One Crowded TARDIS | Paul Cornell and the Four Doctors

The British comics/novel/TV writer on 25 years of writing for Doctor Who and uniting four incarnations of the Doctor in the pages of the new Titan Comics event miniseries Four Doctors.


Paul Cornell has had an extensive career in comics, notably writing Action Comics for DC and Wolverine for Marvel in recent years. But the character he has most often been affiliated with has been not Superman, Wolverine, or even Captain Britain, but the Doctor. Cornell got his start as a writer penning several Doctor Who novels that helped continue the Doctor’s adventures in the span of time between when the classic era of the show ended in 1989 and when the new series began in 2004. His work in those novels stood out so much that he was one of the first people invited by showrunner Russell T. Davies to pitch a story for the initial series—the acclaimed episode “Father’s Day”—and in the third series he adapted his novel Human Nature into a two-parter that served as the linchpin of that season. Now he is returning to the Doctor again, in comic form, with a five-issue weekly series entitled Four Doctors. This event brings together multiple incarnations of this regenerating Time Lord, the three featured in Titan’s line of Doctor Who comics—10, 11, and 12—as well as the enigmatic War Doctor who fought in the Time War. To find out more about what causes these versions of the Doctor to cross paths, you’ll have to read the series when it debuts August 12. But I spoke with Cornell in advance about his history with the character and his work on this upcoming comic series.
PLAYBACK:stl: 2013 was of course the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who, but this year is a more personal anniversary for you and Doctor Who, since your first Doctor Who comics saw print in Doctor Who Magazine 25 years ago. How does it feel to have been connected to such an iconic character for so many years?
Cornell: Satisfying. It’s been the thread throughout my career, and the character that let me climb the ladder from fan fiction to the show. 
You have written for the character across multimedia, including the DWM comics, the Virgin novels, Big Finish audios, and of course the television series itself. How does your approach to the Doctor change depending upon what medium you are working in?
It’s all about technical stuff concerning the different media. Comics are like frozen TV. The writer, in comics, has to bring all the tics and tropes of the character, while on TV the actor will fill in some of that, flattening some of the dialogue and playing up other bits. 
Perhaps your greatest contribution to the Doctor Who mythos is Professor Bernice Summerfield, who debuted in your novel Love and War in 1992. When you initially created the character, did you have any inclination that she would grab hold of the fans’ interest so firmly and endure for so long?
I did build her to last, but I think it’s the contributions of others that have let her grown and last this long. I’m delighted she’s still out there. 
To what degree have you been involved in the further exploration of that character beyond your initial creation of her, both in her own range of novels and in the various Big Finish audio adventures?
I’ve had a few credits at important moments, but these days I just help pick the showrunner of the range, listen to their plans, and then watch them do great things. James Goss is being awesome at that job right now.
In those 25 years, you have written for many different incarnations of the Doctor. If I’m not mistaken, it was seven different Doctors before this new miniseries brought the total up to nine. Do you have any particular version of the Doctor you have more affinity for or perhaps feel more of a connection to? If so, which version and why?
I think I have most affinity for the 7th Doctor, but I love Five and am enjoying Twelve hugely. 
In this current series (Four Doctors, coming weekly from Titan starting on August 12th), you get to write for two incarnations of the Doctor for the first time, the first of those being John Hurt’s War Doctor, who has remained a bit of a mystery due to how limited his portrayals have been in the media up to this point. How did you go about fleshing out this version of the character?
It’s about bringing John Hurt’s own tone of voice, adding to what we’ve already seen of the character. I have him say ‘lads,’ which I can’t hear many of the others saying. 
It is similarly your first time writing for Peter Capaldi’s Doctor. As a fan yourself, how have you felt about his portrayal of the character? What are you most looking forward to seeing from his character in the next television series?
I am awed by it. Last season was possibly my favourite season ever. For the production team to decide to find new depths to a character who’s fifty years old, and manage it, and with such style. Amazing. 
Also in this current miniseries, as the title obviously suggests, you have to juggle four different incarnations of the Doctor at once. What difficulties arise in writing for the myriad versions of this character whose voice is both different but also essentially still the same?
The voice isn’t still the same. This is all about Doctor-on-Doctor character interaction, about how the three central Doctors react to each other. Ten and Twelve really don’t get on, and Eleven has to make peace between them. That seemed natural to me. 
How much are you beholden to the relationships established between the three Doctors featured in “The Day of the Doctor” and how much are you able to express your own perspective on these connections between alternate incarnations of the same man?
Well, this is from before that happens, but I did keep in mind that we’ve seen how Ten and Eleven would react to each other. It’s all about an intuitive feeling for how they’d get along. 
I personally remember very fondly the verbal sparring between the second and third Doctor way back in the tenth anniversary television serial The Three Doctors. Do you think the Doctor meeting himself naturally lends itself to arguments arising?
Absolutely. Portions of the psyches of anyone meeting up somehow would lead to that. It’s a bit more than sparring with Ten and Twelve, in that Ten vastly distrusts Twelve, wants to know how he can even exist. 
Do you think you would be tetchy if you were to bump into the you from 25 years ago, just starting his career in writing Doctor Who?
Yes, I’d want to slap him, the callous, arrogant little bastard. | Steve Higgins

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