I like to laud the good work and achievements of others, really give them a mental high-five; that’s just me, okay? But let me say this nice and clear: Eddie Robson is one flukey son-of-a-bitch who’s clearly got where he is by putting out for fancy men in suits who smell like yesterdays cigars.
I mean, Eddie Robson is a writer going places. (Not to self, delete first paragraph) He’s written for a pile of different radio sketch shows, and last year graduated to his own BBC Radio sitcom, ‘Welcome To Our Village, Please Invade Carefully’.
In the world of ‘Doctor Who’, he’s written comic strips for ‘Doctor Who Adventures’ magazine, and has been responsible for numerous ‘Doctor Who’ audio plays for Big Finish; below he submits to some fairly brutal and personal questioning:
When did ‘Doctor Who’ first wrap its rough hands around your tender throat and refuse to let go?
I came to it a bit late – I didn’t start watching until I was almost nine. I’d caught a couple of bits before then and found them too scary – although I remember watching the end of Trial Of A Time Lord part ten and being terrified, and then tuning in next week to watch it again so I could be scared again, so clearly there was some fascination there. But I turned off immediately. The first full episode I watched was Delta And The Bannermen Part Two, and within two years I was reading the novelisations and buying DWM.
Was there ever a time that you wandered from the one true path? I know when I went to Uni suddenly I was more interested in things like beer, sleeping as late as possible and watching Neighbours twice a day than buying every copy of DWM, or completing my VHS collection.
For me that happened towards the end of university. Early on in my student days I’d loaf around watching Who videos quite often. I once tried to watch all of The Key To Time in one sitting, but I foolishly started at about 6pm and dozed off during The Power Of Kroll. But yeah, towards the end of university I felt a bit Whoed out and stopped buying the videos, to the extent that although missing episode recoveries always get me very excited, I didn’t see the newly found episode of The Crusade for five years. And I had a new girlfriend who wasn’t a fan, which probably had something to do with it (we’re married now and she knows exactly how tragically obsessed with the show I am, so it’s no longer an issue). So there was a period where I was hardly watching any – I remember getting the Tomb DVD for Christmas and my attention sliding off the screen, I just felt I’d seen this stuff too many times.
But all that changed when the show came back, and my friend Jim Smith suggested we pitch a new programme guide to Virgin Books, and to write that I went on a vast Who binge – I didn’t watch all of them again, but I did rewatch all the ones I was writing about, and the handful I’d never seen before, and a load more I just fancied rewatching, so over six months or whatever it was, I probably watched more than half the show, and that got me excited about it all over again.
Doctor Who fans hate a lot of things with a firey passion about the show they love; what’s a generally derided element (story, Doctor, monster, outfit, WHATEVS) that you actually think is ace, skill and super nifty?
I love a lot of the more derided Hartnell stories. Although I lose track of what’s been rehabilitated and what hasn’t. Do people generally think The Gunfighters is good now? That was a treat when I finally saw it, because it was so widely slated and I enjoyed it hugely. I think The Sensorites is underrated, The Rescue is hugely underrated. I remember being baffled in 1992 when BBC2 repeated The Time Meddler and the response was so flat, I thought it was wonderful. Steven and Vicki – they’re fantastic. The characters are a bit thinly sketched, but Purves and O’Brien are always brilliant. O’Brien has this sly way of playing against the dialogue and making the character more interesting for herself.
As a fan in the 1990s, it seemed a lot of people saw Doctor Who as this gradual journey where it starts off a bit crap and boring, then starts to get better with Troughton, eventually becomes the ideal version of itself in the early Tom years, then goes into decline. I never saw it like that. At the other end of the original run, I think the last couple of McCoy seasons contain some of the best Doctor Who ever. Remembrance, Greatest Show, Ghost Light have some of the show’s richest, most multi-layered scripts. For a series facing the axe to put out a serial like Greatest Show is extraordinary. Of course, all that went over my head when I was ten years old, I just enjoyed it as a creepy story.
Human Nature. I was reading The New Adventures when you’re supposed to be reading all those seminal novels like The Catcher In The Rye and On The Road, which is why I hardly ever read Doctor Who books any more – I devoted my teenage years to them. But Human Nature sticks in my mind as the peak of that range.
What did it feel like the first time you were paid to write Doctor Who fiction?
I can’t really remember. My first paid Who fiction was a Short Trip that I’d pitched to the BBC, and then they stopped doing the books, but the editor was Jac Rayner who remembered it when she started editing the Big Finish Short Trips, but it didn’t make it into the first volume and got knocked back to the second one. By this stage, it had been rewritten to fit in with three different umbrella themes from the three books it had been slated for inclusion in. So when it finally got accepted, I think I was just relieved.
Human Resources, probably, one of my first plays for Big Finish. That’s the one that came out more or less how it was meant to. Either that or Urgent Calls, which was doing the rounds as a free download for a while. Don’t know if it still is.
Who’s your Doctor and companion? You can choose more than one, if you’re weak.
I find it hard to separate Hartnell, Davison and Tennant. At first I thought Smith was even better than Tennant, but now I look back and it’s easy to take for granted how great Tennant was in the part. As for companions – Ian and Barbara are still my favourites.
Lots. Bad Wolf/The Parting Of The Ways, The Girl In The Fireplace, Gridlock, Human Nature, Silence In The Library, Midnight, Amy’s Choice, The Lodger, A Christmas Carol, The Doctor’s Wife, The Girl Who Waited, Hide. I expect I’ve forgotten some.
You’ve written extensively for Big Finish, do you hold any ideas back in case the TV show comes a-calling one dark, troubled evening?
No, I generally don’t hold ideas back because you never know when you’ll get the chance to use them, so you may as well use them at the first opportunity. They seem to brief the TV Who writers anyway, so there’s no point keeping an idea in the locker because it might not fit what they want. And also, you can use ideas again. There’s precedent for that in the TV show, reworking ideas from spin-off fiction, but it’s true outside Doctor Who as well. Plenty of great writers have done different spins on the same idea. Literary novelists often get away with writing more or less the same novel six times and the critics call it ‘thematic development’. So don’t hoard your ideas! Use them. Ideas are cheap.
Occasionally I’ll come up with an idea for a project and realise that the idea isn’t right for the medium, or needs more space to do it justice – I was recently trying to come up with a non-Who idea for a fifteen-page comic strip and realised I could get a six-part TV show out of it, so I put it aside and came up with something else. But generally, if you want to impress people, send out your best ideas. Who knows, you may never get to write anything else ever again. And your best chance of getting to write something again is to write the best thing you can write now, so use your best ideas.
You shimmy and dance between comedy writing and what I’m going to call ‘Non-comedy writing’; is there a side you feel more at home, or do you enjoy being able to dash back and forth like a talented sod?
I like being able to move between the two. I’m more comfortable doing comedy writing at the moment but that’s mainly because I’ve been more successful at it thus far, hence I’m more confident. Which isn’t so say I don’t frequently stare at my comedy scripts with hollow eyes thinking ‘Dear god this is DREADFUL’, but I can drag myself through those crises by remembering that I’ve got through them before and handed in something that was thought acceptable for broadcast.
I admire eclecticism, that’s what I want to achieve in my own work, and I think it’s very much connected to my love of Doctor Who, which is of course the most eclectic of TV dramas. I don’t know whether I love Doctor Who for its eclecticism or whether I’m drawn to eclecticism because of Doctor Who, but it’s definitely connected. My favourite musicians are the same – the Beatles, Bowie, Damon Albarn, Gruff Rhys. Which isn’t to say there aren’t lots of creative people I love who have mostly spent their careers getting deeper and deeper into one idea, but I never find them quite as interesting as people who experiment with genre and style and medium.
Sometimes I do look at other writers who’ve got ahead in their careers faster than I have and wonder if I shoot myself in the foot by trying to do too many things. Anything I love, I can’t help wanting to write something like it myself, so I write drama and comedy, radio, TV, film, comics, prose, various different genres. If I’d decided when I was 16 that I wanted to be a comedy writer, and just focused on that, maybe I’d have got more done by now. But maybe I wouldn’t have focused on that, maybe I’d have focused on the wrong thing. And I like to think they all feed into each other, and hopefully make my work more interesting.
Neil Gaiman would have been a writer on many Who fans fantasy wish list; is there anyone (apart from me) you’d be interested to see tackle an episode?
I thought Abi Morgan’s work on The Hour was excellent, my favourite British drama in years, and I’d love to see her do a period thriller in Doctor Who.
Let’s drop kick Doctor Who into the Sun for a moment; now ignore its screams and tell me what your other favourite telly box shows are:
To name a few: Six Feet Under, Nightingales, Mad Men, Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?, The Prisoner, Seinfeld, The Second Coming, The Hour, Alexei Sayle’s Stuff, Game Of Thrones, Sarah & Duck. I’m working my way through A Very Peculiar Practice at the moment, which is wonderful, and I’m catching up with Girls.
If he does find the Time Lords, let’s have The Meddling Monk back. It’s a great part for someone. Imagine Roger Allam playing the Monk. He wouldn’t have to be a Monk, he could be pretending to be something else. Failing that, the Eternals – they’re great villains. Enlightenment is possibly my favourite story ever.
I think I’m fondest of the 1960s stuff, especially Hartnell, and the beginning and end of the 1980s (there’s a terrible dip in the middle, which isn’t Colin’s fault but relates to some horrendous misjudgements behind the scenes). But I’ve got a lot of time for Pertwee too, I have an odd nostalgia for it because it was so celebrated when I first became a fan.
I’d like to go back and rewatch some more post-2005 episodes, as the majority I enjoy more than I did on broadcast. Not that I don’t enjoy them on broadcast, I just feel slightly tense when watching a brand new episode because I really, really want it to be great. There are episodes I still don’t know what I feel about.
PLUG SOMETHING, YOU SHAMELESS SWINE:
I’m working on the second series of Welcome To Our Village, Please Invade Carefully at the moment – that’ll be airing in the summer on Radio 4 and tickets for the recordings will be available before long. 2525, a sci-fi-based sketch show which I wrote for, is airing on Radio 4 at the moment, 11pm on Tuesdays until 11th March. I’ve got more strips coming up in 2000AD this year, and my book The Art Of Sean Phillips is out now. Also, later this year an updated edition of ‘Who’s Past’, a guide to 20th-century ‘Doctor Who’ by me, Jim Smith and Mark Clapham, will be published by Obverse Books.
Download a copy of ‘Welcome To Our Village, Please Invade Carefully’
Or browse through all his other stuff and see what tickles your fancy!