Friday, 10 February 2017

Interview - Nick Abadzis [Writer / Doctor Who: The 10th Doctor]



I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to interview Nick Abadzis, the writer of the Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor series for Titan Comics. I've really enjoyed Nick's run on the series over the past two years, and the way he introduced two brand-new companions into the mythology with Gabby and Cindy. As the series prepares to launch its third volume of adventures, I caught up with Nick to find out his experiences writing for the Tenth Doctor and creating brand-new companions for the series. 



PCB Blog: First things first, I have to ask the dreaded question – Which incarnation of the Doctor is your favourite? And, why?

Nick: I really do honestly have trouble answering that question, because “my” Doctor – the one who made a massive impression on me as a kid – is Tom Baker, although I do remember Jon Pertwee and began reading the Target novelisations when he was still the incumbent Time Lord. Obviously, I also have a great affinity for David Tennant’s tenth Doctor and am loving Capaldi as the twelfth in almost equal measure. 

Equally, I find Troughton utterly compelling. I wish more of his serials were extant in the BBC archives because I find watching him one of the most enjoyable things ever. McGann also holds a major importance for me, as he was the Doctor in my head for perhaps the longest time – off-air for about nine years during which I read of the eighth Doctor’s adventures in the BBC books and listened to all his Big Finish audios. 

I also have a bit of an aversion to making lists and rankings – I don’t like it because I feel as if it boxes my imagination in. I like to feel that my favourite Doctor is the one I happen to be watching in the current moment – sometimes I’ll feel like a bit of McCoy, a bit of Davison or even some Cushing, y’know…?


PCB Blog: Continuing with this theme of questioning – which of the Doctor Who monsters (classic or modern) do you have a fondness for? Feel free to go as obscure as you like!

Nick: I do love all the big obvious ones (points to line of red toy Daleks on bookshelf and Cybermen and Sontaran figure collection)… 

I love the Ood, although I tend to think of them as a put-upon but sympathetic alien species rather than a monster. I was very happy when Stephen Moffat brought back the Zygons… I like the weird creepy ones like Zygons, Axons, Autons and Rutans that have some kind of rapport with matter or flesh. Krynoids and Wirrn are good for that, too. I love the concept of things that can get inside your thinking, like the Weeping Angels or the Mara. 

But there is also the glory of crap or even just slightly lame monsters. I don’t think we’ve yet seen enough of the Krotons. Now, they have the potential to go really bad. Someone needs to bring the Garm back. Or those sanitation robots from "Paradise Towers". Good robots are hard to do though – you’ll always be measured against great ones like "The Robots of Death". 

Tractators – I have an idea for a solo companion story called Turlough and the Tractator Challenge in which the fifth Doctor’s loyalty-challenged former companion finds himself on a reality TV show not unlike Big Brother.  He’s trapped in a house with a whole load of crap monsters whose behaviours he has to be irritated by and complain about to Gabriel Woolf’s disembodied voice, which he can only access from the one single toiletry facility that everyone in the place uses. He must use his wits to get in there before the Tractators embark upon their improbably long bathroom ablutions every morning. 


PCB Blog: Is there a particular story, from either the classic series or the relaunch, which you really enjoy? And, why?

Nick: I think it might be fairly obvious at this point that I enjoy "Pyramids of Mars" a lot, which I think was Robert Holmes at his pressurised best. Some people think it falls apart in the fourth episode, but I don’t agree or care – it’s genius. I love that whole Hinchcliffe and Holmes-produced period of Doctor Who. But 70s and the first part of 80s Who as a whole was a huge part of my childhood.  

If I had to pick a modern Who episode, I’d probably say "Blink", which remains not just a masterpiece of Doctor Who, but of modern TV, even though the Doctor’s barely in it. I also have a soft spot for "Gridlock", which is one of the weirdest things anyone’s ever got on prime-time television. I often think it’s more telling to ask what a person’s second or third favourite story is. 


PCB Blog: What is it about Doctor Who as a series that appeals to you as a writer (and viewer)?

Nick: Everyone always goes on about the incredible flexibility of Doctor Who as a storytelling format, but it’s true. It’s all of time and space. It was always an ingenious idea as you can pretty much go anywhere and tackle almost any kind of genre ever within that remit. That’s probably why it works so well in so many different media – on TV, in comics, on audio, and certainly as long-form fiction. There have been some utterly brilliant SF novels and audio plays written which are probably not well enough known amongst a wider audience because they were written as tie-in fiction. 

