Fes­tive fright­ener

RTÉ Guide Christmas Edition 2018 - - Interview -

For the first time since 2005, there’s no Christmas episode of Doc­tor Who, but com­ing to the res­cue of fans in need of a fes­tive fix is Dave Rud­den. The au­thor of Knights of the Bor­rowed Dark has pub­lished a book of 12 sto­ries, each with a favourite Who­vian alien bad guy at its heart. He tells Stephen Meyler how it all hap­pened

“Ire­ally feel like this book is a gift. Each of the sto­ries fo­cuses on one of the Doc­tor’s clas­sic vil­lains and each has a lit­tle bit of a Christmas twist. It’s mod­elled af­ter the 12 Days of Christmas, a count­down from the An­gels to the Master. I wrote them to be in­clu­sive of peo­ple who might not know Doc­tor Who or just like sci-fi sto­ries, but if you know the lore, there are lots of lit­tle clues that build up as you read the book.

This is my first book to be il­lus­trated (by Alexis Snell, who spe­cialises in lino­type, so it’s re­ally dif­fer­ent). The first things I ever wrote for my­self were pieces of Doc­tor Who fan-fic­tion that no­body ever read and are still on my lap­top some­where, so I wish I could go back in time and tell 16-year-old Dave that this is hap­pen­ing. He might not be­lieve me, but then again he might, be­cause I did be­lieve in time travel then!

Prob­a­bly like any writer who likes Doc­tor Who, I had a few episode ideas in my back pocket, so the fourth story, the Zy­gon story, is very much the episode I would have writ­ten had I been hired to write an episode. A lot of those old ideas got worked in and oth­ers came from the re­search I did on each mon­ster, while oth­ers came from peo­ple’s re­ac­tions when they found out I was writ­ing a Doc­tor Who book. One is set in Ringsend in Dublin in the ’70s, which is mod­elled on a friend’s mother, who told me she had been a huge fan of the show as a kid, but had been bul­lied out of it be­cause girls weren’t sup­posed to like sci­ence. So I de­cided to make her part of the Doc­tor Who uni­verse as re­venge.

Writ­ing in a uni­verse that I didn’t cre­ate my­self was the ma­jor chal­lenge with this be­cause with Knights of the Bor­rowed Dark, I was the cre­ator and judge of that world. With this, you’re step­ping into 57 years of his­tory and there are a lot of peo­ple who have very strong feel­ings and a sense of own­er­ship be­cause they’ve loved the show for so long. I tried to think about telling sto­ries in a uni­verse this big that just hadn’t been told be­fore, so it might have been bring­ing a big story down to the level of a lit­tle kid in Ringsend in the ’70s or fo­cus­ing on a minor char­ac­ter or talk­ing about day to day life. So for ex­am­ple, the Sil­urian story is about some­one with Sea­sonal Af­fec­tive Dis­or­der (SAD) who hap­pens to be a lizard per­son, so it’s kind of Doc­tor Who through the lens of Dave Rud­den.

‘My’ Doc­tor was David Ten­nant – there was some­thing about his abil­ity to switch be­tween be­ing very old and very young and ridicu­lous with en­ergy and wit and kind­ness that com­pletely hooked me. He was also the first Doc­tor to en­counter the Weep­ing An­gels, in his third se­ries.

The re­ac­tion so far has been re­ally good – it seems most peo­ple think that this fits in with the tone of Doc­tor Who, a show about ad­ven­ture and kind­ness and ex­plo­ration and terror.

It’s hard to pick a favourite Doc­tor Who vil­lain, but be­cause the first story I wrote was a Cy­ber­men story, I wanted to write not in my usual style, so it’s writ­ten in this cold bleak me­chan­i­cal style, be­cause it is the internal mono­logue of a Cy­ber­man. I didn’t know I could do that be­fore, so it’s re­ally cool to know you can switch style and try out dif­fer­ent things.

Change and moder­nity are built into the show’s DNA – hav­ing the 13th Doc­tor be a fe­male char­ac­ter is a com­ment on the times we’re in now and I feel that a lot of the mon­sters are also commentary on things that are go­ing on in so­ci­ety. I think that is the point of scifi, to re­mind us of the now by look­ing at the fu­ture. So for ex­am­ple, the Daleks were ex­pressly mod­elled af­ter the Nazis and even the Cy­ber­men, where you take away parts of yourself and re­place them with some­thing more cold and un­feel­ing, are a commentary on the way peo­ple act in cruel sys­tems. Each episode is a lit­tle thought ex­per­i­ment.

Peo­ple talk about art get­ting too po­lit­i­cal, but I think that art has al­ways been po­lit­i­cal. Hav­ing the Doc­tor be a paci­fist who tries to solve prob­lems non-vi­o­lently has al­ways been a po­lit­i­cal state­ment. The Doc­tor is the el­e­ment in the sys­tem you can’t quite con­trol and hav­ing him and his hu­man com­pan­ions break these sys­tems down, or en­cour­age the peo­ple within them to break them down, is ab­so­lutely po­lit­i­cal.

As well as lots of pro­mo­tion work for Twelve An­gels Weep­ing, I have started tour­ing schools with a new show called Greet­ings He­roes. It’s a role-playing game with the kids where I in­tro­duce a story and they di­rect how it goes.

It’s loosely based on Dun­geons and Dragons, and the kids’ sug­ges­tions are amaz­ing. At a re­cent show, they were fac­ing the main vil­lain Valder­ack and I said ‘do you want to fight him now, what do you want to do?’ Their an­swer was ‘Can we pro­pose to him?’ Sure, let’s roll the dice and see what hap­pens. Oh no, you got a three, that means he’s al­ready mar­ried, to a Mrs Ann Valder­ack from Mon­aghan. Kids all over Europe are the same, but ev­ery show is com­pletely dif­fer­ent.”

Doc­tor Who: Twelve An­gels Weep­ing by Dave Rud­den (BBC Books) is in book­shops now

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