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ROB WILLIAMS & AL EWING
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DF Interview: Who’s on 1st? Rob Williams, Al Ewing say 11th Who is Number 1

Byron Brewer

In the wake of the second Big Bang, Alice Obiefune is alone and grieving at the loss of her mother. It is then that the time-traveler in a Tardis, Doctor Who, explodes into her life with mysterious musicians, amnesiac aliens and terrifying threats of cosmic proportion!

Series architects Rob Williams (Revolutionary War, Ordinary, Miss Fury) and Al Ewing (Loki: Agent of Asgard, Captain America and the Mighty Avengers) keep the 11th incarnation of the Doctor on a whirlwind adventure through eternity.

Dynamic Forces entered the Tardis ourselves and dialed up the following questions to the writers. Here is what they told us (and collect!).

Dynamic Forces: Al and Rob, tell us how you both – 2000AD veterans – got involved with the adventures of this British time traveler.

Rob Williams: I think Titan liked what we did with Trifecta in 2000AD, which was co-written by Al, Si Spurrier and myself. They wanted the three of us to take on the Doctor as co-writers but Si was too busy to join in at the time, so Al and I took it on. I do quite like the joint writer format, actually. I think it benefits the book. We bounce ideas off each other, act like a mini writer's room, usually via Skype, and then, once we have a framework in place, we go off and do our individual thing. It's seemed to work really well.

Al Ewing: I've always been a fan of Doctor Who, and my nephews are fans of the show, so it was a no-brainer for me when we were asked, and fortunately at the time I was in a position where I could jump on it. I think two heads are definitely better than one when it comes to Who -- together, me and Rob have come up with ideas and directions that we might not have thought of alone, and we can use each other as sounding boards to test out what'll work and what won't.

DF: In your opinion, what is it about the 11th incarnation of Doctor Who that separates him from the long line of Whos?

Rob Williams: Well, I thought Matt Smith was terrific and brought a great energy and accessibility and fun to the role, but he could do the gravitas and the angry god stuff very well too. He gave that sense that this was a very old man in a much younger body. The 11th was so hopeful and enthusiastic and, I guess, a bit uncomplicated compared to, say, the 12th or the 9th. He loved adventure, couldn't resist it. I liked him a lot.

Al Ewing: I remember “The Eleventh Hour” as a huge breath of fresh air at the time -- a massive shift in tone from what had come before. "Troughtonesque" is a word that's bandied around a lot with Matt Smith, but I think it really fits, and that's the Doctor he most reminds me of. There was a certain nimble quality to him -- he had a lot of physicality, always moving in a way that I don't think many of the other Doctors did. Of course, now we're in the Capaldi era it's hard to remember those halcyon days -- I have to watch old episodes to remind myself.

DF: Obviously it is difficult writing a licensed property. How much more difficult is it to write one that is still ongoing with current adventures (in a fashion)? Do you or Titan Comics have to develop the “can-do, can’t-do” list with the BBC, etc.?

Rob Williams: We have good safeguards in that in our editor, Andrew James, at Titan, is a big Who encyclopedia, and then, if Andrew signs off on things, they still have to get run past the Who office at the BBC. So that all keeps us on the straight and narrow. There's this several hundred year gap in the 11th's history where he left Amy and Rory for a period and went off by himself, so there's huge scope for us to do all the stories we want to do, and with our new companions, that means we can have some real stakes and drama. You know what happens to Amy & Rory, you don’t know what happens to Alice, Jones and ARC.

Al Ewing: The BBC has, for the most part, been absolutely fine with everything. I think I had to lose a "sodding" once, and a nosebleed -- that was it. Generally my scripts get waved through. Of course now I've said that, I've jinxed it.

I don't think we need to worry about clashing with current continuity -- the continuity of Doctor Who is quite loose to begin with, probably because he's rewriting history all the time, and it's generally understood that trying to keep to a “canon” in Who is a fool's errand. Well, unless you're approaching it in a spirit of fun -- I know there are people who take a great joy in making all these pieces fit together even though they can't possibly. I think as long as we make sure what we do fits in nicely with the Matt Smith era, we'll be okay.

DF: Having worked with a co-writer on occasion, tell us how you, Al and Rob, usually work with plot/script on Eleventh Doctor. Explain your normal process.

Rob Williams: Skype call where Al's avatar pulses at me alarmingly, then we burble on from say, an hour, talking things through. That's where two brains work well. If one person's gone up a blind alley the other can suggest something to get them out of it. We broke down the major plot beats of the series at the start of all this, then partitioned out individual issues to each other, which were up to us to individually pitch. So there's a series A plot and then lots of individual issue B plots, if you will. So there's a lot of stuff in there that's by Al and I and also a lot of stuff that's just Al and a lot that's just me. Hopefully you don't see the join.