Which is not to say that Doctor Who isn’t an incredibly difficult thing to write. As has also been well-documented, it just eats ideas at an incredible rate of knots. There’s no formula, not without being horribly obvious, no easy repeat moves, it just never allows you to be lazy. You have to be unfailingly original. But that’s the thing – it invites this, challenges you to always rise to that demand.  


PCB Blog: What is it about the Tenth Doctor that sets him apart from his other incarnations? As a writer, how does the character appeal to you?

Nick: First of all, David Tennant’s characterisation of the Doctor caught me the moment he first appeared – in our household, we all loved him instantly, which certainly helps if you’re writing him. At first, he seemed harder-edged, less forgiving, certainly of his enemies, and his mood could spin on a penny. But this also disguised a tendency to get more involved in the emotional lives of his companions, even when he pretended he wasn’t.

He’s often said to be one of the most “human” of all the Doctors, but I think that’s just his emotions being nearer the surface than some other incarnations, although he tried hard to disguise a deep guilt complex – after all, at this point, he still thought he’d destroyed his own home-world. He’s also often touted as the most vainglorious incarnation, which is perhaps one of the most human qualities any Doctor has ever displayed. 

But people forget that both he and the ninth before him were still traumatised after the Time War, so I tend to think it’s a manifestation of survivor’s guilt. He’s cocky rather than conceited, and it masks a deep loneliness. If he didn’t watch it and didn’t have that conscience in the shape of a companion, it could lead to a situation like "The Waters of Mars".  What was important though was that he still cared. He might’ve messed up, but he never gave up, never stopped caring about the universe, and the little guy’s lot in it. I’ve allowed him to get a little bit comfortable – you might have noticed that I’ve mellowed him very slightly – this is the influence of his current companions, to a degree.


PCB Blog: Which version of the Doctor would you say most resembles you, and why?

Nick: The tenth, without a doubt. An outer hide like a rhino that houses a heart(s) of slop and gold; a tendency to be unable to suffer fools gladly, a liking for Converse All-Stars (which I had before he did). Though my wife would say the fourth. I might lack a long scarf but she’s often telling me I’m from a completely different planet. And apparently, I’m at my most dangerous when I’m grinning. Grinning, not smiling.


PCB Blog: You’ve introduced two brand-new companions to accompany the Tenth Doctor in Gabby and Cindy. What inspired you to create these two characters and choose modern-day New York as their home?

Nick: Originally, the Titan range was aimed at the US market, and it was suggested to me that we have an American companion. Because I live and work in and around New York City, it seemed entirely natural to find a companion there. It also seemed the most obvious thing in the world that if you wanted to riff on Russell T Davies’ version of Doctor Who, then you had to at least nod at the family-at-home format he initiated  back in 2005 with "Rose". That episode was my basic template, but everything else in "Revolutions of Terror" is mine. I cycled around Brooklyn and ended up in Sunset Park, where there is a large Mexican and Chinese population. Gabby and Cindy were born there, literally and in my imagination. Elena Casagrande realised both characters visually, and did an incredible job. At that stage, no-one, least of all me, had any idea that Cindy would take on the role she since has, but she simply wouldn’t go away.  She refused to be parted from Gabby, partly because she has an enormous crush on her, partly because the character dynamic was so strong. Our editor Andrew James, in his wisdom, suggested that this was a relationship we hadn’t really seen on board the TARDIS before, that of pre-existing, very close friends who both become the Doctor’s companions, albeit at different times. So I gave in to it. (Am I talking like they’re real people? They’re all real to me.) 


PCB Blog: How would you describe Gabby and Cindy in five words each?

Nick: Well, they’re both full of contradictions, but let’s give it a go…

Gabby: imaginative, practical, warm, complex, cosmic, instinctive. (“Instinctual,” if you’re American, but I’m British.) Oh, that’s six, sorry… 

Cindy: loyal, gutsy, humorous, self-deprecating, shrewd, compassionate. 


