Archive for the ‘Writers’ Category

Neil Gaiman (2003)

October 22, 2010

Okay, this isn’t an interview, it’s choice quotes from a foreword to Paul McCauley’s novella ‘Eye of the Tyger’, but it’s relevant to ‘Doctor Who’ and it’s a good read. I’ve only quoted a few highlights, to read the full thing (and if you haven’t, I’d very much recommend it), you can either go and find a copy of the novella or you can read the full foreword at Neil Gaiman’s blog.

“The complaint about Dr Who from adults was always, when I was small, that it was too frightening. This missed, I think, the much more dangerous effect of Dr Who: that it was viral.

“Of course it was frightening. More or less. I watched the good bits from behind the sofa, and was always angry and cheated and creeped out by the cliffhanger in the final moments. But that had, as far as I can tell, no effect on me at all, as I grew, the fear. The real complaint, the thing that the adults should have been afraid of and complaining about was what it did to the inside of my head. How it painted my interior landscape.

“The shape of reality – the way I perceive the world – exists only because of Dr Who. Specifically, from The War Games in 1969, the multipart series that was to be Patrick Troughton’s swan song. The Doctor and his assistants find themselves in a place where armies fight: an interminable World War One battlefield, in which armies from the whole of time have been stolen from their original spatio-temporal location and made to fight each other. Strange mists divide the armies and the time zones. Travel between the time zones is possible, using a white, boxlike structure approximately the same size and shape as a smallish lift, or, even more prosaically, a public toilet: you get in in 1970, you come out in Troy or Mons or Waterloo.

“These days, as a middle-aged and respectable author, I still feel a sense of indeterminate but infinite possibility on entering a lift, particularly a small one with white walls. That to date the doors that have opened have always done so in the same time, and world, and even the same building in which I started out seems merely fortuitous – evidence only of a lack of imagination on the part of the rest of the universe”.

Russell T. Davies (2010)

June 9, 2010

Here’s a transcript of Russell T. Davies’ appearance on the BBC a couple of days ago, discussing the news that Torchwood is coming back for a fourth series, as well as his thoughts on Matt Smith and Karen Gillan and how he’d like to make 20 episodes of Doctor Who every year…

Q: Torchwood has always been filmed in Wales, but it’s about to get an international flavour. Tell us about these storylines set in the US and all around the world.

A: It’s a bit soon to give away too much about the stories. We will still be shooting in Wales, there’ll still be Cardiff action, but the storyline now takes the team to America, to other parts of the world. It’s still going to be good, very personal stories, sometimes you describe it as ‘international stuff’, it sounds like a 1960’s series called ‘The Jetset’ or something. It’s going to be really good, strong human stories at the heart.

Q: Can you confirm John Barrowman will return as Captain Jack, alongside Eve Myles as Gwen?

A: The Barrowman will be back as Jack, and we’re all very excited, and hopefully some new UK signings as well, and a new American cast as well. That’s going to be part of the fun, the culture clash, you know sometimes in dramas Americans crop up for no reason, this is going to be the Americans not knowing what’s going on with the Welsh, the Welsh not knowing what’s going on with the Americans. There’s a lot of fun, I think, to be had out of that, so it’s going to be lively, it’s going to be a good laugh.

Q: Why do you think Torchwood has done so well?

A: I think science-fiction stuff is popular, fantasy stuff is popular, we were very lucky casting it well, and there’s an appetite for it. It’s a funny show, in a way, it’s sort of designed for the digital age, it’s a weapon, the way it keeps moving channels. Right now it’s a production with BBC Worldwide, that’s the first drama BBC Worldwide has ever actually made, so again it’s a new way of making drama, it’s a new way of funding drama, in association with Starz. It just suits the age, really, to have a flexible, dynamic show that can take new shapes, and this is the latest shape. It’s exciting.

Q: Do you miss Doctor Who?

