From our interview archives, Eddie talks to Lance Parkin about Bennice Summerfield.
So tell us a bit about Benny’s Story…
It’s one of four stories on Company of Friends, it has the working title ‘Tempting Fate’, it’s the eighth Doctor meeting the older Benny of the audio series. Someone has summoned the Doctor, and there’s a giant green lion and some killer robots, but it’s mainly a way to see the Doctor and Benny together again.
Did you get a say in the companion or era you wrote for?
None whatsoever, but they’re without a shadow of a doubt the two who’d be top of my list.
Where in the Doctor’s timeline is it set – it seems through the dialogue Benny recognises him before he does her… has it been a while? It seems a long time since The Dying Days.
I’m agnostic about exactly where in the eighth Doctor’s life it’s set. He recognizes Benny very quickly, given the circumstances, I think. The thing is … it’s a twenty five minute story. We could have spent ten times longer than that just trying to get it to fit or trying to work out if The Ancestor Cell even takes place in the same continuity. It’s the eighth Doctor, meeting up with Benny, that’s all you need to know.
From Benny’s point of view it’s really simple: this is Benny at some point in season ten of her audios and she’s grubbing around and accepting work because she needs the money.
The review we have for it suggests the characters and situations would merit more exploration, would you consider expanding that universe?
Oh, yes. I’d write a monthly series of eighth Doctor and Benny audios for Big Finish if they wanted. I love the characters, I think the way that Lisa Bowerman and Paul McGann play off each other, even in something so brief as my story is so entertaining that I’d love to see more of them.
The ending certainly leaves more adventures with the two of them open as a possibility, and that is a pretty shameless attempt on my part to create a gap.
Is it deliberately trying to evoke the feeling of the old NAs? (If it is, it succeeds)
To an extent. I got the gig, I assume, because I wrote The Dying Days, the only novel where they met. It builds on that, in that Benny still thinks of the Doctor as the dark little plotter McCoy was. I just wanted to get the sense that these people are just immensely good, cosmic level, friends. They like each other, respect each other, are completely at ease around each other. The weird thing is that it’s not actually a reunion, it’s the first time that Paul McGann playing the Doctor and Lisa Bowerman playing Benny have appeared together. The two of them really do sound like they’ve got this long and warm relationship.
When you write for a character like Benny – who you’ve known for so many years – do you write for the character now or do you hear Lisa’s voice as you do?
Lisa’s brilliant. You can write a line for Lisa and she’ll not just make it work, she’ll find something to add to it. I’ve just heard Venus Mantrap, the Benny audio that’s out soon I co-wrote with Mark Clapham and it’s a comedy with lots of double bluffing and disguises and stuff.
There are lines she delivers in that that are laugh out loud funny, and the rapport she has with Jo Castleton, who plays Scoblow – a sex mad gerbil consumed with sublimated rage for Benny – is just endlessly entertaining. To me and Mark, at least.
Benny’s a strong character in her own right, though. To be honest, I write for Benny, not Lisa, but knowing that Lisa knows what she’s doing means I can go for it. A lot of the time, you have to spell things out in scripts – you put in notes like ‘(sarcastic)’ or something like that. Lisa just gets it.
On another subject, I was and am a great fan of your History of the Universe book – that started as an online fan project didn’t it?
It started off as a fan-published actual book, fifteen years ago now. It’s been through various incarnations. If I was doing it now, it would definitely be as a website, but I think it would lose something as a result. The appeal of that book is simple: you get 1000 Doctor Who stories in one volume. I’ve written a fair amount of non fiction and the golden rule I have is that I keep asking myself ‘why would anyone take this off their shelf?’. I’ve got three shelves of Doctor Who reference books, probably a hundred, and I doubt I ever actually use more than about ten of them. The aim with A History is to get people to reach for it.
Does the new series mess up the continuity a bit? Do you ever feel like redoing the whole thing?
Mad Norwegian publish it now, and we did a huge revamp in 2005. The new series has added a load of data points, but very few out and out problems. The dirty little secret of A History is that all I really do is list the dates. It’s about putting things in alphabetical order, not explaining how to get from A to B. There are a lot of judgement calls in there, but I show my working. In something that big, there are always a few things I’ve missed or got wrong, but just about everyone who’s ever disagreed with me has done it using evidence laid out in the book itself.
I suspect we’ll do another version at some point, but we’re literally years and years away from even starting that, and it’ll take a year to do once we have and another year to check and edit before it ends up in the shops. The current edition goes up to Last of the Time Lords, and that’s still pretty fresh.
On the subject of the new series, what do you think of it?
