With Titan Comics’ Doctor Who: The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor coming to bookshelves in November, Blogtor Who sat down with writer James Peaty to discuss his favourite Doctor to write, his work for 2000ad and his passion for creativity across media
James Peaty is an accomplished comics writer, having written for DC Comics, Marvel Comics, 2000ad and for Titan Comics’ Doctor Who line. Recently he’s been the writer on Doctor Who: The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor, the title spearheading Titan’s Doctor Who relaunch in preparation for the television debut of Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor. Doctor Who Comic: Tales from the TARDIS Volume 2 #1 is currently on newsagents across the UK, featuring Peaty’s Ghost Ship. The three issues of Road to the Thirteenth Doctor are being collected in trade paperback form on November 21st. He’s also the writer and director of the short films The Appraisal and Testimony. Blogtor Who recently met up with him to discuss his work and his approach to writing in different media.
“You’ve got to have a story that’s complex enough but not overstuffed”
BW: Recently you were in the position of having two books on shelves at the same time, Appetite, which is a 3riller story in 2000ad and, of course, The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor. Is there much of a difference between coming up with your own original characters for your story, and having to build your story around existing ones like the Doctor and Alice?
JP: In writing, you always have to have an idea and the story’s got to lock together and fit into place. The difference with writing Doctor Who for Titan is that you’ve got certain parameters that you’re starting from. In terms of 2000ad, you’ve got to come up with everything. You’ve got to come up with the characters and the reason for that story to exist. But in some respects the same things apply. If you’re writing a comic that’s 22 pages, or a 2000ad strip that’s 15 pages, you’ve got to come up with a story that will sustain that length. You’ve got to have a story that’s complex enough but not overstuffed.
JP: And they’re different because the audience you’re aiming for is different. 2000ad is aimed, I would say, at a slightly older audience than Doctor Who. But I would say there are more similarities than differences.
“In comics you learn how to make your moments count”
BW: It almost seems to be your speciality to create tight, self-contained stories in a relatively limited page count.
JP: I suppose so. I’ve done a lot of one-off issues. I was published by DC Comics in the 1990s but around 2002 I was writing regularly for Warhammer Monthly and it was very similar to 2000ad – you get a five page slot. In fact, I think the first story I did for them was five parts of five pages each, so I was writing serials. I got a good feeling for that, and a good grounding in that. I wrote short stories as well, and that’s invaluable. You learn on the job doing that.
JP: From 2004 to 2011 I did a lot of jobs in America that were one-off 22-page issues. So whether that would be Green Arrow, Justice League Unlimited or The Batman Strikes! I’ve rarely had the luxury of doing longer storylines. I did do a longer six issue run on Supergirl.
JP: Then I was doing films and stuff like that for quite a long time until about 2015 I started working on Doctor Who Adventures.
BW: The short films you did, The Appraisal and Testimony pack an awful lot of tension and plot reversals into a relatively short run time.
JP: When I look at those films, I think definitely the writing is informed by the comics. In comics you learn how to make your moments count and you learn how to edit yourself. So you think editorially from the start. When do you enter the story? How do you tell the story? What do you jump to? When do you jump to it?
“I wrote The Appraisal in the edit and I said I would never do that again”
JP: Making [the original version of] The Appraisal I think we went into the edit suite for a week. I think we’d had a 20-page script and we ending up filming about 10-12 pages of it and then we edited down further into a four minute film. And what I learned was that I wrote it in the edit and I said I would never do that again. But that experience taught me how to write dramatically and engagingly. And it was just after that I started working regularly in comics so I think the two of them are very closely interwoven.
JP: And I’ve just made another film, actually. I finished it in the middle of July and we shot it in a day. It’s a bit more stripped down that one, but the same principles apply. If you make your savings on paper, if you can impose your structure, and know what you need at the start, then you’re going to save yourself so much trouble at the other end. It’s similar to working with artists in comics. You’re engaged in that very collaborative process and you cut your cloth accordingly. You always write scripts that play better to the style of artists you’ve worked with a couple of times before.
“I think Doctor Who should be at its simplest and most direct and anyone should be able to just pick it up and watch it”
JP: For instance I worked with Appetite’s artist, Andrea Mutti, on a Future Shock last year. So I knew what he could do. We’d developed an understanding, so that was good. And on Tulpa [Road to the Thirteenth Doctor #3] I was asked “Can you write something for Brian Williamson?” So the story grew out of what I thought Brian did really well and what his style was. So it feeds into how you do the story. You wouldn’t write the same story for Brian as maybe you would for Andrea. You approach them slightly differently.