A: Oh, I do! Do you know, the greatest single responsibility that the Doctor Who team has now is getting me a disc out to Los Angeles every single Saturday, which I sit and watch and love. So I don’t miss it, actually, I’m a viewer now, I watch the episodes and I’m loving them. My overriding thought is ‘Oh, that’s hard work’, part of me is so glad not to be sweating over that TARDIS. And truly, Matt Smith and Karen Gillan, what a glorious new age. It’s the show that’ll never die.

Q: Would you change anything, now that you’re watching it as a fan?

A: Not… (laughs) how dare you suggest such a thing! The only thing I’d change is I’d make 20 episodes a year. I’m sure they’d be glad to hear that. More Doctor Who!

Steven Moffat (2010)

June 7, 2010

I always transcribe interviews for this blog – that’s the whole point – but this time I’m just going to link to a video, because you really need to see it in context. It’s Steven Moffat, being interviewed by his son. Mild spoilers involved.

Toby Whithouse (Various)

May 31, 2010

Here’s Toby Whithouse talking about his two episodes for Doctor Who so far. On a side note, it seems here and here that the idea of vampires in Venice might not have been too fanciful!

On School Reunion

Until I started working on Doctor Who, I thought the fact that I could name the Doctors in order made me a sad anorak. But when I met Matt Jones, Steven Moffat and Tom MacRae, I realised I was paddling in the shallow end.

Having Sarah Jane and K-9 was no more of a serial element than for any other show. There are always storyline threads to pick up. It’s only when I read of my ‘eagerly anticipated’ episode, that I start getting the fear.

They said they wanted to bring back Sarah Jane and K-9. ‘Aside from that, do anything you want.’ So I went away and wrote a story and they said, ‘No, that’s rubbish. Do anything you want, as long as it’s not that’.

In terms of the Doctor’s personal history, Russell T. Davies was always keen to be moving forward, so mine is the only episode where there are moments of reflection. You always have to reduce it to a human level, and, in that situation for the Doctor, it’s the current girlfriend meeting the ex-wife. Once you start thinking like that, it becomes much easier to write.

Writing special effects was fantastic. I loved it. One tends to ask for the moon. They calculated how many days of special-effects work would be required and it was about seven years, so we pared it down after that. I remember being sent the first assembly… where David Tennant and Billie Piper were running down a corridor being chased by somebody holding a pole with a tennis ball on the end.

On The Vampires of Venice

I’m going to get a reputation as the go-to guy for vampires. I was going to write a completely different episode. The Doctor was lost in some kind of labytinth. And we developed that for a while, and everybody was really pleased, but then Steven Moffat and piers Wenger said ‘You know what? This is kind of similar to another couple of episodes that we’re doing. Can we think about something else?’.

They said ‘You can set it anywhere in the world that you want, but it should be romantic’. So I thought o Venice, which is one of my favourite places in the world. It was one of the most straightforward script processes I have ever had. I can’t remember who wast he first person to mention vampires – probably me – but it was also the fact that Venice is a very dark, macabra place, full of shadows and secrets.

On Being Human I am executive producer so I have to give notes on all the treatments, where appropriate I have to rewrite other people’s scripts, I have a say in casting, and I deal with the heads of department and all that. As a result it’s really lovely every now and then for that to be somebody else’s responsibility. And also because I genuinely absolutely love Doctor Who, so writing for that show is always an honour. And I think Steven is quite simply a genius. So writing on the show is a delight and a pleasure. But one of the other things that makes it enjoyable is that I am a hack writer on it. I go away and write it, and I hand it in, but they have to chose the director, they have to choose the costumes, they have to decide on the design and all of that. And I just don’t have that headache. Every now and then it’s nice to have a working holiday if you see what I mean

Gareth Roberts (Various)

May 31, 2010

Here are a few quotes from Gareth Roberts, one of the New Adventures authors who ended up writing for the series upon its return. Some are taken from a great, andfairly  long, interview here.

On The New Adventures

I quite like the idea of the Seventh Doctor. I remember being hugely excited by Remembrance of the Daleks, but the idea of the cosmic manipulator is a hell of a pig of a notion to sustain effectively, and was showing signs of strain in 1989.

