I had the ultimate pleasure of interviewing Simon while I was recovering from multiple surgeries. We chatted about Doctor Who, Big Finish, writing for audio, and especially, his new book, The Women Who Lived: Amazing Tales for Future Time Lords!
Question 1) For those who aren’t familiar with you, would you please introduce yourself to my readers?
Simon: Hello, I’m Simon Guerrier and I’ve been a freelance writer since 2002 because I am very old. I have written Doctor Who books and comics and audio plays and DVD documentaries, and also non-Doctor Who books and radio documentaries and short films and things.
Question 2) When did you become a fan of Doctor Who?
Simon: My first memory of anything is the cliffhanger of part one of Full Circle in 1980, with the Fourth Doctor and K9 crouched among the reeds watching the Marshmen emerge from a swamp. But at the end of Logopolis(1981), when the Doctor regenerated, my elder brother gave me his copy of The Doctor Who Monster Book, which explained about there being other Doctors and gave a history of the series in a really exciting, straightforward style. And that’s what made me a fan.
Question 3) Who would you consider to be your
Simon: I like them all, but because Tom Baker was the Doctor when I started I suppose I think of him as the definitive one.
Question 4) Congratulations on the publication of The Women Who Lived: Amazing Tales for Future Time Lords! Tell me, how that opportunity come about?
Simon: It was all Christel’s idea, and when she first approached me I thought she just wanted some help with how to pitch it to BBC Books. I thought it was a brilliant idea with lots of potential, so I was very happy to do that – and then delighted when I realized she wanted me as her assistant all the way through.
Question 5) What kind of research is required for a project like that?
Simon: I know Doctor Who pretty well – I’ve seen all the existing episodes and listened to the soundtracks of the 97 missing ones, and I’ve read and written lots of books and magazine articles about the series. But you still need to check details, and look for new things that other people haven’t picked up on. So I watched a lot of episodes again, with my notebook in hand. For example, it was really interesting to watch the very first Doctor Who story, An Unearthly Child, and think about how events played out from the perspective of one of the supporting characters – a woman called Hur. I’ve seen that story lots of times since it was repeated in 1981, but watching it from Hur’s point of view made it seem new.
For some of the characters, I also had to do some digging into real history – the history of the Womens’ Volunteer Reserve in the First World War for Lady Jennifer Buckingham (from 1969 story The War Games) and first-hand accounts of the court of Emperor Nero for Locusta (from 1965 story The Romans). I really enjoyed doing that.
Question 6) How challenging is it to accurately write these characters to fit with canon?
Simon: It’s a lot of checking details against what’s in the TV episodes. So a lot of putting on the DVD and fast-forwarding to the key moments to double-check exactly what happened.
Question 7) What story would you consider your favorite and why?
Simon: Impossible to choose! But the first one I thought of when you asked is The Five Doctors, from 1983, which makes me very happy.
Question 8) I understand you have also done work with Doctor Who comics. Can you describe the difference in the process of writing for a comic versus a novel?
Simon: I think the main difference is in how you tell the story – the mechanics of getting the plot across in five to seven panels per page, with a mini-cliffhanger at the end of each page, and the captions and dialogue kept as short and exciting as possible. Comics are all about concise story-telling. You still want a novel to be exciting, with plenty of jeopardy and weirdness to keep people reading, but you’ve more space to breathe.
Question 9) Turns out, we both have something in common — writing for Matt Smith! Where did the inspiration come for your story for Big Finish’s The Eleventh Chronicles – The Top of the Tree?
Simon: Matt Fitton asked me to write a story with Danny Horn returning as Kazran, so I rewatched A Christmas Carol and had a think. My original idea was to do one of the stories we glimpse on screen – him and Abigail at the pyramids, maybe. But Matt pointed out that that might be tricky without Katherine Jenkins returning as Abigail – which sadly wasn’t an option for this story. So it had to be just Kazran. I wanted it to be directly relevant to him, so I started to think about the history of his people on the planet Ember, or how they came to settle there.
Then I was thinking about an interview with Steven Moffat where he talked about not liking simplistic “evil” baddies in stories, and because I was trying to write a story in his mindset, I used that. So the antagonist in my story was going to be a place – somewhere difficult and puzzling but not evil. And then I remembered an idea I’d had ages ago about an enormous tree. So I put all my loose ideas together…
Question 10) Having that I have worked independently with voice actors, is the process different when working with Big Finish? For example, did you get to work with any of the actors (i.e. Jacob Dudman) or do you just write your part and producers do everything else?
Simon: When I wrote The Top of The Tree, it was going to be done by Nicholas Briggs – who’d already done the Ninth Doctor set, which was the model I was meant to follow. I’ve known and worked with Nick for years, so my script was littered with things I thought might amuse him. For example, I had to indicate when he had to change voice, so paragraphs would begin (AS NARRATOR) or (AS DOCTOR). And when there’s the old woman in the tribe, I put (AS EILEEN WAY) – a brilliant actress who is in some old Doctor Who stories.
When I got notes from Matt Fitton, he explained that Jake was doing the story, and we couldn’t be sure he’d know who Eileen Way was. So I had to go through and adjust all my stupid jokes for Nick. Which made the script better and less self-indulgent. (Nick might have cut them anyway!)
But working with Jake was extraordinary. I’d not met him before I arrived at the studio, though I’d seen his videos online. It was a real pleasure to sit in the back of the studio and watch him and Danny, and director Helen Goldwyn, bring it all to life. It was a really good day.
Question 11) Is there anything you would like to add to this interview that I haven’t already discussed?
Simon: I don’t think so.
Question 12) What can we expect from you in the future?
Simon: Right now, I’m making a documentary for BBC Radio 3 about women from the north of England who funded archaeology in Egypt in the late nineteenth-century. That should be broadcast in February. I’m also writing lots for Doctor Who Magazine and Doctor Who Figurine Collection. And some other bits and pieces I can’t talk about just yet.
Question 13) How can others find out more about you and your work?
I’m @0tralala on Twitter and Instagram, and have a blog at http://0tralala.blogspot.com. But you can google me for details about all the stuff I’ve written. I’m old so there’s quite a lot of it, sorry.
Mackenzie: Thank you, Simon, for this delightful interview. Everyone, please remember to check out his blog and other works!
And USA fans, you can still pre-order The Women Who Lived by clicking the link.
How You Can Participate!