Julie Gardner has given up the civilized life of Cardiff, Wales for the mad traffic of Los Angeles, California. It’s getting to her.
“All I’ve learned is the most terrifying word in the English language is ‘merge,’” says the former Executive Producer of Doctor Who, Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures, “at least in Los Angeles.”
While American fans all over the world are being thrilled by the last episodes of the David Tennant-starring Doctor Who, the BBC has given Gardner a new post, some might say much more powerful one, in California. They are counting on her proven ability to take what should have been a dead franchise and not only turning it into one of the most successful properties in their library, but actually spinning off two new equally successful series out of it.
That doesn’t mean she isn’t paying attention to what’s happening at BBC America this week. For the last five years, Gardner and Russell T. Davis have lorded over Who. This week she’s watching the American debut of “Children of Earth,” the new five part “third season” of Torchwood as well as the first of the last four Doctor Who “specials,” entitled “Planet of the Dead.” Even though this is the beginning of the end of the, for lack of a better term, Davis-Gardner-Tennant period, and Gardner is properly secure at her new post with the BBC, it doesn’t take much to realize she still cares about public reaction.
So when she offered an opportunity to reminisce a bit about her time in Cardiff, the offer was certainly not refused. Here’s what she had to say:
NEWSARAMA: It seems with “Planet of the Dead” you wanted to do a straight-ahead ripping yarn.
JULIE GARDNER: Yes. We did go for a ripper with “Planet of the Dead.” As fans know, we have a total of four Doctor Who specials coming out. This one is supposed to feel like the last big romp. It’s absolutely and unashamedly frothy fun.
It’s also kind of an unusual story. It starts with a cat burglar, which we’ve never done before. It’s really a disaster movie/survival movie in disguise. It’s all about the Doctor trying to get home from an alien planet without even the TARDIS to help him.
Then, it goes very dark in only the last few minutes, with a premonition. That’s because we want to lay the foundations for what will now become the regeneration from David Tennant to the next Doctor. That will be done over the next three specials.
The first of those specials are called “The Waters of Mars,” which will have Lindsay Duncan guest star along with David. From there, we will have a two-part climax, which is the regeneration story itself.
NRAMA: Is that the one where you bring a lot of the previous Doctors into the mix?
GARDNER: Those were just rumors. There are always rumors. This is a show lends itself to rumor. Yes, we had Peter Davidson for one special, but it’s not the story we’re telling.
NRAMA: One thing I couldn’t help notice each time the Doctor regenerates, he winds up looking younger.
GARDNER: I know! I wish I could do that. Obviously, you’re referring to Matt Smith, who is obviously a bit younger than David. I think it’s kind of exciting casting. It will be interesting to see how he will play a 900-plus year-old Time Lord when he has the body of such a young man. To top it, the Doctor is really an authoritarian figure. That’s one thing I am really looking at.
I mean when I look at the casting of Christopher Eccleson to David Tennant to Matt Smith, one thing they all have in common is they are all great, versatile actors. I think fans will find it exciting to see how David will end his reign as the Doctor.
NRAMA: Did Matt Smith add his own input to the making of his Doctor?
GARDNER: I guess you can say that. In my direct experience with Doctor Who, the character is very much shaped by the scripts. In other words: Russell T. Davis’ showrunner-vision of the title. Then any great actor will offer his own vision, whether it’s Christopher Eccleson, David Tennant or Matt Smith. So, yes, without doubt.
NRAMA: So how does it feel to see David going?
GARDNER: It’s a real shame to see him going. He’s been the most extraordinary actor to work with, with extraordinary talent. I think, that said, this is a show with regeneration at its heart. It’s an essential part of the DNA. That’s why it will be on air for another ten-twenty years.
It’s been my absolute privilege to work on something so strong. Still, to keep it fresh you have to constantly reinvent it every five or so years.
NRAMA: One thing is it’s not too far off from it being the Doctor’s 50th Anniversary.
GARDNER: That’s actually an amazing, amazing thing. You have to realize this show went up against a number of TV giants. Yet it’s proven to be a wonderful, wonderful title. I admit I had the best time of my life working on it.
So, of course, I’m sad to have left. Then again, Russell had left, then David. So it was the right thing, the right time. I had been on the show for six years. It was time to do something new.
NRAMA: So what are you up to now?
GARDNER: I’ve just moved to Los Angeles, where I’m working on BBC Worldwide Productions, the commercial arm of the BBC. I’m into just week five of my new job, which is to develop scripted offerings for the U.S. market, both network and cable. Nothing going yet. I’m still learning how to go up and down the freeway.
NRAMA: Now you’ve managed to have two successful spin-offs. What is the status of Sarah Jane?
GARDNER: There is a wrap party this week for the third season of Sarah Jane Adventures. We are now going into post-production with that. So all three are in good health.
NRAMA: Now we do have some more Sarah Jane hooked up.
GARDNER: Yep. Elisabeth Sladen is just wonderful in it. In fact, she’s just amazing to begin with. I mean she even looks amazing. The woman never ages.
NRAMA: Now getting to Torchwood, why was there only five episodes this season?
GARDNER: It was an editorial decision. The show was moving to a new channel, BBC One. In the past it has been BBC Three and BBC Two. Now, Torchwood is in its third season, and it was going on to the mainstream, big channel.
We wanted to look at a way that the move would become a big event. It was also a show that we hoped would bring on a new audience while still staying loyal to its core. Also, Russell T. Davis wanted to tell a big serial arc. Jay Transet, then drama commissioner, suggested stripping across five days, which was something done on another title, Criminal Justice and was very successful.
That decision to strip across the week immediately impacted the pace of the storytelling, to very good results. I have to admit, I’m personally delighted with the final figures. The ratings went really, really well. Huge. Our audiences went up to 6.2 million. Now those are unconsolidated figures, but those are really big figures. It’s been a very big show.
NRAMA: Would you say Torchwood is now secure on BBC One?
GARDNER: We’re talking about what to do next. I hope there will be a season four. The conversations are good. Still, we have no decision here.
NRAMA: Would you say it had an X-Files feel to it?
GARDNER: Yes. I think that’s absolutely right. I loved the X-Files. Torchwood raised the question what price would humanity pay? Would political deals be struck? Those children screaming are a startling image. In fact, it’s terrifying.
NRAMA: Would you say, given the way you’ve left things, that there will be a 50th Anniversary for the Doctor?
GARDNER: I will be rooting for that. If that happens, I would like to be standing there, clapping.
Planet of the Dead will air on BBC America this Sunday. According to informed sources, it will be out on DVD this Tuesday, July 28. The sources said the next Dr. Who release will actually be the holiday special, The Other Doctor, then Waters of Mars..