Appropriately enough, “Doctor Who: A Fairytale Life” is written by Eisner-nominated “Jack of Fables” scribe Matt Sturges, with interior art from “Doctor Who: The Forgotten” illustrator Kelly Yates. The four-issue series sends The Eleventh Doctor and companion Amy Pond on an adventure that unfolds in a medieval fantasy world populated with knigts, castles, and yes, even a dragon.
I chatted up the “Fairytale Life” writer to get some details about The Doctor’s latest adventure and pick his brain about the upcoming “Doctor Who” season premiere. You can also get an exclusive preview of the issue — which hits shelves April 20 — courtesy of IDW Publishing.
MTV NEWS: I’ve heard you’re a big “Doctor Who” fan, Matt. What’s your history with The Doctor and how’s you end up on this project?
MATT STURGES: I was talking to Denton Tipton, my editor at IDW, about what sorts of things they had available, and he listed a few things they might be looking for someone to write, and it was like, “Maybe you could do this, or maybe that, or maybe ’Doctor Who,’ or maybe the the other thing…” And I said, “Why are you still talking after the ’Doctor Who’ part?” I was like the dog in the ’Far Side’ strip; all I heard was, “BLAH BLAH BLAH DOCTOR WHO BLAH BLAH.” Not that the other projects weren’t fine and worthy things; they all just paled in comparison, from my point of view.
The first story I ever tried to write was a Doctor Who story — I was 11 years old. It didn’t have a “plot” or “conflict” or anything like that; it was mainly just The Doctor bumming around in the TARDIS. But it did mean that I’d had almost 30 years in between to consider the kind of “Doctor Who” story I might someday like to write. Know this: when I was in middle school, I built a scale model of the TARDIS out of Legos. I was that kid.
MTV: Don’t worry. If it helps, I was the kid in Elementary School who wore a Tom Baker scarf every day. So where does this story fall in IDW’s “Doctor Who” continuity? Does it connect with the regular series?
STURGES: It’s not connected to any continuity; it’s a totally free-standing story. Anyone, even a non-“Doctor Who” fan, could pick it up and read it and potentially enjoy it. In fact, non-“Doctor Who” fans are the ones I’d most like to read it; if I could turn people on to the show I’d consider that a fine thing. Maybe if I turned enough people on to “Who” the BBC would give me a toaster… A Dalek-shaped toaster. Although if you think about it, a Dalek-shaped toaster would be unwieldy. Maybe a K-9-shaped toaster… or Dalek salt-and-pepper shakers. Honestly, I’m pretty flexible on this point.
MTV: The Eleventh Doctor has a knack for quirky dialogue and mannerisms. How’d you get into his head for this series?
STURGES: I watched and re-watched every episode of this past season. It wasn’t really work, since I was doing it anyway, but I spent a lot of time studying that sort of stuff. He’s a very quotable character, so the rhythms of the dialogue tend to stick in your head. A line like “I’m the Doctor; I’m worse than everyone’s aunt.” is something you don’t have to struggle to remember. And besides, having known this character so intimately for the majority of my life, it wasn’t like I had to think too hard about his motivations. It all came pretty naturally. The characterization changes from actor to actor, but the character underneath never changes, not at his core.
MTV: I noticed there’s no Rory in this first issue. Why not?
STURGES: Rory’s not in the story. It wasn’t out of any ill-will toward him, but more that I find the interplay between Amy and The Doctor by themselves a bit more charming. Also: one more character to worry about. The simpler you can make things, the better — especially when you’re doing something new. I tried to cut out every nonessential element I could and just focus what I see as the real magic, which is The Doctor and Amy’s banter.
MTV: It feels like Jack of Fables and The Doctor might share a few qualities (at least as far as self-confidence and enjoying the sound of their own voices) — how do the two compare in your mind?
STURGES: I find that I have two modes as a writer. One is the snarky, cynical mode, which is voiced by Jack of Fables and most of the characters in “House of Mystery,” and the other is the optimistic mode, which seems to prevail in my superhero work, especially Blue Beetle. When I’m writing “Doctor Who,” I’m definitely in “optimist” mode. You can’t inject cynicism into the character of The Doctor. It’s just totally alien to him. And Jack is the ultimate cynic; he’s a sociopath who sees everyone else in the world as either a competitor or a mark.
I think the only thing that really carries from one to the other is that they’re both funny characters. And funny typically requires a bit of injury to someone or something. Jack obviously doesn’t care who he hurts, so his comedy is much easier to write: you just have him make fun of something or inadvertently make fun of himself. But with The Doctor you have to be more nuanced. Even when The Doctor is ribbing someone, he’s doing it gently and with love. It’s a far narrower tightrope.
