Doctor Who’s first foray into 2013, its 50th anniversary year, is close enough to touch. But what can we expect from Series7B?
“A haunted house, a submarine, a planet with cool rings, Victorian Yorkshire, a journey to the centre of the TARDIS, Dame Diana Rigg and her daughter Rachael Stirling together on screen for the first time, new Cybermen, and the Doctor’s greatest secret revealed,” showunner, Steven Moffat promises. And of course there are “plenty of new monsters! Watch out for the Spoonheads, the Whispermen, and – my favourite – the Vigil.”
7.6. The Bells of Saint John.
Writer: Steven Moffat. Director: Colm McCarthy.UK Transmission: 30th March 2013, 6.10pm.
London. The Doctor’s looking for an impossible woman, but he soon stumbles upon an ancient enemy lurking in something humanity uses every single day: Wi-Fi. The Spoonheads are picking off minds from across the city and imprisoning them – and it’s not long before Clara Oswin Oswald becomes their latest target.
“It was [producer] Marcus Wilson’s idea,” says Steven Moffat. “We were discussing how the first episode of the second run would probably be a contemporary Earth adventure, so the Doctor could meet the modern day Clara – and anyway, I wanted to do Wi-Fi monsters – and Marcus suggested we do a proper urban thriller. The Doctor can never be Bond or Bourne – but if he tried it might look a bit like this.”
The Bells of Saint John looks to be closer in tone to 2008 season opener, Partners in Crime, than Moffat’s previous openers, but it promises to still be as grand in scale as, for instance, The Impossible Astronaut/ Day of the Moon. And it’ll introduce just as many questions, especially about one person in particular…
“For [Clara], this is a completely clean slate. She is oblivious. She is meeting the Doctor as he turns up on her doorstep as a monk for the first time,” actress, Jenna-Louise Coleman reveals. “So that’s her first impression. So, for me, it’s to treat it completely as a clean slate. But what I really love, and especially because that’s the first time we’ve seen…is that the dynamic is so different because there’s nothing worse the Doctor hates than an unsolved mystery. And that is what she is. So you can really see it arcing over the next episodes.”
Since her unforgettable appearance in last year’s Asylum of the Daleks, Clara has become quite a talking point. Basically, she died. Then she died again in the Christmas special, The Snowmen. “With all of the Claras, there’s kind of an essence that’s the same running throughout,” Jenna says. “But this is the Clara that we will be with and know for the next…”
“Unless we kill her,” Moffat interrupts.
“I think it’s quite nice for the Doctor,” Eleventh Doctor, Matt Smith says, “because I think having got his grieving for the Ponds out of the way, I think she’s re-ignited his curiosity in the universe and given him his mojo back, for want of a better word.”
Clara’s not the only talking point, however; Jenna-Louise Coleman, who was announced as the new companion last year, will remain a hot topic for as long as she stays with the show – and beyond! “She’s kind, charming, thoroughly prepared and very brave as an actress. And most importantly of all, we get on, which is vital on a show like this,” Matt explains. “I’m so proud of what she has achieved in the last year”
The episode has a very distinct feel, delivering the ‘urban thriller’ Moffat’s promised us, and journalist, Ian Wylie, who attended the first screening of the episode on Friday 15th March, called it “very possibly the best ‘first episode’ I have ever seen.”
Matt’s still on form as the Doctor – like anyone ever doubted it – as BBC Drama Controller of Commissioning, Ben Stephenson, notes: “As ever, Matt Smith is a god… As ever, he just does something extraordinary with his Doctor. He’s always funny and yet always truthful. And I think as the series goes on you really see the depth of that character coming through. He makes you cry and he makes you laugh. And that’s just in real life.”
He continues: “Last week I got three brown envelopes from Steven Moffat. Well, there were four. One of them had money in, but that’s something else. And one of them was episode one of Sherlock. One of them was the DVD of [The Bells of Saint John] and one of them was the script of something to do with Doctor Who that’s happening later in the year [Laughs]. That’s how hard he works… So, on a pure hard work level, I want to thank Steven and everyone else involved in the team.”
Since 2005, Cardiff has been Doctor Who’s home, and The Bells of Saint John has been filmed there and in Barry and Caerfilly. But most notably, in October, the crew filmed in London. “I loved shooting in London,” Jenna enthuses. “It was so much fun. It was one of those moments where I thought, ‘I’m filming Doctor Who, on a motorbike, riding across Westminster Bridge with the Houses of Parliament in the background.’”
Matt agrees: “I loved shooting in London! There is something so brilliant about having the locations there rather than just adding them in.”
There are even some rumours, however, that some scenes for this episode were shot late last year in San Francisco and Tokyo…
Colm McCarthy is largely responsible for the episode’s stunning visuals, and Matt says: “I’d just like to say that I think the director, Colm, has done the most fantastic job. I think he directed it with wit and verve and pace. I think it was brilliantly made.”
