Archive for the ‘Producers’ Category

Steven Moffat (2010)

June 25, 2010

I’ve lost track of whether any of the information in these quotes contains spoilers, so caution is advised. These come from various sources, and are all related to series 5, or 6, or the 2010 Christmas Special, or other current stuff:

On becoming the showrunner

I was boarding a plane when it happened: Russell sent me an e-mail as I was about to fly to Athens for a meeting about the incredibly short-lived Greek version of my comedy Coupling. I found out subsequently that heavy hints had been dropped twice before about me taking over the show, but I’d been too slow and too hungover to pick up on them.

On series five

Doctor Who is an incredibly difficult programme to make. Since the first day of filming, when the tide came in early and chased us off the beach, we’ve been in a state of crisis. Now, a television crisis isn’t a real crisis but it’s still enough to stop you thinking about these weird, metaphysical things, like the show’s importance in terms of so-called 3GTV (three-generation television, appealing to children, parents and grandparents] or how it’s down to me and Simon Cowell to keep the fabric of society together.

On The Big Bang

The universe has ended, mate, he’s dead. The Doctor is in the Pandorica, there’s this little voice saying: ‘Hello, that was a big bang wasn’t it? Oh, something happened out there?

On the 2010 Christmas Special

There will be a Christmas special – well, a flashback Christmas special – but no, we won’t be telling you anything, not a single thing. It’s too early.

On series six

(It’ll be) similar (to seriees 5) in the sense that it’s an arc that doesn’t get in the way too much.

On Russell T. Davies returning

He said ‘Don’t even ask me for series five because I’m just knackered, I just want to go lie down’, and I think I’ll find out how that feels. But I did ask him for series six, and I always will.

He’s pretty adamant that he’s not going to (come back). I’m in constant touch with him. He did an awful lot of ‘Doctor Who’ for an awful lot of years, and I think he’s finding it in a way hard, because in effect he’s done a ‘Doctor Who’ story for ‘The Sarah Jane Adventures’. So I think he probably wants to get away from it for a bit. I can understand that, because he did a hell of a lot. It would be just joyous to get him back, becaus I miss him.

On his writing

Russell reckons it’s all about parenthood with me. It’s his view that every writer has one story that they go on re-telling and that being a father is mine.

Steven Moffat (2010)

March 22, 2010

There are a lot of interviews around at the moment, plugging the new series – which looks stunning, judging by the trailers. Anyway, I’ve tried to make a kind of ‘Best Of’ series, and the first is Steven Moffat. I’ve not bothered with all the ‘everyone’s great’ stuff that often pads out interviews and press conferences, I’ve gone for the more interesting stuff (imho):

On the Doctor and Amy

You take two attractive people and they will probably be a bit romantic about each other. It is a complex story between Amy and the Doctor – it is not simple. It is not a story you have ever seen between the companion and the Doctor before.

On the Doctor’s love life

The modern Doctor, is he sexualised? He’s aware of them. He loved Rose, but he didn’t seem to be doing anything about it. So I’ve just said, ‘We’re actually making a more definitive statement about this: the Doctor may long, he may notice but he doesn’t do.’

On returning characters and monsters

The more you back-reference, the more it feels like a sequel and the sequel is never as good as the original. But old favourites can return, provided you can do something new and exciting with them. There are no past characters coming back in this series, but I imagine that kids would love to see Captain Jack meet the new Doctor.

Abominable Snowmen loose in the London Underground! That was one of the most bizarre ideas in the history of television. What smoke-filled room did that come from, and what was in the smoke?

The Ice Warriors have yet to make a return.

I don’t think the Nimon is going to make it back. I haven’t got much hope for the Bandrils or the Garm. There are loads of monsters that didn’t work.

On the new series

The funniest thing ever in Doctor Who is Matt Smith trying to contain his enthusiasm in the face of all those vampire girls.

There is an episode in this series that I showed to my 10-year-old son and he said there is one scene that is the scariest thing that has ever happened in Doctor Who.

There is another episode that will make you gasp, then want to press rewind so you can see it all again.

Those scary statues (the Weeping Angels), I should warn you – and your children – are on their way back and they’re way way worse this time.

Soon you’ll see the Doctor grappling with Silurians, an enemy from Jon Pertwee’s time as The Doctor, who have a particular reason for wanting to take over the earth.

On The Eleventh Hour

That was quite a highly pressured script to write. Not so much the new era of Doctor Who as the new Doctor and the new companion. I had to find a way to make that work because it’s an entirely new cast. Any of those things that you call challenges are also rather good fun, to be honest. You become a writer because of those sort of things, don’t you? And you can’t be intimidated or worried by it. It’s hard work. That’s a hard working script. There’s a lot going on in it and you’ve got to make it fun and interesting. But, do you know, I’m not going to complain about that. Here’s a brand new Doctor, a brand new companion, a brand new TARDIS. That’s EXACTLY the job I wanted.

On the 2010 season finale

I question your tactics if you are saying we should promote a Doctor Who season finale with the words ‘Now smaller than ever!’

I hadn’t done a finale (before) – that was a hoot, practically everything happens, and some of it twice.

What is Doctor Who?

Doctor Who isn’t just Hammer Horror or sci-fi. It’s also a little bit The Generation Game, a little bit showbiz. It’s a weird show. It’s half scary Gothic castle, half shiny floorshow. And that’s part of it. Any show can be one or the other, but Doctor Who manages to be both and have a burping wheelie bin and an absolutely heart-breaking scene in the same episode.

I mean, imagine the sheer nonsense of devising a show, one of whose mission statements was to terrorise eight-year-olds! I’m not sure we could pitch it now. But then two things that have a mission statement to terrorise children that I can think of are Doctor Who and Harry Potter and they’re both huge.

Doctor Who literally is a fairytale. It’s not really science fiction. It’s not set in space, it’s set under your bed. It’s at its best when it’s related to you, no matter what planet it’s set on. Every time it cleaves towards that, it’s very strong.

