Doctor Who: A Fairytale Life sounds like a winner of an idea: take the 11th Doctor and his companion, Amy Pond, and thrust them into a fairy tale world gone very, very wrong. What could make this scenario even better? Bringing it to life via the pen of Matthew Sturges, who has written Jack of Fables with Bill Willingham and explored the darker side of fantasy with House of Mystery.
We had the opportunity to ask Matthew our burning questions about his love for Doctor Who, and what this new four-issue miniseries has in store for us.
TFAW.com: Doctor Who: A Fairytale Life looks like so much fun! Can you give us a brief intro?
Matthew Sturges: The elevator pitch is that the Doctor takes Amy to a holiday planet called Caligari Epsilon Six that’s been designed as a totally immersive fairy tale experience, during the Third Great and Bountiful Human Empire. Unfortunately, they’ve arrived about a hundred years too late, and the fairy tale planet has degenerated into something rather more sinister, populated by inhabitants who don’t realize that they’re living in a fantasy. The Doctor and Amy get involved when they discover that monstrous creatures called Serpentines are abducting sick and injured people and taking them away, never to be seen again.
TFAW.com: Does it take place before or after the second Big Bang?
MS: It’s designed to take place out of continuity, so it’s not explicitly stated, but in my mind, it takes place roughly around the time of “The Lodger,” during the time when Rory is completely out of the picture. I wanted to focus on the Doctor and Amy as a pair, but that doesn’t mean that I love Rory any less.
TFAW.com: Where did the idea for the storyline come from? Did you pitch it to IDW, or did they come to you?
MS: IDW asked me to pitch a miniseries featuring the 11th Doctor and I jumped at the chance. I may have literally jumped at it; I’m lucky my enthusiasm didn’t frighten anyone. The idea comes from two sources. First, in “The Eleventh Hour,” the Doctor tells young Amy that her name sounds like something from a fairy tale, and then later, adult Amy sneers at the notion, so I thought it would be fun to thrust her into a fairy tale environment. Second, I always thought that there was a very good idea buried in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village; he just started the story in the wrong place. So it’s sort of a melding of the two ideas.
TFAW.com: So are you a big fan of Doctor Who?
MS: I’ve been a huge Doctor Who fan since I was ten or eleven years old; it was my first geek obsession. I watched it every chance I got when I was a kid, but it lost my interest sometime around the Colin Baker years. It wasn’t anything to do with the quality of the show so much as I just got interested in other things–like girls. The two interests proved to be largely incompatible in those dark days when “geek girl” was an oxymoron. But when the new series started in 2005, I couldn’t have been more thrilled; it was as if the writers searched my memories for everything that I loved about Doctor Who and made that, while specifically excluding everything that I didn’t like about it. The first four seasons were lovely, but the fifth season, with Steven Moffat at the helm, is more or less my platonic ideal of everything that Doctor Who should be. It fills me with joy.
TFAW.com: Who is your favorite Doctor?
MS: I tend to think of the original series and the new series as two entirely different animals. Like most fans my age, Tom Baker was the Doctor I fell in love with, and he remains my sentimental favorite. When the new series started, I thought Eccleston was brilliant, and I was disappointed when he left and wasn’t thrilled with the idea of Tennant. And then I thought Tennant was leaps and bounds above Eccleston, and I was disappointed when he left and wasn’t thrilled with the idea of Matt Smith. And then I thought Matt Smith blew everyone else out of the water, including Baker. He captures perfectly the essence of what makes Doctor Who wonderful.
TFAW.com: The solicitation copy for issue #1 reads, “Amy finds herself reluctantly cast as a damsel in distress.” What’s this experience going to be like for her?
MS: Oh, it’s going to be terrible for her. Somehow the Doctor convinces her (you might even say he tricks her) into dressing as a fairy tale princess, with the big skirts and the conical hat, the whole bit. Being the fiercely independent woman that she is, the whole concept of being a damsel in distress and needing to be rescued is anathema to her. But of course, Amy sometimes needs to be rescued. And it’s that theme, the tension between the need to be protected and the need for independence, that underlies the entire story.
TFAW.com: How will the Doctor respond to this fairy tale environment? Or, more importantly, how will its inhabitants react to him?
MS: On the Doctor’s side, he responds to it as he responds to any new situation, which is to say that he marvels at its wonders and finds himself compelled to meddle in its troubles. But the implications of what this world is truly about, when we get further into the story, puts him in an unusual position at the end in which he’s forced to make a difficult moral decision about the depth of his responsibility to those he helps. As for the reaction of the inhabitants, the Doctor’s arrival is complicated by the fact that this is a world in which there are no strangers and no conceivable avenue by which strangers might appear, so his presence is profoundly off-putting.
TFAW.com: Medieval times were legendary for jousting and swordfighting. The Doctor is known as a pacifist, but can we look forward to him taking part in anything like that?
