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