When I started watching it, I never stopped. And clearly I haven’t exactly given up on it now. I just love Doctor Who. I know you’re supposed to discriminate and say, ‘I like this bit better than the other bit.’ But it’s like James Bond films, I just like them all. Shut up about having opinions. It’s great. The most entertaining thing that British television has ever done. Full stop.

Is Doctor Who a children’s show?

Although it is watched by far more adults than children, there’s something fundamental in its DNA that makes it a children’s programme and it makes children of everyone who watches it. If you’re still a grown up by the end of that opening music, you’ve not been paying attention.

On being the showrunner

There is nothing scarier than watching Doctor Who as a child. Scarier than Tomb of the Cybermen or Terror of the Autons? Are you mad? No, those are truly terrifying. Look, I always say it was really scary taking on the job and doing the job. But, really, it’s just exciting. You can waste an awful lot of time being frightened and nervous of things like that. But if you do, you’ll never kiss the girl, will you? It just won’t happen. You cannot worry about things like that. It could all go to disaster but, you know, it won’t. It’ll be great.

I’m not going to get into what I do with scripts, for heaven’s sake. That would be vulgar and wrong. But there’s no-one got a credit on this show for writing it, that didn’t write it. My role is making sure that every script is good and none of the writers are cross with me. We’re all very good friends. Now and then I might take a pass at some element of a script or I might suggest some plot or whatever. But the writer is fully involved at all times. No-one is upset, I promise you – you can ask them. That’s the job. It’s totally collaborative.

On the Doctor Who brand

To me, a ‘brand’ sounds evil, reminiscent of men in tall hats running factories and beating small children, but you have to be across it. All those things should be joyous – those toys should be terrific – because the active creative engagement of children with Doctor Who is unlike any other show that they watch. When Doctor Who is over, they get up, invent their own monster, their own planet, their own Doctor and play. I know because my son recently designed a new Tardis control room. If anyone said to me ‘invent a new monster so we can sell more toys’, I’d kick them out of my office.

On the BBC

I hope the Tories don’t win. Let’s not beat around the bush. (But) I’d hope that anyone who becomes prime minister would look at the organisation and ask themselves if the world would really be better off without it. Are we really going to put James Murdoch in place of (the BBC)? Can you imagine how shit everything would be? Never mind the fine and glorious things that the BBC does, imagine how shit everything would be! Stuff would be shit! Let’s not have really good restaurants, let’s have Kentucky Fried Chicken!

Steven Moffat (various)

February 19, 2010

This is a real mix of different Steven Moffat quotes, pulled together to give some kind of indication of how he might steer the show over the next few years. Sources include DWF, various press interviews, a couple of magazine pieces and probably others I’ve forgotten.

Casting Matt Smith

It’s the first day of the auditions, we’ve only been at it for an hour – and sitting in front of us, fully formed and unmistakable, is the Elevent Doctor. Every detail is absolutely right – boffin and action hero, schoolboy and professor, hot young guy and ancient wizard. He’s like Patrick Moore in the body of an underwear model. It’ll be two weeks before I admit it to myself, but really I know it already. We all know it. This man is the Doctor.

Piers and I go straight for a drink and try to stop shaking. It’s not supposed to happen – not on the first day! There’s a lot of contradictions, I think, in the part of the Doctor. He’s very, very old, but he looks young. He behaves very childishly, but he also behaves in a very sort of magisterial way. I think you need somebody who is old and young at the same time. That means if you cast someone in their fifties, that’s fine, but they’ve got to have something very, very youthful about them, like Jon Pertwee did. Although he was an older man, there was something quite young about him.

One thing I was very emphatic about, and I remember being quite sort of brutal and argumentative in a meeting with the Beeb about this, was saying ‘There are too many young people on this list’, and ‘I’m not really convinced there’s all that many people that young who can play this part’. I thought we were looking for someone in their forties, late thirties, you know? David’s a unique case – he could play it at that age. But no, I was saying he should be an older man. Of course, I’ve just ended up casting a 26-year-old in the part!

On the supposed ‘no old monstes’ rule

I think there should be more new stuff than old stuff in ‘Doctor Who’. You sit down to plan the series and think ‘I’m bringing back something every single story’, what’s the use? You might was well call this ‘Doctor Who 2’. It’d be a sequel and ‘Doctor Who’ shouldn’t be a sequel. Ev ery year, there are new 8-year-olds watching it and those new 8-year-olds saw it at the most important age because they’re going to live a lot longer than the rest of you. I want them to have their monsters, so that in forty years’ time they can grump to their children, ‘Oh, it’s not as good as it used to be’. You’re not getting lost in nostalgia. You’re creating nostalgia.

Is Doctor Who a children’s show?

Calling ‘Doctor Who’ a children’s show isn’t a definition of the audience, it’s a definition of the show. In style, pace, tone, sensibility, ‘Doctor Who’ stories are children’s stories. Like Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Hobbit, Narnia, Toy Story, The Incredibles, and all gorgeous magical stuff. Does that mean it’s not for adults? Don’t be daft, adults love children’s stories – just look at that list. Some of the most famous creations in human history! People who grow out of children’s stories are people who never understood them in the first place.

His thoughts on Doctor Who in the 80’s

I rather liked season 18, though found it a bit dry and uninvolving, and thought Tom was a bit off. Adored the next three seasons, and thought (and think) Davison was superb. Colin Baker’s two seasons, and Sylvester’s first – well, I’m afraid I found very little to enjoy there, though honestly I tried! Colin is a good actor, and he’s been good in many things, but I didn’t think he landed the role of the Doctor. On telly, anyway – he’s been good on audio. And no, the costume and the scripts weren’t helping. Really enjoyed the last two seasons of ‘Doctor Who’, though – some plunges from grace, but some cracking stuff too. You’ll never quite convince me that Sylvester is an appropriate choice for a BBC1 leading man, but clever people like Paul Cornell think otherwise so what do I know? Preferred him to Colin and (ooh, the heresy!) William Hartnell, so that’s gotta count for something.

Doctor Who fans

Most fans are delighted with just about all of ‘Doctor Who’. Really, they are. But mixed in with that are some insanely vocal ones who go on about how they hated it every single week. Which raises the question, ‘Why are you f***ing watching it then?’. If ‘Rise of the Cybermen’ had been shown in the 80’s (or the 70’s, or the 60’s), we’d all have fainted of joy on the spot. All of us! Some of us had to go to school the Monday after the Giant Rat (in Talons of Weng-Chiang)!! No, really! Thank about that! Added ten years to my virginity, that did, Giant Rat Monday! Oh, I haven’t forgotten! (But) I want Robert Holmes brought back to life just so I can tell him he’s a genuis, ’cause I don’t think he knew.

Russell T. Davies (2009)

January 1, 2010

Here’s Russell T. Davies talking to Mark Lawson about the television industry in general, the phone-in scandals in particular, and – with just a few hours to go until transmission of ‘The End of Time’ part 2 – why he likes writing happy endings…

Q: According to a national newspaper, you’re the fifteenth most powerful person in British broadcasting. Is that how it feels to you?

A: (laughs) No. I don’t wake up thinking ‘How do I murder 14 people?’, and that list will be published again next year and I’ll be gone. It’ll be full of new media people and things like that. It’s nice, it’s a nice recognition of the work we do here in Cardiff, but it means nothing. If I go and pitch a new idea to the BBC or ITV they’ll say ‘Is it any good?’, I really don’t think they’ll sit there and say ‘It’s written by Russell T. Davies, we must make it’. Although it’d be nice if they did!

Q: You’ve ended up with an unusual amount of power for a writer. This whole empire, you’ve got ‘Doctor Who’, ‘Torchwood’, ‘The Sarah Jane Adventures’, you’re presiding over it all. That doesn’t usually happen to writers.

A: No, but it should. It’s that sort of American showrunner position where you don’t just write the script, you oversee it. You employ brilliant people, but I think so much drama goes wrong because you need to fix the tone, you need to establish what the drama is, and every person who reads a script has a different version in their heads. So you need someone, and this is the producer as well, and the production team, but it needs streamlining, you need to say ‘What is this drama? What is it about?’ and I think the showrunner does that. I think the more you can get writers out of their attics and on to the set and having a say in how it’s run, I think the better a product gets. But I think it’s hard to do. I think a lot of writers like living in their attic, throwing a script at you and then going back to smoking their pipe.

Q: In another national newspaper list, you’re 14 places higher, you’re the Number 1 most influential gay man in Britain.

A: That’s more like it.

Q: Is that an accolade you welcome?

A: Not at all. They’re mad, these lists. Someone phones up and says ‘Have you seen this list? You’re on it’, and you laugh for five minutes. They printed a terrible photo of me, and that was far more important to me. If you’re a fifteen-year-old gay boy sitting in school and you might feel very alone, and you might be wondering what to do with your life, I think when gay people are visible – in whatever media, I don’t just mean telly – then it’s about visibility. I hate using the phrase ‘role model’, but it’s about you thinking ‘I can do that’. Anyone can do these jobs, they’re available to straight people and gay people alike.

Q: Going back to your early work, ‘Century Falls’ and ‘Dark Season’, and then on to ‘Doctor Who’, the world almost ends an awful number of times. There is this apocalyptic strain in your work. I was wondering where that came from?

A: That’s interesting. I think partly because with drama, it’s a created world, and once you’ve created a world you can end it. Whereas the real world just keeps going. I do think everyone dies in the end. I think fiction, part of what I love about fiction is the happy ending. Happy endings, sad endings, they’re entirely imposed. I especially like writing happy endings, actually, because in the real world they don’t exist. There’s no love story that lasts, because one of them dies first. I think when people start striving for realism, when they start defining tragedy, it has a sad ending and therefore it’s good drama, I tend to think ‘Well that’s how the real world works, the real world takes care of that for you’. If it’s an artificial world that you’re shaping, you can actually push it into a happy ending, because life won’t do it for you.

Q: Looking at the state of TV, TV has had to apologise to the public on a number of occasions recently. It’s had to apologise to the Queen, to the public. Fraudulent phone-ins, fake competitions, faulty documentaries. Is television in crisis?

A: No. There are faults, but it’s so hard to have an intelligent debate about this, especially the phone line stuff. There are faults, but it’s much more interesting than fraud. It’s fascinating how endemic it became. Everyone knew: viewers and programme-makers alike were complicit in what happened. I knew what was going on with those phone lines. I think a lot of people knew.

Q: But did they? People say now that if they knew how it worked, they’d never have phoned in.

A: I think there’s a very sophisticated level on which people watch television. They sit there and watch a live show and they go ‘That’s not live’. They’re part of the game. And you can still phone in and, well, it was fraud then, if they were claiming to be live, but you think the phone line’s still active, you can still enter a competition even on a pre-recorded show, which sometimes is possible. It’s very complicated. It’s not as simple as saying that television is evil and viewers are stupid. But the whole situation is very mixed up, and woven into where television is heading, and where it’s going. So I think these simple headlines – which are being written in the BBC as well – are shameful, actually. I think the way we’re dealing with it is as bad as the problem itself.

Q: Within the BBC, staff are being sent on a course to tell them how to tell the truth.

A: Am I?

Q: You may get the e-mail.

A: I’d love to. But you can’t even talk about this stuff as if it’s real. You take the moral high ground, you take the moral low ground. Frankly, if you look at something like a researcher on ‘Blue Peter’ who makes a mistake on a live transmission, I think what they did was very clever. You’re not allowed to say that, it’s a forbidden sentence. If you’ve ever worked on a live show, that’s hard work, it’s pure adrenalin, some very quick thinking was made there, it was the wrong decision, everyone makes the wrong decision under pressure occasionally, that’s entirely allowable. But we’re not allowed to say that.

Q: So it’s clever to come up with a fake guest?

