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Wednesday, 26 September 2012

10 Questions: Author Paul Scoones


On sale now from publishers Telos Publishing is The Comic Strip Companion: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who in Comics: 1964 — 1979. Written by New Zealand author Paul Scoones, the book documents the early history of one of the world's longest-running comic strips – and certainly, perhaps, the longest-running licensed science fiction TV-inspired comics.

First launched in the pages of Britain's TV Comic in November 1964, the comic strip version of Doctor Who is just one year younger than the television series on which it is based. This is its story.

Paul's book chronicles the first 15 years of the Doctor Who comic strip from its origin in TV Comic to just before the ongoing strip was launched as a regular feature in Doctor Who Weekly in 1979. During this time more than 200 comic strip stories were published in the pages of TV Comic, Countdown, TV Action, TV Century 21, The Dr Who Annual and the Dalek books.

Every strip is covered in depth, including plot details, continuity, points of interest and analysis. Plus, for the first time, details about the creation and development of the adventures are documented, alongside comments from some of the original writers and artists.

Paul Scoones (www.paulscoones.com) was born in London, England in 1968 and moved to Auckland, New Zealand in 1973. His earliest memory of Doctor Who is from March 1975 when Jon Pertwee’s Doctor made his New Zealand television debut in the first episode of Spearhead from Space. He became completely hooked on the series five years later when he started collecting Target novelisations.

Paul, who lives in Auckland, New Zealand, created and edited the internationally acclaimed fanzine TSV (Time Space Visualiser – whose contributors include former 2000AD editor David Bishop and current Doctor Who comic strip writer Scott Gray) and runs the New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club (www.doctorwho.org.nz). Paul also helped discover a film of the previously-lost Doctor Who episode ‘The Lion’ (episode 1 of The Crusade) and arranged its return to the BBC in 1999.

His credits are numerous - he has worked in a bookshop, managed online retail stores such as Retrospace (www.retrospace.co.nz) with his wife Rochelle, and edited websites for an electronic appliances retail chain. and include production information subtitles for Doctor Who DVDs. He can be seen on several Doctor Who DVDs, discussing finding a lost episode and commenting on the comic strips.

While he has had articles published in Doctor Who Magazine, In-Vision, The Handbook and Talkback, The Comic Strip Companion is his first professionally published book.

downthetubes: What is the appeal of the Doctor Who comic strip to you?

Paul Scoones: I’ve been a Doctor Who fan most of my life, and I’m fascinated by comics, so the combination of the two is naturally hugely appealing to me. The comic strip is a superb medium for Doctor Who. Unhindered by the limitations of television production budgets, the strip has the capacity to convey the broad potential of the series format. During the mid-1980s in particular I consider that the strip often surpassed the television series in quality of its story-telling and visuals.

downthetubes: How did the 'Comic Companion' come about?

An early Doctor Who comic spread from TV Comic
Paul: I’d had the idea for a book about the comics in mind for quite a while. It was originally going to be a series of fanzine articles. As a collector of Doctor Who books, I could see that there was a gap in the reference collection. There are plentiful guides to the series on television, as well as the spin-off audios and novels, but nothing specifically about the comics, which stuck me as an odd omission considering that the Doctor Who comics have a history that is almost as long as the television series itself.

What held me back from writing the book was that I felt the story needed to be told from the strip’s beginnings in 1964. Although I had a complete run from the first issue of Doctor Who Weekly in 1979, there were sizeable gaps in my collection for the first 15 years of the strip. That changed when I befriended a number of Doctor Who comic collectors and through them was able to complete the set of 1960s and 70s strips.

I wrote up a sample section for the book (covering the TV Comic strips from the first half of 1975), and submitted it to David J Howe and Stephen James Walker at Telos Publishing, who have a reputation for high quality, exceptionally well-researched books. They felt it was a good fit for their range and commissioned me. 

downthetubes: How long did it take to research - and what were the most difficult aspects of the research?

Paul: The book took five years to research and write. That’s much longer than I intended, but soon after I started work I was offered work writing production information subtitles for the Doctor Who DVDs, so I ended up writing the book in between subtitle scripts.

A great deal of information came to light over those five years that I might have missed out on had I finished it sooner. The book started out as a fairly straightforward story guide, but it has finished up as something far more detailed. I have gleaned a lot of hitherto unknown information from BBC Written Archives paperwork files, and from interviewing a number of people who worked on the strip.

The most difficult aspect was trying to fill the gaps in the writer and artist credits. The strips very rarely carried credits, so that information had to be pieced together from various sources. The book identifies most of the creators, but there will probably always be gaps in our knowledge concerning who was responsible for certain stories.

