Q&A: Aussie author talks Doctor Who

By Eddie Davis

Australian author Kate Orman is best known as a writer of Doctor Who novels, thanks to her six instalments of the The Virgin New Adventures book series.

Born in Sydney, Orman is the first non-British writer and non-male to write for the Virgin New Adventures, a much bigger impact than references to pyramids in her novels.

Orman’s stories are vast with quirky humuor and cheesy nostalgia that nods back to the original series.

With occasional help from long-time fellow Doctor Who fan Jonathan Blum, her America-born husband, Orman would go on to co-write stories primarily in the Eighth Doctor range which is published by BBC books.

Kate Orman and husband Jonathan Blum. Photo: Courtesy Kate Orman

Q: My first book of yours in the series, “The Left-Handed Hummingbird”, was also your first in Who media. What were your inspirations that came about in the book?

Kate: I remember, as a teenager, my curiosity was sparked by the portrayal of the Aztec deities in the Dungeons and Dragons “Deities and Demigods” game book. It was just a quick and not enormously accurate sketch, but there was nothing like these gods amongst all the cultures covered by the book. It even said they were so mysterious that they must have come from a parallel dimension. I must have read something from the local library, because I wrote part of a fan fiction about the Sixth Doctor and Peri with an Aztec setting (fortunately it hasn’t survived). My strange brain made a connection between Colin Baker’s left-handedness and his multicoloured costume, and the god Huitzilopochtli, the “hummingbird on the left hand”, which roughly means “warrior from the south”. So there was that odd idea that the Doctor and this otherworldly being were somehow connected, or paralleled each other.

Q: What companions did you find easier to write? “Left-Handed” had Ace and Benny and another great, “Return of the Living Dad” had Chris and Roz. Out of Seven’s companions, who was the easiest and who was challenging to write?

Kate: I always wrote these characters as pairs, and I think they worked really well that way. Grown-up Ace was rather grim, while Benny was light-hearted; Roz was cynical while Chris was innocent. It was a bit like the novels themselves — there was a mixture of the gritty and the camp, and if one book didn’t suit you, the next one would be different.

A young Kate Orman showing off her Dr Who knowledge.

Q: What inspired you to become an author?

Kate: I read loads of science fiction as a teen, including lots of Doctor Who novelisations. Larry Niven was my favourite. I started pecking out my own dreadful Niven knock-offs on a golfball typewriter. In the late Eighties, I discovered Doctor Who fandom, and Australia’s then thriving fanzine culture, and I turned to fan fiction. Virgin’s New Adventures line was an incredible opportunity; they allowed anyone to submit a novel proposal, which is a rare thing. These days I mostly write original science fiction and try to get it published in professional magazines — a long, hard road.

Q: You are a self-described feminist. Modern times have seen a drastic change in terms of the way we think and evolve. What do you think is still an underlying problem with equality and what do you think YOU should do to change it?

Kate: I half-believe that to achieve gender equality, we have to get rid of gender. We’ve got to stop crushing people into a pink girl box or a blue boy box. In all honesty, I don’t know how this would work, or if it would solve our problems. I’m old and exhausted now, so I’m not much of an activist. But as a writer I do have the chance to portray futures without gender, or with new and different gender arrangements — different possibilities for the human race.

That’s one of the great things about science fiction — you get to see so many possible futures.

Q: What were your overall experience as a Doctor Who fan growing up?

Kate: I grew up in Canberra, in the US, in Melbourne, and finally in Sydney! For a lot of Australians my age, Doctor Who was always there when they were kids and then teens. Not everyone was as interested in the show as I was, but a lot of people watched it, everyone knew about it. That familiarity faded away during the “wilderness years” when the show was off the air. It’s so strange that Doctor Who is now a bigger success than ever — it’s often in the news. Everyone knows about it again!

Thank you Kate. It is wonderful that I am talking to someone in the Doctor Who world.

Featured image: Artwork: Eddie Davis

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