A: Brilliant! Live?!? When the clock is ticking, and someone is shouting in your ear saying ‘We’ve got five minutes to fill, we’ve got no winner’, and there’s a kid, let’s say he’s the winner! Brilliant! Promote that person, I say. I’m not saying these mistakes should have happened, but the way we talk about them is like a Victorian nanny. And none of these conversations actually blame the people who put the whole structure in place, the whole system. That person on the studio floor who makes a mistake is under-paid and over-worked and would probably be sitting in the office until midnight that night to get the show ready – no wonder mistakes are made!

Steven Moffat (2009)

December 16, 2009

Here’s Steven Moffat talking to the BBC about his initial work on Doctor Who and his experiences (so far) on the upcoming season five starring Matt Smith.  The nature of this blog tends to preclude spoilers, but this interview has ONE VERY BIG SPOILER which you should probably avoid if you want to go into the new series ‘fresh’. There are also some indications of the direction that the next season will take, so I’ll say it again: SPOILERS AHEAD!

Q: Doctor Who was once a secret obsession for die-hards, a love that dare not speak its name. Now it’s a national obsession, with 11 or 12 million viewers per episode. Is there any margin for error in this job?

A: I’d worry if I said I worried about that too much, because I was a die-hard and because I loved it for all those years that fools didn’t. I knew it was brilliant, I knew it would be a success. I never had the slightest doubt when I heard that it was coming back, and that Russell was running it.

Q: But is there any way up from 12 million viewers a week?

A: I don’t know, let’s find out!

Q: At the end of the last series, the Daleks attempted to explode reality itself. The Christmas story is called The End of Time. After that, ideas for the series have to be more local, don’t they? How else do you navigate this sort of narrative hyper-inflation?

A: Well, first of all don’t assume that we’ve faced the biggest threat yet. I believe we do have a good one, which is great. One of the great advantages of Doctor Who is that the menace can at times, and very compellingly, be very very small. In The Empty Child, there was no big enemy and the major fear factor was a little boy looking for his mummy. Doctor Who can be small and domestic, and brilliantly effective.

Q: That’s been the case in many of your episodes so far. You don’t really do the end of the universe, do you?

A: Well I think you have to save the end of the universe for the end of the series. You can’t do it in episode six. There’s a tradition, not just in Doctor Who but in other shows, of building to a big finish, and one of the things you can do is end the universe. But there’s other things you can do. There’s other kinds of story.

Q: But in your stories, people tend to survive. I’m just trying to tease out an idea of how your version of the series might differ from what we’ve got used to in the last five years or so.

A: I think the critical thing about Doctor Who is that when it’s working, when it’s really on form, every story differs from the last one. The basics of the series, a man and his best friend travelling the universe and fighting evil. I realised, after writing six episodes of Russell’s new version, that I hadn’t killed anybody in those six episodes. A remarkable run. I didn’t manage that in Press Gang, I killed loads of people in Press Gang and that was on at 4.45.

Q: So are you saying that we won’t notice any difference in the new series?

A: Well I’ve killed some people in the new series. Not actual people, just fictional people. Killing is ever so frowned upon, especially in the new BBC. You can get into terrible trouble.

Q: For killing them in a graphic way, or…

A: No, no, for killing actual people. It’s almost as bad as an overspend.

Q: So what changes will there be, tonally or philosophically, in your series?

A: That’s hard for me to say. I suppose my view of it has always been more of a dark fairytale. It’s very much a fairytale, Doctor Who. I don’t think that’s a new perception, it’s quite literally a fairytale, it’s a way of telling our children to be wary of the world, that there are dangerous things out there.

Q: Your episodes have been among the more gothic of the new series. They’ve been darker.

A: Well dark is a complex word. Scooby Doo’s dark at times, and Doctor Who’s got some of that Scooby Doo darkness. Russell’s a tremendously dark writer under some of it.

Q: But you’ll have less froth?

A: The scariness is what I like, I suppose, that’s true. I watched The Empty Child recently, because I’m an egotist and I like to watch my own stuff, and there’s a lot of jokes in The Empty Child.

Q: What difference will it make having a younger Doctor?

A: Truthfully, it makes absolutely no difference at all, because the man is 900 plus. William Hartnell was too young for this part, they’re all too young. Matt Smith isn’t playing an especially youthful Doctor, you can’t play him as an ingenue, you can’t play him as a young man. Matt Smith plays the same man you’ve always seen, an adventurer, a scientist, a man who’s been around for hundreds of years, as sometimes you can tell. So no, actually, I don’t think it makes a hell of a lot of difference.

Q: But it sounds like you’re saying it doesn’t make a difference who’s playing the part and who’s in charge?

A: It makes a difference every single week which story you’re telling. I think that’s what keeps Doctor Who fresh. Each week, we aren’t thinking of our house style, or our rules, we’re thinking about the rules for this story, what is the Doctor like in this story? I think it’s so close to an anthology at times, that’s what keeps it alive, that’s what keeps it fresh.

Q: Russell T. Davies said that in the future, Doctor Who is the programme that researchers will look back at when they’re analysing how television works, because it’s the most documented programme in television. Does that affect the way you conduct yourself?

A: Doctor Who secrets don’t even last after the show. Doctor Who Confidential comes on straight after and spends forty-five minutes telling you how the previous forty-five minutes worked. Especially at the start of coming in to the show, when Matt was coming in, every time you opened a door there was a television camera pointed at us. It was a quite extraordinary feeling, and yes, it’s the most extensively documented show of all time.

Q: Can I ask you about the succession? Was there some type of Granita-type deal between you and Russell T. Davies?

A: You mean that I was bound to one day take over? Russell sent me an e-mail about two and a half years ago, asking if I was interested in it, which was the first time it had been aired. We’d never talked about it before.

Q: Doctor Who is an industry now, with Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures. Mark Thompson has been talking about limiting the commercial expansion of the BBC. Can you sustain this level?

A: It’s not like any of us sit around saying ‘We must have a certain level of peripheral output’. It’s not like ‘Our quota for spin-offs is this’. Russell had a good idea for Torchwood, he made it. He had a good idea for Sarah Jane, he made it.