PCB Blog: Despite being best friends, there is a bit of rivalry between the pair as they vie for the Doctor’s attentions in the TARDIS. How would you describe the relationship that each of them has with the Doctor?

Nick: Well, Gabby got there first and, in a sense, had a real need for the Doctor in her life. She also had the imagination and the courage to follow him and help him. Despite her protestations to the opposite – much of which is in support of Cindy, who can sometimes be a bit needy – she is incredibly brave, and very selfless. Yet she really did need a teacher, and she chose the Doctor, who, as Donna reminded him, needs someone fair-minded and levelheaded to help him see things from a slightly less lofty perspective than his. Despite her creativity, Gabby is quite grounded and can be a little sober, but she’s also deeply romantic and this gives her a sense of far-sightedness and emotional intelligence, a sort of artist’s self-belief and internal equilibrium. 

In a sense, she’s by far the most “adult” of this TARDIS crew, but she’s also the most empathic and sensitive. She’s able to communicate that warmth, which in turn sort of puts her in charge of what I call “TARDIS outreach” work. The Doctor knows he doesn’t have to work to charm people so much with her around. This is perhaps one of his less egalitarian traits, but it means he knows he absolutely needs her – even if he rarely shows it. He knows she’s as inquisitive as he is, but that her insight and emotional instincts will keep him on an even keel. (Like the Twelfth Doctor says about Clara – “She cares, so I don’t have to.” Even though he does, even though his interests are the bigger picture.) 

Cindy, by comparison, sort of invited herself to the party and more out of a need for acceptance than any desire to explore the universe and learn. Like the Doctor in this regeneration, she’s a little bit of a lost soul, not realising that the person she needs most is herself, the best version of her. She is super-smart but doesn’t trust herself much, which is why she feels she missed Gabby so much, as Gabby’s a very supportive sort of person. 

At first, the Doctor thought Cindy was just a pest, but he began to respect her persistence and refusal to be overcome by her own fears. In a sense, Cindy represents what we sometimes perceive as the worst of us, while Gabby is the best, but they absolutely need each other, as they do the Doctor, and they all balance each other as characters. Cindy really does love Gabby, and even though she’s slightly jealous of what she perceives as a bit of favouritism on the Doctor’s part, it’s actually just a mechanism of simple chemistry and Cindy, as usual, underestimating her own importance. She’s happy to play the fool, as it gives her a role, and she’s terrible at masking her true feelings. She also has few diplomatic skills, which to Gabby, come naturally. 

But the Doctor loves this about Cindy, he thinks she’s hilarious, and is surprised to find that she absolutely and unexpectedly is indeed companion material. She’s far braver than even she herself realised, sometimes recklessly so, which appeals to the Doctor. Her deficiency is that she simply won’t acknowledge either aspect of this courage, which is fuelled in huge part by her senses of compassion and loyalty. Either way, however she sees herself, she’s most certainly a very important part of the team. 

This balance is soon to be upset in a big way, however…!


PCB Blog: I know it’s like asking a father to pick his favourite child, but which out of the two do you prefer? I’m leaning towards Cindy Wu myself – she is more emotional and unpredictable compared to Gabby.

Nick: Nah, Gabby’s just better at controlling her emotions! Except when Cin really riles her, and she knows how to push her friend’s buttons. They have a very sisterly relationship. They play off each other and the Doctor extremely well, but I think Cindy has a more obvious advantage with readers in that she’s funnier – I admit, I tend to give her the one-liners. But if you look closely, while Gabby’s a more complex, self-sufficient character, she is very much the glue of the team. Cindy can only go it alone for a certain amount of time without her (or even Cleo), and the Doctor tends to overlook this. He’ll throw her in at the deep end – sometimes with his faith entirely justified – because he thinks of her as the balance to Gabby, which she is, sort of. 

But there are also moments where he accidentally puts Cindy in serious, life-threatening danger because he’s not always great at judging these things from a more human standpoint and fails to realise Cindy simply isn’t as accomplished and natural a cosmopolitan creature as Gabby, despite how much she’s learning. 

I think I successfully avoided answering your question because, no, I can’t pick a favourite.


PCB Blog: With plot thread set up in the finale of Year One coming to fruition in the conclusion of Year Two – how far ahead do you typically plan your stories? Do you have an idea of how Year Three will take shape? Is there much wriggle-room or do you follow a strict plan?

