Una McCormack Talks Inspiration, Being the Doctor and ‘Molten Heart’

On Friday, the authors of three new Doctor Who novels starring the Thirteenth Doctor took part in a signing event at Forbidden Planet in London. They were kind enough to chat to me about their time writing the books and thoughts on series eleven. In the second of three interviews, I spoke to Dr Una McCormack – author of Molten Heart.

Which episode of series eleven has been your favourite so far?
MOLTEN HEART BY UNA MCCORMACK
MOLTEN HEART BY UNA MCCORMACK

My favourite by miles was Demons of the Punjab which I think is one of my top five Doctor Who episodes now. It’s incredible. I thought it was the closest we’ve had to a historical in absolutely ages but also it’s just a fantastic story. Really, really carefully thought through and resulted in loads of people saying ‘Ooh I’d never really thought about the partition before’ and suddenly everyone’s looking it up and finding out about it. Also Rosa, those are my top two.

How did you research the voices of the new cast? Did you end up binge-watching Broadchurch?

I’ve never seen Broadchurch! And now it’s on the record! No, I had seen Jodie Whittaker on stage with Christopher Eccleston in Antigone so I could hear the Doctor’s voice pretty well. I’d seen Bradley Walsh in other things. My little girl was mad about the episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures he was in so I’ve watched that absolutely loads of times. Obviously it was harder with Yaz and Ryan but you just sort of try to roll with it and the editorial team gave hints. You did what you could and then worked it out as best you could. The good thing about a companion is that at some point you can make them say, “Doctor, I just don’t understand!”.

In Molten Heart, team TARDIS find themselves on the planet Adamantine. Or, more accurately, inside the planet Adamantine, which is essentially inside-out.

Where did the idea for an inside-out planet come from?
Dr Una McCormack
Dr Una McCormack

We sort of had a set of ideas that we worked from that [Steve Cole, author of Combat Magicks] came up with and I liked the sound of that immediately. I thought that’d be fun. The hints we’d been getting about the new series early on felt very Hartnell [the First Doctor], so I thought this would be a really good setting for that since they have to go on a long journey and there’s quite a lot of them. In the back of my mind I had something like Marco Polo. It doesn’t have the same length of time but that was the thing I wanted to achieve with the story: make it feel very Hartnell-ish…Hartnell-esque?

How did you find the writing process?

Nobody really likes writing. Well, you love the moments where it’s going well. I liked working with Steve [Cole]. That was my favourite bit, genuinely. He’s a lovely cheerleader because we were all really nervous working with a new Doctor, the first woman Doctor, and getting it right. [He was] a little treasure so I enjoyed that. Normally writing is very lonely, you’re left by yourself. With audio dramas you get to work with the actors and so on. Having someone at the other end to e-mail that I could check in on and get cheered on by was favourite bit.

McCormack’s other work in the Whoniverse includes the Twelfth Doctor novel Royal Blood and Eleventh Doctor story The Way Through the Woods.

How did you find writing for the Thirteenth Doctor versus the Twelfth or Eleventh?

You just write The Doctor. There’s a great clip online of Sylvester McCoy delivering Matt Smith’s speech from the end of the 50th anniversary and you go, “Yep, any Doctor could do that”. You write it that way. Then the individual Doctor gives it the spin. The tricky bit I think was not knowing what her physical performance was going to be like. It was tricky to write her through the eyes of other characters. I never feel right in the Doctor’s head because I think, in my own head, I am the Doctor. So it’s not like writing fiction, since I am a doctor.

McCormack teaches creative writing at Anglia Ruskin University, has an MSc in Psychology from the University of Reading (my own alma mater) and a PhD in Sociology from the University of Surrey.

I couldn’t find the exact video being referenced of the 50th Anniversary speech but this seems to get the same point across…

Bonus Answer from Steve Cole

After McCormack mentions Demons of the Punjab as her favourite episode of series eleven, Cole chimes in with a question about the episode.

One small logic problem I had with that is even with the sonic screwdriver [The Doctor] didn’t figure out the [Holy Man/Bhakti] had been shot! You’d think there’d be blood all over the place, he’s under a tree! They’re all going, “Was he poisoned?”. He’s got blood all over him! Did [Manish] shoot him up his arse? What’s going on?!

Many thanks to Una McCormack and the fine folk at BBC Books and Penguin Random House for letting me chat to them. Remember to check out my interviews with Juno Dawson and Steve Cole too!

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