Q: So you don’t involve yourself in the business of it?

A: Not really, no. I look at everything, to make sure everything is proper and right and Doctor Who-y, but I don’t sit and make business plans. I’m not thinking in terms of commercial exploitation, I’m thinking of what will be a great fat treat for everyone.

Q: Is part of your job the control of information? It’s closely guarded, and it comes out in dribs and drabs, doesn’t it?

A: I don’t think I control the information, I think up to this point I’ve just been stemming it. Something that no-one outside the production team knows right now? The Weeping Angels are coming back.

Steven Moffat (1995)

December 16, 2009

Here’s an infamous Steven Moffat interview from 1995, in which he pretty much slates the vast majority of the original series. Nevertheless, it’s clear that he’s a fan. He does come across as a little… harsh… in this interview, and it should be noted that he’s recently commented on the interview, noting that “I’m vile. Full of myself. Pompous, and dismissing all the writers of the old show as lazy hacks. Dear God, I blush, I cringe, I creep. I walked out of the interview high on my own genius, and wrote Chalk, one of the most loathed and derided sitcoms in the history of the form. The thing about life is, you can always rely on it to administer a good slap when required”…

Q: How many of the New Adventures have you read?

A: I’ve read quite a few, but not so many of them anymore. There’s 24 of them a year. That’s too bloody many. I’ve never wanted 24 new Doctor Who adventures a year. Six was a perfectly good number.

Q: But Doctor Who was on 40 weeks of the year in the Hartnell era.

A: Yes, but did you see the pace of those shows? They were incredibly show. Hideous. I dearly love Doctor Who, but I don’t think my love of it translated into it’s being a tremendously good series. It was a bit crap at times, wasn’t it?

Q: You’ve pointed out in the past that there’s a certain camp value to it sometimes.

A: If you judge it on what they were trying to do, which is create a low budget, light-hearted children’s adventure serial for teatime, it’s bloody amazingly good. If you judge it as a high class drama series, it’s falling a bit short. But that’s not what it was trying to be.

Q: I think Doctor Who in the 60’s was simply of its time.

A: Even for the 60’s, it was slow. If you look at the first episode of Doctor Who, that betrays the lie that it’s just the 60’s, because that first episode’s really good. The rest of it’s shit.

Q: They had months of lead-up time to it. After that, it was weekly.

A: That’s fair enough, but the rest is still bad.

Q: The fans tend to try to compare it to I, Claudius. There’s a certain macho quality to some fans that makes them say it’s up there with Shakespeare.

A: I, Claudius had a brilliant script and a cast of brilliant actors. These are two things we can’t say, in all forgiveness, about some periods of Doctor Who. Much as I love it…

Q: You’re willing to recognise its limitations?

A: Yes. I still think most of the Peter Davison era stands up.

Q: I hated the Davison era.

A: How could you? When I look back at Doctor Who now, I laugh at it fondly. As a television professional, I think ‘How did these guys get a paycheque every week?’. Nothing from the black and white days, with the exception of the pilot episode, should have got out of the building. They should have been clubbing those guys to death. You’ve got an old guy in the lead who can’t remember his lines. You’ve got Patrick Troughton, who was a good actor, but his companions – how did they get their Equity card? They’re unimaginably bad. Once you get to the colour stuff, some of it’s watchable, but it’s laughable. Mostly now, looking back, I’m startled by it. Given that it’s a teatime show, a children’s show, I think most of the Peter Davison stuff is well-constructed, the directors are consistent.

Q: They’re consistently crap.

A: Peter Davison is a better actor than all the other ones. That’s the simple reason why it works better. There’s no complicated reason why Peter Davison carried on working and all the others disappeared into a retirement home. I recently watched a very good Doctor Who story, one I couldn’t really fault. It was Snakedance. Sure, it was cheap, but it was beautifully acted, well-written. There was a scene where Peter Davison has to explain what’s going on. The Doctor always has to. Now, some old actor like Tom Baker would come to a shuddering halt in the middle of the set and stare at the camera, because he can’t bear the idea that someone else is in the show. But Peter Davison is such a good actor, he manages to panic on the screen for a good two minutes, which has you sitting on the edge of your seat because you’re thinking ‘God, this must be really bad’. He’s got the most awful lines to say, but he’s doing it brilliantly. My memory of Doctor Who is based on bad television that I enjoyed at the time.

It could get me really burnt saying this, but Doctor Who is aimed at eleven year olds. Don’t you think it’s fair to say that Doctor Who was a great idea that happened to the wrong people? I think the actual structure, the actual format is as good as anything that’s ever been done. The character of the Doctor, the TARDIS, all that stuff is so good, it can actually stand not being done terribly well. There was some very good stuff spread over the twenty-five years, but that wasn’t enough.

Q: We were having a dinner party when the documentary Resistance is Futile was first shown. Everyone loved it, but as soon as the 60’s episode The Time Meddler came on, people turned away within thirty seconds. Remembrance of the Daleks, when it was first on, we thought it was fast-paced. Now it looks slow and staid.

A: None of this is true. We’ve had an absolute perception of pacing for a very long time. Some of Shakespeare is pretty pacy.

Q: Shakespeare has people standing around on stage spouting for ten minutes at a time.

A: Okay, I agree. Shakespeare is not as good as Doctor Who.

Q: When it comes to Shakespeare, the perception of pace changes with the times.

A: Doctor Who wasn’t limited by the times or the style that were prevalent then. It was limited by the relatively meagre talent of the people who were working on it.

Q: And yet the people who were working on it turned over on a regular basis. Are you saying they were all mediocre?

A: Mostly they were middle of the range hacks who were not going to go on to do much else. Over 26 years, the hitrate is not high enough. There are people who have worked on Doctor Who and gone on to great things, like Douglas Adams. I just think most people thought this was going to be the big moment of their lives, which is a shame. As a television format, Doctor Who equals anything. Unless I chose my episodes very carefully, I couldn’t sit anyone I work with in television down in front of Doctor Who and say ‘Watch this’.

