Thursday, June 09, 2011

A Fairly Humongous Doctor Who Q&A Mostly

I'm still at a friends' very empty borrowed house, working hard to get everything I have to get done written before I go on the book tour. I wish I had company. I used to do being alone better - now I pine after my wife, or my children, or even a dog. But I'm working, mostly undistracted, and that's a good thing.

The book tour is for the release in the US of my "preferred text" of AMERICAN GODS. It's the Tenth Anniversary Edition. It will be released on June 21st, a decade after the original was published, and it's about 20,000 words longer than the original, and has a couple of essays in it. If you get the ebook edition, it will also have a 17 minute long interview with me embedded in it, along with bits from the upcoming full cast audiobook.

Here is the photo of me we're using for the tour. It was done by photographer Allan Amato, and he made it look like an antique daguerreotype, because he is very clever like that.

This is the Tenth Anniversary Edition's cover. (It's a hardback. Did I mention that it was a hardback?)

Here's the Amazon link to pre-order a copy.

But better you should go to Indiebound at and see if there is an independent bookshop near you which sells it, or to buy it from an indie bookshop online.

Most, if not all of the bookshops who are sponsoring the tour events will have signed copies of this edition of American Gods for sale once their event has happened (I will be signing towering mountains of books for each stop on the way), and most of them encourage you to order signed copies from them now - check the websites. If you want a signed copy, contact them. (The list of stops and bookshops and links to websites is on this blog entry,

...or buy one from Greg Ketter at in Minneapolis, because once the tour is done I will undoubtedly wind up going to Dreamhaven and signing my way through whatever he has for me.


So many Doctor Who questions.

Fortunately, lots of them are the same questions over and over. Even so, there are more than I can answer... But I'll see how many I can do in the next two hours.

There are going to be Spoilers, so stop reading here if you do not want to read them.

Dear Neil,

How much actual research did you have to do (if at all) to make sure that you referenced the classic Doctor Who series mythology just right? With all those nods to previous locations and concepts in "The Doctor's Wife", it surely seems extensive. And how much fun was it to actually remember it all and insert it into your script? Did you find yourself re-watching old episodes at all, even if just for nostalgia's sake?

Not an awful lot. I was lucky in having Steven Manfred available to answer my questions, because he knows all answers, but when Maddy and I had started watching Doctor Who together in 2005 I'd bought an awful lot of DVDs in order to re-experience things I'd liked and to introduce her to them, and to have some Doctor Who to watch during those many long months that there weren't new episodes of Doctor Who around. The joy of showing her (for example) An Unearthly Child, The Three Doctors, The Five Doctors and City of Death was real joy for both of us. And I got to watch it and it brought it all back.

But most of the trivia and mythology was just sitting in the back of my head waiting to be pulled out. I like mythologies, and I knew what a Dalek was and what planet it came from, or what TARDIS stood for when I was five, before I knew who Thor or Anubis were.

And there was a lot of Doctor Who detritus that didn't get used in the final draft, stuff that went all the way back to the first Doctor and the David Whitaker Doctor Who and the Daleks book. (I was determined to get a mention of the TARDIS's Mercury Fluid Link in there, because it was the first bit of the TARDIS I ever knew the name of, along with the machine that made food that looked like Mars Bars but tasted like bacon and eggs, but neither of them got on screen.)

Which reminds me, I recently did an introduction for this reissue (it'll be out in August), which was where I learned of both of those things:

Is your bit of dialog between the Doctor and the TARDIS about her not taking him where he wanted to go a riff on Douglas Adams quote from Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul?

Not intentionally. There were several nods to Douglas in the script ("The junkyard at the end of the universe" being the most obvious) but that one was simply something that I'd thought since I was a kid. The TARDIS doesn't ever take the Doctor to a boring place where nothing's ever happened or is going to happen: it always dumps him somewhere at the right place or the right time for a story to happen. And given that most of the time he's not doing it, obviously she is.

Hi Neil,

Will there ever be a release of your script which will include all the parts which, for whatever reason, didn't make it onto the screen?

Thanks in advance,


I don't think that would be very practical,mostly because scenes replaced scenes. So the scene where they go and see the Beatles was replaced by the Planet of the Rain Gods, which was replaced by the "I've got Mail!" scene.

