NEIL GAIMAN Calls His DOCTOR WHO Episode "Dream Come True"
NEIL GAIMAN Talks His DOCTOR WHO Episode
Two huge events are taking place on the BBC’s Doctor Who this year. First, in the season premiere on April 23, the Doctor, along with his traveling companions land in the good ol’ U.S. of A for a two-part adventure that traverses Chicago, the open country and our very own capital. The other comes a bit later in the season when award-winning author, and someone Newsarama readers are very familiar with, Neil Gaiman premieres his first-ever Doctor Who episode. And it’s something the British writer has been waiting a long time for.“Getting to write a Doctor Who episode, for me anyway, was probably the nearest to being God that I have ever been or will ever get,” Gaiman told Newsarama. “I remember a similar feeling of megalomaniac power for about fifteen minutes in 1988 when I got to write my first Batman line. I got to bring on Batman and write dialogue for Batman and, I’m making Batman talk. But making Batman talk does not actually compare to the feeling of glorious power you get the moment you type, ‘Interior TARDIS.’” Newsarama spoke with Gaiman and director of the Season 6 opener “The Impossible Astronaut,” Toby Haynes, at WonderCon in San Francisco, CA where the two, along with actor Mark Sheppard debuted new footage from the premiere and the first from Gaiman’s episode, “The Doctor’s Wife.” [Click Here for full coverage of that panel.]
A Doctor Who story has taken place in the United States before but this was the first time the main cast members had traveled here to shoot. “And an opportunity for a UK director and a UK team to do something like this is so exciting,” said Haynes about the trip. “Going to America, it’s a big deal. It is really exciting because you know, in the scripts in the general story we’re going to deal with some big questions about the Doctor and try to answer some of those and about the major characters that you’ve seen so far and sort of round off a couple of stories and these two openers really set the show off and set the season out to do that. But going to America is exciting and big.” Gaiman isn’t exactly sure why Doctor Who is making such a big splash in the U.S. finally, but he did venture a guess. “I think partly, it’s probably broken at the States because there isn’t anything like it and I think it probably took it five years to break in because nobody was really promoting it. It was something that has been driven by fans,” he said. “If I can say this without being taken outside and beaten up by the BBC, it was probably in many ways, driven by people downloading it and torrenting it. It was being driven by people falling in love with it one person at a time and then telling somebody else, ‘Look, you have to watch this. Here’s ‘Blink,’ watch this. Here’s ‘The Girl In The Fireplace,’ watch this. Here’s ‘Dalek,’ watch this,’ and I think that’s what drove it.” “But I also think the lovely thing about having a new Doctor is, it gave everybody a nice place to jump on. You didn’t have to feel that you were in this five episode...you know, Russel’s [T. Davies] arc was this five year run and now we’re into the new one,” continued Gaiman. “But also, I think the worst thing about Doctor Who is also the best thing about Doctor Who, which is you’ve got 47 years of mythos and it’s unfortunate, but people think that they need to know or understand that 47 years of mythos rather than the simplicity of Doctor Who which is, there’s this wonderful man, in this blue box, that can travel through space and time and it can turn up anywhere and it will turn up somewhere where there’s a problem and he will sort it out.” For Haynes, it was a bit of a challenge working in America for that very fact; not everyone here is familiar with the show. “We didn’t take our crew with us, we were working with Americans so for me and the actors, we sort of bonded together like it was, like this is what we do, this is what we do in Wales,” he said. “And also, Doctor Who is a weird show, it’s a strange show, it has it’s idiosyncrasies and so a new crew coming to it doesn’t have a clue what’s going on, they don’t know what it is and so they don’t know what’s important to it. So we’re telling them, ‘This is important. The sonic screwdriver is an important part. Matt [Smith] has to have it in his pocket even if he isn’t using it.’ And to explain those things was weird but it wasn’t a problem because the crew was incredible.” The director worked on last year’s Doctor Who Christmas Special titled, “The Christmas Carol” as well as the finale of Season Five, “The Pandorica Opens,” perhaps one of the most time-bending episodes of the series. How did Haynes keep everything straight? “Most scripts take you about two weeks to get your head around it. But in a way, it had a better flow to it than a lot of other stuff I’ve read and Steven really knows how to write action, he knows all the kinds of locations that really work together. Basically when you read a Doctor Who script, the first thing you think is, ‘Wow, that’s really exciting, that’s great.’ The second thing is, ‘That’s impossible to make.’ And so you’re dealing with two or three impossible things per scene you’ve got to be able to make happen and make happen very quickly,” he said. “The other thing is you realize that they don’t know how they’re going to make it either. You know Steven’s written it but the production crew, they don’t have a clue so you’re leading them. And you’re sort of leading them with imagination and invention so if you can’t invent a way of making a Cyberman head attack a human then it won’t happen, and it very nearly didn’t happen. But because I love it and I’m excited by it, you work out a way that is affordable and exciting to do,” he continued. “I was so lucky, biggest set they ever built for Doctor Who on my first episode, going to America on this last one, getting to work with Michael Gambon on the Christmas special. I have a good life.” Haynes mentioned he was under a lot of pressure on the U.S. shoot not only because of the short time they had to film but also the scale of the production. But the director did have a familiar face to work with, guest-star Alex Kingston is back in her role as River Song in the premiere. “Alex is fantastic, I love Alex,” he said. “You know, we started together on “The Pandorica Opens” and that was cool. She didn’t know me then and working with her on this one she was a different person. She had loved what we’d done with those, she knew we were making action adventures and so she was totally up for anything. And this is a girl who knows how to wield a laser blaster and you know, you’ve got to do that convincingly and I loved doing all that kind of stuff with her and she’s just so receptive and keen to know and so confident.” Although he was reluctant to give too many details, Gaiman also mentioned a few actors he was excited to write for in his episode, “The Doctor’s Wife,” and what we can expect. “It stars Suranne Jones playing a character named Idris who may turn out to be an old acquaintance of the Doctor’s with a new face. It co-stars Michael Sheen as a mysterious baddie called The House,” he revealed to Newsarama. “It begins on a junkyard planet out on the very edge of the universe and I thought it would be fun to start in a junkyard just because Doctor Who started in a junkyard, so this does.” “This was my first opportunity to write Doctor Who, it very well may be the only opportunity I ever get because there are too many things in this life that I have to write and there’s not enough time to write them all before I don’t get to write anymore,” said Gaiman. In fact, writing just this episode spanned a great deal of time for the busy author. “When I started writing the episode, Matt hadn’t yet been cast. So I was writing it just going, ‘The Doctor and Amy Pond.’ I wrote my first draft for episode eleven of the last season,” he said, “So Rory didn’t exist briefly during that period which meant that the most fun that I had when I got to do the rewrite, to move it into this series, was putting Rory in. And that was an absolute delight just because suddenly, you know, he and Amy could talk to each other and he and Amy and the Doctor can talk to each other and there were conversations that you couldn’t have, that I loved having Rory there to play with.” Considering the new cast wasn’t in play at the time he began writing, did that mean a lot of changes had to be made to his script? “No, I mean, it’s still you know anyone who’s read...going back to the first draft there are things that are in there, there’s a lot that hasn’t changed and there are things that would change up to shooting. You know, there are three scenes in there that were written by Steven Moffat pretty much the day of shooting when they went, ‘Well we can’t actually do this scene that Neil’s written because we don’t have that day to get to that location. What can we do?’ And Steven would come in and read what I’d written and turn it into a scene in the TARDIS,” he said. “But that’s all part of the nature of making television, you have X number of...you’ve 14 days to shoot in, you have your X amount of money and you have your limitations and what’s glorious about the finished episode for me is, I don’t look at it going, ‘Oh my god, I miss that scene’ or ‘I miss this bit’ even though I know we don’t have...I know that there were scenes that we shot, the finished episode from the first cut was 56 minutes long and they had to take it down to about 43.” One of those scenes involved two actors whose performances Gaiman was very fond of. “Uncle and Auntie played Adrian Schiller and Elizabethe Berrington, they were wonderful, they were so funny, they were so brilliant, they had all this great stuff and it’s not really there anymore. There’s a flavor of it and you can get to see it but their scenes wound up going because other stuff was more important. But there’s no sense that you’re going to walk away from the episode going, “Ah, I wish with had more Uncle and Auntie stuff,’ you walk away going, I hope, ‘What a great episode!’” The other thing Gaiman had to get used to, was writing for a show that doesn’t necessarily have the biggest budget in television. “There’s a lot of CGI. I remember handing in the first draft to them and having a dinner afterwards at Steven Moffat’s place where they said, ‘Look Neil, we love the first draft. It’s brilliant, it’s funny, it’s clever, it’s wonderful. Just so you know, each episode of Doctor Who has,’ I forget what the exact numbers were, I think they basically said 100 man-hours of CGI, ‘You have 640.’ So there was a level on which lots of things went away,” he said, “They still wound up essentially taking other episodes out around the back of the bike sheds, beating them up and taking their lunch money and giving it to me. All I know is the finished episode looks beautiful and it has, like I say, it has everything I would have wanted and it takes you places you’ve never been before.” For Gaiman, writing for the series was a dream-come-true and something he considers himself lucky for having done. “I was very determined that if I was going to write an episode of Doctor Who, it was going to have everything in it. So it’s funny and it’s scary and it’s exciting and it’s heartbreaking and it has running down corridors and there are places where I kind of hope that it may add to the giant Doctor Who mythos because you always want to leave something nice behind you. But really what it is is just, you know, somebody who’s just always wanted to write an episode of Doctor Who, just writing an episode of Doctor Who and being indulged by the BBC in this folly. Doctor Who Season 6 premieres April 23 on BBCA <br>