Q: What episode would you show them? I’d go for good old reliable Robert Holmes, a man who knew what drama was. The Talons of Weng Chiang part 1, a very good hack.

A: How could a good hack think that the BBC could make a giant rat? If he’d come to my house, when I was fourteen, and said ‘Can BBC Special Effects do a giant rat?’, I’d have said no. I’d rather see them do something limited than something crap. What I resented was going to school two days later, and my friends knew I watched this show, and they’d say ‘Did you see the giant rat?’, and I’d have to say I thought there was dramatic integrity elsewhere.

Verity Lambert (1980’s)

November 10, 2009

Here’s Verity Lambert telling DWM about the early days of ‘Doctor Who’. She puts right a few misconceptions, and admits that she wasn’t too fond of ‘An Unearthly Child’…

“Doctor Who was never intended to last just six weeks. Right from the beginning, we were told it would be a year-round production. Certainly by the time the first episode was shown, we had most of our scripts together for the full season. The only thing we didn’t know then was that there would be another season after that. This myth about the show only being planned to last six weeks is one that has grown over the years, probably as a result of inventive reporting.

“The format for ‘Doctor Who’ was pretty well defined by the time I arrived. Donald Wilson had already given the job of writing the first story to Anthony Coburn, together with the firm guidelines as to how the characters would be broken down. The Doctor was to be irascible and unpredictable. What nobody wanted was a conventional dotty old professor, so it was stressed that the Doctor should be something of an anti-hero to begin with.

“Susan was his original travelling companion, to mix knowledge with naivety, though it was Anthony Coburn who cast her as the Doctor’s grand-daughter. I think Anthony Coburn felt there was something not quite proper about an old man travelling around the galaxy with a young girl for a companion. Ian was there to be the hero figure and to be physically adept, with Barbara on hand to solve the human orientated problem posed by the Doctor and Susan being something special.

“David Whitaker and Mervyn Pinfield were absolutely super in the work they put into ‘Doctor Who’. Mervyn was appointed to be our technical adviser because neither David nor myself were scientists in any degree. Our brief was to ‘use television’ – that is, make use of all its resources and new developments in order to achieve a scientific look. Mervyn Pinfield came up with opening graphics by suggesting the use of a camera pointing down its own monitor.

“We were all very nervous making our first few shows, simply because we were doing things that had rarely been done before, and certainly not by the BBC. David and I relied heavily on Mervyn to read through story ideas and scripts to see if they could be done easily and to our budget, or to suggest ways of modifying them so that they could be done with photographic tricks.

“I didn’t much care for the caveman story as a whole, but the ending of episode one is an absolutely magical sequences. There was no dialogue during those last few minutes, it was all done visually and, I think, with great invention, taking the four central characters on a ride through time to that desert and then ending with the shadow falling over the landscape. It summed up just how new ‘Doctor Who’ was as a concept.

“David chose Terry Nation on the strength of some science fiction work he’d already done for ITV, ‘Journey Into the Unknown’. At first we were a bit wary about accepting his storyline about the Daleks, because of the bug-eyed monster concept. Sydney Newman had outlined a series that was part history and part educational towards science; the aim being to expose children to science and history and hopefully interest them in it. I didn’t feel the Daleks altered Sydney Newman’s format, mainly as they were in functioning metal cases.

“The crisis came when Donald Wilson saw the scripts for the first Dalek serial. Having spent so much time defending ‘Doctor Who’, he saw the Daleks as just bug-eyed monsters, which went against what he felt should be the theme of the science-fiction stories. There was a strong disagreement between us, in fact it went as far as Donald Wilson telling us not to do the show. What saved it in the end was purely that fact that we had nothing to replace it in the time alloted. It was the Daleks or nothing. What was very nice, though, was Donald Wilson coming up to me after the Daleks had taken off and saying ‘You obviously understand this programme better than I do. I’ll leave it to you’.

“Dennis Spooner was known mostly for comedy, and as our scripts started coming in I decided I wanted to experiment with putting comedy into ‘Doctor Who’. ‘The Romans’ perhaps didn’t work very well, although I liked it enormously and I know Bill Hartnell felt much more comfortable doing comedy than all the scientific stuff”.

John Nathan-Turner (1987)

November 2, 2009

Here’s John Nathan-Turner’s guide to season 24, in which he discusses the casting process for Sylvester McCoy, his first meeting with Andrew Cartmel, and how ‘Time and the Rani’ has the best special effects he’s ever seen on television.

“Andrew Cartmel was suggested to me by his agent. He’s a writer, relatively young – in his twenties – and I read an awful lot of his stuff which I thought was smashing. We then met, to find out whether he’d be interested in finding out more about television as a script editor, and he leapt at it. If you’re going to have a new script editor, you want to capitalise on him, and what was most exciting about Andrew was that we sat and chatted about ‘Doctor Who’ and a sparky conversation happened – there were things we agreed on, things we disagreed on, and things that sent us off on tangents, and that’s the best kind of environment for a producer to work in. If the producer has a script editor who totally agrees with everything he says, or totally disagrees with everything he says, it becomes a stifling of everyone’s talent.

“I think ‘Time and the Rani’ has some of the best special effects that I have ever seen on television. It’s a very interesting story, it’s not highly complex, but really what you’re trying to do is to profile the new Doctor, and to make him showy and to the fore. Similarly, with someone like Kate O’Mara, you want there to be a good section with her. I think it’s a cracking good story for the new Doctor to embark upon. I approached Kate first. She loves the series, and she agreed to do it even before seeing a script. She gave me an early go-ahead, and that meant I could commission the story.

“I think what Stephen Wyatt has created with ‘Paradise Towers’, quite brilliantly, is a different way of speaking and a completely new way of life for a new civilisation. It’s been thought through all the way along, how people eat, how people live, and most specifically how they talk. There’s a very interesting way, for instance, that the Kangs speak. It’s that fullness of characterisation that has attracted the likes of Brenda Bruce, Liz Spriggs, Judy Cornwall, Richard Briers and Clive Merrison.

