Saturday, 17 April 2010

Mark Gatiss talks 'Who'

By Neil Wilkes, Editor and Nick Levine, Music Editor

Having previously penned 'The Unquiet Dead' (the 19th century) and 'The Idiot's Lantern' (the 1950s) for new Who, Mark Gatiss is remaining true to historical form for the third episode of Matt Smith's reign with a WWII story that reunites The Doctor with his old friend Winston Churchill and... The Daleks. We called up Mark to chat about 'Victory of the Daleks' and get the latest on Sherlock, his new adaptation of the classic tales with Steven Moffat.

What can you tell us about Victory of the Daleks?
"What can I tell you that isn't already all over the internet? Well, in a scene we've lost [in the final cut], he sort of explains that he's known Churchill throughout Churchill's life - when he was a young man fighting in the Sudan, and he went to his memorial service - so it's that idea of rather than one single meeting with a famous figure they actually have a kind of relationship. It goes right back to Jon Pertwee saying, 'I said to Napoleon: Boney, I said...' I like the idea that it isn't just a one-off thing, you have an ongoing friendship with people like Churchill."

Why has Churchill summoned The Doctor this time?
"Churchill calls him in because he has concerns about this new secret weapon Bill Paterson's character has invented called The Ironside. When he gets there the secret weapon is The Dalek. According to all the evidence they're exactly as they say - man-made weapons - and the Doctor is the only voice saying 'No!'"

The Daleks get some quite funny lines, don't they?
"My direct inspiration was a lost story, Patrick Troughton's first story, called 'Power of the Daleks'. The idea of them being subservient and cunning was so exciting it needed to be done again. I much prefer the idea of them having this kind of watchful intelligence rather than always exterminating things. It's the only situation where you can get away with The Daleks asking people if they want tea. The Doctor loses his temper and starts beating it up and it still says, 'You do not care for tea?' I love the idea of them carrying box files and things. Everybody knows what they're like but in this context, the people that they're duping have no idea - they just think they're subservient."

Was it your idea to write a Dalek-centric episode?
"No, Steve asked me to. The simple thing was Churchill versus The Daleks, although I think I may have added the 'versus' in my mind - it might have just been Churchill and The Daleks! Steve took his kids to the cabinet war rooms and was amazed by how spellbound they were by [them], so that was the logical place to set it. I was initially intimidated after all these years of growing up with The Daleks to write [a Dalek story], but that was such an exciting idea. I'm quite atypically homosexual in that I like war movies and Bond movies and all the things you're not supposed to like, and I love the idea of it being a perfect distillation of all that we like about watching The Great Escape at Christmas and proper Blitz spirit. I wanted to be very careful to acknowledge that the war was a real war and still in many people's living memory. That's why at the end Lilian's Spitfire pilot boyfriend, who we never see, has just been killed. It was very important that it's not all neatly tied up and Churchill makes a point of saying, 'I still have a war to run'."

Did dealing with The Doctor, the Daleks and Churchill all at once put you under pressure as a writer?
"Steven very sweetly said, 'I want this to do what the Dickens one did in the first series with Christopher Eccleston.' It's a very similar pattern - introductory episode, far future, the past - it works well and he wanted that hit of instant Doctor Who-ness and I was very happy to oblige. We're all aware of the tremendous pressure of following Russell and David and Julie, but clearly people have gone for it in a big way which is a huge thrill."

As a fan of the show, how does this series compare with previous ones?
"It's inevitable when you get a new head writer that the whole tone of the series shifts and it's interesting to see the differences in William Hartnell's stories way back in the early sixties. Different people bring different ideas. I know that Steven and Piers and Beth's watchword is 'fairytale'. I think the palette of the show looks different - it has a slightly more magical feel. As a result it becomes skewed slightly more towards a rural feel. The first episode in Ledworth is an English village - not a Trumpton-like one, but an English village - and obviously Russell was very keen to ground it in a much more urban environment. Then I think, clearly just every Doctor is totally different. Matt has a very different energy. Like David he's a quick-talking ball of energy but he has a slightly more off-centre feel."

How much of the series have you seen?
"Only as much as I have to! I want to watch it as it goes out - it's a shame, but I don't like spoilers! I recently was sent a few of the upcoming episodes because I'm hopefully writing one for next year so I needed to get up to speed with where it's going. I'd still much prefer them to watch them as they go out. Having said that, this Saturday we're doing another night shoot so I've got to somehow contrive to be in front of the TV at 6.30pm to watch 'Victory of the Daleks', go out and then probably go to a morgue!"

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