MS: The jousting, with the brawny, sweaty knights is one of the primary attractions of this world for Amy, and it’s the first thing she asks about. As for the Doctor . . . when you find yourself on horseback holding a lance, and a giant robotic wyvern comes at you, well, there’s an obvious course of action there.
TFAW.com: You seem like an ideal choice for this story, after writing Jack of Fables. Are there any similarities between the two books?
MS: I think the secret to writing Doctor Who is understanding how to blend drama and comedy, and that’s something I’ve been working at my entire career. Doing comedy in comic books is very difficult (which is ironic, since they’re called “comics”) and bad or poorly cued comedy is worse than none at all. But when you’re dealing with the Doctor, especially this Doctor, you have to bring the laughs or it fails miserably. So I suppose if there’s any connection between Jack and Doctor Who, it’s that both require a sense of subtle absurdity, knowing when to be silly and when to rein it in. Balance is everything.
TFAW.com: What are the crucial differences?
MS: The differences probably outweigh the similarities. Of course the biggest difference is the overall worldview. Jack of Fables is a deeply cynical work, and a pessimistic one. The wonderful thing about Doctor Who is its buoyant, infectious optimism. Futility isn’t a theme that plays out well in Doctor Who, which is why I think the episode “The Waters of Mars” was a bit of a misstep, because at the end the Doctor is embittered, which isn’t (in my opinion) what the character is about. I personally prefer the “Nobody dies today!” Doctor Who never allows darkness to overcome. Jack of Fables, on the other hand, is practically a study in futility.
TFAW.com: Jack of Fables recently ended, with issue #50. What was it like bringing it to a close?
MS: It was bittersweet, but it was time. Fifty is a nice, round number, and we had an ending that we loved, so we went for it. The response seems to be evenly divided among those who thought the ended was great, and those who thought it was horrible. And that’s the only kind of ending we could have made. Certainly the kind of ending we wanted to make.
TFAW.com: Is there anything you didn’t get to write for Jack that you had planned?
MS: I think you always want to end a series with the conviction that you could have done more with it. You never want to reach the finish line out of breath. So, while there were certainly other things we could have done with it, there was that chance that it might have stopped being fun. And that would have been a disservice to everyone.
TFAW.com: You’ve also been going strong with House of Mystery. Can you give us any hints about upcoming stories?
MS: I don’t want to give too much away, because ultimately that book is all about the mystery, but I will say that the big storyline with Fig and the Conception is finally going to be resolved, and all will be explained there. Another thing to look forward to is another full-on anthology issue in issue #42. We’ve always have a lot of fun with those issues and this one promises to be no exception.
TFAW.com: You’ve spent a lot of time on the light and dark sides of fantasy. What other types of stories would you like to tell?
MS: For a long time now I’ve wanted to do something that focuses on the big, seemingly intransigent problems that happen in the real world. We live in a time when ordinary people are just outraged and livid at what’s happening in the world around them and feel so hopeless to do anything about it: wars, global warming, corporate greed, dirty politics. Those are things that are difficult to address in comics, and which could be really preachy and annoying if handled inappropriately, but I have an idea . . .
TFAW.com: What comics are your favorites right now?
MS: I’m a bit behind on my comics reading at the moment; I seem to spend so much time writing them that I never seem to find time to read them. But the ones I’ve been most excited about lately are Locke and Key, The Sixth Gun, Secret Six, and Paul Cornell’s brilliant run on Action Comics. There are others, of course, but I’ll only think of them after the interview goes to print.
TFAW.com: Do you think you’ll write more Doctor Who comics after A Fairytale Life?
MS: I’d absolutely love to do more. For me it’s one of those passion projects, the kind you’d gladly do for free. I have a few pitches up my sleeve, just waiting for the right moment to spring them. If someday I got to write an episode of the television show, I think I could die happy.
TFAW.com: What else do you have coming up that you’re excited about?
MS: I have a creator-owned series that I’ve just started writing, which I’m totally in love with, and may well be the best thing I’ve ever done if I can pull it off. I’m in the best part of it, where everything is possibility and none of the soul-crushing realities of writing have come into play yet. That feeling, where you’re a genius who can do anything, seldom lasts beyond page one of issue one, so you have to revel in it while it’s happening. Beyond that, I’ve got a few other irons in the fire, but at the moment I’m booked solid with House of Mystery, this new project, and a couple of odds and ends that I’m doing in the DCU. But I have a feeling something else exciting is about to happen; maybe it’s the Doctor Who rubbing off on me, but I’ve never been more excited to be writing comics!
Our thanks to Matthew for taking the time to give us the inside scoop on Doctor Who: A Fairytale Life. Issue #1 is out April 13–check it out here at TFAW.com and pre-order the rest of the series.
Are you looking forward to Doctor Who: A Fairytale Life? Post your comments below!