MTV: Why is The Eleventh Doctor the right Doctor for this story? Is it just a timing thing, or is there a specific reason why Matt Smith’s Doctor works best?
STURGES: The story came about the other way around; I was specifically asked to do a story with The Eleventh Doctor, so that’s what I did. But I would have wanted to use that version of the character anyway, so the end result is the same. But the reason I think the fantasy backdrop works so well for this particular story has more to do with Amy, since it’s pitting her fiercely independent attitude against the archetype of the fairy princess damsel in distress. Mostly, though, I thought it would be a lot of fun to see The Doctor in a completely novel milieu. In issue #3 you see him on horseback, tilting a lance at robotic wyverns, and even if the story is crap you still get something out of it, because it’s The Doctor on horseback tilting a lance at robotic wyverns.
MTV: Tell me a little about your artists on this series…
STURGES: I’m really happy with the art in this miniseries. It’s a tough row to hoe for an artist to draw a character based on an actual person, and Kelly Yates and Brian Shearer have done a perfect job of walking that line between representational and cartooney. Too realistic and everything seems wooden; too cartooney and it loses its kinship with the source material. With this kind of project, the wrong artist can really make a mockery of the proceedings, and these two have succeeded admirably.
MTV: Everyone has “their” Doctor (I grew up with Tom Baker) – which Doctor is YOUR Doctor?
STURGES: I think the Doctor you start with is the one you think of as “your” Doctor, and it’s striking that everyone always phrases it that way. Not “my favorite Doctor” but “my Doctor.” We feel possessive about our preferred version of the character, like it’s something we own, or something that identifies us. For me growing up it was always Tom Baker as well, and every other actor was always either a John the Baptist to him, or a pale imitation of him, or a total miscast. It’s only going back and watching the other actors as an adult that I’ve been able to have any objectivity about them.
Baker’s humor always worked for me, and his avuncular manner was perfectly balanced with his righteousness and smugness. It’s a testament to Matt Smith that he’s able to pull off that same avuncularity (not a word, but why not) at such a tender age. As someone who grew up with Baker as “his” Doctor, Matt Smith feels very “right” to me, and is thus able to share that space in my heart. He’s “my” Doctor now.
MTV: As someone who grew up on the old serial adventures, what do you think about the new “Doctor Who” TV series?
STURGES: Well, you look at an episode like “Blink,” which was a Season Three episode with David Tennant, and you think, “Whoever wrote this episode really, really understands what ’Doctor Who’ is about.” And that’s pretty astonishing, since the Doctor is barely even in the thing. But it’s so clever, and makes such excellent use of the “Doctor Who” mindspace, that it may well be the best hour of “Doctor Who” ever written. And fans tend to notice who’s writing which episodes.
So when the name “Steven Moffat” kept popping up on these wonderful episodes, like “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead,” you start to think, “Well, this guy clearly knows what he’s doing. I wonder what it would be like if he was running things.” And then they announce that he will start running things, and you think, “Well, this had better be good.” And then it’s better than you could possibly have hoped for.
As far as Matt Smith goes, I was willing to trust Moffat as a showrunner because of his clear understanding of the material, even though the idea of a 26-year-old as the Doctor seemed bizarre to me. But any doubts I had were completely erased by the end of the first act of “The Eleventh Hour,” which was the first episode of the most recent season. Matt Smith’s take is evocative of what makes the new series as a whole so enjoyable to me, which that he takes what’s great about the character and expands on it, while still being fresh. I know it sounds like I’m kissing up or doing PR, but this is what I really think; I swoon over the thing.
MTV: What are you hoping to see in the upcoming season?
STURGES: I don’t want to have any preconceived notions, and I’m not going to watch any trailers or anything like that. I’m hopeful that we’ll learn a good bit more about the character of River Song — as a writer, my “drawn-out-mystery timer” is close to going off. If we don’t learn who she is soon, it’ll start to seem like dithering. Other than that, I’m willing to follow them wherever they go. Just, you know, no Slitheen, please.
MTV: Is there another “Doctor Who” story you’re dying to write? A team-up between Doctors, perhaps? A match-up between a certain Doctor and a certain classic “Doctor Who” villain?
STURGES: The first thing that springs to mind is that I’d like to see the Tom Baker Doctor encounter the Weeping Angels. One of his quirks was a penchant for having one-sided conversations with things that wouldn’t or couldn’t talk back, so the Weeping Angels are the perfect foil for him. When we meet them in “Blink,” the Doctor already knows who they are, so it’s reasonable that he might have encountered them before, and…oh, God, I’m starting to sound like a crazy fanboy. Let’s just say that I think it would be a cool idea and move on.
“Doctor Who: A Fairytale Life” #1 hits shelves Wednesday, April 20, from IDW Publishing. You can check out a preview of the issue by clicking on the cover image below…