Al Ewing: I have a Skype avatar which is an iridescent, glowing close-up of my beauteous fizzog rendered in some kind of thermal vision, which never fails to alarm Rob. Generally Skype conversations can potter about the houses for some time before we finally get down to the business at hand, and then there are the times we meet up in the flesh -- usually in Bristol, traditional drinking-ground of non-London comic-folk -- although Rob's welcome to visit the North any time -- and drink copiously while occasionally drifting back onto the subject. It's all very enjoyable, if occasionally inefficient.

DF: If memory serves, the time period for this series falls between the fifth and sixth seasons of the TV series. Tell us about some of the creations you have brought in to enhance that period, and do you plan on bringing in any story devices from future or past Doctor eras for this iteration?

Rob Williams: We've mainly tried to steer clear of the old favorites and have tried to come up with our own inventions, although one or two mainstays slip in from time to time. Our three new companions are all us trying to offer something a wee bit different. Alice is a grieving woman in her 30s -- so older than the Doctor's usual companions, and that adds a different flavor. Jones is basically David Bowie, learning all his visual and musical incarnations from his travels with the Doctor, and ARC is strange and alien and the type of companion the show just couldn't do because of budget. That’s all us trying to bring our own flavor to the book. But Who's history pops up every now and again. There was a Nimon in #6 and there may be another old favorite turning up towards the end of the series ...

Al Ewing: I'd put Alice at 39 -- and in fact, I might have. It does add something different -- what I always pull out here is that if Alice had an actor, she'd be much older than Matt Smith and that'd give her a certain innate authority over him for the viewer, which would balance out the Doctor/Companion relationship nicely. So I try to keep that in mind whenever I'm writing her -- the idea that she's not necessarily going to take the same amount of crap from the Doctor that other companions might.

Jones, meanwhile, is a joy to write -- I've got much more into David Bowie as a result of all this, and I really have to thank Rob for that. Fans of Diamond Dogs will get a lot out of issues #8 and #9, and anyone who has fond memories of a certain puppet-based film will find something fun in #11. I get the impression from his scripts that he's enjoying writing ARC as well, so all is good -- there was a point where his speech would follow a very strange, alien syntax, trying to replicate the sing-song speech of the original Cybermen, but fortunately I backed off from that idea almost immediately, before Rob had to pull me aside and tell me I'd gone mad.

DF: Why is Simon Fraser the right artist for this wacky sci-fi British blast?

Rob Williams: I love Simon's accessibility. His work has energy on the page, it feels like Matt Smith's Doctor, but it's never photo-reference static. There's a fluidity about Simon's work, the storytelling's always very clear, and it pops off the page. I think he's done a stellar job on the book. And we also have Boo Cook and Warren Pleece on certain issues too. All three are 2000AD veterans and perfect for bit of adventuring in space and time. Gary Caldwell's colors have been excellent on the book too.

Al Ewing: All three of our artists [Simon Fraser, Boo Cook and Warren Pleece] have their own special something they bring to the Doctor, and capture the energy and humanity and otherworldliness of the character in different ways. It's been fascinating and wonderful seeing how they approach each of their stories, and how they bring the Doctor and the companions to life. There've been some wonderful moments from this team, and there are more coming.

DF: So, Al and Rob, what do we have set for Eleventh Doctor going forward? 

Rob Williams: Issue #8 is the second part of our “The Infinite Astronaut” two-parter, where Alice is going to have the fate of the entire planet on her shoulders. Issues #9 and #10 are another two-parter. The Doctor doesn't like what SERVEYOUinc have been doing in terms of time travel AT ALL and so he's going to go from the hunted to the hunter, which may just have very unfortunate consequences. Issue #11 reveals a lot more about ARC's mysterious background and issues #12-13 have Berlin-era Jones (Bowie), a big flaming comet, Romans and an unexpected, enormously deadly guest appearance. Then we're heading to our first season finale in issues #14 & #15. Geronimo, and all that.

Al Ewing: Issues #8 and #9 connect up in interesting ways -- we start getting into the whole idea of what makes a Doctor Who story, and what makes the Doctor the Doctor. And since Rob's being modest I'll say that #10 is one of the best Doctor Who comics you'll ever read. Which means I have to follow him up with the best possible #11, which answers a whole bunch of reader questions and -- if I can make it work -- might be a structural feast as well, on a par with #6. Every collaboration should have a few small elements of competition...

Dynamic Forces would like to thank Rob Williams and Al Ewing for taking time out of their busy schedules to answer our questions. Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #10 hits stands March 18th!




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