Chris Boucher Interview
Alan Stevens questions author Chris Boucher on Freud, Kaldor City, and sacrificing small animals.
Were you interested in science fiction before you submitted scripts to Doctor Who?
Yes. I was a fan from the moment of discovering American pulp mags like Amazing Stories, and Astounding Science Fiction, and British stuff like New Worlds. I went on from them to general anthologies, and then on to particular writers. I was lucky - my fandom coincided with the original golden age. They wrote all that great stuff just for me...
Did Robert Holmes tell you to read any particular authors?
No. I think I'd read more science fiction that Bob had anyway. By his own admission, he preferred Sherlock Holmes to Dan Dare. Actually, so did I, come to think of it. Dan Dare was always a bit pants. Still is, don't you think?
Your first story idea was apparently called "The Silent Scream". What else can you tell us about it?
Not a lot, but then, there wasn't a lot of it. As far as I remember, it was the first title and the first very sketchy pass at what became, under the whips and scourges of Bob Holmes and Philip Hinchcliffe, "The Face of Evil".
For a committed atheist, your stories do contain a lot about religion, the nature of God, etc. Do you have a religious background?
Oh yes. I grew up in a small country town on the Essex coast, and we had to make our own entertainment in those days. I was a choirboy; I was confirmed; I was wracked with non-specific guilt (still am, come to think). I prayed a lot for forgiveness (at least I've shaken that habit). If you think about it, the convert to a faith is usually more fervent than someone born into it, so I suppose it's logical that the convert from a faith should be more fervent than someone born into rationality. Any and all religions irritate the hell out of me now. I'm not really a zealot, though, unless faced with zealotry. People are perfectly entitled to be as benightedly stupid as they wish. Who am I to judge? What they are not entitled to do, however, is to insist that everyone be as barking as they are themselves. And what they are definitely not entitled to do is to introduce their mental health problems into education and government.
Mind you, I get the feeling you never really shake it off, and, if ever the lights go out, I'll be howling at the moon and sacrificing small animals to big rocks with the best of them.
The "gods" that feature in your stories, e.g. Xoanon, Taren Capel (the "mad god of the robots") and the Fendahl all have a sort of contradictory quality to them, incorporating (whether literally or figuratively) a variety of different elements within themselves. Is that how you view gods more generally?
If it's how you view people, and how you know yourself to be, then how else are you going to view the gods which we have created for ourselves?
"The Face of Evil" seems to have Freudian elements (Xoanon's male, female and child personalities, the child voice calling out "who am I", etc.). Was this a conscious theme on your part?
Not really. Freud was a genius, of course, and, like geniuses before and since, there were moments when he touched and articulated truths which no one else had thought of. But mostly he talked bollocks and was clearly wrong. As far as I remember, the multiple personality thing was big at the time, but, if I'm honest, a good part of the "who am I" thing was me playing silly persons with the name of the show...
At what point did you discover that Leela was to become a regular companion rather than just a one-off character?
If you think of all the people who knew as a circus parade, I would have been the one at the back with the big flappy shoes and the bucket and shovel. I was happy enough though - I had a family to support, and a bucket full of fertilizer was always saleable.
Your second story came directly after "The Face of Evil", meaning that you wrote effectively 8 episodes of Doctor Who in a row. Was this done in order to consolidate the character, or for another reason?
To quote Colonel Bloodnok: They made me do it by forcing money into my hand. Colonel Bloodnok: who he? I hear you cry. Don't worry about it - well before your time, I suspect. Apart from that, I did know Leela better than anyone else and I could write. It saves time if you don't have to explain a character to a writer, and once a show like Who starts rolling, then time does matter...
"The Robots of Death" shows both literary and visual influences from the film Metropolis. How aware were you of the film at the time?
The visual influences were nothing to do with me - in fact, they took a bit of justifying and rationalising when I came to write Corpse Marker. I'm not conscious that the film had made any great impression on me. I would only have seen it if it had been on the box, and I would have watched it because I felt I should, it being a classic and all. I have usually fallen asleep under those circumstances...
Aside from religion, there are also strong themes of social class running through "The Robots of Death", with the robots and the humans both being stratified. What are your feelings on this?
Class systems exist in every society, and they always will in some form. They have a lot in common with religions, and, like religions, you can really only ignore them and hope they won't get in your way too much. The trick is not to let class and religion matter to you. But that's a really neat trick if you can do it.
Both "The Face of Evil" and "The Robots of Death" feature the Doctor leaving at the end with a number of story elements left open. Why did you decide to do this?
If you try to tie up everything neatly at the end, it feels as though you tried to tie up everything neatly at the end. Because life isn't like that, I don't think stories should be either. As long as you don't leave the audience feeling cheated, I think it's better that the Doctor tips his hat and leaves rather than hanging about emptying the ashtrays and washing the coffee cups. Of course, it could be that I just ran out of time.
As the writer of "The Robots of Death" and creator of D84, what are your views on robot/computer intelligence?
I await it eagerly. It can only be an improvement on human intelligence.
In "Image of the Fendahl", there seems to be a dichotomy in the way that faith is portrayed, with the cultists' beliefs bringing about the Fendahl, but Mrs Tyler's beliefs ultimately saving the day. Can you tell us more about what you were trying to do here?
All I was really trying to do was to write an entertaining ghost story. What I hope I was doing too was suggesting that superstition, religious faith being its institutionalised form, is often based on some small forgotten practicality. Add time, and a series of obsessive compulsive disorders, and you have yourself a bunch of threatening nonsense. What I was also hoping to suggest, I suppose, was that everything has an explanation.
