Years before "Star Trek" began its five-year mission that never quite ended, "Doctor Who" was making science-fiction cool in the UK and beyond. Now, with "Doctor Who" and spin-off series "Torchwood" enjoying a surge of popularity here in the U.S., American audiences are finally catching on to what British fans have known for four decades now: there's a good reason why "Doctor Who" is the longest-running sci-fi television series in history.
So, what better way to capitalize on the series' current popularity than with a new, ongoing comic book series, right?
Announced during last year's Comic-Con International in San Diego, IDW Publishing's ongoing "Doctor Who" series kicks off next week with writer Tony Lee and artist Al Davison offering up new adventures involving the last of the time-and-space-traveling Time Lords, known simply as "The Doctor." A bit of a "Doctor Who" geek myself, I checked in with Lee to find out how he plans to carve his own niche in the massive canon of "Who" history.
"One thing I loved from the classic 'Doctor Who' was wondering each week whether The Doctor would survive and what's going to happen. With the new [television] series, that sort of thing is only reserved for the big, middle-of-season or end-of-season blockbusters. I want every story in the comic book to be that end-of-season blockbuster," Lee said of his approach to the print series.
No stranger to scripting "Doctor Who" tales, Lee previously scripted IDW's well-received, six-part miniseries "Doctor Who: The Forgotten" and the one-shot story titled ""Doctor Who: The Time Machination." With the new series needing to tie into its television counterpart, however, Lee said he's had to think quite a bit further down the road when planning out his storylines -- especially since the actor currently playing The Doctor, David Tennant, will be handing the role off to a different actor, Matt Smith, when the next season begins.
"The first 18 issues of the series start with a quite innocuous story that builds up as the story goes along, to the point where The Doctor can effectively walk away from everything that's happened and go into the final episodes where he becomes Matt Smith on TV," explained Lee.
Although Lee said he hasn't been told what's going to happen in the TV series around that transition, the publication schedule for the comic book series allows him a window to plan out his plotlines involving the new Doctor. The next season of the series (with Smith as the star) is scheduled to premiere in March 2010, while the transition isn't scheduled to occur in the comic until December 2010.
"By the time I script the episodes where he turns up, we've already seen the first few episodes involving him," said Lee, adding that the current season's storyline -- in which The Doctor embarks on a series of solo journeys through time and space -- also allows him some freedom on the print side.
"Between each of the current TV specials, The Doctor could have gone away for hundreds of years, he could have traveled and had dozens of companions you've never seen," said the writer.
According to Lee, The Doctor's solo status in the current season also afforded him some interesting opportunities regarding other characters he plans to introduce. As longtime "Who" fans will attest, one of the hallmarks of the series has always been that The Doctor is accompanied by one or more human "companions" who tag along on his adventures. Since the comic book series kicks off during The Doctor's solo period and leads into the start of the new season on TV, Lee said he has free reign to introduce as many companions for The Doctor as he'd like -- as long as they're gone before the comic book timeline meets up with the TV series.
"In the TV series, you know that nothing bad is going to happen to [The Doctor's companions]... I want characters that readers can actually feel a sense of dread for," teased Lee. "At any point, if I have a bad day or a hangover, I could kill one of them off."
When the first story arc, "Silver Scream," lands on shelves next week, Lee said The Doctor will find himself back in 1927 Hollywood, investigating a mysterious alien presence. Subsequent stories will see The Doctor put on trial by the Shadow Proclamation (a mysterious organization introduced in the TV series) and forced to cooperate with former foes, followed by an arc that takes place within the Doctor's famous spaceship, the TARDIS. And soon thereafter, it's on to the Matt Smith era.
"Matt is eventually supposed to come in and sit down with the writers of the comics and books and audiobooks and such and say, 'This is how I see my Doctor going,'" said Lee.
And with the new IDW series, it looks like comic book fans will be going along for the ride, too.
"Doctor Who" #1 hits shelves on Wednesday, July 15.