But if I do a novelisation I'll see how much of that stuff I can recover. (Also hard because the first few drafts were a story with only Amy in it for the end of the first Matt Smith season, the rest of them were a story with Amy and Rory in it for the start of Matt's second season...)

Hi Neil,

Just for the record, your episode was good. I mean, really bloody brilliant. I mean, well you know. Nice. Just so you know.

Now to my question. Is there like a "council" that reviews your basic script idea, and also follows up on your work as you write your script? Doctor Who is a huge story and it's obvious that the tolerance for contradictions is quite high but it I guess it still have to fit more or less, and also follow the storyline of the season. I always imagined there is six really old folks of undeterminable gender sitting in a house from the middle ages filled with strange contraptions, drinking tea and jelly babies, spending their days writing correspondence on old typewriters but I'd settle for a couple of expert senior advisors or something.

Anders Sjölander

No. There's Steven Moffat. I'd run things past him when I had questions, and he'd reply fast and sensibly., and his original note to me was "I want to see where you go with this, and not fence you in" and he stuck to that. There was Piers Wenger, executive producer and Beth Willis, also Executive Producer, and they'd normally have small suggestions but important ones. Beth is terrific at not being an SF person and making me explain things I thought everyone understood. There was Brian Minchin and Lindsey Alford (who replaced Brian, when he went off to do Sarah Jane) who were Script Bosses, who would get everyone's notes -- Steven's and Piers's and Beth's, add in their own and then come back to me with lists of suggestions on the scripts, or sad wise words about how much something would cost.

Draft after draft we'd try and figure out ways to say things faster, do things faster, tell the story in 42 minutes.

Let me try and think of an example.

Okay. The Corsair. The first time I started writing about him, back in the not-yet-even-first-draft, I wanted to make sure that the direction I was going was okay with Steven Moffat, so I dropped him an email with the following bit in it:

Doctor: He was called The Corsair. Didn't have a name. Just The Corsair. That was...and he used to travel off exploring the limits of Time and Space.

Amy: What happened to him?

Doctor: One day he never came back. Well, that's the trouble with Time and Space exploring. You never know if someone didn't come back, or if they just haven't come back yet. I daresay there are people still waiting for me...

(He sees Amy's expression. He just said the wrong thing...Tries to pick up the thread.)

I – I met him. He had a tattoo of a snake, an ouroboros on his arm. After every regeneration he'd get that tattoo. I spoke to him once.

Amy: Oh yes?

Doctor: I said, take me with you. I could go with you out there. I could be your assistant.

Amy: So that was how you got your start? Traveling with him?

Doctor: What? Oh, no. He laughed at me. I was twelve. Can't really blame him. So this was... aeons ago.

To which Steven replied,

Love the tattoo and the arm and the recycled monsters - but we can we make the Corsair sound less like the man the Doctor modeled himself on? Answers too many question that should be left alone. He's the Doctor, he does what he does for reasons too vast and terrible to relate.

Which when put like that was absolutely unarguable-with. So by the time I got to the first-version-with-Rory-in, the scene read like this:

The Tardis is in flight. The Doctor’s running around the console, pushing things, turning switches, preparing for a tricky journey. Still talking...
...when we needed to get a message to the High Council, we wrapped our thoughts up in — that must have been why it came to me. Nowhere else for it to go. Whoo - There’s a living Time Lord still out there, team. One of the good ones. And he's in trouble.

The Tardis JOLTS, hard, and now it sounds as if the cosmic engines are PUSHING against something -- the sound is off... The Tardis engine makes a really bad sound. Amy is towelling off her hair.
It sounds like it’s going up a hill in the wrong gear...
It sort of is. We're out at the edge of the universe right now so we're sort of bending a few laws here... Laws like the Conservation of Reality and... (To Tardis) Come on, old girl.
I thought you said there weren’t any other Time Lords. This just started blinking. Shall I push it?
Not a good idea. Molecules might get all... unmoleculed. The Time Lords are all gone from this Universe. Which is why we’re leaving it.

This Time Lord. What’s he like? Or is it a Time Lady?