“Malcolm Kholl is somebody that Andrew knew. ‘Delta and the Bannermen’ is a sort of pastiche; music plays an important part in the script. Malcolm has specified which numbers are the background to which scenes, so that virtually all, but not all, the music has been selected by the writer. Really, I would hate anyone to call this ‘Doctor Who – The Musical’, but it’s the closest the show will ever get, because music was such a focal point in the 1950’s.

“Ian Briggs’ ‘Dragonfire’ is a relatively traditional story, in the sense that it’s studio-bound and ‘Doctor Who’ started out as a studio-bound programme. It’s a very nice cast again. Tony Selby returns as Glitz, and we’ve got Shirin Taylor, Tony Osoba, Patricia Quinn and Edward Peel. It’s all set on an ice plant.

“Altogether, I think the whole season is varied and well balanced. There’s no similarity between stories or styles of writing. I’m rather excited, but still tentative. We’ve certainly heightened the humour – but it’s not silly like ‘Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’. I think there’s a lot of character humour, which is the best kind, because it comes from the essence of the part. There’s also the wit of dialogue, and there’s Sylvester McCoy – he’s very witty and amusing. Very inventive, tremendously physical, and he wants to do his own stunts, which he’s very good at. He was suggested by his agent, so I went along in January to see him in ‘The Pied Piper of Hamlyn’ As a result, I met him and chatted to him. And there we were. So the thought that agents’ letters are a waste of time, that they’re never really read and are just thrown into a bin, really goes out the window.

“I devised Melanie Bush as a character in July 1985, but as it wasn’t too important at that point, I never started to think about the casting. Then in December, I happened to be up in the West End, when I phoned Barry Burnett, Colin Baker’s agent, to see if he wanted to meet for a chat. I thought, as one does when meeting agents, who else was on his books, so you can make polite conversation. I remembered Bonnie Langford, and realised that she fitted my concept of Melanie as this health fanatic perfectly. I asked about Bonnie, but said that I doubted she’s want to do it. But Barry thought it was just the sort of different thing she’d been looking for, and so it went from there. The background I’d already created for Melanie in my book, ‘The Companions’, with the computer fraud involving the Master, was really a brief to writers who might want a background reference for her. I never intended to take it as established ‘Who’-lore. Indeed, we went right against it during the trial, because she didn’t know who the Master was.”

Graham Williams (1980’s)

October 25, 2009

Here’s Graham Williams, one of the show’s most popular producers, talking about the original version of ‘City of Death’, which was called ‘Gamble With Time’, as well as the first designs for K9 (a robotic Doberman, apparently) and the birthday cake that was originally planned for ‘The Stones of Blood’.

“I was taken in to see Bill Slater, then my Head of Department. He was having to look through a tape of ‘The Deadly Assassin’ which had just attracted huge fire from Mary Whitehouse because it showed the central character – the Doctor – being held under water in part of the dream sequence. There was a right uproad about how kids would imitate this. So I was at this point being offered the job but with an absolutely clear dictate – it was a brief, it was a dictate – that the violence level had to come down, and the horror element with it! The moment I protested that this was what the audience for ‘Doctor Who’ adored, I was shouted down.

“They wanted the horror out, but they also wanted ‘Doctor Who’ not to be so much for kiddies. Needless to say, this caused Bob Holmes more than a few headaches. He’s one of the most wonderfully endearing but sadistic monsters I have ever come across. He’d loved all the shows they’d done up until then. We had to go back over all the stories we’d been commissioning and inventing among ourselves and take all the horror out, leaving us with a rather nasty hole – a vacuum. So, all we had left to fill it with was, predictably, the humour.

“Normally you have about five or six months to set up and do preparation on a series with, usually, a few unused stories in the cupboard. We had nothing. The Invasion of Time came about because the original script for that slot came in right up against the deadline. And when it did come in, it proved to be unworkable. It just could not be done. There were things in it, I remember, like an amphitheatre the size of Wembley Stadium filled with killer cats in the audience. So that story went out of the window, leaving us just five days to write three hours of television. I don’t think either Anthony Read or I went to bed for three days solid.

“For ‘City of Death’ we had decided to do another spoof story, much to the horror of the fans. This had been done historically by Bob Holmes and Philip Hinchcliffe year after year, but nobody had noticed. Having done ‘The Androids of Tara’, which was a very direct spoof on ‘The Prisoner of Zenda’ and had worked very well with everyone apart from the fans, we called the same author in and said ‘How about Bulldog Drummond?’. It was to be set in the twenties at a casino, with somebody rigging the gambling tables. The idea was that of a madman who wanted to travel back in time and who needed the money to do it, hence the title, ‘Gamble With Time’. Well that was another instance of a script falling apart in your hands. We tried re-jigging it and re-writing it, but in the end the conclusion came about that the only way to salvage anything was for Douglas Adams and myself to go away and totally re-write it – which we did in the familiar three days.

“No sooner had we settled on Paris for ‘City of Death’ than I decided to cost out the script. I felt we could actually go to Paris for no extra cost at all, so long as we were clever about it. I have John Nathan-Turner – then my Production Unit Manager – the list of the cast I intended taking over and the length of time we’d be there, and he returned me a costing that was to within about £15 what we’d spend going to Ealing Film Studios to shoot it. Thus, I could guarantee, with my producer’s hat on, that the writer, wearing my other hat, wouldn’t need to take across people like ‘chippies’, scene shifters and so on. All the scenes in Paris were written with a view to taking the minimum crew across, yet making it virtually undetectable to the viewer the way in which we had done it. It worked, but I don’t think I’d like to try it again.

“It was very much against my preference that Bob Holmes left, because in my estimation he is one of the greatest assets the series can have, not only in the ideas he had, which were smashing, but in his ability to step into the breach when scripts fell down and do it all himself – which took an enormous load off my shoulders. When I took over, Bob had done three years as script editor, having said originally he was only going to do two. He’d been persuaded by clever old Philip to stay on for three and then again by iniquitous Graham who’d said ‘I’m taking over the show and I don’t want both the producer and the script editor to be new people’. Sure enough, he did stay on for nine more months for me, but after than I don’t think even a king’s ransom would have kept him on the show.