The Daleks did not feature in the
TV Comic version of Doctor Who
when it began
downthetubes: What was the strangest thing for you about the genesis of the Doctor Who strip that you discover writing this book?

Paul: The first comic strip story proposal was rejected by the BBC for including the Daleks. TV Comic went into the deal with the BBC thinking that they had the rights to use the Daleks and prepared a storyline in which the Doctor has a return encounter with the monsters. The BBC had to point out to them that the comic strip licence didn’t extend beyond using the Doctor and his TARDIS - the Daleks were off limits. The story that ended up appearing in print was a thinly veiled rewrite of the original proposal, with the Kleptons and the Thains taking the place of the Daleks and Thals.

downthetubes: Were you surprised by the amount of involvement the original Doctor Who production team had in the creation of the strip back in 1964?

Paul: Yes! Before getting to see the paperwork I expected that the people making the television series would have remained hands-off when it came to the comic. That’s the impression gained from reading the strip; a number of the early stories feature magic and mythical characters that would never have been acceptable in the television series. As it turns out, both Verity Lambert (Doctor Who’s first producer) and Donald Wilson (BBC Head of Serials) were both consulted and offered their feedback.

The paperwork reveals that later producers and script editors also kept an eye on the comic strip and sometimes vetoed certain aspects. One particular story, detailed in the book, was rejected outright by the production team.

downthetubes: Are you disappointed that for a title with a very visual subject matter, you were not able to feature very much source material?

Paul: Not at all. That might seem odd given that I’m writing about the visual medium of comics, but I’ve read plenty of books about television series that don’t have any photos, and I don’t regard this as any different. From the outset I knew that the book would necessarily have to be all text. I set out to write a book that would appeal both to readers who have not seen the comics - many of which have not been in print for decades - and also those who have the strips to hand.

The book is not entirely devoid of illustrations. There is an eight-page colour section in the middle of the book featuring cover images from many weekly issues and annuals. When this feature was proposed, I immediately put together a mock-up of how I thought it should look. The publishers were impressed with what I came up with and let me take responsibility for creating the gallery’s finished pages. Fortunately, I already had scans of most of the covers and was able to source the ones I was missing. I spent a great deal of lot of time painting out creases and scuff-marks in Photoshop.

downthetubes: You've been involved in Doctor Who fandom in New Zealand for some time. Is it different to fandom elsewhere and if so, how?

Paul: New Zealand Doctor Who fandom is a relatively small community, with one central club acting as a hub for smaller regional social groups and individual fans. We’re country of just over four million people, and that’s reflected in the small size of the club. When I helped establish organised Doctor Who fandom in New Zealand 25 years ago, we were somewhat isolated from what fans were doing overseas, but these days many of us are involved in the wider international fan community though online forums and other social media.

downthetubes: Do you have a large Doctor Who comic collection yourself and if so, what is your favourite era of the strip so far?

Paul: I had a fairly large collection before I started work on the book, and have acquired a lot more since. I also collect the reprinted strips, including the excellent Panini 'graphic novel' books and the IDW colourised versions.

If I can cheat and go for two favourite eras - one is the sixth Doctor stories with John Ridgway as the regular artist. In New Zealand we didn’t get to see Colin Baker’s stories until a few years later, so my impressions of his Doctor were largely formed from reading that era of the comic strip I think that stories such as Voyager surpassed what we got on television. The other is the run of Eighth Doctor strips written by Scott Gray. The scope and scale of these stories is breathtaking. I adore these - they're simply superb!

A quieter scene from the spectacular Sixth Doctor story Voyager
by Steve Parkhouse and John Ridgway
downthetubes: If you had the opportunity to write a Doctor Who comic strip yourself, which Doctor would you choose and which monster would you pit him against?

Paul: Hmm, I think I’d go for Peter Davison’s Doctor as he’s my favourite, but also because I don’t think he was particularly well served in the strip. As the for monster, I’d be inclined to come up with some menace of my own devising, but if it had to be one from the television series, I’d go for the Cybermen.

downthetubes: Finally - do you think there's any chance New Zealand-based Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit director Peter Jackson will make an episode of Doctor Who as recently reported?

Paul: Having chatted to the reporter who’s researching this story it appears that there may actually be talks going on about the possibility of using New Zealand as a location for an episode or two, which if it’s true is very exciting! Peter Jackson, who’s a Doctor Who fan, has responded very positively to the idea - but would he be available to direct or could the BBC even afford him…? Time will tell!

• Find out more about Paul's work at www.paulscoones.com

• Telos Publishing is at http://telos.co.uk

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