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Lance Parkin Interview

By Paul Scoones

Lance Parkin is a relatively recent entrant to Virgin Publishing's current stable of Doctor Who authors but has already established himself as a writer to watch. His debut novel, the New Adventure Just War, has met with critical acclaim and his recently published A History of the Universe is already being hailed as an indispensable Doctor Who continuity reference work. Lance has completed a forthcoming Missing Adventure, Cold Fusion, which features the Fifth Doctor meeting the Seventh, and is currently writing what will be Virgin's one and only Paul McGann New Adventure, The Dying Days. Lance very generously took time out from his writing to talk to TSV, via email in July 1996.


Paul: Just War takes place in much the same period of time as Timewyrm: Exodus. How conscious of comparisons with Terrance Dicks' earlier New Adventure when you were writing the novel?

Lance: Just War is a reaction to Exodus. I like the book, and at the time I was preparing the original submission (Autumn 1993), it was one of the best of the range. It's still very popular - which is why the blurb I wrote for Just War makes it sound like a sequel! There were problems, though: my main criticism being the depiction of Hitler. The frightening thing, to my mind, is that Hitler wasn't possessed by the devil or the Timewyrm; he was just an ordinary man. Steinmann is a reaction to the Exodus Hitler - a talented, intelligent, cultured man who chooses to be a Nazi. That is much scarier than the thought he's been hypnotised by aliens. The book trades on the reader's knowledge that the Doctor has seen the Nazis win elsewhere, and Chris [Cwej] actually quotes Exodus on p.179. Hitler, of course, isn't mentioned once in Just War - I wanted to try and explore the Nazi mentality without needing to refer to him.

Paul: How much research did you need to do for the book?

Lance: I have a shelf full of books I used. I was keen to get the tone of the book right, so I stuck to primary sources: wartime memoirs, contemporary newspapers, Channel Island documents. I've also got books on radar and stealth aircraft. Quite often, I'd be typing an ordinary enough sentence: 'the Nazi walked into the room, he wore a...' and I'd get stuck and have to find out exactly what he would be wearing. Did the War Office have an intercom system in 1941? Yes. That sort of little detail. I'm sure I've got things wrong, but I did my best.

Paul: Bernice undergoes a particularly harrowing torture at the hands of the Nazis in Just War, and is mentioned in later New Adventures. To what extent did you consult with other authors to ensure this continuity?

Lance: I didn't. I sent Kate a copy of the manuscript, and she decided to quote me - that was quite a thrill. And no-one was more surprised than me when Gerhard turned up in Happy Endings! I've just been reading Christmas on a Rational Planet and LONGBOW gets a mention I think, to be honest, that's one of the nicest things: to think that in your own little way you've added to the' canon'.

Paul: Just War contains a 'Missing Adventure' for the Seventh Doctor and Mel within the main narrative. Is this a pairing you would like to write more for?

Lance: Mel was in there to contrast the Doctor of the TV series and the NAs. I tried to flesh her out a bit while keeping her consistent - she has a bit more of that righteous indignation she has on screen, but still dances and screams at the drop of a hat. Originally that section was a bit longer and right at the end (between Chapter 13 and 14). At one point I contemplated a Mel and Hartung sex scene, but in the end I couldn't stomach it! The whole flashback scene is a play-within-a-play, a summary of the plot of Just War. I don't have an overwhelming urge to write for Mel again, but if the right story comes along...


Paul: What motivated you to write the Doctor Who Chronology on which the history is based?

Lance: I just felt there was a gap in the market. It was something obvious that hadn't been done properly before; it had only ever been a chapter in a book rather than a whole book. It started off as a couple of articles in Matrix, a UK fanzine, and these proved very popular and they were collected and expanded. That sold over 2000 copies, so it proved that there was a gap in the market!

Paul: How long did it take to research the original Chronology?

Lance: Two years, but it only took four months to write the Virgin version, which shows what a motivating force a big fat cheque can be!

Paul: A History of the Universe covers novels up to and including the titles published the same month. How difficult was it to obtain information on books that hadn't been published when you were compiling A History?

Lance: I broke the Virgin photocopier, that's my claim to fame! Poor Andy Bodle and Simon Winstone spent days copying synopses and draft manuscripts for me, and every couple of days I'd get these great fat envelopes through the door. Obviously, I couldn't get everything from just these snippets: that's why the villain's name in Eye of the Giant is wrong; Happy Endings isn't covered very well; Death and Diplomacy is set in the wrong year...

Paul: How did A History come to be published when Virgin's stance has previously been that Jean-Marc Lofficier's The Terrestrial Index contains the definitive chronology?

Lance: I don't think it was ever 'definitive', just the most common timeline, one that we could all refer to. The Terrestrial Index's version is OK as it goes, but it is one chapter in a book.

Paul: Whose idea was it to include the New and Missing Adventures in A History?

Lance: Purely mine: there are almost half as many NAs and MAs as there are TV stories now, and whether you like them or not, they've built up quite a body of work. I realised I could get first 'bagsy' on lots of juicy 'unpublished' stuff from the Virgin archive. There was no pressure at all from Virgin, in fact Peter Darvill-Evans, the series editor, didn't want them in until I suggested the different typeface.

Paul: Who Killed Kennedy has close ties with the Missing Adventures, yet you chose not to include it in the history. Why?

Lance: Simply because it was written at the same time, and so I couldn't do it justice. If there were to be a second edition it would go in.

Paul: The dating of the UNIT stories in your Chronology and A History are at odds. How does this change reflect your own views on the dating of the UNIT years?