“Bob Baker and Dave Martin invented K9 for ‘The Invisible Enemy’ and after all the agonies of his construction he seemed too good just to be thrown away. My brief to the designers had been that under no circuumstances should the kiddies be able to point to it and say there’s a little man inside. At first they came up with a drawing of a huge Doberman Pinscher – armour-plated and very fierce. I told them ‘great, very gothic, but it does look as though there’s a man inside’. ‘But that’s how we’re going to do it’, they replied, to which I said ‘No, we’ve got to have it small and radio-controlled. And by doing that we were ultimately ahead of R2-D2.

“The Key to Time season was something I’d had at the back of my mind for a very long time, but it had been impossible to realise during my first year when all we were doing was fielding stories like very fast balls. By the end of that period, I was mightily sick of having to do stories which just came off quite co-incidentally. I wanted something which had a bit more positive force to it. The concept itself was quite easy to get together but I knew I needed stories which still could be self-sufficient in their own right. I found it a refreshing challenge, but I knew I didn’t want to repeat it the year after.

“Tom would take every opportunity he got to inject his own quirkiness and this I would not discourage until the point at which I felt it was going over the top – like the famous scene i cut out at rehearsals for ‘The Stones of Blood’, of Romana and K9 presenting the Doctor with a 15th anniversary birthday cake. That, I felt, was a case of the suspension of disbelief being turned on its head, and that I would not allow”.

John Nathan-Turner (1990’s)

October 21, 2009

Here’s John Nathan-Turner talking to DWM about filming in Paris and Amsterdam, and the plans for Robert Holmes’ ‘Yellow Fever and How To Cure It’.

“I was Production Unit Manager for Bill Sellars on ‘All Creatures Great and Small’. I used my own dog Pepsi in that. Robert Hardy wanted to echo the books and have Siegfriend with dogs constantly yapping at his heels. Being a mean PUM, there was no way that I was going to spend money on hiring all those dogs every week, so we used two of Bill’s, one of Robert’s, one that belonged to script editor Ted Rhodes, and Pepsi. She wasn’t calle Pepsi in the programme, because it was set before the drink was invented; she was called Pepper, and we both worked on the show for the next three years.

“I was an Assistant Floor Manager on Martin Lisemore’s ‘The Pallisers’, a twenty-six part costume epic, and our production manager had to go into hospital. Martin had confidence enough to let me take over rather than bring someone else in. When he was tragically killed in a car crash just after his biggest success, ‘I Claudius’, some of his closest friends in the business decided to mount a show as a tribute to him. They book a theatre but had no experience of putting on anyhing of that nature, so they asked me to take it over. I roped in Ted Rhodes, and together we compiled, wrote and produced the show. The BBC was magnificent, giving us secretarial help, production staff, costume designers and the use of a publicity team. We raised enough money to set up a trust fund for the family.

“During my third year as  PUM, I also did ‘Flesh and Blood’ with Thora Hird, Bill Fraser, Michael Jayston and Nigel Stock, most of whom later appeared in ‘Doctor Who’. Then one day I was called in to see Graeme McDonald, Head of Series and Serials, and I can remember exactly what he said – ‘John, your time has come. I want you to produce ‘Doctor Who’. So I started at the beginning of November 1979.

“Lalla Ward wanted to leave the programme and Tom Baker, having played the Doctor for seven years, also decided to go two stories later. When that happened, I decided to break with the tried and trusted tradition of the programme. Normally, the changeover of Doctors was marked by a regeneration in which the Doctor’s face was gradually phased out, but you didn’t see the face of his replacement because they often didn’t have one at the time! But because Tom had played the role for so long I thought that, as we had cast Peter Davison earlier than usual, we should establish him as soon as possible, so his face was seen at the end of the series.

“I had to change the locks on my office door more than once. We had a lot of theft from the studios and from my own office, some minor and fairly valueless, others causing us difficulties. We also discovered that pre-transmission scripts were circulating openly at a well-known public school for boys, and sometimes I saw them on sale at American conventions, selling for as much as two hundred or two hundred and fifty dollars. I used to get quite upset about people finding out what was coming up in the storylines, but in recent years I’ve come to think that if people want to spoil it for themselves, then let them.

“At various stages, we came into a lot of flak. In retrospect, sometimes the criticism has been fair. As far as violence is concerned, pehaps we did go a little bit beyond the line of what was acceptable occasionally. But I don’t agree that it was ever like a pantomime. Panto is a very specialist genre of theatre which stems from the commedia dell’arte. If anyone can really show examples of panto in ‘Doctor Who’, I’d love to see them. I don’t recall a single song sheet or a transformation sheet either, unless you count the regenerations!

“On the first day of filming (for ‘City of Death’), we discovered over lunch that Lalla’s shoes had been lost and that was just the beginning. When we went to the art gallery where we were to film, we found that it was closed. And when Tom and Lalla mimed opening the gallery door, a piercing alarm went off! We had to pack everything up hastily and move on before the police arrived. I remember the Fleet Street gang dived into the nearest bar.

“On the second day, a cafe we had chosen because it had a fine view of the Sacre Coeur was totally boarded up and there was worse to come on the final day. At the Louvre, our fixer arrived to tell us that we had been denied permission to film. Michael Hayes asked me what we should do, and I replied ‘Do it quickly’.

“For ‘Arc of Infinity’, we were filming in a huge square. It was the scene in which Peter Davison as Omega (impersonating the Doctor) had been infected. He was covered in green gunk and rice crispies, and was filmed moving through the crowds and the pigeons. No-one batted an eyelied!

“Yellow  Fever and How to Cure It would have involved Peri hankering for a trip home to the United States, and began with her seeing the Statue of Liberty through the TARDIS screen. Then she discovers it’s a replica in an ornamental garden. that was just one of a wide variety of locations we planned to use in Singapore. The story would have involved Kate O’Mara as the Rani.”