Gary Russell Q&A – Doctor Who: Big Bang Generation
Today I am delighted to be able to welcome Gary Russell. Gary is a former editor of the official Doctor Who Magazine, has written several Doctor Who novels and non-fiction books, and was producer for Big Finish Productions of the monthly New Doctor Who Adventures from 1998 to 2006. Gary is now a member of the script-editing team on Doctor Who and Torchwood.
My our chat took place before today’s official confirmation that Jenna Coleman (Clara Oswald) was leaving Doctor Who sometime during Season 9…this makes the first question seem oddly phrased!
First (and I am not sure if I can ask this without some spoilers): no Clara but a return of an old friend?
The joy of the current TV show is that Clara comes and goes – some of her TV stories meld into the next, others have gaps you could drive a fleet of double decker buses through. So I reasoned it was perfectly feasible that while Clara is off having school trips to Stonehenge or Austria or seeing her Gran or whatever, the Doctor would be off having adventures by himself. But always the Doctor tends to find himself chums as he goes from place to place. So I thought a River Song story would be nice but when Steven Moffatt suggested Bernice, a whole different story popped up – a much more fun romp. I was delighted at the suggestion, truly over the moon. She’s one of my favourite characters in any fictional universe and I miss playing in her sandbox enormously, so I was so happy to write for her, Ruth, Jack and lovely Peter again.
The Glamour Chronicles spans all three books in this release window. Where does Big Bang Generation fit in the arc continuity?
I know Una’s book comes before Trevor’s. But mine goes wherever you choose.
I always imagine writing to be a very individual process, does writing a book which has overlap with other author’s work (in this case the story of The Glamour) create unique challenges?
Not for me – I’m a very selfish writer, The only person who has any input into my books is Justin as range editor. I don’t let people read work-in-progress. I don’t ask advice or story suggestions from anyone. Writing prose is vastly different from writing, say a TV script, which is all about collaboration to ensure that everyone else in a production can do their job reasonably, practically and make them shine. A novel, to me at least, is an incredibly more personal labour. As a result, I established with Justin early on that other than seeding the Glamour into the story, it wouldn’t need to impact upon, or have impact from, either Una or Trevor’s stories.
Your author notes indicated that Steven Moffat asked you not to use a character you had wanted to include. Is it more tricky to have story ideas approved now than it was when you were writing New Adventure novels for the 7th Doctor back in the 1990’s?
In the handful of post 2005 stuff I’ve done, I’ve not encountered any huge problems. This is probably because I spent much of 2006-2011 being the git that said “no” to people on behalf of either Russell or Steven whilst working at BBC Wales, as I know what can and can’t be done. Indeed, i suspect the powers that be in Cardiff now are probably slightly more relaxed about things than I ever was – we were still finding our feet, “additional-fiction” speaking back then. Now there are lots of templates to work from, so it’s chilled out more. But I tended to adhere to my own guidelines from Russell’s days when doing BBG.
You have worked with Big Finish on a lot of projects and I loved that many Big Finish characters are named in Big Bang Generation. Are you seeing an increase in the number of fans of the tv show discovering the audio plays and finding their way to the back catalogue of New Adventures and 8th Doctor books?
Well I pretty much created Big Finish with Jason back in the day so I’m always happy to see BF ideas transferred to other mediums – god, I was so proud at the Eighth Doctor’s “Charley, C’rizz” etc speak in Night of the Doctor. So honoured too! If that one speech made just one person go and look at BF, look at the great stuff Nick Briggs is creating there these days, then the blood, sweat and tears that I put into BF’s first eight years is worth it.
You were Editor of Doctor Who Magazine in the early 1990’s – a time where the show was off the air. Do you think the current team have it easy now that there is so much new content to cover each month?
I always said when I was at DWM that I wouldn’t want to do that magazine if the show was on air. I had it lucky – it was an era when the “death” of the TV show was still recent enough that we weren’t dying or drying up regarding content, we could still be positive but weren’t beholden to a production team looking over our shoulders. I would hate that, I would also hate that scrabble to be the first with news, photos etc. I left DWM about a year before the McGann TV Movie burst into life – and I was so glad I wasn’t there. Today, poor Tom has it a billion times worse (although my predictions about interfering production teams never came into existence) but that mad effort to be, as the official magazine, the first, the biggest, the most prominent…nah, that’s not for me. I couldn’t hack that pressure. Tom Spilsbury and his team need sainthoods for what they have to go through. So do I think they have it easy? No, I think they have it a hundred times harder than I ever did.
During your time at DWM (and I read every issue through your run) were there any standout memories, interviews or even episode discoveries that you can share?
The day Marcus Hearn rang me up to say he’d discovered the telesnaps to all those missing Hartnell adventures was amazing. Tomb of the Cybermen turning up was fun. We did a nice run of female journalists interviewing female companions which I was rather proud of. We changed the comic strips to feature past Doctors, again I liked that. Adrian Salmon’s Cybermen strip was a highlight. Very proud to have done Colin Baker’s Age of Chaos comic, and putting all the Dalek Chronicles strips together in one place for the first time (hands up who spotted we got two pages the wrong way round? Luckily very few because most previous reprints of that particular story arc *also* made that mistake so fans were used to seeing it wrong! Phew!) I was lucky not just to have Marcus as my number two, but also designers like Peri Godbold and Paul Vyse doing amazing work on a four-week turnaround in an era before computers and DTP. I also had the 30th anniversary *and* DWM’s 200th issue in the same year. My brief time at DWM is one of the happiest I’ve ever been. Loved it all.
Loved the Tenth Doctor and Donna. *Always* love writing for the Sixth and Mel. Would love to do the Third and Jo one day. Have yet to do the Ninth, War or the First in a novel – and want to. Curiously I’ve never done a Fourth Doctor novel and more curiously have no desire to, but if I did I think it would need to be a Leela story because I love the character so much. A Leela solo book – now that appeals! Years ago I did for BBCi a web series called Real Time that deliberately set up a sequel that never happened. I’d love to expand and finish that as a novel.
Are there any classic monsters that you would like to write into a future story?
I’ve done my personal biggies – Ice Warriors, Autons, Silurians and Sea Devils. Never done Davros or Daleks, that would be nice. But deep, deep down I have a passion for doing the Bandrils at war with the Taran Wood Beasts – surely that’s a winner? No? Oh okay then…
Finally, are you a collector? You have been such an active part within the world of Doctor Who for a good number of years – have you any souvenirs or memento’s which you cherish?
I collect action figures, comics, music and books. I have (I believe) every edition of every foreign translation f the Target Books and the post 2005 books (I may have missed a couple of French or Hungarian editions since I’ve been here in Australia) – that’s always been my passion. Heaven knows why, I can’t read the blasted things. But they look pretty. I’m a pretty obsessive collector, I can’t have one in a series, it’s all or nothing! But I don’t collect autographs, I don’t collect props or things that have been in the show. I’m just a sucker for certain parts of mainstream merchandise. But I collect the same sorts of things outside Doctor Who too. I’m a massive lifelong Marvel Comics fan (one day I will write the Fantastic Four or die trying) and have more Marvel Legends action figures than my house can cope with!
My deepest thanks to Gary for taking time to answer my questions.