Interview with Jonathan Blum

This interview was conducted on the 4 November 1996.
As it appeared in Broadsword issue eleven

You wrote the script and developed the story of Time Rift. How much more difficult, or equally difficult, or less difficult are you finding writing Vampire Science? What differences have you found, in particularly is writing a novel an entirely different process than writing a script?

It's completely different -- though I'm sure part of the difference is that with Time Rift I didn't have a deadline screaming down upon me! Aside from when I was writing scenes that needed to be shot the next day, that is...

I've always found writing prose, or rather good prose, more difficult than scriptwriting. The sentences just don't flow the same way for me. Also, I'm still trying to figure out how to structure a novel, as opposed to a script -- like Sam Raimi said in an interview, I'm constantly terrified of boring my audience, that I'm not doing enough to make it interesting.

Also, just as we were really getting a handle on the heart of the book, the BBC told us we couldn't use Grace, who was central to our story. We still don't know why -- apparently the order was handed down to Nuala from high up! So we had to replace her with a new character, and that completely shifted the balance of the book -- there were long stretches of the book which centered on her, and if the character in those scenes isn't a regular, then it's just not as interesting to spend so much time without a regular character in sight. So we had to restructure the book to have the Doctor and the companion take up more of the slack. It still doesn't feel like I've gotten the balance quite right yet, but we're getting there...

Oh, and I think the book is definitely called Vampire Science now -- we were hoping for something more evocative, but nothing else seems to fit the book as well. We did get some great suggestions from the net for a title, though -- Kate's favorite was IV4, while mine was Stakedown...

You're writing one of the first eighth Doctor stories (after Lance and Terry, and those that have appeared in fandom), and unlike other MAs and NAs the character of the eighth Doctor is a largely unwritten character. How do you see the character of the eighth Doctor? How are you intending to write and expand the character of the eighth Doctor? Do you see that what you, Lance, Terry, Kate will be shaping the direction this Doctor will take? Do you see that as a daunting task?

More of a thrilling task. In a way it's what every fan dreams of -- getting to define their Doctor. We've just recently set up an e-mail list, on which Kate, John, Paul Leonard, Mark Morris, a few others, and I are discussing the characterization of the eighth Doctor and the new companion, and I think we're really beginning to get a clear vision of where we're headed.

We're really lucky in that the film gives us such clear broad strokes of the Doctor's personality -- there's a great sense of youthful energy and aliveness about the McGann Doctor, and it all seems to flow from there.

One of the aspects I'm most fond of with the eighth Doctor is his magician-like nature... throughout the film he does a number of little things, like disappearing into Grace's car or palming the clock chip, which are wonderful how-did-he-do-THAT? moments. I like a Doctor who can really startle and amaze you. We want to play with the ambiguity of whether the Doctor is really all sleight-of-hand and misdirection, or whether he really can do actual real live magic. The Doctor is certainly a magical character at heart, and we want to keep that sense of wonder about him.

It's also great that this Doctor is much more comfortable with human emotions than the previous ones -- it gives us a whole new range of colors to paint with, as it were. When you think about it, we've never really heard the Doctor just laugh for joy before... a full-blown rolling-on-the-floor God-it's-great-to-be-alive laugh. I can really see this Doctor doing that.

To see what other authors had to say to this questions click one of the following links: Paul Hinder, Kate Orman, Lance Parkin, John Peel.

In many of the New Adventures we have seen various aspects of the seventh Doctor, that particularly coming from the perspectives of the author. Do you and Kate share similar views to the eighth Doctor's character?

Incredibly so -- that's what astonishes me so much! The main difference is that I don't drool over Paul McGann the way she does... We've basically gotten to form our perceptions of the eighth Doctor together, since we were talking about him pretty much from the moment the film aired, and we both loved it. It's a totally new feeling for me to be collaborating with a writer who I fundmentally agree with.

You have said once (at one of Neil Hogan's meetings) that you enjoyed the TVM because of the way it was filmed. You admired Geoffrey Sax's direction and photography. To me that suggests that you are a more visually orientated person. If that being the case, is your perspective to Doctor Who grounded primarily in the visual form? How are you translating that into a novel form? Will we read something in Vampire Science that is more of a visually rich narrative?

Actually, I think Doctor Who can work just as well in either format -- but you need a completely different approach for making a TV episode that you would for writing a good book. I think Vampire Science is probably going to be the most dialogue- or prose-based thing I've written in a while.

I think I've become increasingly visually oriented over the past few years, mainly because I've been working as a director and editor. I used to be very much in love with dialogue -- writing pages and pages of clever lines -- but then when it came to shoot them in Time Rift I realized how hard it was to make that interesting to watch. On the rough-cut, I had these five-page-long dialogue scenes pretty much intact, and by the end the audience was squirming in their seats. But a scene like that you could get away with much more easily in a book.

At Whovention3 you said that Remembrance of the Daleks had the element of mystifying the seventh Doctor. Now if you excuse my liberal assumption that you are particularly fond of the seventh Doctor; do you think that you may befall the error of many New Adventure writers and perhaps be writing a seventh Doctor in an eighth Doctor novel?

We were very worried about doing this, and so we keep making a point of looking back over what we've written and clearly "McGannifying" it. Kate's made an intense study of McGann's mannerisms -- not just in the Who movie, but a number of things she sees McGann doing in all his different roles -- and we're trying to work them in wherever they fit. Some of the eighth-Doctor-isms we've been talking about on the mailing list also clearly differentiate his approach to situations from the seventh Doctor. Lance Parkin made it clear that this Doctor doesn't really plan -- he may be one step ahead of his enemies, or be deliberately trying to confuse them, but that's the extent of his manipulativeness. Quite a contrast with the seventh Doctor. Similarly, where McCoy kept everything to himself, we're having the eighth Doctor tend to think out loud, bouncing ideas and fragments of ideas off of people at high speed.