Lance: In the original I said that the UNIT stories were set 1975-81. This is still my view, but this doesn't make it a 'fact'. After a very long argument with Paul Cornell, we agreed to differ. And then we realised what a grown-up thing to do this was: there isn't a right answer, so why pretend that there is?

Paul: Early publicity put out by Virgin describes A History as containing twenty line drawings and 'separate essays providing more details about the Doctor's main enemies, including the Daleks and. the Cybermen.' Why were these features dropped?

Lance: Space. The book is already 135,000 words long, a third more than Original Sin or Warlock, and 35,000 words over the limit! It's a shame: Mark Jones did some wonderful sketches of Emma Thompson as Benny, but there wasn't room to do them justice. I think the book could do with some visual material - but not in a half-hearted way.

Paul: Parts of A History bring to light the unfortunate fact that the New Adventures do not have a continuity that is always consistent. How do you feel this consistency compares with that of the television series?

Lance: Reviewers picked up on this and proceeded to beat the NAs about the head. I wasn't writing a 'the NAs are wrong' book, far from it, and I think they've been at least as good as the TV series at getting things 'right'. I'm a great believer that there isn't any such thing as a continuity 'error' anyway. There isn't a 'true' Doctor Who universe that some writers 'betray', it's all made up. As long as the reader isn't cheated, continuity can be ignored.

Paul: 'The Gallifrey Paper' which appears at the back of A History omits certain details - are there plans to reveal these at a later date?

Lance: I've just got the synopsis through for Lungbarrow. It's all in there apart from one line, which I've just put in Cold Fusion. The 'last page' wasn't printed because Marc [Platt] wanted to save some surprises for Lungbarrow. The biggest mystery concerns Susan - how can she be the Doctor's granddaughter if the Time Lords are sterile?

Paul: In the novels and especially the television movie that have come out since you completed the history are there references that would cause you to make significant changes to A History?

Lance: Little did I suspect in October last year that some git would make a new TV story! There's nothing that would make a real difference to A History in the movie or the upcoming NAs - in fact from Happy Endings onwards many of the authors are using the book as reference.

Paul: Can we expect to see an updated edition of A History at some point?

Lance: As I understand it, Virgin can still publish non-fiction after May next year. It's more complicated now, though: could I include the BBC Books? What about the Benny mini-series? I'll cross that bridge if I'm ever asked to.


Paul: The Virgin writers guide discourages multi-Doctor stories. What made you write one anyway?

Lance: When I'd finished A History I pitched three ideas to Rebecca [Levene] over the phone. Cold Fusion was the one I thought she'd reject out of hand, but that was the one she liked most. The basic idea is slightly different to the other multi-Doctor stories: the Doctors land on the same war-torn planet at the same time, but they take different sides. They do meet, although most of the 'crossover' concerns the companions: Adric and Roz team up and Chris and Nyssa become quite friendly.

Paul: Cold Fusion is placed close to what will be the end of the Missing Adventures. Did this influence your or Virgin's decision to have a multi-Doctor adventure?

Lance: At the time, no, because we didn't know the licence was going. At one point, Cold Fusion would have been the last MA, and that's far too much weight for the book to carry. It's a lighthearted space opera, not 'Just War II' - there's some dark stuff in there, but a lot of comedy, too. Two of the principal characters are played by Terry and June, in keeping with the 'light entertainment' guest star philosophy of the nineteenth season!

Paul: What dictated your choice of Doctor, companions and story gap for Cold Fusion?

Lance: Rebecca was keen to have Adric, I wanted to write for the original Season 19 line up. I needed a cynical character, so asked to use Roz (who's written out in the November NA). The story gaps allow a young, fresh-faced Doctor at the start of his life to meet an older more cynical one who knows he's nearing the end of his. Cold Fusion is a Davison book with a McCoy NA happening in the background: a bit like Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. It starts off in 'the Doctor stepped from the TARDIS' territory, and gradually the reader realises that there's something darker and bigger going on. There's some Gallifreyan stuff in there, too, and a love interest for the Fifth Doctor. And lots of robots.


Paul: Current rumours indicate that you may be commissioned to write the first and perhaps only Paul McGann New Adventure for Virgin. What stage is this project at?

Lance: I heard yesterday that it's going ahead. It's the April NA, the only one to feature McGann. It's set on the fateful day of May 31st 1997, the Eighth Doctor meets Benny and the Brigadier and there are old monsters (revamped) in it. It's called The Dying Days. Something happens two-thirds of the way through which will not endear me to some fans, and might make it difficult to reconcile the BBC Books with the NAs. The Doctor isn't in the following book, which Paul is writing.

Paul: Do you plan to write for the new BBC Books series of Doctor Who novels, or Virgin's Bernice Summerfield books, or both?

Lance: I've been approached to write both, and also for Virgin Worlds, the new SF line. Hopefully I'll end up writing for all three in the end. I'll get The Dying Days written and then worry about that. I'm in the very lucky position of being able to choose I want to slow down my output a little, for the last eighteen months I've been writing two books at once, which isn't good for the mind (and doesn't give me much time to read more than anything else). My initial contact with BBC Books has been OK - they're clearly committed, and I'm sure the range will carry on much as it was under Virgin. Rebecca Levene gave me my first, second, third and now fourth break, though, and she's been incredibly supportive and encouraging. I wouldn't be surprised if I chose to write a non-Who book for her before a Who book for anyone else. We'll see.

This item appeared in TSV 48 (August 1996).

Index nodes: Just War, Cold Fusion, Dying Days