On Doctor Who returning to TV (quoted years before it happened)

I’m not sure if it should. If it does, I’d like to see the fans alienated and the general public wildly acclamatory.

On The Shakespeare Code

Russell T. Davies just said ‘Shakespeare’. At that point it was all open, and we thought about it and discussed the possibilities. One of my first ideas was to use the lost play Love’s Labours Won. It’s nice if you can tag a little real-life mystery to the historical character you’re using.

There are very few references (for Shakespeare’s character), and trying to extrapolate from them could lead you down all sorts of weird alleys. So what we thought was fun was to make him a kind of celebrity.

On The Unicorn and the Wasp

Agatha Christie’s a brilliant writer, very good at character. And brilliantly simple prose. Anyone can write simple prose, but to write simple prose that’s gripping is very difficult.

We couldn’t decide initially whether Christie should be young or old. When someone says ‘Agatha Christie’ to you, you immediately think of an elderly lady, but her disappearance was just too tempting, so it’s set firmly during the time of that disappearance.

We don’t see posh people on television much any more, except at Christmas, and it’s kind of odd to be writing a Doctor Who where people are talkin in cut-glass accents.

When I saw the finished episode, I was quite taken aback by how different it was in some regards. Because of the genre, little things hae a lot of emphasis in whodunnits, and little things never have any emphasis in Doctor Who – nobody ever says ‘Your hair looks nice’ or ‘Ooh, what’s in your handbag?’. In Doctor Who, when somebody speaks, it has to be significant or relevant; there’s never any slack. The murder mystery plays by different rules. I think this will intrique people, because it’s different.

Neil Gaiman (2010)

May 25, 2010

For a long time, there’s been something of a ‘will he, won’t he’ thing going on regarding Neil Gaiman and Doctor Who. Well, it’s all settled now, and he is. Writing an episode for series 6, that is. Here’s how it all unfolded:

February 2010

I know it’s cruel to make you wait for things, (but) in about 14 months from now, which is to say, NOT in the upcoming season (5) but early in the one after that, it’s quite possible that I might have written an episode. And if I had, it would originally have been called The House of Nothing. But it definitely isn’t called that anymore.

May 2010

I don’t know what it’s like to be God, obviously. Until that very first moment when you get to sit down and type the words in your script: INTERIOR: TARDIS. Suddenly I got a very good idea of what it must feel like. I went “I’m writing it now, this scene in the TARDIS! I’m writing it!”. And that was amazing. It was wonderful.

It’s going to be shooting in August and we were going through it, and figuring out ways that money could be saved, and ways we could have some things happen faster. It was a little bit flabby.

Doctor Who has never pretended to be hard science-fiction. At best, Doctor Who is a fairytale, with fairytale logic, about this wonderful man in this big blue box, who at the beginning of every story lands somewhere where there’s a problem.

Stephen Gallagher (Various)

May 2, 2010

Stephen Gallagher wrote ‘Warriors’ Gate’ and ‘Terminus’, but is now better known for the Patrick Stewart-starring ‘Eleventh Hour’. Below are some quotes from interviews, and from his blog, about his time working on Doctor Who – you can read his blog here, and you should, it’s very interesting.

“Probably the most robust way of doing a weekly time travel series for TV is to have a big machine, a team, and an agenda. Or a fault in the machine that repeatedly drops the main cast into new and dangerous situations. Time Tunnel immediately springs to mind… In the UK we have our own Doctor Who, where the hero makes random jumps through time and space and happens upon a local adventure wherever he shows up. Originally this was because his time machine was busted and he’s hopping around trying to get home. In his current incarnation he’s the ultimate tourist, so far from his home that his home’s no longer there. Doctor Who mixes sf and historical episodes; my memory from when I worked on it is that the historical episodes were fewest in number but always drew the higher ratings.

“Even the Bolton Chronicle stopped calling me ‘The Man Who Killed K9’ more than twenty years ago.