You've said in earlier interviews that you don't believe in "evil," but the Doctor appears to believe that the Fendahl is evil in "Image of the Fendahl", and yet in "Kaldor City: Death's Head", Carnell says, regarding the Fendahl, that it is a being whose motives we cannot understand. Do you think that the concept of "evil" is just an attempt to assign motives to behaviour we can't comprehend or don't like?
Yes. The word evil is simply unhelpful. What does it mean? Behaviour can be destructive, horrifying and intolerable. There are those who must be separated from the rest of us because of the danger they pose. But think about it: if you can see exactly why something has happened, it becomes an understandable fact of existence. How do you assign some weird supernatural term like evil to something like that?
There seems to be a blending at times between the motives of individuals in the story and those of the Fendahl. Are you implying that we are sometimes motivated by things we don't understand?
Hell no. I always understand exactly why I feel and behave the way I do. And if you'll believe that, I am prepared, for a small fee, to welcome you into the new religion I have decided to establish. If it was good enough for L. Ron Hubbard, it's good enough for me. All together sing with me now - "Let's all paddle in the gene pool, the shallow, the shallow gene pool, let's all paddle in the gene pool, there aren't enough morons around".
Is there any significance to the Fendahl attacking its victims through the back of the neck (leaving a small brown blister)?
It was a pretty standard sort of horror/sci-fi notion of the time - tapping into the brain stem and/or accessing the cerebral cortex and/or drawing down all the life-force (whatever that might be) leaving a rapidly decomposing husk. It's a "something's coming to get you" attempt to creep the viewer out and I may well have worked to justify it after the event. Remember, I'm telling myself these stories too - it's horribly boring and mechanical otherwise...
You had planned a fourth Doctor Who story, which you were unable to write due to your commitments with Blake's 7. Can you say anything about what this would have involved?
I can't remember, I'm afraid. I can remember Ronnie Marsh wouldn't let me write it because the Writer's Guild was on his case. In the event, he probably did me a favour.
Of the four Doctor Who books you've written up to this point, the first appears to have strong influences from "The Face of Evil", your second is explicitly based on "The Robots of Death", the third involves scientists and the paranormal like "Image of the Fendahl", and your fourth seems to be based on your favourite Blake's 7 story, "Deathwatch". Care to comment?
Oh, bugger. You spotted that, did you. Well, keep it to yourself, there's a good lad. I don't want the others to notice.
Your Doctor Who books have all focused on the Fourth Doctor/Leela pairing, with Leela being portrayed explicitly as a strong, intelligent character. Is this simply because you created Leela and wrote all three of your televised stories for her, or is it a reaction to some of the ways in which she was treated by later writers?
I did it that way because I wasn't confident enough to pitch a story for any of the other pairings. I must admit, I wasn't really aware of the way other writers had treated her. Rather shamingly, I hadn't read any of the books or watched very much of the series after I stopped writing for it.
Each of your books seems more confident than the last, and Match of the Day is absolutely superb. How have you made the transition between television writing and novel writing?
Kind of you to say so. Misguided, but kind. I made the transition slowly and not very surely. My impression, incidentally, was that the fans didn't much like the books and mostly hated Match of the Day. But those nice people at Worldwide paid me anyway.
Fat but very memorable policeman with a strong resemblance to Trevor Cooper have cropped up in Star Cops, Corpse Marker/Kaldor City, and Match of the Day. Is this deliberate, and if so, why?
Yes. Reasons are various. I think Trevor is a terrific actor, and he should be leading in his own series. I'm also aware that, as a skinny person, I tend to be a fattist (at least that's what my wife thinks), so I'm compensating. And I loved Orson Welles in A Touch of Evil.
In Match of the Day, there's a strong theme regarding the powerful bending the rules to get what they want. Is this a comment on current political events, for example a view of "New Labour" in office?
Not really. There's nothing very New about it. It always happens.
"Death's Head" became, effectively, the template for the rest of the Kaldor City series, and, although it's been acclaimed by fans, they also say that they have to listen to it five or six times to fully comprehend it. When you are writing stories, who do you have in mind as your audience?
Me. Closely followed by whoever commissioned the stuff. Or possibly the other way round. Nah, it's me first. I can't write it if I don't like it. But how about that; some people listen to my stuff more than once, you say? I thought I was the only one who ever did that.
With the curtailing of the BBC Books Doctor Who past adventures line, would you like to continue your association with the series, or are you thinking of branching out into other areas?
I'd love to continue my association, but it doesn't seem very likely. As ever, I'm just looking for the odd job and the odd couple of quid here and there. And, as ever, it doesn't look promising at the moment.
Have you been watching the new Doctor Who series, and, if so, what are your impressions of it?
Yes, I watched the whole thing. I tried hard not to like it, and, to begin with, I sort of succeeded. It was the wrong length, and I wasn't immediately taken with the leads and the new set and the new lore. People in the press whose opinions I didn't value were suddenly experts and banging on about how much cleverer and wittier the new show was than it had ever been before. That pissed me off big-time I have to say. But I ended up admiring it and envying Russel T. He did what he set out to do, and he did it with some style. That said, please god (who?) he doesn't bring back Billie (slightly overrated?) Piper's bloody mother. And I hope there are more two-parters, because the hundred and ten minute-ish story length is the most satisfying, I think. Anything less feels a bit perfunctory to me. I suppose the new series is to the original Doctor Who what New Labour is to old Labour: differently focussed. So, spectacular effects, good writing and good characters, and it's a success. What more could anyone ask?
Chris Boucher, thank you.
This interview has previously appeared in Celestial Toyroom Issue 332.