Justin Richards chats exclusively to Tardis Base Magazine about his work as one of Doctor Who’s best loved authors.
When did you first want to become an author?
I’ve always been a writer – scribbling stories and telling jokes. Because jokes are a sort of short story really – they need a structure, a beginning, a middle and an end. But I don’t think I really believed that it was possible to be a writer as a job and career until I was quite old. But it’s something I’ve always done.
How did you get into writing for Doctor Who?
Many years ago, when even Rassilon was young, I sent a proposal for a Doctor Who book to Virgin Publishing, who published the Doctor Who New Adventures series. I’d done quite a bit of writing already – articles for Doctor Who Monthly, as it was then, as well as lots of fanzine stuff – and I was working as a technical writer for IBM. So I guess I knew how to write. Peter Darvill-Evans at Virgin, who gave so many writers their first break into fiction and novels, liked the proposal and my sample chapters and commissioned me to write the book. That was my first Who novel, called Theatre of War and it was published in 1994.
Over the years you have written for many of the Doctors. Is there a Doctor that you favour when writing?
I always enjoy writing for the current Doctor, as I suppose I feel more connected to the ongoing series then. But I enjoy writing for them all. I’ve not yet written a full novel for either the First or Third Doctors, though I’ve ‘done’ them in short stories. So I shall enjoy reciting that at some point!
You’ve written a lot for the classic series, as well as the new series. How does writing for the new series differ to the classic? Does it differ at all?
Yes and no! The main differences are to do with the profile of the series these days, and adherence to the various BBC rules and guidelines for content, branding, editorial policy... And those now apply to the classic series fiction across all media to an degree that they didn’t before 2005.
I have to say I’ve not had a problem with ‘toning down’ my writing to fit with the more stringent rule generally - I never wrote the more ‘extreme’ (and I don’t mean that in a demeaning way) novels. My Doctor Who is action-adventure first, and horror-violence second (or maybe third or fourth!).
Do you have a preference? Writing for the classic, or writing for the new series?
Oh I just like writing for Doctor Who. And in writing for audio or prose, the distinction is far less than it is perceived to be on television. The production values and technology for prose fiction - and generally for audio too - haven’t changed in the way that TV production has. The special effects in my novels were just as good back in 1994 as they are now!
You’ve also written the highly popular Doctor Who Monsters Books as well as other Doctor Who reference books. How do you go about compiling all the information for a reference book?
I don’t keep a database, if that’s what you mean. Well, not apart from the inside of my head. I have loads of books, scripts, etc which I refer to - as well as the DVDs, videos, novelisations... But each reference book is different. The tricky bit is getting a structure for it. The you slot in the content - which I generate from my own knowledge and memory, or the reference materials I just mentioned. Then there’s new material, which usually comes from people more directly involved in the making of the series - so emails back and forth with RTD about the evolution of the Macra, or a day at Millennium FX discussing how to build a clockwork robot, or calls to The Mill about initial Werewolf designs...
You wrote the first novel to feature the ninth Doctor, tenth Doctor and the first novel to feature the eleventh Doctor. How does that feel?
It’s exciting, and it’s a challenge. In all three cases we were writing those first three novels without really knowing the Doctor we were writing for. We got scripts - but they only tell us so much. There’s no sense of the actor’s performance in there, and that can be key.
I remember sending Russell an email with some sample text for a sequence in the TARDIS from The Clockwise Man and saying: ‘Look, if I’ve got the Doctor and Rose absolutely right, then there’s no problem. But I think probably you’ll read this and you won’t recognise them. In which case we need to see more than scripts!’ A few weeks later, the three of us - myself, Steve Cole and Jac Rayner - sat in Russell’s office and watched the first rushes from the first day’s shooting with him. Then later - much later! - We saw rough edits of several of the episodes. Invaluable.
For the 10th Doctor, we did the same. But by then the schedules - TV and publishing - were such that we didn’t see The Christmas Invasion and New Earth until a week before we had to have finished novels ready to go to print! So that was a fairly brisk rewrite to make sure the Doctor really was the Doctor. I think we did very well - and those three 10th Doctor novels are among my favourites.
It was a similar process for the 11th Doctor, though the timing wasn’t quite so hectic!
What would be your dream Doctor Who story to write? Dream Doctor/companion/monster?
I love writing for the Daleks - and I’ve not yet managed to write a Dalek novel. Graphic novel, short story, audio... But not a full novel. I keep getting close and then it doesn’t happen! My favourite Doctor Who story is probably The Evil of the Daleks, so I guess my dream combination - if there is one - would be a Second Doctor Dalek story. With Jamie, obviously, but also Victoria I think - rather than Zoe, because Victoria would have so much emotional involvement with meeting the Daleks again. These creatures held her prisoner, killed her friends and her father, destroyed her life. Without ever meeting the Daleks, Victoria would be such a different person. And while it’s not really been explored, I don’t think Victoria was ever really happy travelling in the TARDIS. There have been other unwilling adventurers, of course. But Ian, Barbara, Dodo, whoever always had something to go back to. Maybe Vicki is similar, but her life was in upheaval before the Doctor found - and rescued - her. The whole point of the daleks’ plan is to get to the Doctor - he is the reason why they’ve invaded Victoria’s life, so there has to be some resentment there, deep down. He’s not only taken her away but he’s the reason why she has to go away at all. And meeting the Daleks again would surely bring that to the fore...
Are there any Doctor Who related projects coming up that you can tease us on?
Not if I want to keep all my limbs attached and all my organs functioning properly! Needless to say, we’ve got loads of exciting projects on the go - and such an amazing publishing schedule for next year and 2013. As you know, there’s a lot going on - Target reprints (how amazing are they?!), Shada as a novel, Stephen Baxter and Alastair Reynolds, and even - (Oops - nearly said something I shouldn’t there). And then there’s more tie-in novels, reference books, another exciting - (Opps, nearly did it again).
This is only a snippet of the interview, to read the full thing featuring twice as many questions, check out pages 10-11 in Issue 2 of Tardis Base Magazine, out now to read and download for free, only on Tardis Base.