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‘Doctor Who’ thing of the day: Neil Gaiman talks about writing for ‘Doctor Who’

Neil Gaiman talked to Den of Geek about writing this week’s episode, “The Doctor’s Wife.” No spoilers in my excerpts here, but there are some minor spoilers (about the setting of the episode) at Den of Geek:

[I]t’s that mad thing where you get somebody who’s a fan. And you want to do everything you’ve ever loved about the show, and you want to do that weird thing where you kind of… There’s an analogy that I used a while ago, and I don’t remember if it was originally mine, or originally Terry Pratchett’s. But we’ve both used it in conversation with each other, and are now both using it in interviews, so it’s ours!

When you’re starting off as a young writer, you look at all the stuff that’s gone before and the stuff that’s influenced you, and you reach the ladle of your imagination into this bubbling stew pot of all of this stuff, and you pour it out. And that’s where you start from.

As time goes on, you realise that it’s actually kind of fun to put stuff back in the stew pot. You can throw in a turnip that nobody’s ever seen before. So I loved doing that when I was writing comics a lot, and I loved doing that even with things like 1602. I’m throwing in carrots and things that other people can use if they want to. But I’m not just taking from this thing, I’m going to leave more behind.

And when I was writing my episode of Who, that was one of the things I wanted to do. I wanted to leave a little bit more of the mythos. I wanted to leave a little bit more of the story than I had when I got it. Because that’s fun for other writers, and fun for other places.

I like this bit, too:

[W]hat’s interesting is, having done this episode, I can now look at some of the ideas I’ve had throughout the course of my life since the age of, ooh, four, for Doctor Who episodes.

This one fed off stuff I’ve been thinking about since I was kid. And doing [some of] that wouldn’t make a good episode, or it would make a good episode, but it wouldn’t throw enough of a weird spanner into things.

There’s stuff where the mystery drives the engine. And the problem with the stuff where the mystery drives the engine sometimes is that every fannish impulse is immediately to go woah, what we want to know is X, Y and Z. So why not do a story with X, Y and Z in? And for me I actually got to do one of those. My episode really is one of those ones where it actually does give you more of stuff than you’ve ever asked, or sometimes wondered.

But in doing that I realised what an incredibly fragile thing that is. Because if you actually answered all the questions… well, think of one. Was William Hartnell’s Doctor actually Susan’s grandfather? So what happened to their family, and what was going on back there on Gallifrey that they would have fled, and that you would have had a grandfather and a granddaughter? Which is an absolutely fascinating question, which I can guarantee is not answered in my episode. But it’s also one of those weird little engines that possibly if it were answered, things would be less interesting, rather than more.

One last one:

I was writing the first draft before even Matt had auditioned. So I was doing what Moffat did in his first draft of The Eleventh Hour, which a lot of people did during season five, which is that you’re really writing for a hypothetical Doctor. And you kind of had David Tennant’s voice in your head, but you know it’s not going to be that, so it’s getting a bit bland.

What was great for me was, having already written my version, the first draft, the point where my episode got bounced from episode 11 of last season to episode four of this season, I had the luxury that nobody else had of, at that point, I got to watch Matt. I got to rewrite all of Matt’s dialogue, going, I know what he sounds like now. I got to go in and un-Tennant any lines of dialogue that were Tennant-y. Even though they were good Tennant-y things.

And oddly enough, the couple of lines that remained weren’t the best. I thought I should have lost them too. Yes, it was a great line, but it’s not quite Matt. And that for me was the fun of getting to do my draft. It really was for Matt.

Lots more at Den of Geek, but if you’re very averse to even minor spoilers, don’t read it till after Saturday.

(If you stumble across a cool Doctor Who thing, feel free to email me with a link.)


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