Colm has previously worked on shows like Hustle, Murphy’s Law, Injustice and perhaps one of the biggest hits of 2013 so far, Ripper Street, as well as the massive success, Spooks. “That’s what you’re looking for: directors who – and the same with Sherlock – actually actively want to impress you,” Steven Moffat says. “They’re not just there to get the show done in the time (which is actually quite difficult in itself). But ones who are really ambitious storytellers… and we make no demands on Doctor Who for it to be the same every week. We are saying, ‘This one’s your one. Make it your one.’ We say that to [everyone] – the writers as well. Treat it like you own it. And that’s really important. So there’s a category of writer and a category of director – and that category is called talented, I would say – where they leap at that.”
Steven Moffat famously quit Twitter last year, so could the Spoonheads and their invasion through Wi-Fi be a reaction to the social media site? He insists not, but also says, “The trouble is, [Twitter] does take up your time when you start looking at it. When I sit at that computer I need as few distractions as possible. So I removed it from my life. I think it’s a fascinating thing, Twitter. And as a means of promoting something it’s brilliant, extraordinary.”
Neither Matt nor Jenna are on Twitter, and the former ponders: “Why am I not on Twitter? I don’t know really. I spend so much time on my phone and I find the idea that you communicate your life via Twitter quite peculiar. And so it’s just never really interested me. But, that said, I think it’s wonderful that you can gauge, if you’re a fan of – - I don’t know who’s on Twitter, but Steven Moffat or whoever… that you can engage with them if you’re a fan. But it’s just not really up my street. I’m not on Facebook either. I can’t be bothered.”
The episode also boasts a fantastic cast, most notably Celia Imrie, who plays Miss Kizlet. Imrie has starred in too many films and TV shows to note, but amongst their number are Dinnerladies, Acorn Antiques, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Calendar Girls and Doc Martin. Her casting was announced when the preview trailer for Series 7B was released at the end of The Snowmen.
Some people look forward to tucking into chocolate eggs at Easter. But it’s fair to say that Doctor Who will be the main treat this bank holiday. (Take that, The Voice…!)
7.7. The Rings of Akhaten.
Writer: Neil Cross. Director: Farren Blackburn. Expected UK Transmission: 6th April 2013.
Clara’s first foray into time and space, and the Doctor wants to impress. The TARDIS lands on the inhabited rings of Akhaten during the Fetsival of Offerings as pilgrims and natives get ready for the big ceremony. Clara comes face to face with all manner of aliens, including the young Queen of Years. But what’s stirring in the pyramid – and what shall be the sacrifice to it?
Neil Cross may be new to Doctor Who, but he’s certainly got previous. Having created the hit TV show, Luther, Cross has been nabbed by Steven Moffat to write two episodes of the upcoming series; Rings and then episode four, Hide.
Director, Farren Blackburn, also worked on Luther, but is best known to Whovians for the Christmassy feel of The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe. He’s also worked on shows like Vera, Waterloo Road and The Fades, and is certain to give The Rings of Akhaten a creepy feel. Remember that Mummy-esque creature banging on the glass to get to Clara in the initial series preview from The Snowmen? Well, no prizes for guessing what’s in the pyramid…
But that’s definitely not the only alien we’ll meet on the Rings, as Matt says: “it was very ‘Whoey’. We had between 50 and 60 prosthetic aliens, which is something that only really this show can offer, making it a very unique experience as an actor.”
At the first screening of The Bells of Saint John, Matt described it as really fun to film, “with as many aliens as we’ve ever seen in one place.” Jenna continued: “In an amphitheatre of aliens. So we’ve got so many pictures! We’ve got an entire day of us sat, kind of like all of [the audience] but you all had prosthetic heads on as aliens.”
“Doing a little swaying,” Matt adds. It sounds like these aliens are in a worshipping mood…
And the vast array of characters isn’t the only thing that’ll make a lasting impression. Steven Moffat says: “You’ll laugh and cry and air-punch. Glorious. The brief for Neil was this: You know how the Doctor always promises amazing, awesome wonders to his companions, then gets them stuck down a tunnel being attacked by mutant slugs? Let’s deliver some awesome and amazing.”
The story starts off on Earth, on an ordinary council estate, but the action soon shifts to an “epic, overwhelming, boiling, red-orange planet,” as Moffat says. Some of the location filming was done in Newport last October, but it looks as if the majority of the shoot was confined to the studios at Roath Lock; not surprising, really, considering its epic scale and ambition.
