Farewell To A Time Lord: A Guest Column By 'Doctor Who' Writer Tony Lee

Doctor WhoIt's a very strange sensation, writing words for a man who's already, for all intents and purposes, dead. To have him do things he'll no longer do, to have him achieve things he'll never be close to achieving any more; all these moments in his now-finished life seem false, all these additional, post-mortem scenes feel as if I'm somehow cheating.

Because he's gone. Kaput. Farewell. He is an ex-Time Lord. He has ceased to be.

I am, of course, talking about the Tenth Doctor, the David Tennant one, the tall, lanky, product- and mop-haired, suit-wearing maniac who, yelling "Allons-y!" and waving his magic wand — ahem, I mean, sonic screwdriver — took us all on a tour of fantastic worlds and vistas for four years (three full seasons and a year of specials). And now that he's gone, regenerated into Matt Smith, and the show now off-air until ol' Eleven returns with a new TARDIS and new companion.

But I still write Tennant. And as I write this, I'm finishing the penultimate Tennant story, leading into the final tale of the Tenth Doctor for IDW Publishing.

Of course it's not the final tale. After all, we've seen that already, Rassilon (don't ask) and the Time Lords, the Master, Bernard Cribbins knocking four times — we've seen the final moment, the almost tearful "I don't want to go," and then the explosions and the madness that ensues. But in the comic world, we're on a slower schedule. And our Tennant won't be stopping until late in 2010.

When I was a teenager, I had dropped out of comics, but it was DC Comics' "Star Trek" series that brought me back. It was set between movies three and four, a couple of years' worth of graphic stories that had to keep within the constraints of the canon, yet at the same time get out there with brand new stories.

They brought in characters from the animated series, from the classic series, from the pocket books themselves. They took that toybox and they shook it about — but they never scattered the toys on the floor, because they knew that the moment that "Star Trek IV" came out, they'd need to have every toy back in place and ready to go.

And regardless of what people believe, writers of comics like that don't get advance scripts, or sit in production meetings for the movie — they swing high above the floor without a net, they second-guess and calculate the more probable scenarios and work from there.

Everyone knows that at the end of "Star Trek III," the AWOL Starfleet crew escape to Vulcan in a captured Klingon ship (the Enterprise having been blown up), Spock's mind is reconnected and he spends three months with the crew on the planet as he gets better. Then "Star Trek IV" happens and Kirk and crew use the same Klingon ship to travel back in time and save Earth, right?


You see, I read those Star Trek comics, and I know the truth, that Spock's mind was made better from a mind-meld with his Mirror Universe counterpart, that Kirk and crew took command of the USS Excelsior for a couple of years and that at the end, with Spock's mind-meld collapsing, they once more took the Klingon ship to Vulcan, hoping that Spock would be cured.

See? All the toys were played with, yet at the end were left exactly as they were found. Over two years of comic stories that could be treated as canon or discarded, depending on how you felt. They used characters never seen on screen before, they took characters from other medias, and I ate it up like the sweetest candy. It was then that I realized the limits you could achieve on certain licenses.

Doctor WhoAnd it's this level of storytelling that I'm trying to tell with "Doctor Who." You'll always have two sides of every argument however — the people who want more references and the people who want less. The game is to try to please all of the people all of the time. To make sure that your stories could, if needed, not only be placed chronologically into the series, but actively enhance those episodes, too.

Currently, I'm writing a four-part story set in London no more than a couple of weeks before the final "Doctor Who" episode. It guest-stars Martha Jones, who we now know to be married to Mickey Smith. Do I use this? Even though the Doctor doesn't mention it (or even acknowledge it past a glare and an unconscious Sontaran)? What about Joshua Naismith? Do I use parts of my story to lead into the show? What if my bad guy during this story sends Joshua Naismith the Immortality Gate? What if, somehow, the Doctor himself does — thus causing his own demise?

The problem with things like that, though — of writing with hindsight — is that you spend too much time working out the cool Easter Eggs and not enough time building a solid story. Martha's hair is different in the TV episode, so do we explain the change in the comic? Of course not. She fancied a change. Nothing more. Tell the story. Stop trying to look cool for the kids. And I've been guilty of the latter during my run, I can tell you.

But as I said, regardless of how you tie the comic into the series, at the end of the day I'm still about to start writing the final Tenth Doctor story in the IDW world, which (as one of the first people to write a Tenth Doctor strip for the "Doctor Who Magazine" back in 2006) is pretty damned large to me. By the time I finish the final Tenth Doctor story, I'll have written approximately 540 pages of Doctor Who tales over four years. I've gotten to the point where I know Tennant's Doctor inside-out. He's an old friend, a good friend — and I'm about to lose him forever.

It's quite an emotional wrench, you know. But then you would, as you've lost him, too.

Of course, I know what happens. I even know the final scene, what the final panel will be — but I don't want to start writing it yet. I know where (in my mind) the story is set, I know who the character is that's going to suffer the most. I know who's going to live and, more importantly, I know who's going to die. I know why the Doctor leaves his new friends to travel alone again.

In my own personal mindset, the one I plan my stories in, I know why he wears the spacesuit before going to Mars, and why he has a cowboy hat and sunglasses on at the very end. I know because they're all part of my story, in the same way that the Klingon ship, Vulcan, and Spock's deterioration were part of the comic for Star Trek: to enhance the actual television show.

At the end of the month I shall be at the Gallifrey One convention in Los Angeles with IDW editor Denton Tipton, and on stage on Sunday we will tell you exactly how our Doctor ends his story. Of the sacrifice that he, his enemies, and his friends will make.

But until then, I'll just keep writing scenes involving Tennant's Doctor. Because in my world, he's here for a little while longer yet...

- Tony Lee

Tony Lee is a writer of comics who currently authors IDW Publishing's ongoing "Doctor Who" series. He's also hard at work on the comic book adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," and has written for popular characters such as Spider Man, the X-Men and Shrek. He can be found at www.tonylee.co.uk and at www.twitter.com/mrtonylee.

"Doctor Who" #8 arrives on shelves Wednesday, February 3. You can check out an 8-page preview on Comics Continuum.