Published on October 29th, 2013 | by Philip Bates2
James Goss on The Doctor: His Lives and Times
Released last month, The Doctor: His Lives and Times tells the definitive story of 50 years of Doctor Who. Stunningly designed and brilliantly extensive, the book explores each Doctor and each story with fictional ads, diary entries, letters, blog posts, book covers – and so much more! Sections conclude with an in-depth tour through every serial, guided by those who made them as an ‘oral history.’
Kasterborous spoke to co-author, James Goss, about the remarkable tome…
Where did the idea for The Doctor: His Lives and Times first come from?
Shamefully neither Steve nor I can claim any credit. Albert DePetrillo, the Commissioning Editor at BBC Books said “would you like to do this?” And we did.
We have Susan’s diary; Mickey’s blog; the Brigadier’s memoir: how did you decide who should be the main narrator for each Doctor?
I always hate it when people say, “we talked it over at the pub quaffing many pints of the special ale”. [Sighs] We talked it over at the pub. A big pile of paper, some fun ideas, some “oh, wait, could we do….?” There was an initial suggestion from somewhere, “Can it all be the Doctor’s 500 Year Diary?” We immediately ran away from it and ended up roughly where we wanted to be.
The thing is, though, there are so many different paths through – we could write the book another dozen times. Perhaps from Ann Travers’ point-of-view of the Second Doctor, or Jo Grant’s view of the Third, or Barbara Wright’s view of the First…
After the success of A History of the Universe in 100 Objects, were you at all intimidated about creating another original idea?
It was just so nice to be doing it again. You get paid to sit on a sofa for a couple of months pretending to be Sarah Jane Smith!
You told Doctor Who Magazine that the ‘oral history’ document, which concludes each Doctor’s section, comes to over a quarter-of-a-million words, so naturally had to be edited down – a lot. Do you have any favourite interviews or quotes? And were there many gems you loved but were forced to edit out?
The oral history was a labour of love. We got so much in – we genuinely had a team working on it, with Andrew Pixley finding rare gems, and Tim Leng typing up old fanzines and Tom Wicker and Darren Scott interviewing people; so many wonderful things came in.
It was a joy re-reading Malcolm Hulke’s book about Writing For Television and finding a lovely interview with Dennis Spooner (none of which made the book), or Bonnie Langford’s recollections of being chased by Killer Bees. Just so many brilliant and lovely things. But we prepared each oral history long, very long, and then Steve Tribe came in and pared it down – from 30,000 words to 3,000. Hopefully the full things will some day be printed.
What Doctor Who reference books did you grow up with, and have you revisited them for inspiration?
Everyone mentions A Celebration, and rightly so. There’s a tribute to it in the margins of every page.
How difficult was it to actually collaborate with Steve Tribe, designer, Paul Lang and illustrator, Matthew Savage?
It was about lists. Paul assembled a brilliant team of designers who grabbed a section each. Richard Atkinson is a true hero because he delivered his pages first and they were so delightful that we suddenly knew exactly how the book was going to look. It was also a joy working with Matt Savage, because he’s just such a lovely man and has a real sense of humour. We’d say, “can you just do X?” and he’d provide X, Y and Z.
How do you tackle writing such a mammoth book? It’s not a book with straight prose, but instead made up of ads and newspaper cuttings and poems, so I imagine the copy was full of notes to Lang and Savage!
Pretty much. I can’t speak for Steve’s sections, but I wrote a lot of my first drafts on train journeys, just darting through bits and then going, “oh, it’d be fun to do this, and then that, and…” – Basically getting distracted. Heaps of it all went off to Steve, who then combed through it and tidied it up and added Actual Facts and Brilliant Bits and then it went off to a designer. Who would then make it all look very pretty.
I remember Russell T. Davies being annoyed at himself for throwing away his ‘Sycorax Phrasebook’, but I see the Sycorax- English vocab in the Tenth Doctor section; did either you or Steve literally watch The Christmas Invasion over and over and transcribe what you could?
The simple answer is that Russell compiled it for the Doctor Who website in 2006. We were doing a game that required a Sycorax translator, and I pulled a list of words from the script then, and sent it off to Russell with a list of other words that we could do with the Sycorax for, which he duly supplied. It’s one of those things that seemed a nice thing to fit into the book, especially as the Sycorax translator is no longer online.
I’m also enjoying playing Spot The Clara. Do you know how many Claras have made it into the Classic Who section… and have you found them all?
I can’t remember the total number. Michael Dinsdale did such a brilliant job of hiding them in some quite unexpected places. Even now they make me smile.
What’s your next project for the BBC?
I’m currently working on the follow-up to The Doctors Revisited documentaries. But they’re about a completely different programme, so this answer may not make any sense.
The book boasts contributions from all eleven Doctors; Steven Moffat; Waris Hussein; Donald Tosh; Tom MacRae; Patrick Troughton’s grandson, Harry Melling; Marc Platt; Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the internet… and then some! There’s even a look at the 50th anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor, with Matt Smith describing his pairing with David Tennant as “having Stan Laurel and Stan Laurel, and not having Hardy anywhere.”
With an RRP of £20, The Doctor: His Lives and Times is available now from all good booksellers – or you can get it for just £12.00 from Amazon UK.
Also, don’t miss James Goss’ exclusive short story, The Book