Paul Cornell helped to reinvent British time-travel soap Doctor Who, with his contributions to the New Adventures novels, his webcast starring Richard E. Grant, and some of the most moving scripts of the new series. He's also worked on Marvel Comics, including the new Fantastic Four: True Story, and he's adapting an Iain M. Banks story for radio. He explained to us why he's no longer quite so interested in walking on the dark side. In your first Doctor Who New Adventures novel, Timewyrm: Revelation, the Doctor spends a lot of time confronting all the people who have died on his watch. Do you think the similar moment in the latest Who season finale was a tribute to that book? Apart from Russell never doing homages (because there's nothing worse than a homage, really, oh, wait, a pastiche, that's worse, and yes, I've done loads of them, but then I've lied and stolen too), and the fact that I'm not at all clear that's what happened, and... you know, that never occured to me. I think every now and then I see bits of the New Adventures popping up in the new show (in many ways the new show *is* the New Adventures by other means) but I can't quite get my head round that one. Usually it comes down to Russell having digested every approach and theme of Doctor Who in all its forms, and using it as he sees fit, and having not only the right but the duty to do that, as the show has always done. Another one of those mainstream show tropes which can come as a shock to those of us who grew up in the niche.
In your "Scream Of The Shalka" webcast, you showed a bitter older version of the Doctor, who's full of self-loathing and tired of saving the universe. I asked Steven Moffat about it, and he said we'd never see that version of the Doctor on TV. Do you think he's right? Yes, I think he's hugely right. That's pretty obvious, isn't it? None of the onscreen Doctors have been sad for more than ten minutes before something fun comes along. And I'm really tired with the idea that 'dark' is adult. If anything, as an adult I've come to cherish really stupid comedy as possibly the highest achivement of mankind. Because it's the thing we do that most points away from death. I'm increasingly unafraid to say that 'A Matter of Life and Death' has been replaced as my favourite movie of all time by 'One of our Dinosaurs is Missing'. Dum dum dum dum de de dum de dum dum! Just humming the theme tune. Last year, you adapted your own novel, Human Nature, into a two-part storyline, "Human Nature/Family Of Blood." I was really struck by a couple of differences. First, having Martha instead of Benny forced you to talk about race and class in a way that the book version totally avoided. Was this a bonus, as far as you were concerned? Very much so. We just touch upon it, and the audience get it, and then we move on. But it makes it an ordeal for Martha in a whole different way than it was for Benny, who was grieving. It's Martha's big chance to be courageous and sensible and fab, and sets up loads of what happened with her later.
And secondly, in the book version, the Doctor doesn't know the Aubertides are after him. He just wants to be human, so he can feel human emotions and lay down his burden for a while. In the TV show, he becomes human to escape the Family without hurting them, which turns out to be a really, really bad decision given how many people die as a result. Many many people die because the Family kill them. It's their fault. And it's really only a tiny mischance that stops the Doctor's plan from working. And if he hadn't done that, they'd have chased him across the universe, killing people everywhere they landed. Do you feel like we lost something because the Doctor no longer had this grand motivation for becoming human? Also, why would he go to such lengths in this one instance to avoid hurting his enemies when he's perfectly happy to hurt his enemies in other situations? Not something that could have been done on mainstream TV. The motivation is never actually spelled out in the book, so that's a best guess, really. I loved being obscure then. Now I can see how much that was the cowardly choice. So what are you working on now that you're most excited by? At the moment, I'm most excited by the fact that I've got a story in all three continuing original SF short story anthologies (non-themed, that is). It's a complicated boast, but I like it. Two of the stories are in a series, the "Jonathan Hamilton" stories, which are in the style of Ian Fleming (the books, not the movies) and are vicious espionage tales set in a world where... well, I know what the difference to history is, but I haven't told the audience entirely yet. At any rate, the 'great game' of political balance in Europe continues, and the great European nations have colonised the solar system, while continuing a delicate cold war against each other. Those two stories, 'Catherine Drewe' and 'One of our Bastards is Missing' are in Fast Forward 2 from Pyr and the Solaris Book of New SF 3, respectively. The other story, 'Michael Laurits is: DROWNING' is in the second Eclipse collection, which is I think is going to be launched at Calgary this year. I love SF short stories, and I'm hoping to get into doing more. The other great fun thing is the radio play, an adaptation of Iain Banks' "The State of the Art" for BBC Radio 4, which should go out early next year. We've recorded it, with Sir Antony Sher as the Ship (he's exactly what you expect one of Banks' ships to sound like), Patterson Joseph (who's probably best known for Neverwhere) as Linter, and Nina Sosanya as Sma, and the BBC production job is terrific. I can write 'we feel the presence of the Ship floating beside the car' and they can actually do that! Iain's approved the script. I really want to do some more SF for this lot. Good people.
So what's going on with the characters you introduced in your Wisdom miniseries for Marvel Comics, which came out last year? Are we going to see more of what the Skrull Beatles were up to in the 1970s, during that long waking nightmare that was the Beatles' solo careers? Unfortunately, they're now the ex-Skrull Beatles, so we'll never learn if they managed to become the Skrull Monkees as they elected to at the end of Wisdom. I would have liked to have seen that.
I know you wrote one episode of Primeval in season two. How involved are you in the upcoming third season? Not at all. Meanwhile, you're also writing a Captain Britain comic for Marvel. Are you going to add any more classic characters, now that Black Knight and Blade are both on the team? Union Jack is popping up in issue five, and we'll continue to cameo British Marvel characters as and when. Working with editor Nick Lowe and artist Leonard Kirk has been a bit of a dream, really. We all egg each other on, pushing to make the best possible book, to the point where we get quite demented about the little details. It's the exact opposite of "Aww, who cares?" and it's great to do that every four weeks, to be involved in that sort of team energy. Was it better or worse to start the comic off with a Secret Invasion crossover? Oh, better, of course! All those lovely sales! Now we have to keep them! And it gave us a huge war movie opening, a thread which we'll continue. What we are is this widescreen 'espionage/superheroes vs. the supernatural' book, which gives us lots of genres to play with. In issue six, for example, a demon arrives in Birmingham with a very specific agenda, takes over a tower block, and our heroes pile in, with the military onside. It's a bit like a UNIT story in Doctor Who. Only then our heroes discover, of course, that the enemy was rather ready for them. And that the enemy (who's called, ahem, Plokta, in homage to the British SF fanzine) talks like the actor Leslie Phillips. That's what we'll be doing with this book.
People have been comparing your miniseries Fantastic Four: True Story to Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next novels. Is this an intentional homage? You can't really avoid that if you're doing metafiction, which is why I give Jasper a namecheck in the first issue, but we also nod to Bill Willingham (in issue two), Neil Gaiman and the Doctor Who story 'The Mind Robber', all of which trod this ground previously. How do you think it's different having the Fantastic Four enter the world of fiction, versus Roberto Aguirre Sacasa's comics where he introduced himself as a character who was chronicling the FF's adventures? Why do the FF lend themselves to metafiction so readily? I think because, if you're talking Marvel, they're the founding group, the first family, so you want to work with them. Also, they have a history of exploring other worlds, and that suits metafiction. It's been great to use those voices, which I grew up with (my Mum is very pleased I'm writing for "Mr. Stretchy Man") to comment on the worlds of fiction. And there is, of course, an ancient Marvel villain behind the whole thing. So there we go - alongside three TV projects of my own that I can't really talk about yet, and a new novel I'm in the middle of, that's everything I'm up to.