To celebrate a year of Abslom Daak in the Eleventh Doctor comic-books, Tony Fyler spoke to Si Spurrier and Rob Williams about the thrills – and the challenges – of bringing back a classic character.
It’s a packed storyline, The Then and the Now, with old, new and semi-new characters colliding. How much of it comes from Titan as a brief, and how much of the storyline itself do you get to write?
Rob: It’s pretty much all us. Andrew [James], our editor at Titan, is very good at offering notes and occasionally suggests we head down road A instead of road B. That’s the collaboration of comics. There’s always other voices in there aside from the writers. But Titan and the Beeb have backed us in what we wanted to do - which I think is quite ambitious in its own way. In ‘Season 1’ of the 11th Doctor, we followed the TV model inasmuch as we had a series A plot and then a bunch of two and one-part issues with their own plots within that. When Si came on for ‘Season 2,’ we wanted to do something a little other, to differentiate the seasons. Si was keen to make it all A plot this time around. More like the structure of one long novel.
Si: Yeah, as Rob says, the aim was to gently switch gears away from the modular, planet-of-the-week species of story, and towards something more relentless and interrelated. I think in the final analysis we've intuitively settled on something somewhere in between the two poles (because comics are a serial medium and storytelling does have to be modular, even if you're angling for something more longform). Hence we've hammered out the big beats of the macro arc, which sits very much at the forefront of the series, with Titan and the BBC's connivance... but then we've also given ourselves the space to develop those beats in whatever way feels best for each issue. I think of it like a fabulous 4D gumball race. ‘Be at this point at this moment, but you can get there however the hell you like.’
You’re co-credited was writers on the story. How does the collaborative process work? Do you each write individual issues and share the credit, or, if you work together on the whole story, how do you pull it together?
Rob: The major plot of the season is written by Si and I going back and forth before we start to script. Andrew offers his thoughts and we get the major ‘beats’ down and where they’re going to happen. Then it’s a case of splitting the issues in half for who scripts what. A couple of issues we’ve split in half - I write 11 pages, Si writes 11. Then the three of us offer notes on each other’s scripts. So even if an issue is credited to me, there’s probably plot beats in there from Si, and vice versa. I do think the Doctor lends himself to this kind of approach. Perhaps because he’s the smartest man in the room and the complexities of time travel. But I like to think we come out with something approaching one voice at the end of it.
Si: None of this would be possible if Rob and I weren't a) mates and b) very different writers. We tend to approach problems from quite different angles, and have very different methodologies when it comes to plotting and pace. Hence we're never treading on each other's toes and there's always a useful element of critical distance when it comes to offering notes. There's a big difference between ‘that's almost how I would've done it, but I would've done that like this’ - which is a very unhelpful sort of editing - and ‘this is a million miles from how I would've done it, but I think it'd be even better if you tried this’ - which works like a charm.
In this story, you’ve got some great gracenotes from the past to play with – The War Doctor, complete with a new companion, River Song, Sontarans, the Master, and perhaps most excitingly to comic-fans, Abslom Daak. All the others there are reasonably recent references for, but how much research into Daak’s backstory did you have to do? What’s his USP in this story – beyond the decision to have him in it? What do you think he brings to the party? What have been the particular pleasures and challenges of writing him in the 21st century, and how did you approach the dynamic of Daak and the Eleventh Doctor?
Rob: We had to dig up Daak’s early stories, as they’re not readily available. I loved them as a kid, as did Si Fraser, I know, he has them in boxes in his garage. I suggested bringing Daak back some time ago but had no idea if we’d be able to get him, copyright-wise. I do like the dynamic of having him on board the TARDIS with the Doctor. They’re so opposite in so many ways (and similar in others, surprisingly). I think Daak needs a mission. He needs a goal and to care about anything again, when we meet him. he’s stuck in a universe without Daleks. His wife’s long dead. His hatred for the Daleks gave his life structure. He’s kind of lost in the void when he jumps on board the TARDIS with us.
Si: I tend to think continuity should be an Easter egg to those who care to recognise it, not a hurdle to those who can't. So with all these lovely little nuggets of nostalgia we've deployed - in particular things like Daak, River, the War Doctor, and a very cool high-security location - the trick has been to make an appropriate fuss about how splendid these features are, and why, rather than just pointing at them and winking. As Rob says, Daak's particularly exciting because he's so thoroughly antithetical to the Doctor in so many ways - a man of violence, a man of pure Id and no superego - but so weirdly like him in others. Mostly to do with obsession.
Given Daak’s relatively runaway success with fans back in the day, is there any sense of trepidation in being responsible for bringing him back for a modern audience?
Rob: Personally, I try not to worry about such things. You’ll drive yourself to writing inertia with thoughts like that. We wanted him onboard because we thought he was a character we could have fun with and because we have fond memories of him. So we’re coming in with the intention of doing right by him. Si spoke to Alan Moore and got his blessing, as Daak was the creation of Steve Moore, Alan’s friend. I think the sentiment was ‘as long as you stay true to his core.’
Si: Yeah. Alan shed some fascinating light on Daak's creation and development, especially as it relates to the sort of guy Steve Moore was. I never met Steve, to my great regret, but he sounds like an amazing guy. Any trepidation in using Daak came from failing to do right by the character and his creator. With a little extra insight under our belts we discovered that what started out as an amusingly non-pompous, non-thoughtful, non-sensible foil to the Doctor's more machiavellian excesses was recast as a surprisingly complicated and weirdly relatable character. Sure, he's a psycho-killer with a sword, but he's also an eternal victim who's turned his loss and pain into rocket-fuel to keep him going.
Was there anything that Daak hadn’t done before that you especially wanted to add to his character this time round? What do you actually think of the character, and has that changed at all since you’ve written for him?
Rob: The challenge for us is writing a Dalek killer in a universe (ostensibly) without Daleks. Staying true to him but finding out who he’d be without that. I think, despite him being an immoral murderer, he sees something in the Doctor that wants to make him stick around for while. We all need something to chase, and the story of ‘Season 2’ gives Daak some purpose, for a while.
Si: One of the fun points has been tweaking and exploring the motivations of the various companions cluttering up the TARDIS this season. That little blue box starts to feel veeery cramped at times - what with the Doctor's ego, the Squire's mystery and Daak's, um, Daak-ness - and if we weren't seeing it all through Alice's often-bewildered eyes it'd be a lovely mess. As it is, we get to wonder what sort of tensions might exist between all these strange people, and even have a decent stab at coaxing Daak off his monomaniacal rails. What does an obsessive Dalek-killer do when there's no Daleks to go kill? At least, none he can see...
Without knowing the ending, if Daak survives this year, would you be up for writing for him again? There were attempts previously to push him into a spin-off comic of his own – would that interest you if he takes off with new fans at Titan?
Rob: I don’t want to reveal anything, but I’m not sure Daak would be interested in being a full-time ‘companion.’ And Panini may have other plans for him.
At the risk of sounding like a crawler – thanks for giving new life to an old favourite!
Rob: No problem. It’s been real fun bringing him back.
Si: Visions of a fly-by chainsawing accompanied by a dopplering growl: WHO YOU CALLIN' OLD, Y'BASTICH?
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk