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Pilots of the Deep

The Story Behind the Strip

The Original Pilots

by Paul Scoones

Pilots of the Deep was the first ever serious comic strip story to grace the pages of TSV. Intended as a serial to run for a number of issues, the first part of the strip was a two-page installment tucked away at the back of issue 12, which came out in March 1989. Ten years and 45 issues later, the story is finally complete.

The strip was the creation of 17-year-old Aucklander Mark Roach. Mark was inspired by the style of Season 25, and particularly the pairing of the Seventh Doctor and Ace. The broadcast of Silver Nemesis a few months earlier had given many New Zealand fans their first glimpse of the new Doctor and his feisty young female companion, and due to events organised by chapters of the fan club, many members had seen the rest of the anniversary season's stories.

Reading Doctor Who Magazine's regular strip stories motivated Mark Roach to create something similar for TSV. Mark's intention was to produce a two-page installment for each issue, but Part Two didn't appear in TSV 14 because he'd run into difficulties. Rather than planning out the whole story, Mark had elected to make it up as he went along. Unfortunately, after finishing the first page of the second part (which essentially resolved the cliffhanger), he had no idea where to take the adventure beyond this point.

I befriended Mark around this time and, after I expressed my enthusiasm for the first part of the strip, Mark invited me to take over the writing chores for the remainder of the story. He found drawing the comic considerably easier than writing it; whereas it was the other way around for me, so we perhaps made an ideal team.

Taking what leads I could from the three pages Mark had completed, I wrote a script for the rest of the story. My writing was light on description but heavy on dialogue - witness the static panels crammed with speech balloons on the second and third pages of Part Two. These two pages were to be the only finished examples of my involvement in the project.

My only copy of the script has long since disappeared, but I do remember that the story was to have run for an additional three ‘episodes’, each spanning three pages. I recall that the elusive Dr Elddper helped to save the Doctor and Ace, and that the story was to have ended on a downbeat note, with humanity saved from the Sea Devils at the cost of the dolphins' lives. Essentially the conclusion stole from Warriors of the Deep's “There should have been another way.”

But TSV's readers never got to see this version. Not long after Part Two appeared in issue 14 (published in August 1989), Mark began to lose interest in finishing the strip. Issues 14, 15 and 16 all listed Pilots of the Deep as a feature of the following issue, but the frequently promised Part Three never eventuated. In early 1990 I was still trying to coerce Mark into finishing off the story, but the allure of writing and drawing for a much larger readership meant that he ended up working full-time on the University of Auckland's student newspaper. TSV's loss was Craccum's gain!

Resurfacing Pilots

by Peter Adamson

I first discovered Mark Roach's Pilots of the Deep while reading some back issues of TSV loaned to me by a friend, Andrew Cook. Soon afterwards I also pored over Warwick Gray's two strips as well, but I have to say that it was Pilots that really intrigued me. Most of all because it was unfinished, but also because what I took from it was that a comic strip could be done in TSV and could work. Not long afterwards Andrew and I discussed the idea of working together on a strip - perhaps even a semi-regular series if they were received well. In the end, it wasn't until after another friend, cartoonist Paul Potiki, and I had worked on two strips together, that Andrew and I finally collaborated [Sums over Histories, TSV 45]. The rest is fairly recent history, and Andrew and I and Pilots didn't really meet again until 1997, when after working on the Telos Unearthed compilation I began thinking of other unfinished fan productions I might be able to look into, perhaps for a follow-up issue. At around the same time Andrew and I had also worked together on an alternative edition of an uncommissioned strip, and so when I inquired to Paul Scoones regarding the status of Pilots, I was quite keen on having Andrew aboard as well.

The Cook/Adamson version

INTERIOR. An improvised cell. Ace is being watched by a Sea Devil guard, who seems as wary and cautious of her as she it. Through a window behind them we see the Doctor gesticulating wildly as he talks to the Sea Devil leader.

ACE: “Listen, I got a joke for you. How do you make the Doctor laugh?”

SEA DEVIL: “I do not know”

ACE: “Make a plan.”

Silence for perhaps a panel, then:

“I dunno why you want to destroy all of us anyway. It's not like we've always known you were down here. You're wanting to destroy a whole race, but they're my friends and family somewhere out there. Good people. We're not all like the ones you've met. Some of us just want to get on with living.”

SEA DEVIL: “Was that another ‘joke'?”

ACE: “No. Why?”

SEA DEVIL: “I thought it was a good one.”

One of several versions of an excised scene from the Cook/Adamson draft

From what I can remember of mine and Andrew's outline for the conclusion, the story continued with the imminent arrival of human forces, placing an already tense situation under more pressure as a hostage scenario ensued. The idea of a destructive force of humans on the outside and an equally strong force of Sea Devils on the inside with the Doctor and Ace sandwiched in the middle was kicked around a bit. Then there were the dolphins, who were obviously about to play their own trump card with their explosive charges. We both liked the regional aspects of the sea base being in (probably) the Tasman Sea, so Andrew's idea of the Doctor's opinion of a mutual Eocene-human treaty would have been something of a commentary on the Treaty of Waitangi. We both felt strongly that in this situation the Doctor would realise that things are about to go beyond his control, and that his frustration would grow as the events of his two previous encounters with the Sea Devils come back to haunt him. We didn't want a treaty situation in the end - it struck us as somewhat unlikely, so we opted for the Sea Devils deserting the planet - extending the ‘pilots’ theme. Despite this, Andrew and I found agreeing on a strong resolution difficult, and began to go in different directions. The limited number of remaining pages and the large number of variables meant that very little of our idea was put on paper, and the project slept quietly while I prepared to leave Dunedin and return to university life in Wellington.

The Ronayne/Adamson version

Around the middle of 1998 I found myself thinking about what the comic strip series would be like in TSV for the next year. With the zine going quarterly there would only be four strips to consider. I was aware that there was at least one waiting in the wings, two scripts by David Ronayne (yet to be drawn), and Pilots, which I felt was threatening to be a bit of an albatross around my neck! From my own viewpoint, the absolute last thing I wanted to be doing was writing and drawing the conclusion myself. On the other hand, David and I hadn't collaborated on a strip since Hyperborea in TSV 47, so surprisingly, when I brought the subject of Pilots up with him, he was as interested as I was. (I've since learned that David himself had attempted to ‘reboot’ Pilots himself back in 1993.) There was an added opportunity that I was cautious to explore, but really wanted to - whether Dave would be interested in contributing to the artwork of the strip. I'd reluctantly accepted that I would probably have to do the work myself while in Dunedin, though there were a couple of artists I was also interested in approaching. On the other hand, with Dave and I potentially working on the script and the artwork at the same time, I realised that there would be a good opportunity to make it a collaborative effort from ‘go to whoa’. With David expressing genuine interest, I contacted Paul.

Our brief from Paul was to leave the existing parts one and two untouched. We agreed to this - Dave and I had no problems with what had gone up until then, and we discussed how we saw the continuity of what existed fitting into the series. The main aspect was the date given and whether or not Pilots took place before or after Warriors of the Deep.

The story was worked out between us in what has become a pretty traditional method for Mr Ronayne and I - email. We've still not met in the five years we've known each other! Usually, Dave writes parts or an entire draft of the script and sends it to me. I reply (after due consideration and usually some delight) and add suggestions and criticism in upper case - a ‘voice of god’ technique. We then set about the usual course of bickering and name calling, and then we agree or make compromises depending on the situation. An early casualty was the gas canister Elddper arrives with. It was always going to be filled with oxygen, but Dave wasn't keen on my idea of Elddper pretending it was hexachromite gas to bluff his way in, and he rightly objected to the Sea Devils falling for it so easily, so out it went.

Dave sent photocopies of his penciling over for me to work out where the speech balloons would go - I began to paste them into position instead (this is not something I usually recommend! Pasting balloons always leads to trouble!) I also began inking the work, tweaking bits here and there. As I did this, Dave took on the inking himself, and the resulting work made its way into the strip. In some panels the similarity in styles is bizarre. The upshot is that for the most part, the strip as it stands now is virtually all David's work visually and in script, with me lettering, doing some inking, and acting as the editor/‘fly in the ointment’ as usual. The result is one with which I'm more than pleased - Pilots of the Deep was Dave's first ever stint in illustrating a serious strip, and I hope it won't be his last.


“Hello - I'm Doctor Elddper, and this is a cylinder of hexachromite gas”

Elddper was the lynchpin. Both Dave and I were of an accord that what existed of the script pretty much led up to Elddper's proper introduction - so why not with a bang? I put down a brief description: “tall and muscular, shaven headed and charismatic. Resourceful and confident” and we took it from there. Dave was later to comment on the character “great minds think alike”. Elddper would be in effect the Doctor's equal. In early stages we worked on a bit more of a back-story to Elddper - perhaps he had UNIT connections, or was part of the clean-up team after the Sea Base 4 event, but in the end a clean slate was drawn up instead. We were also of the opinion that this doctor shouldn't be the usual stereotype mad scientist or turncoat coward, but a proactive scientist turned guerrilla - I mean, he had to be doing something for the Sea Devils to want to be rid of him so desperately - right?

Elddper also came to me by way of Professor Magnet, a character created by 2000AD's Mark Morris for the otherwise dismal Robo Hunter sequel Return to Verdus (and there's a definite influence on the last page from Alan Moore's The Ballad of Halo Jones from the same magazine). Patrick Stewart's turn in Star Trek: First Contact was also discussed. I gave Elddper the first name Christian, after Christian Barnard, the pioneer plastic surgeon, but Dave, adding to the name's obvious anagram, renamed him ‘Johann’. The wag. The decision to pair him up with Ace in a sort of tutor role was also Dave's, suggesting that the relationship would “bring out the best in him” and obviously Ace too. The literary allusion is a moot point showing how close our interests are - Elddper's soliloquy in the base is not so much a steal from Hamlet as it is a rip-off of Richard E. Grant's recitation of the same lines (more or less!) in Withnail & I. Of course neither of us realised or even dreamed that he'd be soon playing the Doctor himself!

The Sea Devils

The Sea Devils now have a pretty well-established back-story thanks to fan fiction. The trouble is, it's somewhat conflicting, and I was keen to avoid an easy ‘out’ situation which the Virgin range hinted at with the alleged ‘reawakening’ of the Silurians in Happy Endings. The idea of the Doctor actually not knowing their future was another element I liked - especially for the seventh Doctor, whom I feel had been given perhaps too much knowledge over the past few years.

Dave and I also discussed the other interpretations of the Sea Devils provided both recently and in the past. Note that Elddper is the only character who refers to them as Eocenes, (perhaps he knew the Third Doctor?), whereas the dolphin Pilot drops the term ‘Deep One’, which we selected as a reference to Andy Lane's All-Consuming Fire and more directly H.P. Lovecraft. I would gladly have kept their appearance true to the ‘classic’ look of the first serial, but Dave worked in his own creation, the Sea Devil Captain, a warlord in Warriors of the Deep garb, or “Samurai nutter” as jokingly referred to by his creator. The pictographs really mean something too - but that's not my story to tell, I'm sure!

[Sea Devils]


This took the longest to work out, and clearly differs from the ‘original’ worked out by Paul Scoones and Mark Roach. Both Dave and I resisted the idea of a firefight as in both serials. The idea of the Doctor - any Doctor, returning to this timeless feud and still coming up empty would be an insult to everyone involved - there has to be some indication that he at least was capable of moving on and taking over properly. With three likely factions working against each other (not to mention Ace!), the exact means of him doing this were going to be tricky. The convention of Doctor Who usually demands that it is the Doctor who resolves conflicts and puts things right. Here it's achieved in a cutaway - which is perhaps something of a cheat's move (it's also less cosy and saves page space!), but David Putnam managed it in Local Hero, so that's our defence!

Dave's explanation: “the Doctor does not resolve the issue, he is acting as an interpreter, and possibly as a mediator... the bulk of the work is done by the Sea Devil, Elddper, and the dolphin... The Doctor facilitates the talk, but [they] have to sort it out themselves.” The Doctor plays very little part in the development of events. Even Ace's ‘growth’ in the story comes from her time with Elddper.

The epilogue was there to show some signs of hope, but it would still be left open. The ship as envisaged by me would have been a bit more rickety and claustrophobic, with Elddper surrounded by glass tanks of embryos. Dave's final version (as it appears on a page inked by me) shows the ship to be roomier - but the Sea Devil Captain is nowhere to be seen... interesting!

Whatever the end and how readers will receive it, I'd like to state now that I'm proud Nitro 9 never got mentioned, and that the Doctor is given some vulnerability in his future memories. Well, maybe he did know what happened to the Sea Devils and was reluctant to say? Perhaps this isn't the end at all. Time will just have to tell.

This item appeared in TSV 57 (July 1999).

Related Items: Pilots of the Deep