There's a clear difference in approach between the two Doctors -- the seventh was often very quietly weird, while the eighth Doctor confuses you just as effectively by being dazzling and attention-getting. Two different ways of bewildering people.

Plus, one of the subplots in this book is designed to really point out the differences between the seventh and eighth Doctors -- one character knows of the seventh Doctor, and expects the eighth to react the same way, and ends up having their assumptions blown out of the water.

Finally could we have a few words on the following authors and their work...

Oh dear... Is this a standard entrance exam?

Kate Orman, Paul Cornell
For me, Kate and Paul [Cornell] are the Goddess and God of the New Adventures. They defined so much of what was possible in the range, and built up so much of the sense of mythology. I still remember staying up till 3 AM to finish reading Timewyrm: Revelation, and being in absolute awe -- I'd never imagined Doctor Who could be as *rich* as that! Characters and themes and imagery -- all the stuff of real novels! What an eye-opener!

It's kind of depressing that I have to write for the same book-line as Paul -- I know I'm just not in the same league as a writer with him or Ben Aaronovitch. Every time I feel like I've got some decent prose, I pick up Human Nature or Happy Endings or The Also People, and once again my words feel like little pieces of grit and gravel compared to their smooth flow of ideas and images.

Similarly, I was a huge Kate Orman fan before we ever got to know each other. The first parts of Hummer and Set Piece left me in absolute awe of the intensity and vividness of her writing. I've found my style and hers can mesh fairly well, but I'm still amazed by the images she comes up with. On the more recent books, of course I'm too biased to comment intelligently. :-)

Andrew Cartmel
If not for the things he brought to the program -- the new insights on the Doctor, the formula-busting storytelling -- I think I would probably have gotten bored with the show and drifted away from Who fandom some time in the early '90s. But not only did he revitalize the show, he inspired so many of the other writers I admire hugely. He's another one of those people whose prose and storytelling are positively humbling... I just wish he could find more for the Doctor to do in his books.

Neil Penswick
Everyone's got a point at which they balk at counting something as having "the Doctor Who spirit". There's not much that bothers me -- I'm quite happy accepting everything from Warhead to The Ghosts of N-Space as being Whoish in different ways. But the ending of Penswick's The Pit, where the Doctor doesn't even have a word of condemnation or retribution for a man who's destroyed an entire solar system full of innocent people, was my stopping point. Aside from a couple of pieces of fanfic, I think it's the only bit of Who ever where I've put down the book and thought "No, that's wrong." In this book the Doctor is cruel and cowardly, and I think that's the root of the problem I have with it.

Other than the fact that I think his book gets something fundamental utterly wrong, I'm sure he's a great guy...

Dave Stone
Is awe-perspiring coruscating lunatickling my funnybone pretend-move author thingy. The sheer imagination in his books is startling. If I can ever create one thing as memorable as the Sloathes, I'll be a happy puppy.

Ben Aaronovitch
When it came to doing Time Rift, Remembrance was the Who story which influenced me. The pace, the wit, the daring characterization of the Doctor, the intelligent use of continuity... The humbling bit was when I realized that I'd been working on the TR script for a year and a half, and he'd done Remembrance in how many WEEKS???

Transit I liked, but I can't really count it as an influence, because I've never been able to pull off writing cyberpunk. The Also People, on the other hand, is one of those quintessential Doctor Who stories, full of wit and imagination and humanity. I would give my left arm and possibly several internal organs to be able to write a book like that -- except that then I wouldn't be able to write a book like that, would I?

John Peel
John was a huge influence on me when I was a young fan -- his reviews/critiques of stories in Fantasy Empire gave me a lot to think about, and I remember being quite impressed with his defense of the JNT years. It was a bit of a shock to meet him on the net, and find that pretty much all his opinions on the show since 1979 or so had done a 180 in the intervening years! I actually quite enjoy John's books for what they are -- adventure romps -- but from what he's said he seems to think that that's all Doctor Who can or should ever be, which would be terribly limiting if it were true.

Would you believe one more question?

A lot of us loyal Virgin books readers are greatly sceptical about the direction the BBC may take in their handling of the books. Firstly their guidelines are looking for plot driven stories - most likely at the loss of decent characters.

I wouldn't read too much into that. This same kind of suggestion -- focusing on the story rather than on the characters -- has turned up in some of Virgin's material as well. I know it was in the guidelines for Decalog 4.

Basically we're fearing the BBC are going to fuck everything Virgin had established as intelligent adult oriented DOCTOR WHO novels. You and Kate are writing an eighth Doctor BBC book. From what they have said to you is there anything to for us fear?

To be entirely honest... we have no idea. Nuala Buffini has assured us that the BBC wants to keep the books aimed at an adult audience, while still making them accessible to teens and new readers -- but the real test is going to come once we've submitted our book, when we find out if the new editor wants to make any changes to our content. Until then, there's no way of telling, really. Certainly Paul Leonard, Mark Morris, Kate and I are treating the eighth Doctor books as books for an adult audience, and Terrance and John have always tried to write their stories as romps for all ages, so no change there.

I can't imagine the Beeb ever buying a book like Damaged Goods, which is a shame, but the real test is whether their books will continue to encourage adult themes, thought-provoking and discomfitting stuff, rather than just explicit sex-n-drugs. If we can still get a book as sophisticated as Just War, then I think the line will be in good shape.

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