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THE BIG INTERVIEW: FTN interviews Engines of War author George Mann

September 24th, 2014 by Paddy Comments

FTN: How much fun was it writing for the War Doctor? Did you feel any trepidation?

GM: Oh, it was HUGE amounts of fun. It was such an honour, to be given this opportunity to work with and develop this fantastic, newly discovered incarnation of the Doctor. Not only that, but to get to grips with the Time War, a core part of the show’s mythology ever since the reboot. And Daleks!

Let’s not forget them. It was like being handed a bag full of all the most expensive and exciting ingredients and asked to make a meal.

I think if I’d stopped for even a moment to consider what I was doing, I’d have gone to pieces.

Thankfully, I didn’t have much time for that. It was pretty much a case of getting on with it from day one, and I think that helped me to focus and not get caught up in the magnitude of it all.

FTN: How much input did Steven Moffatt and the production team have? Did you have any rules to follow?

GM: The BBC approved all of the story lines and final manuscripts, but otherwise I had a surprisingly free reign. There were some things I discussed with my editor in advance, of course, establishing some ground rules. But otherwise it was very much a case of getting on and telling the best story I could. We all agreed we wanted something epic, but with a personal journey for the Doctor, and it had to have the older War Doctor in it, along with the Daleks.

FTN: How difficult was it writing the Daleks? Did you feel under pressure to come up with something different for these familiar villains?

GM: I think the fear about writing for the Daleks is that it’s easy to treat them as cyphers and nullify the threat. We’ve seen the Doctor beat them so many times that it’s almost inevitable he’s going to win.

So how do you do something different with them, while remaining core to what they are? How do you make them scary again? Clearly they were a terrible threat during the Time War, so what were they doing differently?

That’s where the Eternity Circle came from, really – a kind of proto Cult of Skaro, as well as the Temporal Weapons Dalek and the Skaro Degradations. I wanted to show how far both the Daleks and Time Lords had sunk, and give the Daleks something new to do.

FTN: The character of Cinder seems to have struck a chord with fans, did you have anyone in mind that you based her on?

GM: In terms of personality, no. I very purposefully wanted her to be at a similar point in her life as the Doctor – using an assumed name, weary from fighting an endless war, running out of hope. She’s there to show the Doctor what he’s become, a mirror reflecting back at him, which helps to snap him out of his rut. As far as appearances go, I ‘cast’ Hayley Williams from the band Paramore as Cinder. I always tend to do that with main characters in my novels – have an actor in mind as I’m writing. I work very visually so it helps a great deal.

FTN: There are a number of nods to the Five Doctors in particular when it came to this story. Was there anywhere you wanted to go with this story but weren’t able to?

GM: Not really! I think if you were asking ‘are there other stories you’d like to tell about the War Doctor and the Time War?’ Then yes, absolutely. Tons of them. With Engines, though, there was a very particular story I was trying to tell – the tale of how the Doctor gets to the place he’s at at the beginning of The Day of the Doctor, when he’s ready to punch that button and destroy everything.

What could the Time Lords have done for him to think they had fallen so far they needed to be stopped?

The references to The Five Doctors were for three reasons – firstly, because I think Rassilon is so associated with that story and that dark tower that it seemed obvious to revisit it; secondly, because the Death Zone is just such a great idea that we hadn’t seen for some time, and lastly, because there’s something grand and special and celebratory about The Five Doctors and I wanted to recapture some of that spirit.

Engines of War is intended to have the budget of an epic Doctor Who movie, and be set in the hiatus, looking back at the classic series as much as it’s looking forward at the new. I wanted it to feel like a bridge, reminding people it’s all one continuous story about the same character. The Five Doctors is one of those touchstones in the classic series that’s helped show us what Gallifrey and the Time Lords were really like.

FTN: The response to the book has been uniformly positive and rightly so, were you worried this might not be the case and what was your reaction to the fan response?

GM: Oh, I’ve been totally bowled over. Completely. It’s so lovely to have received such a fantastic, warm response. I admit, I’d kind of been dreading it, really. I had this notion that people weren’t going to like it because it wasn’t going to look like the Time War they’d had in their heads for so long. Thankfully I was wrong – people have been overwhelmingly positive.

FTN: Will you be writing any further adventures with the War Doctor or any other Doctor?

GM: I’ll certainly be writing more adventures for the Doctor. Which Doctor, or Doctors, I can’t say. I’d love to revisit the War Doctor, though. I think there are so many possibilities to tell great stories with him.

FTN: Did you feel liberated writing about a little seen Doctor rather than a well established one? Or was the opposite the case?

GM: It was fairly liberating, yes, although at the same time I was very keen to try to capture John Hurt’s performance, and that makes it difficult because there’s not hours and hours of screen time like there is for most of the other Doctors. I’m starting to understand how it must have felt for those authors first setting out with the Eighth Doctor novels, or even the Ninth, following the return. You feel your way as best you can.

At the end of the day, though, he’s still the Doctor. He’s wrapped in a performance, and every actor brings his own quirks and personality traits, but the core of him remains the same, even when he’s being grumpy, punching other Time Lords and smashing Dalek flotillas!

9) In terms of scale, your book is epic. Perhaps more so than most Doctor Who novels did you enjoy that side of the storytelling?


Absolutely! That’s the thing about a novel compared to a TV episode – the budget is as limitless as your imagination. I figured the first Time War novel had to be epic is scale. At the same time, though, there’s a smaller personal story in there, about the Doctor’s slow estrangement from his own people, about Cinder, and about the Doctor remembering who he’s supposed to be, and acknowledging that he’s the only one who can make it all stop.


10) How difficult was it to ensure, with that mind, that you didn’t lose sight of the smaller character based moments?


I decided early on to keep the cast small. So while we’ve got this massive story going on, with all these terrible repercussions, we see it mainly through the eyes of the Doctor and Cinder, along with a handful of other key players, and it’s this that allowed me to retain those key character moments and interactions.

That’s what the role of the companion is there for, of course – to show us the Doctor through the eyes of someone we, as the viewer or reader, can relate to. That’s why a great deal of what we see in the book is through Cinder’s eyes.

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Paddy Ryan, like Buck Rogers, is a man out of time. He's a loose cannon haunted by his past who, when he's not making painful attempts at humour, is busy watching as many geeky films and TV shows as possible. An avid reader, he has vowed one day to start that novel he's been talking about for years. Born in the late 70s, he's an 80s kid at heart who sees nothing wrong with spending hours upon hours watching season three of Robin Of Sherwood. Jason Connery wasn't that bad you know! He's got a million ideas for comic books but thankfully doesn't know anyone with the time to draw them and call his bluff on that one! The Empire Strikes Back is his favourite film, Doctor Who is his TV show of choice and when it comes to books ... well that's a whole other story! I'm Paddy Ryan and you're not...

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