller and so I'm content with what I do. Yes I'd love to do a Deep Space
Nine novel (or better still, a TV script), I'd love a Star Wars novel and a
Babylon 5 one. I'd like to write for The Bill (a cop show here
that is the best thing on TV) and I'd like to write a biography of someone. And
one day, when I'm rich, I'll buy the copyright to Hugh Walters' teenage science
fiction novels of the Sixties and Seventies upon which I grew up and continue
them. The New Adventures of Chris, Moray, Serge and Tony Hale Space Detective.
JP: Your previous novels were written in your spare time whilst you
were still employed full-time. Now that you're freelance, how has this had an
effect on your writing?
GR: None whatsoever, sadly, which defeats the purpose of going
freelance! Going freelance has been interesting because when I quit my job last
September, I had a great deal of work I knew I was doing on the Doctor Who
CD-ROM, at least enough to keep me occupied until the end of January and, ever
the optimist, I thought something else would come along. And three things did,
all at once! As a result after December I wrote three books simultaneously, all
with delivery dates within weeks if each other. I had to deliver The Simpsons
episode guide book at the beginning of March, Business Unusual by the end of
March and Deadfall by the end of April! Needless to say, not being the
most reliable of people where deadlines are concerned, I struggled somewhat to
meet them. But luckily my hard-drive didn't crash and so I didn't need Kate
Orman to help me write them!
BBC BOOKS VS. VIRGIN
JP: Many fans have voiced strong reservations about the future of the
Doctor Who novels. There's a general belief that the BBC Books series
will not be as good as the Virgin range. Do you feel that they might be proved
GR: No. Having talked to Steven Cole, who is as familiar with the
Virgin range as the rest of us, he knows what that market expects, what it
likes and dislikes. This gives him a good opportunity to shape the books his
way, keeping the Virgin ingredients if you like but sifting out a few oddities.
He's not so keen on the books forming a serial rather than a series. He wants
the book to be readable in any order. He has said that the Doctor and
companions will not be having sex with every Tom, Dick or Jan that comes along,
which I agree 100% with. Beyond that, the freedom appears to be the same as
Virgin's. Apart from the cover design I don't think we'll see a great deal of
difference between the ranges content wise, except that some of the excesses of
Virgin's NA range will be reined in slightly (i.e., the Doctor won't be some
manipulative, angst-ridden bastard, he'll be the Doctor...)
JP: What in your view is the reasoning behind the rather odd cover
design BBC Books have adopted? Why aren't they using the Eighth Doctor's face?
GR: Using McGann's face might cost too much (although he hasn't
billed Virgin!). I've come round to liking the Beeb design (especially for the
Missing Adventures - bar Devil Goblins From Neptune) especially as the
new video covers are in the same style. And the cover for War of the Daleks is fab.
JP: Do you think the Virgin NAs will continue for much longer without
GR: I honestly don't know. In an ideal world, yes. By effectively
severing the link in Oh No It Isn't, from then on, they are simply a new
strand of SF novels which people who liked the Who books will know the
characters and those coming fresh to it will see Benny as some kind of Indiana
Jones in space, and knowledge of the previous books is irrelevant. However, I'm
not convinced that calling them the New Adventures will attract new readers
('the new adventures of what exactly?') but from a shop point of view, it's an
obvious step, because retailers know that Virgin's New Adventures range is a
good seller and will order copies. For the books to be successful, they need
good authors. With the likes of Paul Cornell, Matthew Jones, Justin Richards
and Terrance Dicks aboard, they ought to do very well indeed.
JP: Can you give an indication of how fast you write your novels? Do
you have a set daily routine for writing?
GR: Bwahahahahahaha (wipes tears of laughter from eyes) Routine?
Discipline? Bwahahahahahaha. No seriously, if only. I like to think I start
work at 10am and finish at 6pm, with an hour for lunch and Neighbours in the
middle. But rarely does that happen. So yes, I have a set routine but no, I
rarely stick to it.
How fast? Legacy - three months. 'Please Rebecca, can I have longer
next time as I do have a day job'. Cat-People - three months (but I
screwed up and it became five months); Scales - three months plus a day
job plus the TV Movie novelisation simultaneously. TV Movie - three weeks plus
day job plus Scales (I kid you not, but at least it was only about
50,000 words and I had a script); Business Unusual - I've completed in
three and a half weeks, straight after finishing The Simpsons guide
straight after finishing a large section of the CD-ROM. Deadfall took
just on five weeks, amidst which I did a bit more CD-ROM work. Right now, I'm
taking a break for the first time since September. Am I going insane, becoming
impossible for John to live with, needing a break, and wishing I had never quit
work to be a writer? Yes to all of those. From September till now, life has not
been a pleasure, to be honest. But then again, it's my choice, I could have
said 'no' but didn't.
JP: How do you manage to juggle writing two novels at once? Do you
favour one over the other?