Nick: I write year-long plans, so I know roughly where everything is heading and how certain character arcs will play out. When I finished Year 1, I knew I’d have to revisit Anubis and Dorothy at some point.  These plans are not so much plot-driven as character driven, with a lot of visual notes and concepts for enemies and just weird SF or historical ideas that I want to explore. 

As of writing this, I’ve written (almost) the first three scripts of Year 3 and yes, I am keeping roughly to plan, but I try not to be too strict about it. Sometimes you’ll get an idea that you want to follow, and in my experience, it’s best to follow those weird, stray happy accidents and see where they take you, because it’s usually a better route to the same eventual resolution you had in mind, better than the one you’d initially envisaged. Writing is a weird process of instinct versus plot sense, of coaxing coherence from creative chaos. But if you trust yourself to go off the map, you’ll almost always get better results than if you stick to the well-worn road.


PCB Blog: You’ve dabbled with historical stories briefly with a two-part excursion to the Jazz Age, but is there another time period that would you like to explore more of in future stories?

Nick: Does a visit to Neolithic times not count as a historical (when The Doctor and Gabby meet Munmeth, the Neanderthal Shaman)? I thought it did. That was a lot of fun to research – I’m fascinated by the idea of Neanderthals, of two human species inhabiting the Earth at the same time in the deep, deep past. Probably where the idea of “them and us” comes from – one of the most bogus ideas humankind has ever propagated. 

When you write a “historical,” there’s a the sense that it always has to contain an SF element, though it’d be nice one day to do something that didn’t, although I think you need a certain page count to do that properly, plus there’s always the pressure to have a monster of some kind. 

The TARDIS crew will be visiting ancient China in Year 3, by the way. I was also  toying with the idea of a visit to mid-20th century USSR, which readers of some of my other work know is a period and location that holds a great deal of interest to me. That may yet happen.


PCB Blog: Midway through Year Two, you had Captain Jack Harkness appear in a guest appearance – do you have any more plans to include the Torchwood Leader in future stories?

Nick: I’d like to – I’m very fond of Jack and suggested at the end of his appearance in "Arena of Fear" that he might be setting up a new US arm of Torchwood, perhaps with Cleo as his right-hand woman (can you imagine the sparks if she and Gwen met?) and Erik Ulfriksson providing resources. But he has his own comic now, so I don’t know if that’ll happen. It’s still out there, if other writers want to pick up on it.


PCB Blog: Out of the stories you’ve written for the Tenth Doctor so far, which has been your favourite to work on?

Nick: It’s always the latest, but I’ll plump for the end of Year 2, which I think will be collected under the title "Sins of the Father". I had to work really, really hard to provide dialogue for a certain villain that was created by one of my writing heroes, Robert Holmes, so it was a real challenge. I suppose everyone knows by now that it’s Sutekh. I hope I rose to the occasion – I certainly gave it my very best effort.


PCB Blog: Are there any Easter Eggs or hidden references you’ve slipped into your work that most people wouldn’t notice?

Nick: Probably loads. I’m not even sure I notice them all myself, but I’m told by a stalwart friend and fan that there are a lot of little touches like that. This is what happens, if you’ve been steeped in Doctor Who lore from year zero. I dunno if anyone noticed the tip of the hat to Terrance Dicks in "The Fountains of Forever"? There’s some dialogue there that’s a direct nod to the novelisation of "Pyramids of Mars".


PCB Blog: The overarching ‘big bad’ for both “season finales” have been the Osirians, Anubis and Sutekh, who first appeared in the iconic Fourth Doctor serial, “Pyramids of Mars” - what made you choose the Osirians for this role?

Nick: At the point I chose them, no-one had ever really used them much. There’s a Virgin Adventures book by Justin Richards, "The Sands of Time", and they’d been mentioned in passing or made cameos here and there in other stories and a Big Finish audio, but unless you count some of the unofficial audios, they’d never really been deeply explored as a race and culture. So, to me it seemed to be an instance of the proverbial “low-hanging fruit.” 

