Interview with Neil Penswick


I submitted a story to Andrew Cartmel - this was in 1988. He held onto it for ages. The story was entitled Hostage and was about a force of androids pursuing shape changing criminals across a jungle world; the criminals, Butler and Swarfe had stolen a 'Princess' missile. The planet was a repository of a terrible secret from the Time Lords' past. It was very quick, short scenes, lots of snappy dialogue. Andrew liked it but eventually replied that DW had been cancelled. This was at the time he was going on to Casualty and he asked whether I was interested in doing some non-DW stuff. I sent him a radio play that I'd done.

We kept on talking about the Casualty piece. In the meanwhile, Andrew acted as my sponsor for the Radio Times Drama Awards. This was 1990 or 1991. I wrote a 90 minute film called, Children of the Morning. This was another very visual piece about a murder investigation in the Sikh community. Although I like [Inspector] Morse, television conventions on murder mysteries are still based around White middle-class stereotypes. Again Andrew liked it.

Somewhere around here, I saw an advert that Virgin Books were going to continue the DW series. I sent Hostage-the tv. script-and received a very favourable reply from Peter Darvill-Evans.

After many discussions, letters to and fro, a sample chapter (rewritten twice) and an extremely detailed scene breakdown I was commissioned in 1992. Andrew had then left Casualty and the new producer and script-editor seemed to want a complete change in the direction of the show.

The book was always extremely complex unlike the tv story which was a tight action thriller. From my second submission to just prior to publication, the book was entitled, Oh Lucifer, Son of the Morning. Peter wanted it written for the "intelligent 15 year old" 'who would read the book two or three times". Peter actually simplified the book at an early stage.

In themes and style, it was always clear that this was an experiment by Virgin Books. You have to remember that the NA were a completely new product and Virgin were experimenting with the market. When I first began talking to Virgin, I am not even sure the first book in the series was available in the shops. I do remember reading it and, obviously, identifying the adult approach. I was actually quite shocked when I read The Highest Science - which I got in rough draft - as the book before mine - by the completely different approach. I'm not saying that The Highest Science isn't a good book but that the style and content was so different than mine.

The series has moved on since 1992. I wouldn't write The Pit now for that market. The book series is now about something else. It got into a stride. I have my own views on various books but those are my own views.

My only problem with The Pit is that I don't like the villain in Victorian England. He is presented as a stereotyped character with a disability and thus hates the world. This is a stereotype in Gothic horror but I should have challenged it.

I like The Pit. It is complex. Its also unlike any of the other NA I've read.

The Pit is written in a slow meditative manner - and this was discussed with Peter -whilst there are a lot of short scenes with snappy dialogue. That was deliberate although, I think, at times, difficult for the reader.

Originally The Pit was written like an Elmor Leonard or an Ed McBain. Hardly any description, lots of dialogue. It was much more stylish. Peter wasn't keen.

The Pit is about vision. The Manichaean struggle between the forces of good and evil. The book is full of allusions and passing references to the battle between these elemental forces.

Is Kopyion "the other"? No. I had discussed this with PDE and also my revision of canonical Gallifreyan history. Peter was happy about the twist given on Rassilon - although it had to be couched in vagaries and possibilities. I liked the idea of challenging the idea that Time Lord morality would be late twentieth century Western thinking.

I received the Cartmel/Plat/Aaronovitch text with the details of "the other".

Kopyion was a key figure in the formation of the Time Lords. In him lies the darkest secrets of the Time Lords.

The book is about 'the shadow'. The shadow is a Jungian concept and, outside C.G. Jung, is best explained in Joseph Campbell's Hero with a Thousand Faces (which also details the Quest structure found in The Pit) and in Robert Thy's excellent Little Book of the Human Shadow.

Kopyion is a 'shadow' for the entirety of Gallifreyan history. I was interested in exploring the darkness hinted at many times - particularly The Three Doctors, Mindwarp and The Five Doctors. I like the line, "and so they took it on themselves to act as second rate Gods" from the Trial of a Timelord.

Although I don't use it in the book, Nietzsche's "if you look into the abyss long enough, the abyss will look back at you" is what had happened to Kopyion. And, as the book suggests, is what is happening to the Doctor. The Pit was supposed to be the low point for the "dark Doctor".

Yes, there was a lot of religious imagery.

However, there was also a lot of Lovecraftian material. I think it is a shame that Virgin didn't try and unite the Lovecraft references so that they could have tied up the continuity. Dave Mclntee wrote White Darkness featuring the Elder Gods (as I remember) without being aware of my use of the mythology.

What do I think of the criticism of The Pit? I have never read a piece which appears to understand what the book was trying to do.

Radio 4 gave it an excellent review. The DW press gave it varying criticisms. I suppose with the nature of the book that was to be expected. I once had a long conversation with Ben Aaronovich about the state of the fan critiques. There seems to be a lack of attempt to look at a book's intention. I wonder how many reviews were written on one read. I certainly read a few, initially, which bore no relations to what was in the book. I once had an e-mail from someone who really seemed to appreciate The Pit who also argued that its sales figures were effected by fan reaction. I've no idea. It still seems to sell well.

I don't want to argue with someone who didn't like the book. Fine. But, as for the question, you ask, as to why the Doctor didn't "fight" Kopyion. I - and PDE - never thought about it. We talked a lot and the beginning was always going to pose a situation where a planet had been destroyed - and the Doctor could not go back and alter that fact. I think I quoted you that line, ' and so they took it on themselves to act as second rate gods".

I have no problem with the morality of it. Covert operations are always going to be amoral - in a one to one/personal sense.

We never saw Kopyion as a villain, or the villain. He was not someone to be fought. In Kopyion lies the darkness of Time Lord society. I once described The Pit as the Apocalypse Now of DW novels. The journey up the river to confront a Jungian archetype.

Kopyion was not a villain.

I am a Child Protection Advisor and work in different countries. For the last year, I lived in the Netherlands. I'm kept very busy and don't always have the time to write fiction. Using this specialism, I have been in discussion with an independent company for some time now about a hard-hitting series, and occasionally chat to a popular soap about episodes around child abuse.

For some years, I have been supposed to he writing for another popular series. Its difficult to always find the time.

I am very happy at what I do. I also like writing. In the late eighties, I was concentrating more on the writing.

The character in Happy Endings is not Neil Gaiman's Death. I am aware of his work and recenty (name dropping) had a discussion with him about DW. The girl has appeared in other works.

Would I be interested in doing more DW? As I said, I wouldn't write The Pit again. It would depend on whether I could fit it in in my schedule. I think the books should be stylish, hard edged, character driven thrillers which someone could pick up and read without any knowledge of the programme or other books in the series. Sylvester McCoy was the 'dark Doctor' working within conspiracies I think Paul McCann is more magical.

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