“It’s one of my favourite episodes,” Jenna says. “It’s so weird and wonderful and something that only this show can offer. It shows Clara for the first time what life with the Doctor will be like. It’s a complete fantasy, and it’s great for audiences as the story begins again and we get to explore all these strange new worlds together, as well as getting to know the Doctor again.”
Think The End of the World or The Beast Below. This is Doctor Who stepping out into bold new territory. The movie-style remit of the first five episodes is here to stay.
7.8. Cold War
Writer: Mark Gatiss. Director: Douglas Mackinnon. Expected UK Transmission: 13th April 2013.
Clara: “Doctor, are we going to be okay?”
The Doctor: “Yes.”
Clara “Is that a lie?”
The Doctor: “Possibly.”
The TARDIS lands on a damaged Russian submarine in 1983 as it plummets towards the ocean floor. An armoured creature has escaped from a block of Arctic ice and is smashing its way through the submarine. Cold, isolated, and hunted: the Doctor, Clara and the crew have to survive in perilous circumstances – and make sure the cargo of nuclear weapons doesn’t fall into enemy hands. The Ice Warriors are back.
Mark Gatiss has been working on the show since its return to screens in 2005, his first episode, The Unquiet Dead, featuring the gaseous Gelth and walking-talking dead people. Since then, he’s given us a new paradigm of Daleks, television that steals your face, and creepy peg dolls, not to mention his appearance as the unhinged Dr. Lazarus in The Lazarus Experiment. But his latest script (one of two for this series) ticks another of his ambitions of the list. “I’ve always loved the iconic Ice Warriors and have been badgering to bring them back for ages. And now they’re on a ssssssubmarine! With Russians! I’m a very happy anorak right now,” he smiles.
“In the mix of stories that we were planning for this year it felt as if doing something very bold with a monster that hadn’t been seen for a while would be really cool. Mark is an enormous fan of the Ice Warrior stories and came up with the idea. The sense of a monster of that scale and that size trapped in a really small, contained environment such as a submarine was a really brilliant story to be able to tell,” executive producer, Caroline Skinner, says. “And obviously we’ve had a huge amount of fun going back to the traditional designs and recreating them, bringing the Ice Warriors back to life again.”
“I think it’s good to pay homage to the classic series, especially for the fans,” Matt notes. “This series we have modernised some of the monsters for a whole new generation.”
Jenna also enjoyed acting opposite the Ice Warriors – although they’re a little scary. “They were terrifying,” she exclaims. “I think this is the first time Clara is really, really scared.”
But not everyone was an immediate fan of the Martians. Steven Moffat says he initially resisted them: “First of all, I don’t think we still have to go into the back catalogue of the old show any more. Originally we did that to affirm that this new thing really was that old thing. Now that both shows are merged together and nobody really bothers to make a distinction between them anymore, we don’t really need to do that. And I always slightly thought they’re slow moving and you can’t hear what they’re saying. Is that the archetypal slightly silly monster? But then Mark had been going on and on about it during a phone call which was meant to be about Sherlock, [he started pitching] a couple of very, very clever ideas of what we could do with an Ice Warrior. And I went for it at that point.”
The lumbering menaces have been updated, but they’re still noticeably the same warrior race as the ones from their first appearance in 1967, then again in The Seeds of Death, The Curse of Peladon and The Monster of Peladon. Steven says: “Sometimes you think a design should be upgraded because it’s so familiar. That one is slightly less familiar so you will be seeing the Ice Warrior in a familiar form but with at least one big surprise.”
The submarine was actually built to scale, as Jenna says: “The whole set was really realistic and built to size – which wasn’t too much of a problem for me! Before every take they would come and spray us, the whole make-up process was reversed as they would damp us down in the morning and rub my mascara off! We were soaking wet for two weeks.”
Matt also enjoyed the shoot: “They built a submarine and the five-year-old in me was like, ‘yeah, it’s a submarine!’ I loved getting sprayed down at the beginning of the shoot, and it wasn’t a chore as it does so much of the acting for you, making it really authentic. Mark Gatiss has delivered one of the best episodes of the series.”
Director, Douglas Mackinnon, who previous worked on The Sontaran Stratagem/ The Poison Sky and last year’s The Power of Three, says he had the time of his life. “I enjoyed it just about more than any other bit of directing I’ve ever done. Without a doubt, if ever there were a team effort that has made an episode work, it was that one. Just the safety elements alone, with water flowing around… The gaffers, and the Electrical Department, and the practical effects guys, they were all on top of that the entire time!”
And he’s taken full advantage of having the Ice Warriors back: “It looks fantastic. We’ll be adding CG elements to it as well. Because of the environment that Mark put his creature in, there [were] all sorts of textures around [that are] natural to the environment – and water, of course – and I took advantage of that. I had the creature stomping through water. I shot some of it in slow-mo, to make it look even more impressive. The results are magnificent.”