The Doctor keeps leaving the control panel to talk to her, then heading back to it to make an adjustment.
He’s called The Corsair. Fantastic bloke. Hearts in both the right places. Time Lord High Council couldn’t stand him either...
(to Tardis)
You can do it. Push!
So what happened to him?
Went off in a TARDIS, never came back. Problem unique to Time and Space exploring. You never know if someone never came back, or if they just haven't come back yet.
THE DOCTOR (cont’d)
Lovely man. And occasionally, lovely woman. He had a tattoo on his arm. A snake, eating its own tail. Incorporated it into every regeneration. Said he didn’t feel like himself unless he had the tattoo. We’re completely and utterly stuck here. She needs more thrust.

Which was probably half the length of the first version of it I'd written with Amy, and I still needed to get that information across in a fraction of the time...

Hi Neil,

One of the things which struck me the most was how well you'd written the Eleventh Doctor (as opposed to the Tenth). My question is this:

How different was the portrayal of the Doctor when it was originally written? Were there any lines that you would have had the Tenth Doctor say, which you removed or changed to be more in keeping with Matt's portrayal of the Eleventh Doctor?



Good question. I think my very first draft was for a sort of a neutral doctor who probably sounded a lot more like David Tennant's Doctor than anyone else because he was what I was used to (see the dialogue above) - but then, Matt hadn't been cast when I wrote it. So I just wrote it as best I could for "The Doctor" and tried not write it for any particular Doctor. By the time I got onto the second round of rewrites, putting Rory in, I'd seen a series of Matt and Karen and Arthur. I knew what they sounded like. So it was easy to imagine them as I wrote and revised. Some of the Doctor's lines changed a bit -- I wrote the "bunk beds are cool" stuff here for example, -- but not as much as you'd imagine. A lot of the Doctor's dialogue you saw on screen was there in the first draft.

As an exercise I'd try and imagine lines of the Doctor's dialogue said by Patrick Troughton or Jon Pertwee or Tom Baker or Colin Baker or Christopher Eccleston (and the rest) and I felt happiest if I'd written a line I felt any of them could have delivered -- each in his own unique way. "Fear me, I killed all of them," for example.

Over the course of the entire run of Doctor Who, what do you think has been the most valuable moral/message that the show has offered the world?

You can think your way out of your difficulties.

Where did Idris come from, and why was she in a Victorian party dress?

She came through the Rift. And she'd been at a Victorian party.

There is clearly a possibility that some time, some writer will write another story where Idris comes back, either with Suranne Jones or someone else.

How would you feel if you found out it was going to happen for sure? How would you feel if you found out it was never going to happen?

If it happens that Suranne (or someone else) ever comes back as Idris/Sexy (and it's not very likely, but nothing is impossible) I hope it's done in a way that makes me proud and surprises me.

Dear Mr Gaiman,

thank you for your offer to answer questions on your Doctor Who episode.

What I did not quite understand: Why was it suddenly so easy to leave and re-enter the universe? And if this was so easy, why was it impossible to enter another? Why, actually, all this pining over Rose if it would have been enough to get rid of the swimming pool, as it were, to see her again?

I am sure I missed or misunderstood something and am looking forward to your explanation.

Many thanks,

It wasn't easy getting in or --especially -- out of the bubble-universe. They burned up TARDIS rooms for thrust to get in and get out. But they made it.

However, there's a huge difference between a tiny bubble-universe stuck to this one, and an entire-alternate-universe-new-reality. One's still attached to this universe, with a rift-crack between them, the other's an entirely different order of created things.

It's actually nothing like that, of course, but I hope it makes things easier for you.

The Corsair is intriguing. Really, honestly utterly intriguing, with that name and the tattoo and anything, and I was wondering if you/the folk in charge of Doctor Who had plans for who he was - past exploits! what he did! what /she/ did! - or anything? Because otherwise I will probably have to end up writing fanfiction. Gods help us.

If I ever do a novelisation I'd love to write a few flashback scenes for the Corsair. I suspect that his Tardis looked like a small sailboat, wherever it could. And he laughed a lot.

In early drafts he was part of the Time Lords' Universal Survey Team ("Surveying the Universe?" "It's a big place. Someone has to keep track of it.").

Dear Neil

To what extent has your Doctor Who episode drawn on the rich tradition of Doctor Who material outside of the televised stuff – the audio dramas, the novels?

Many thanks


With the exception of the David Whitaker book, not at all*. I used to love the Dalek World books, and liked the "Dr Who Annuals", but they were far from continuity, and I knew that even as a small boy. I read a Telos book by Paul McAuley that I wrote an introduction for (it's mostly up at but the Big Finish Audio and the New Adventures etc were things I knew existed but never investigated.