“I don’t think they’d ask me (back to Doctor Who), and I don’t think it would be that great an idea. They’ve got a new team of young writers who grew up with it, had the hiatus, worked off their hunger and are now doing all the things they wanted to do. I think that’s what’s making it successful. I’m old guard now. I’ve moved on to other things and so has Doctor Who. I honestly don’t know what I’d do in new Who. I enjoy it as a viewer, but I don’t hanker after contributing to it.

“The success of (new) Doctor Who has altered all British television, it’s that significant. It sent a shock through the industry that it could be popular with the kind of people you wouldn’t expect it to be popular with, and it reawakened an awareness that entertainment TV is the highest thing you can possibly aim for. You can do issue-driven stuff, you can do worthy stuff, and all those other kind of irritating things that happen in other dramas that disappear down the pan extremely quickly, but, if you can’t hold and entertain your audience, you’re achieving nothing.”

Christopher Priest (1995)

April 2, 2010

Here’s Christopher Priest talking about his brush with ‘Doctor Who’ in the late 70’s and early 80’s. He wrote two scripts, neither of which ended up getting made, and apparently ended up in a major argument with John Nathan-Turner and Eric Saward:

“I’ll take on almost any writing job, provided it sounds interesting. Doctor Who was like that. The programme is a challenge to a writer: a tiny budget, a more or less fixed cast of characters, a fairly inflexible storyline … and millions of fans who’ll beat the shit out of you if you overlook a crucial fact mentioned in an undertone by a minor character in the second part of a story first transmitted in 1968…

“I wrote two scripts. The first was while Douglas Adams was script editor, before the Hitchhiker books burst on the world. Douglas rang me up one day and said the producer felt the show was drifting away from the heartland of sf, and wanted some ‘real’ sf writers involved. I went in and met Douglas, and he commissioned a four-parter called ‘Sealed Orders’. I wrote this, and it was accepted but never produced. This was because of upheavals in the show while I was writing. Douglas Adams pissed off to become rich and famous, the producer also moved on, and by the time I delivered my story the ‘brief’ (the background story) had changed.

“The BBC commissioned a second story called ‘The Enemy Within’, because of the first going wrong. Again it was written and paid for, but once again upheavals in the BBC wreaked havoc. They inflicted a total of three different script editors on me, who all mucked around with the story and demanded different things … and the new producer [John Nathan-Turner] turned out to be an appalling little [censored by original interviewer], who was more interested in being a media star than actually working with a lowly writer like me. It all led inevitably to a bust-up. I grabbed a parachute and took a header through the nearest emergency hatch.”

You can (and definitely should) read the full interview here, it goes into a lot more detail about his career.

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!

Johnny Byrne (2008)

March 2, 2010

Here’s Johnny Byrne talking about ‘Warriors of the Deep’ and, in particular, his approach to the Silurians and the Sea Devils (who he refers to as aliens!). His comments about the need for the Silurians to have a more human face are interesting, given certain rumours about the new series…

“At some point in ‘Doctor Who’, monsters became mandatory whether they were needed or not, because there was some sort of weird belief among the higher echelons that this was what made children flock to the show. There should have been a better way to represent the aliens in ‘Warriors of the Deep’ (the Silurians and the Sea Devils), rather than the way we did. I think to make the story believable, the Silurians needed to be more humanoid in their form, in their aspect, so we understood them in a human sense, and the Sea Devils should have been much more of a physical threat. Instead of the Sea Devils being hunters and killers, SAS types, we got these sort of lumbering chaps doing their best in very heavy costumes.

“Did we really need the Myrka? It’s a question I don’t think I can answer, even though I wrote the Myrka. Would it have been better without the Myrka? The Myrka would come into any situation that required physical force, and the Myrka would cause chaos, and then the Silurians would come in and say ‘Oh, isn’t this dreadful, we shouldn’t have done this but we had no choice’. The Myrka, as it appeared, rather destroyed that illusion, because first of all it showed the Silurians to be idiots, to have created anything so pathetic and ineffective, and it became the most despised and hated creature in the history of ‘Doctor Who’.”