When our issues began to run, I discovered Big Finish were bringing out a Bernice Summerfield box set with Sutekh as the villain, which I can only applaud. But I did think there was the potential for a lot of rich, deftly-sketched in background detail – as usual when you create characters, you have no real idea of how deeply they will take on lives of their own, and Anubis certainly did. Clearly, his dad is one of my all-time favourite Doctor Who villains, so I wrote them both with Gabriel Woolf’s voice in mind.


PCB Blog: Are there any plot threads from Year Two that will be brought over into the third year, or will you be starting from a fresh slate? What can readers expect from the next year of Tenth Doctor stories?

Nick: Well, some locations will recur, the musical theme – the song of the Doctor – will almost certainly recur, but as much as anything can ever really be wrapped up on Doctor Who, there is the sense of an ending, for the time being. 

Certain character threads will continue and there will of course be an emotional aftermath – but this is Doctor Who, so that will have to happen as a new adventure begins. I can promise that in Year 3, you will see a return of the Time Sentinels who featured as villains in #2.14. There will come a reckoning.


PCB Blog: Are there any other licensed properties you’d love to write for in the future? 

Nick: Yeah, anything that begins with the word “Star” in the title. I’m also waiting for someone to invite me to write a continuing series of the original 1970s incarnation of The Tomorrow People with John M. Burns as artist. Plus, there’s my plan to crank up a new genre of AI Romance comics using Machine Man and Jocasta, if Marvel will let me. They’re not calling me back, though. 

I can never tell if my own answers to questions like these are serious or not, but I suppose I should also mention ALIEN and The Thing. I have the greatest idea for a Continuing Adventures of The Thing comic. Also vampires and werewolves. I really have to try to get back to writing some horror at some point, as, Hugo Tate excepted, that’s pretty much where I started.


PCB Blog: Do you have any other work in the pipeline that you’d like to tease? 

Nick: Well, yes. Fortunately, I always have other irons in the fire. In July, with artist Jerel Dye, I am launching my own world in the form of a new graphic novel from First Second, who published LAIKA. It is a world that is populated, initially at least, by various forms of pig. It is a YA tale of anti-chauvinism, magic, industry, and warfare. It’s called Pigs Might Fly. It’s the first in a projected series… I’m gonna share a few pieces of advance art with you. We worked really incredibly hard on this book and are very, very happy and excited about what we achieved, and we hope you’ll want to read it. If you like my Doctor Who stuff, you’ll enjoy this. I think it’s very timely, because it’s certainly about what’s happening in the world right now.


Pigs Might Fly - Exclusive Preview Art - [Click to Enlarge]

PCB Blog: And, finally, which comics are you reading at the moment? Do you have anything you'd like to recommend?

Nick: There is a hell a of a lot I need to catch up on, including Rob Williams’ Unfollow, which is top of the pile, but recent reads include these…

Megahex by Simon Hanselmann, Exquisite Corpse by Penelope Bagieu, the all-new Love and Rockets magazine #1 by Los Bros Hernandez, Caliban and War Stories Vols 1 and 2 by Garth Ennis, nearly all the Marvel Star Wars titles, of which I’m disappointed Kieron Gillen’s Darth Vader is ending ‘cause that was the best one. I’ll read anything by Dan Slott. I was also following Bendis’ Iron Man but I’m behind on that because I just couldn’t get the whole Mary Jane Watson thing. Although, I just read Invincible Iron Man/Ironheart #1 which, frankly, pissed me off and isn’t a comic I’d give to my daughter even though it’s sort of aimed at her. She’s into Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, which is really an excuse for me buying and reading it. David Gallaher and Steve Ellis’ The Only Living Boy is another good one for readers of her age – she’s 11, nearly 12. 

Oh, and I’m waiting for someone to hurry up and translate Frederik Peeters’ RG into English, because I’m slow at reading French and my life is getting shorter by the day. If you don’t know his stuff, read AAMA, and read it now.


PCB Blog: Excellent. Thank you very much for your time, Nick, and I look forward to reading more of your work on the Tenth Doctor during Year Three.



Nick Abadzis is available on Twitter under the username @NickAbadzis. Please give him a follow and let him know if you enjoyed this interview.

Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor (Vol. 3) # 1 was released on 11th January and is available in all good comic book shops, as well as digitally via the Comixology website, where users can also subscribe and receive copies of the remaining issues each month.

Previous Tenth Doctor stories have been collected into trade paperbacks and are available in all good comic shops!

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