*Edit to add, and the Piccolo Books The Making Of Doctor Who, By Hulke and Dicks. I bought my copy in 1972 and must have read it a hundred times before my thirteenth birthday.

Hi, you asked for Doctor Who related questions, so: I'd heard that your episode was supposed to be part of series 5 and was shunted to series 6. Were any major changes required to make it work in the sixth series? And, rather cheekily, as I'm sure you get this kind of question all the time: What advice can you offer to an 8 year old boy who loves to write?

No major changes, but lots of minor changes. If it had been in series 5 it would have been scarier, I think, as it would have been Nephew playing a lethal game of Hide and Seek with Amy through the house-occupied TARDIS. And it would have had a much darker ending, as the Doctor and Amy buried Idris's body, and then talked about mortality and endings while the Doctor made a daisy chain.

(I'd advise him to read a lot, and also to have adventures, and to read books like and put the things he reads into practice, because one day he will need things to write about, and experiences are the raw material from which the imagination builds.)

So why, really, was the name of your Doctor Who episode changed from "Bigger on the Inside" to "The Doctor's Wife"? It seemed a deeper, more meaningful title before. I read somewhere you saying it might be misread as "Bugger on the Inside", but I took it as a joke.

If it's a joke, it's not one of mine. The very very VERY first title, before I ever set down to write it, when it was still just an idea and a pitch, was "The House of Nothing". And House really was going to be a house, with tubes and things running inside it. But I was told there were already some creepy houses in the series, and I liked the idea of a creepy intelligent planet more. And then for two years the title was "Bigger on the Inside" until we got to the point, about 6 weeks before it was shown, where we had to actually tell people what the title was. (I'd taken an enormous amount of Hide In Plain Sight pleasure in using the "Bigger on the Inside" label for this blog whenever I'd talked about the episode.)

The trouble was, in the last couple of months, we had started to worry that the "Bigger on the Inside" title simply gave too much away. We wanted people to have that first "Oh my god -- she's the TARDIS!" moment unspoiled, and worried that once they had the title and the cast too many people would simply figure it out.

"The Doctor's Wife" was a fake title used in the 80s by Doctor Who producer John Nathan Turner to try and find if there were leaks in his office. And this was a story about someone who was married to his ship, and someone who was his wife and mother and girlfriend and best friend all in one, the only person who would always be there for him on all his adventures...

So we changed the title to that.

I loved the idea of the Corsair, and was a little disappointed to not getting to see him/her and sad that he died (which was surprising, in a good way, since I had only heard of him a few minutes before).
Anyway, the Q: since the Corsair died in the junkyard, we can assume he was not in the Time War, right? At least not when the Doctor locked everyone up and left. And the same goes for the other "hundreds of Time Lords" that House killed. So do you hope/plan/expect/think it's possible to see the Corsair or others showing up in the Doctor's future-their past?

(Bonus Q: will we ever be able to read what the Zero Room or the Swimming Pool scenes were like?)

They're dead. They died thousands and millions of years ago on an asteroid in a tiny bubble universe.

(Bonus Answer, if ever one day I novelise or novella-ise the story, then I expect so.)

While House was traumatizing Amy, what was happening to the real Rory?

Bad things.

I wrote some of them. There was the scene where Rory was trapped in the Zero Room, for example, with no way out, and knowing that human beings in closed Zero Rooms go mad, and the one where he thought that Amy was waiting around the corner trying to kill him, and House gave him a knife. Then there was the Hall of Mirrors, although that was a scene with both of them...

But Rory coped fairly well with House's head-messing. He's been around a long time and coped with a lot.

While in the end, time and budget and locations meant that it was easier and more practical to do what we did and show what we showed.

Did it still thrill you to see your name during the opening credits sequence or has that particular thrill been dulled by being a professional writer for so long?

It felt just as good seeing my name on that screen as you would imagine it did.

Which is to say, not as good as marrying Amanda or being there when my children were born, but about equal with winning my first Hugo Award.

G'day Neil.

I've heard that some people (although with all that twittering perhaps we should call them sparrows) have been giving you a hard time over the "PULL TO OPEN" issue.

