Joy Wilkinson talks about new ‘The Witchfinders’ novel

Six televised Doctor Who stories have been adapted into novels for the Doctor Who Target range – including the first adventure for the Thirteenth Doctor!

To celebrate, writer Joy Wilkinson told us more about adapting her television story The Witchfinders into a novel and revisiting the Morax, King James… and the Thirteenth Doctor, of course!

See all the new Target novels, available to buy, here

To tell us more about the Thirteenth Doctor’s first Target novelisation, here’s writer Joy Wilkinson:

What was it like revisiting your story The Witchfinders, and turning it into a novel?

It was such a gift to be able to go back into that world with those characters again. Writing for screen has lots of constraints, formal and budgetary, which add to the thrill in many ways, but this was a chance to dive back in without those boundaries. There were obviously certain marks I had to hit, but beyond that I could let the story flow and see where it wanted to go.

When the characters took over, it was a total pleasure and took me places I wasn’t expecting, which is the really good bit of writing – when suddenly hours have passed and you’ve been in another world. In reality, I was holed up in my niece’s bedroom ignoring everyone over Christmas, but in my head I was in 17thC Pendle with the Doctor, Willa and King James and loving it!

How did you prepare? Did you watch the episode back over and over and have the script to hand whilst writing?

I’ve always written prose fiction and done a lot of adaptations from book to script, so to do the reverse was an exciting new challenge. The first thing was to reconnect with that story so I re-watched and transcribed the ep to process the words again rather than just going back to the script. It’s the physical act of writing that tends to spark ideas for me so just reading over the script wouldn’t have been as useful. After that, things started to percolate and I’d e-mail myself random ideas that felt like they might unlock something. Then when the time finally came to write it, I went through them all and thankfully the ‘sticky’ ones started to coalesce and gave me my way in.

How much did you find yourself adding to the story when turning it from script to novel? And are there some teasers you can give us about what new additions to expect?

I know that the Target books used to stand in place of the episode when recordings weren’t a thing so were usually faithful to the show, but I also know that’s no longer the case so there’s more licence to elaborate or even change what happened. I tried to strike a balance by having the whole episode in there for the purists, but with a framing story that casts new light on it and also by finding opportunities within the story to go deeper into a character’s history, thoughts or motivations.

So we find out more about Willa, Becka and what brought Bilehurst Cragg to this, which has some tragic twists that took me by surprise. We learn more about the Morax’s past crimes, which was great fun to write as antagonists always are. We get to spend more time with Yaz to see what makes her tick, and I especially like it when the Doctor surprises Yaz with tales of when she (then he) was on trial for genocide. Everyone gets new moments, but I think my favourite is the ending, which I didn’t see coming at all, but which feels right and makes me happy. We’ll have to wait and see what fans think!

Your story features the terrifying Morax, tell us about how you created these witching monsters and what was it like writing for them in novel form?

From my very first pitch, the Morax were always hideous monsters that rose from the mud of Pendle Hill, but they morphed through a few different forms depending on the demands of the drafts, until it made sense that the mud wasn’t their natural state, but a punishment imposed on them. The book gave me the chance to go back and see who the Morax used to be and what they did to deserve such a punishment.

I loved the chance to inhabit the Morax Queen when she reigned supreme. Pure, unquestioning evil is an incredibly dynamic quality in a character and it helps us to witness that and then imagine how it was for such a creature to be disembodied and locked away. The Morax are utterly irredeemable, but through Becka we can see the human face of such hatred, festering over time and finally released, destroying those around her and ultimately herself. The book hopefully strikes a balance between the sci-fi horrors of the Morax and the human darkness that chimes with these times. Thankfully the Doctor is always there to give us hope.

What was it like revisiting King James, after the excellent on-screen performance by Alan Cumming?

Good question! Because it should’ve been intimidating, after Alan made the part his own so thrillingly. But luckily that character is so strong that he shoves aside any trepidation and insists on having his say. With a King, it’s wonderful not having the normal insecurities about status that hamper us plebs, so a part of the ego that we all suppress can come out unbridled. And on top of that, you’ve got all of James’ very particular insecurities, so it’s a potent cocktail. We don’t go into his head very often, but playing off other people, especially the Doctor – and Ryan, of course – is where we can have the most fun… right up to the point he becomes extremely dangerous. He’s fascinating and I’d love to write more stories for him and the Doctor one day.

The Target novels hold a special place in fans’ hearts, do you have any fond memories of the range?

Sacrilegious to say, the books were never on my radar growing up. I watched the classic show as a kid, but the only genre novels I came across were horrors so those and Adrian Mole were pretty much all I read. But I’ve done some catching up since, and I know how special Targets are to fans from friends who are big collectors. It’s a real honour to be a small part of such an extraordinary and beloved body of work.

And most importantly, can we expect more apple-bobbing in the book?

Ha ha, you’ve got me – the final twist is that Earth is merely an apple, bobbing in the barrel of a fiendish Hallowe’en-fixated alien deity and we’re about to get chomped! Actually, there might be something in that…

You can buy The Witchfinders here and see the full range of Target novelisations available now here

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