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Paul Cornell on Writing for the Third Doctor

The news of Titan Comics’ upcoming Third Doctor series was greatly received by fandom, and writer, Paul Cornell has spoken about what we can expect from the limited run.
Revealing that the five-issue series will take place shortly after The Three Doctors, Cornell says that Jo Grant’s personal growth really informs the story:

“Something I really want to do is to live up to these characters and do them in the full, as they were on television. I think that’s the basic mission. To go a little bit further, with Jo—as recent critical approaches have revealed—Jo’s doing a very ’70’s thing: actually being very competent, and being very competent from the outset, and trying really hard to hide it so she doesn’t threaten the men around her. I’ll be using that.”

Talk to m any writers and they’ll say how comics (and other mediums like audio and novels) free your imagination, letting you get away with impossible environments and ideas that the production crews of each era simply couldn’t realistically achieve.
third doctor #1.4
The Father’s Day and Human Nature/ The Family of Blood scribe, however, reckons stories are more true to their eras if you accept their limitations:

“Normally, for any era of Doctor Who in which I write spin-off media, I think the circumstances of production really dictate the shape of that thing. For example, I always think if you’re doing a Troughton comic strip, and you’ve got amazing vistas of many spaceships and gloriously drawn aliens, you’re really letting the side down. You should be in a very small base with a very small budget, no matter what medium you’re in. That informs the shape of the storytelling. It doesn’t feel like Troughton unless you deliberately put on budgetary restrictions which you do not have.

“For the Pertwee era, there’s a strange and interesting exception to that, which is they really want to suggest tanks and platoons of army and airstrikes, and things like that. I thought, ‘Okay, let’s go just a little beyond the fringe of the television and show some of that, because we now can.’ Because the show itself would go, ‘Yes, yes. That was what we were trying for, go for that’… My scripts are still full of instructions to [artist, Christopher Jones] about making the visuals look like they could be made by BBC designers, and things like that.”

This is, I feel, an admirable and solid technique. A lot of the time, I think the same. It’s great seeing Doctor Who‘s horizons expanded exponentially, but if you’re reading a Third Doctor comic, you want to relive that era, don’t you? That includes embracing its restrictions. Mind you, all the production teams achieved incredible work considering the tight sets, tight schedules, and tight wallets of BBC Executives!
Titan’s Third Doctor comic, The Heralds of Destruction, begins next month, and as ever, we’ll be reviewing each issue here at the DWC.

Philip Bates

Editor and co-founder of the Doctor Who Companion. When he’s not watching television, reading books ‘n’ Marvel comics, listening to The Killers, and obsessing over script ideas, Philip Bates pretends to be a freelance writer. He enjoys collecting everything. Writer of The Black Archive: The Pandorica Opens/ The Big Bang, The Silver Archive: The Stone Tape, and 100 Objects of Doctor Who.

Paul Cornell on Writing for the Third Doctor

by Philip Bates time to read: 2 min
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