Were you approached by BBC Books, or had you already expressed an interest in writing for the Doctor Who novel series?
I went to them. I say I went to them. I pestered them repeatedly. Okay, I begged.
What parameters – if any – were given to you? Presumably a Matt solo story, but were the setting/protagonists/links to historical events suggested or requested?
Well, I pitched three ideas and BBC Books chose one. I originally wanted to do one set on Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary, but we had various problems with that, mostly living relatives – don’t you think it would be really cool though? – but then I also really really wanted to do something with the Lewis chess set and I wanted to send the TARDIS to the bottom of the sea and come on, who doesn’t love a Viking? It was such fun to write. Matt solo was their only stipulation, but I was happy either way really.
Were you asked to insert any particular links to other stories? There are a couple of nicely understated references to the Doctor’s family.
Oh thank you very much, no, that’s all me, once I got started they were very good at giving me a free hand.
The bond between family members is a strong theme within the book; was it harder to write this with the Doctor solo, rather than with his “own” family of companions, particularly the Ponds?
Actually it was quite nice having the Doctor solo, as I could invent everyone else around him and make them exactly how I wanted. I imagine for example, when you’re writing Amy it’s extremely difficult to get her to do anything she doesn’t want to do.
He has, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen it. BBC2 repeated it as part of the Five Faces of Doctor Who season back in the early 80s, so I think I watched it then, but not since. I might do it now.
You’ve obviously researched the period, as evidenced by the circumstantial detail dotted through the story; what was the oddest thing you learned during the research?
Thanks. The most interesting to me was that I always assumed Vikings were rough- edged kind of scuzzy pirate types, basically, but no, it was seen as a very elite thing to be. So that was surprising; that to maraude about burning people’s houses down was aspirational in that culture. I’ve no idea why we all love Vikings so much, it must have been unbelievably terrifying when they happened to you.
One of the many interesting things about Matt Smith’s performance is it’s quite difficult to tell how manipulative he is. Sometimes – I loved both the James Corden stories – he’s very obviously naive, but then he kept the secret about the Teselecta for ages. And it’s the same guy, so some of David Tennant’s chilling rage from his final year on the show must be in there somewhere.
There are some wonderful lyrical passages – such as the holiday in Lewis – and some effective sections written in the second person; which parts of the story did you enjoy writing most?
Well, that’s very kind. I loved writing all of it. I like bringing the audience a bit closer in a book if I can, it’s good fun. Plus if my readers are anything like me, if you’ve grown up with the Doctor it’s a bit like religion; you can’t help wondering, just a tiny bit, and wanting to believe that might be real. I can’t believe I just typed that out loud. Anyway, that’s why I put those bits in.
How much of your usual writing style did you need to tone down or alter for this? (For example, Jeffrey Deaver’s 007 novel last year is clearly a Deaver book; Sebastian Faulks’ 007 book from a couple of years earlier was consciously written in an Ian Fleming style…)
It’s absolutely 100% not a chick lit book in any way shape or form, (although I do make the Doctor mention at one point how much he enjoys the genre), and there’s very little romance in it at all. Ideally I’d like to blend in to the Whoniverse so easily you wouldn’t notice who’d written it at all, it would just feel ‘right’. I really hope it does.
You commented on Twitter that there’s a tribute to Lis Sladen in the book; can you explain more?
Martha. I loved Martha and feel she didn’t always get the chance to play to her full potential. Smith and Jones is such a fantastic episode. I really really want to look at that Martha and Mickey marriage, because, come off it, I don’t see it for a second. Come on, young qualified doctor and war machine marrying the metal dog? I loved Mickey to bits, truly, but… neh. Also both of those actors are off being busy and famous elsewhere now so you’d never get them back on telly, so it would absolutely 100% have to be done through a book.
Oh and Martha meeting Matt Smith… Oh well wouldn’t that be fun.
Were you pleased with the reaction to Dark Horizons when it came out?
Oh I was delighted. Most people really took to it, the reviews were lovely. My favourite thing anyone can say is that I ‘caught his voice’, that I wrote Matt Smith’s character like he sounds, and lots of people did say that, so hurray. I did an interview for it in France, and ever since I keep calling it ‘Dark Aw-ree-zon’ in my head.
Now that Matt Smith has announced that he’s stepping down as the Doctor, who would you like to see as the next incarnation?
My shortlist is Ben Wishaw, who I think would be marvellous but is probably a bit busy. As soon as he appeared in Skyfall though I just thought he was a natural for it. Idris Elba – he’s even called Idris – but again, busy. I think he’d bring back a little of the sense of dangerous command Chris Eccleston had. I always had an eye on Ben Miller, from Armstrong and Miller, although he might be getting a little old for it now. He has the right mix of charm and unpredictability. Also he’s a physicist. I’d have loved to have seen him have a go. And someone else suggested Sue Perkins, which I thought was a tremendous idea, she’d be fantastic.
Doctor Who: Dark Horizons by Jenny T. Colgan is published in paperback by BBC Books on 4 July, £12.99
Thanks to Ed Griffiths at BBC Books for his assistance in setting up this interview.