When you think about what a *real* Police Box was used for, it's quite obvious that the doors needed to open outward. *Obvious*. Anyone who say otherwise has never used a tiny toilet cubicle where the door opens inward and you have to climb up on the bowl in order to open the door to let yourself out:-)

That said, I've always taken the "PULL TO OPEN" to refer to the little hatch containing the phone (which we saw the Doctor do in "The Empty Child" when the phone rang), rather than the whole door. After all, the public wouldn't have been trusted with unfettered access to the contents of the Police Box (they might steal the copper/bobby/peeler's lunch!), but they would have needed access to the phone to access the "ADVICE AND ASSISTANCE AVAILABLE IMMEDIATELY" promised on the notice.

Would you like to briefly speak (type?) about the issue, and have your final word on the subject, in your blog, so that the non-sparrows amongst us know what's going on?


"Pull to Open" obviously refers to the phone hatch, yes. But Idris was right: It IS an instruction, and Police Box doors did open outwards.

As someone who has only seen one episode of Dr.Who—and I absolutely loved "The Doctor's Wife"—I would love to get into the series, but I'm not sure of a solid jumping-off point. As you've drawn me into this universe of sentient machines that bear more than a passing-likeness to ex-Coronation Street characters, could you give me some advice on where to begin with the other canon material?


Episodes I've shown people to lure them in:






Classic Episodes like Douglas Adams' CITY OF DEATH.

Although you might just want to start with THE ELEVENTH HOUR and come forward. Or start with ROSE and come forward. (I don't think I'd recommend starting with THE UNEARTHLY CHILD and coming forward, but it more or less worked for me..)

Why an Ood? Didn't seem like it needed to be one. Did you just like them?

I really do like the Ood.

Originally Uncle, Auntie and Nephew were all patchwork monsters, with Nephew the least human of all them.

Last July we were at the Make Sure This Comes In On Budget draft, and Steven, Beth and Piers were determined to save all the CGI I'd put in and all the TARDIS stuff, so my original plan for Auntie and Uncle and Nephew to be three new different patchwork aliens got modified.

I made Auntie and Uncle look more human, and less obviously patchwork, and I was offered my choice of any existing monster in the costume department for Nephew. I picked the Ood because it was perfect for what I needed - they have a history of being mentally taken over, and I loved the idea of the eyes and translator ball glowing with green House-light, as opposed to the red possessed Ood eyes we'd seen on their first appearance. Nephew never spoke, so a silent, possessed Ood seemed perfect. And it was a shout-out to Russell Davies. And it seemed like it might be fun to make the Ood scary again...

It also gave us the whole fiddling with the Ood translator/hearing the Time Lords scene, which we didn't have before that, and made the episode much better.

Making television - and especially making Doctor Who, where you have to imagine a new world (in my case a new universe) with every episode - is always a negotiation between dream and reality. (That was the same email in which I learned that we weren't going to have the scene in the Tardis Swimming Pool because Karen Gillan couldn't swim.)

There's always a Make Sure This Comes In On Budget Draft, as the realities of "Anything You Can Imagine" come face to face with "This Is What We Can Do". In the case of Doctor Who, the producers found money in seat cushions and borrowed money from other episodes to make it as close to the thing I'd dreamed as they could.

And scenes were being rewritten and modified because we couldn't afford to do the thing I'd originally asked for until we were actually shooting. That's the way of television. It was true in Neverwhere. It's true in everything you watch.

And that's why an Ood.

Why didn't you make it so the old control room we saw was from the 1980s? I was so sure that was what it was going to be.

Because I did not have the ability to ask the producers back then to leave their sets up until I needed them. Whereas I did have that ability with the Ninth Doctor's Console Room. I could ask them to keep it for me until we needed it. And they did. They lied to anybody who asked why it hadn't been taken down, and they kept it up.

Did you have House destory the David Tennant Control Room to show you hated it? Now it doesn't exist.

Of course it exists. The TARDIS keeps it archived. House deleted it, but I have no doubt that, once they were in a place where that could happen, the TARDIS undeleted it, tidied it up and put it somewhere out of the way, along with the other things she keeps close to her chest.

And hated it? No, I loved it. Here is a photograph of me loving it.


I'm done. Work beckons, and so does bed.

But if you've made it this far...

Some of you may not know that there is a 2011 American Discworld Convention, with Terry Pratchett as Guest of Honour, next month in Madison. The Website is They have a few memberships left, but they are almost gone...


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