Jean-Marc Lofficier is a renowned writer, best known for his work in comic books and Doctor Who reference guides. The Universal Databank, The Doctor Who Programme Guide, and Doctor Who – The Terrestrial Index have long been used as reference by fans and writers alike, for over 20 years. In 1997, he brought us The Nth Doctor, a rare insight into the world of development hell; within were several failed treatments for Doctor Who films or pilots, the precursors to the 1996 TVM. Despite their shared future, they are presented in Lofficier’s book with respect and make fascinating reading.
Jean-Marc, what made you become a writer?
In my case, I was always a bit of a story-teller. When I as around 10, I was typing novels (which I never finished) on my mom’s Olivetti, in duplicate carbon copies, and circulating them to school friends. I drew my own little comic strips when I was 13, 14, and began being published in French â€˜zines at 16, so you could say I always knew what I liked to do/
So did you grow up in France? I’d assumed you were Canadian.
No, French born, in Toulon. My dad was in the service so we moved a bit; I spent a goodly part of my childhood in Bordeaux, and my teenage years in Fontainebleau.
So following your getting published at 16, did you opt for any formal training? Or any further education that involved a deal of writing?
No, writing wasn’t deemed a respectable, economically sound way of making a living then. (Still isn’t) So I got a MBA and a Law degree, then went to work in international banking.
I’m only familiar with your work through Doctor Who, books such as The Universal Databank. How did your career as an author progress prior to this?
I never bothered putting down a chronological timeline of my career, though it sort of went that way: fanzines to cinema/sf pro magazines (House of Hammer, Ecran Fantastique, Starburst, Starlog) to books and comics and some TV animation scripts. You might want to surf briefly through www.lofficier.com.
My father had a big collection of Starburst magazines – it was a popular title in its day I believe. So the Program Guide was your first book?
Yes, the Doctor Who Programme Guide was indeed my (our) first book. We’d been film journalists, etc. for quite a few years but had never had a book published before.
So how long have you and Randy been together? Was it always a relationship that had a large work element?
We met during my visit to the US, and got married the following year. Randy always wanted to write and had in fact written some very nice stories, articles, etc. so yes, it evolved organically in a mutually complementary working relationship.
It sounds perfect! SO how did the original Programme Guide come about?
Oh gosh – I told that one many many times. Do I have to again? Briefly, I wrote a series of dossiers on SF TV series for L’ECRAN FANTASTIQUE,: The Prisoner, Star Trek, Twilight Zone and… Doctor Who. For that dossier I interviewed Terrance and Graham Williams. Then I sent them a courtesy copy. Terrance passed it on to Christine Donougher at WH Allen who saw an opportunity to publish it as a book.
How then did you manage to research the book? I’m thinking that this was 1980 or a little earlier for the first edition – no video tapes, missing episodes all over the place….
Graham Williams provided access to whatever files the BBC had, often old xeroxes of RADIO TIMES.
Following The Program Guide, you wrote the Terrestrial Index and The Universal Databank. How did you approach these? I’m assuming that The Universal Databank required more than photocopied Radio Times?
Actually, I’d already produced an earlier version of both books in the original 1980 (or was it 81?) 2-volume edition of the PG. What we did with Peter Darvill-Evans is take material from was then Volume 2, and expand it into respectively the TI and the UD.
The Nth Doctor is a fascinating book, including easily digestible
detail of the complexities of the film industry and script commissioning. How did this book come about?
I already had had contacts with Johnny Byrne and Dennis Martin Flynn (through Leonard Nimoy) separately. When I worked freely as fan liaison for Amblin on the DWTV movie for a brief while, I had a chance to read the Leekley and DeLaurentis versions; I thought all of these unproduced scripts should be immortalized/recorded somewhere.
Although as you state in the Nth Doctor that they all contribute to the TV Movie, was there any that you thought really deserved to be made? Do you feel any of these scripts were tragically lost opportunities?
Well, yes. I genuinely loved both Johnny Byrne’s LAST OF THE TIME LORDS and Denny Martin Flynn’s JEWELS OF TIME. I think they both would have made great movies.