I love the new series. It’s about 95% of where I’d want it to be. It’s on Saturday nights, it’s a show that genuinely appeals to everyone and so there are points where it’s not trying to appeal to me. I’d trade 100% of my Doctor Who for what we have now: a generation of kids who know with burning certainty that Doctor Who is the best thing ever.
There are times where I think the politics or science isn’t quite as sharp as it could be. I’m a bit of a politics wonk, and when I think through the mechanics of what Saxon had to do to murder his cabinet on his first morning in office, I do wince a bit. But it was a funny scene, definitely. The Impossible Planet is pretty likely, rather than impossible. But that really is nitpicking. The moment I heard ‘there was a war and we lost’, I knew this was my Doctor Who. The BBC made Human Nature with all the reverence they have when they do Jane Austen adaptations. They put Kylie Minogue in a maid’s outfit and stilettos on Christmas Day. I can do business with such a series.
And the new Doctor and his new look?
Only saw the first photos a day or so ago, and I do worry for the fashion sense of the nation’s youth – just when Russell T Davies had got the menks wearing suits and looking geeky-smart, now they’ll be in bowties and rolling up their trouser legs. But I like that combination of tweed jacket and boots. Practical, obviously, and hard-wearing. Nicely symbolic, too, I hope – a Doctor who’s a kind of action-academic.
The thing I hadn’t realised is how tall Karen Gillan is. Matt Smith’s pretty much the same height as David Tennant and she’s pretty much the same height as Matt Smith.
Would you like to write for it?
That’s not really the issue. I was recently at a convention in Toronto with new series directors Colin Teague and James Strong, and I asked them if any actor had ever flat out turned them down. They’ve had people upset they can’t do it because they can’t fit it into their schedule, they’ve had big name actors queuing up to volunteer for duty and having to be turned away. In five years, now, they’ve had just one actor who was approached turn them down for a guest part – no, they didn’t name names. And that’s the situation. They can get far better writers than me to write for them, and I’m very happy to be watching such a great show.
And writing the occasional book, if they’ll have me. I’d love to write for one of the many and various comic strips at some point, particularly the IDW one.
What’s your favourite adventure, both classic and the new series?
I think the answer to both is ‘Human Nature’, but I’m spoilt for choice. When I watched Silence in the Library I found myself thinking ‘god, I wish Doctor Who was as good as this, this is f-ing brilliant’. I love The Pirate Planet. I pretty much love it all, I have to admit. I know it’s terribly fashionable to slag off great chunks of it, but anyone who knows me knows I’ve never been terribly fashionable.
If you could write for any Doctor/Companion combination, who would that be?
I don’t really think in those terms, you know. I’ve come to agree with Terrance Dicks that the Doctor’s just the Doctor, played by different people. If you read those 2005 scripts, you can see Tennant playing it, as Tennant, virtually all the time and I think Russell T Davies says that he just writes for the Doctor, not the tenth Doctor or whatever. I love Tom and Lalla, and I’ve been a little loathe to write for them.
At Virgin I had the excuse that Gareth Roberts had pretty much bagsied them and his books would be better than mine. I do like K9, I love that fusty, prissy character that John Leeson created.
I’m on an bit of an Ian Chesterton kick at the moment. There’s just something so honest and reassuring about him. He never lets anyone down, he never lies or sneaks around. There’s a bit at the end of The Crusades where all the supporting characters are willing to lay down their lives to rescue Barbara and he says something like ‘no – no one dies today unless they deserve to’ and it’s just such a perfect expression of what a hero is. And both Susan and Vicki would be interesting to write for, I think – not an opinion held by many writers in the sixties, but there you go. So, to answer your question: Hartnell, Ian and Barbara and … Susan, say. Or Vicki.
Is it still a thrill to push the Doctor Who canon forward each time you’re commissioned?
Yes. I mean, nearly fifteen years after I first started writing Just War, it’s not got that amazing weirdness and novelty to it any more, outer space is just the place I work, but writing ‘the Doctor stepped out of the TARDIS’ does still feel like I’m working with a superstar, it is a bit like writing songs for Sinatra. It’s an honour.
What have you got coming up in the future?
OK … I’m going to miss something out here. My collection of essays, Time Unincorporated, has just come out from Mad Norwegian. Pocket Essentials have reissued an updated version or my Alan Moore biography. I’ve got Company of Friends and Venus Mantrap coming out from Big Finish.
I’ve got an original novel I’ve been working on this year, it’s ‘sort of SF’, like Cloud Atlas or The Time Traveler’s Wife and I’ve got a complete first draft of that which still needs a little work, so it’s too early to talk about it. That’s shaping up nicely. I’ve just signed up with a literary agent in New York, at an agency with some truly incredible clients, and so now that’s got the best possible chance of reaching its potential.