‘Doctor Omega’: John Peel Interview

❉ Doctor who? Doctor Omega! We chat with writer John Peel about the new series of books based on Arnould Galopin’s 1906 novel.

Recently, Kara Dennison reviewed the first book of John Peel and Andrew Skilleter’s new Doctor Omega series, The Strike of Midnite. Kara has taken a moment to interview writer John Peel about the new series!

John has written novelisations of Doctor Who TV stories featuring the Daleks, working closely with their creator, Terry Nation, as well as original stories for the good Doctor, and also original tales of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. He’s penned novels based on shows like Star Trek and The Outer Limits, as well as an original novel of TV’s The Avengers (recently made into an audio play from Big Finish). John has created his own fantasy worlds – Diadem and Dragonhome and written numerous other novels for adults, young adults and children.

His latest works are the new adventures of Doctor Omega, in collaboration with artist Andrew Skilleter on this ongoing series.

L-R: Arnould Galopin’s original 1906 novel; 2003’s Who-esque adaptation, and the short story anthology.

How did you first encounter Galopin’s Doctor Omega?

My friend, Jean-Marc Lofficier, produces an annual collection of short stories, Tales Of The Shadowmen, to which I often contribute. He also printed his own translation of Doctor Omega (with quite a few changes to the original to make it more like Doctor Who!), and he suggested that I might like to write an original Doctor Omega short story. I read his book and absolutely loved the character. So I wrote a sequel of sorts, The Dynamics Of An Asteroid (published in Doctor Omega and the Shadowmen).

The similarities between Doctor Omega and the Doctor we all know are pretty evident. But what do you think sets Doctor Omega apart as a character?

Well, as far as we know – stress this! – as far as we know, he’s fully human. He’s an inventor, a tinkerer, and an explorer. He doesn’t consciously set out to right wrongs or anything like that, but he becomes embroiled in situations. Yes, he’s a bit of a cranky old man, and quite egotistical at times, but his (one) heart is in the right place, and he makes friends quite easily. Hmmm… there IS quite an overlap, isn’t there?

But having written both the Hartnell Doctor and Doctor Omega, despite the similarities, they do seem to be quite different in my mind.

Doctor Omega is more flexible with people, and gentler – part of which probably comes from the people he hangs around with. Especially Miss Midnite. And he’s less likely to whip up some technobabble device to solve his problems.

How did the decision to carry on Doctor Omega’s adventures come about? Was it a joint decision with Andrew Skilleter, or did one of you put the idea forward first?

It was entirely Andrew! I’d written a bunch of Doctor Omega short stories (and an audio drama, Doctor Omega’s Parallel Adventures: The Silent Planet), but I wasn’t looking to do anything else with him. Then Andrew approached me with his concept, and quickly got me very excited. Honestly, I love Andrew’s artwork, of course, and just the thought of working with him appealed to me. And what he had devised was so interesting, I had ideas falling all over themselves for stories.

What would you say are the main differences between Galopin’s version of the character and the Peel/Skilleter version?

I think our version is more Steampunk, with the retro Galopin ship. It’s a bit Galopin, a bit Tintin (Explorers On The Moon was a huge influence on me as a child), and a bit my silly imagination. The greenhouse was my idea – I just loved the idea of a greenhouse on a spaceship, and it does make logical sense. I’ve also mellowed Doctor Omega a little, and given him more depth. In Galopin, he’s simply a sort of eccentric scientist, and that’s it. But I did retain a lot of Galopin – the supporting characters, for example.

How do you and Andrew divide up the work when it comes to creating the storyline?

The writing is all mine. I whip up a short outline, a couple of pages, and run it past Andrew to make sure he likes it. He’ll sometimes ask me for a few minor changes, and then I go off and write it. I try and make sure there are a few visual points in it to help inspire him as an artist, and he seems to manage quite well on that. Then he’ll go through the finished draft and edit it and add his comments. So far, there have been no disagreements! He does tend to ask me to tone down Amelia Midnite a bit, though – I sometimes write her a little too aggressively.

Of course, we can’t forget Miss Midnite! How did she come to be?

She’s purely Andrew’s character, and was prominent in the original outline he sent me to get me interested. He wanted an Amelia Earhart kind of character – an adventuress who is excited by speed and travel, and one with her own agenda that doesn’t always overlap with that of the Doctor. The first story, of course, is about how they both have to compromise a little on their plans. Both of them care about others, and they start to care about one another.

Miss Midnite has a very intriguing background that I’m revealing in tiny drops throughout the stories. I’ve just finished writing the sixth book, and by this point the reader will know a tiny bit more about her background – just enough to make them cry for more, I hope!

The first book is full of interesting alien species. Any particular favorites?

I’d love to say “all of them”, but, in fact, I’m extremely fond of Hank and Clementine. I certainly hope to bring them back again. I wanted aliens that didn’t think quite the way we humans do, and Hank and Clementine’s idea of love is to have a perpetual argument underway. I think it’s the influence of watching too many old Western movies, where the hero always seemed to have a really cranky and argumentative sidekick. I try to keep this whole “aliens don’t think like us” idea going in future books, too, so, hopefully, there may be other interesting aliens there, also.

 We’re gearing up here at We Are Cult headquarters to read and review the second book! What sorts of things can we look forward to?

Lots more bizarre aliens! A new character who takes on our heroes – less like The Master and more like Harry Mudd, I suppose. After that – well, the Galopin does make it back to the Earth in book 5 – but not in the 20th Century, so I get to indulge my love of historical adventures a little.

And, as I said, a few more revelations about Amelia’s past.

After that… well, I’m just having so much fun writing these adventures!

But I suppose I had better start tidying up some of the deliberately loose ends I’ve been leaving…

❉ UPDATED INFORMATION! As of September 2022, The Doctor Omega Novels are now available from andrewskilleter.com

Kara Dennison is a writer, editor, interviewer, and over-analyser of geek entertainment. In March 2018, she conducted Peter Capaldi’s first public interview since leaving Doctor Who. She can currently be read in The Black Archive #21: Heaven Sent from Obverse Books. Find more of her work at karadennison.com or on her Twitter @RubyCosmos.

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