GR: No. Many people said I should try that, but my brain is not
sufficiently equipped to deal with complicated things, so I finished The
Simpsons episode guide, started Business Unusual, finished Business
Unusual, started Deadfall. This is why I'm cramming them into a
ridiculous space of time but it's the only way I can work successfully. I'm
sure the Cornells and Roberts of this world do it differently but they're far
more efficient and disciplined than I!
JP: Are Virgin and BBC Books aware that you're writing novels
simultaneously for each? Do they or would they mind? Is there much or any
animosity between the two publishers?
GR: Yes. No. Absolutely not, although they are aware that they are
competing for the same authors regarding Who / Benny Books and Virgin's
new range of gay erotica! Bex and Steve Cole are both sane, rational people who
know writers have to work regardless of the publishers.
JP: What is your opinion on the pulping of the Virgin novels - how do
you feel about Legacy, Cat-People and Scales no longer being available?
GR: Well, it's sad but it's also an exaggeration. Virgin aren't just
going to pulp everything willy-nilly, despite the DWM report. They are
initially going to remainder them all for a year or so. If there are any
overstocks left, I suspect they'll be pulped, but that's a long way off. This
is the time for dealers and collectors to get in touch with Virgin direct and
see if they can purchase bulk copies at the remaindered prices. It's a shame
for me because I don't get much residuals from remaindered books. Legacy has
definitely sold itself, and I wouldn't expect more money from that, or Cat-People.
But Scales still had mileage in financial terms for me. But, hey, what
the hell. I enjoyed writing 'em, and that's more important.
JP: So much information about the series on and off screen is now in
print, and fans who once wrote stories for fanzines are now writing novels. Do
you think the fanzine scene is diminishing under the weight of professional
publishing? Is there much of a place for 'serious' fanzines in the future of Doctor Who?
GR: Yes and yes. What will happen is that the quality zines will
flourish and the fly-by-night ones will probably go for a few issues and then
roll over and die. There will always be a need for zines to offer the anarchic,
the stylised and the irreverent, which pro magazines cannot do (although DWM at
the moment is having a darn good try). And I think zines like TSV will always
serve an essential purpose because a) it's good (a rarity these days), and b)
it focuses on a particular group of fandom (ie NZers) who are otherwise
unrepresented in published Doctor Who works. For that reason alone, TSV
needs to keep going for as long as there is demand. I rather predict that, as
time goes by, fandom will drop to a stable set of X number of people who will
always be fans no matter what, and the relevant fanzines will thrive or die
depending on how big that fan-base is in a given country or area.
JP: Couldn't this apply to the state of Who fanzines at any time over
say, the last five to ten years?
GR: Yes. I actually think the fanzine scene is pretty much static
now. You have TSV roaming the world, in the UK Skaro and Matrix and bugger-all
from Australia or the US. Dreamwatch, DWM, TV Zone, SFX et all pretty much
cover the other bases. So yes, I don't think fanzines have done much new since
the turn of the decade where, here at least, we had a 'new wave' such as
Perigosto Stick, Purple Haze and a handful of others, leaning
towards humour and non-Who features but even those faded by the time of
the thirtieth anniversary. Sadly, I don't think fanzines appeal any longer,
partly because the average fan no longer requires them because he can buy
similar stuff from the newsagent and secondly because what fanzines offer(ed)
that prozines don't only appeals now to a minority. Who fans have lost the
desire or need to read what zines have to offer.
JP: Other than its New Zealand focus, what is it about TSV that makes
you consider it better than many other Who fanzines?
GR: Precisely because it is focussing on NZ, and the fandom there
seems pretty much more focussed (possibly more friendly) and it just has that
je ne sais quoi that early Eighties zines had but packaged nicely. I
can't say why I like Matrix or Skaro either, but like TSV (when I see it) I
find myself reading from cover to cover. And it has a letters page which is
interesting, which no prozine has. I tried starting up a few debates in the DWM
letters page but it failed, people didn't join in. All you get is 'I like this
issue because', or 'I thought that comic strip was crap because'. No one wanted
to use it as a forum for expressing views. Zines like TSV still have that
JP: What happened to your proposed fanzine KLAAK!?
GR: Well, my previous answer kind of explains why I'd not do a zine
(bar of course time and money!) again. I think what is already out there serves
me and unless I feel I could contribute something that no one else was doing
(reasonably unlikely), I'd leave editing a new zine alone and let the experts
do it. But I still love the title, and indeed now own the original artwork,
which has pride of place in my office wall (I'm a bit of a collector of Doctor
Who book cover artwork. Sad and expensive - which is why I don't have as
much as I'd like to own, my own book covers included!).
JP: Do you believe the series needs to return to production in order
for fandom to remain active?
GR: No, but it would for it to stay at its present size. I always
maintained, way back before anyone had heard of Michael Grade and cancellation
crisis that Who fandom would one day drop to the level of shows like The
Prisoner. Hard-core, dedicated and lots of fun, where cons became excuses
for a piss-up rather than cheering every time Pertwee walked on a stage and
went 'I am the Doctor'.
JP: Gary Russell, thank you very much.