Now I’m a big fan of Johnny Byrne, I love Keeper of Traken (my first DW video), and I thought that judging by the synopses and extracts, Last of the Time Lords looked cool. I felt the Jewels of Time was a bit continuity-laden in some respects however – in making Doctor Who for a new audience, what is your opinion of use of continuity elements? And what did you think of the TVM?
I liked some things (direction, acting) but wasn’t wild about the story.
So moving on, you’ve been writing comic books and graphic novels for a very long time. How did this begin?
Randy and I already had made an impression as writers for a variety of magazines by the time we began to pitch ideas to comic book companies, and eventually got a break thanks to our friends Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway; we also worked with & for prestigious editors such as Julie Schwartz, Marv Wolfman and Len Wein.
Comics have always been a kind of mystery to me, in so far as I see their development as a totally foreign country. How much input does the writer have into the finished strip?
Very much so – after all, the writer comes up with the story first. Some write it full script (a little like a TV or a movie script), others follow the “Marvel method” and write a plot first, and the balloons later, after the artist has laid out the story.
So which method do you use/prefer?
It really depends on the artist; I like to give the artist as much freedom to interpret the story as possible, so I’m inclined to prefer the Marvel method myself.
Tell me about Doctor Omega. When I first heard about it I thought it was a hoax – then I saw your name attached. How did it come about?
An entire novel as a hoax? That would be rather time consuming, wouldn’t it? No, DOCTOR OMEGA is very much real. It was as book — rather obscure and not well-remembered today, I must say — published in France in 1906, very likely to cash in on the success of Wells’ War of the Worlds and First Men in the Moon, which it sorts of combines by being in effect “First Men on Mars”.
I came across it when doing my research for my French SF Encyclopaedia in the late 90s, and was struck by the many similarities to Doctor Who — including the visual likeness of the character who looks just like William Hartnell, with a Tintin-like tuff of white hair.
Had the original author, Arnould Galopin, given his Dr Omega a solid background, I suppose I might have just dismissed the whole notion, but for a reason which still escapes me, Omega was introduced as a Man of Mystery whose origins and true purpose remained unrevealed.
Presently, both David McIntee and Samuel T. Payne are writing Doctor Omega novels which we hope to publish in 2005, and Samuel wrote a Doctor Omega short-story for our anthology TALES OF THE SHADOWMEN, coming out next month.
Well that brings us up to the current day in many ways. But I’d like to back-pedal slightly – the new series of Doctor Who. What are you expecting from it?
I don’t think “expecting” is quite the right word. I hope it’s a good TV series: entertaining, good stories, good direction, good acting, etc. I’m very open-minded as to how it connects to the “old” Doctor Who. For example, I quite liked the new RANDALL & HOPKIRK. It wasn’t like the original, but it was quite good on its own merits.
What are your views on Christopher Eccleston as Doctor Who?
He looks all right, I suppose. And he certainly has excellent credits. You really can’t tell before hand. I certainly couldn’t when they picked Tom Baker, and he was my favorite Doctor.
If you were in the same position as Russell T Davies, how do you think you would approach the new series, with respect to tone, story type, atmosphere?
I think I’d pretty much go with a sort of updated Robert Holmes approach.
Oh that’s interesting – I take it you’re a fan of Robert Holmes’ work? Do you have a favourite Robert Holmes story?
Pyramids of Mars, maybe? Or Deadly Assassin. And yes, I think his “tenure” was about as good as the show ever got, on an average basis, of course. (There were some excellent moments in virtually every season.)
Thanks Jean-Marc for taking the time to speak to us, it was very good of you. One last thing – what are you working on at the moment?
Right now, we’re trying to catch up with the backlog of books to write, edit and/or translate (variously) for our two small press publishing companies, Black Coat Press (in the US) and Riviere Blanche (in France). Our move has put us back by a couple of months and we have a lot of work.
Kasterborous would like to thank Jean-Marc Lofficier for taking the time to talk to us; meanwhile the Doctor Who Universal Databank is available free online!