BW: In writing The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor, did you also try and write them to be an accessible jumping on point for readers who perhaps hadn’t read the Titan Comics until now, or perhaps even only recently come to Doctor Who due to Jodie Whittaker’s casting?
JP: Do you know what? I always write with someone coming to it for the first time in mind. Even on TV, I think Doctor Who should be at its simplest and most direct and anyone should be able to just pick it up and watch it. Any episode could be someone’s first episode. With the comics, any issue could be someone’s first issue.
BW: Your comics are peppered with extraordinary images, like the Cube in Skip Tracer, or a circulatory system walking around by itself and a robot walking a dog in Doctor Who. Do you actively try and populate your scripts with those sorts of striking images?
“There needs to be some sort of juxtaposition of something unusual with something very ordinary”
JP: Oh yeah, I think you’ve got to think of the imagery. I think in Doctor Who in particular, there needs to be some sort of juxtaposition of something unusual with something very ordinary. Doctor Who gives you a lot of latitude for that. I don’t think ‘Logic be damned’ but I’d rather work out the logic after I’ve come up with the image. Things like the doors and the red squids in Revolving Doors [Tenth Doctor Year Three #5] or the grinning house in The Boy with the Displaced Smile [Twelfth Doctor Year Three #4]. You want to come up with a very simple image. I think there’s some good imagery in Tulpa.
BW: The three issues of Road to the Thirteenth Doctor cover historicals, present day and futuristic stories. Was that a deliberate plan to encapsulate, basically, the whole of Doctor Who in three issues.
JP: The future, past and present. Yes, I think kind of have to. And I think each Doctor that we’ve chosen fits quite well into each one. I never thought they made enough historicals with Matt Smith. I think he works really well in historicals. So there was something quite nice about setting his issue in 19th century San Francisco.
BW: Apart from Jody Houser and Rachael Stott on The Thirteenth Doctor, Titan Comics have been keeping their plans for the range close to their chest.
“When you’re doing a new Doctor … you want so say ‘She’s the Doctor'”
JP: They’ve got things lined up, but I think they’re waiting to announce it. All eyes are on the launch of that Thirteenth Doctor book. And the launch of Series 11. When you’re doing a new Doctor, there’s probably less accent on what’s come before. You want to say “She’s the Doctor,” and make sure she has her time to really establish herself. So the first year is really important. The Thirteenth Doctor book launch is very soon after Series 11 begins. I know a few other things that are coming but I’m not at liberty to say.
BW: Titan Comics have been great about giving each Doctor their time in the sun. If you had the choice of any Doctor and companion team to write a mini-series for, which one would you pick?
JP: Oh dear, that’s a hard one isn’t it? If you were talking about any Doctor, I’d be naturally drawn to the Fourth or Fifth Doctors because they’re the ones I watched as a child. I think the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane would be quite fun, actually. Or the Fifth Doctor on his own, maybe? I quite like the Fifth Doctor on his own.
JP: Of the modern ones, I think the Ninth Doctor and Rose were particularly good. On their own, rather than with Captain Jack, is a particularly strong team. I’d like to see more of the Eleventh Doctor and Clara actually. They had a lot of potential but it was very fleeting, wasn’t it? But I think they were really good together.
JP: I mean, I like all of them. But those would be the ones – the Fourth, Fifth and Eleventh – that I would veer towards.
Blogtor Who would like to thank James Peaty for being his generosity with his time
Thanks also to Olivia Fahy and the publicity team at Dublin Comic Con for helping facilitate the holding of this interview. The collected Road to the Thirteenth Doctor is out from Titan Comics on the 21st of November. Peaty’s next project is a comics set in the Judge Dredd universe for 2000ad. The outstanding tense and densely layered short film The Appraisal (2016) starring the enduringly popular Doctor Who expert Toby Hadoke can be seen on James Peaty’s YouTube page here- (warning: violent content)
The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor
Walk the road to the Thirteenth Doctor in the shoes of the Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth, with three new stories from James Peaty (Supergirl)!
A haunted spaceship? 1800s cyber San Francisco? Pterodactyls loose in Piccadilly Circus?!
Plus an exclusive short story from the team behind the new ongoing series Doctor Who: The Thirteenth Doctor!
The Road to the Thirteenth Doctor trade paperback is released on November 21st. It is also being serialized in Doctor Who Comic: Tales from the TARDIS, in all good newsagents now.