Doctor Who News Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman in The Snowmen

Published on May 16th, 2013 | by Meredith Burdett

Gaiman: “Clara originally a Victorian governess”

The life of a writer can be very difficult at times. There’s endless rewrites of a script or manuscript, delicate plotting of characters and ensuring that there aren’t any plot holes that you could drive a Dalek Crucible through.

Matt Smith and Jenna-Louise Coleman in The Snowmen

But when we’re presented with the finished product of a book or television show or play or film, every little problem has been ironed out so meticulously that it’s hard to imagine their being a problem in the first place.

So with that in mind, it’s refreshing to read about some of the less glamorous aspects of writing a Doctor Who script that Neil Gaiman, writer of this year’s Doctor Who episode Nightmare in Silver, has listed in a recent interview with the Radio Times.

Gaiman reveals part of the genesis behind Clara Oswald as well, stating that she wasn’t always the ‘impossible girl’ that we’re all wondering about now:

The original companion was going to be very much the Victorian governess we saw at Christmas [2012’s The Snowmen]… then they [the Doctor Who production team, we presume] said they’d changed the companion from what I was expecting to something else… We decided they can do more weird stuff if it’s now the contemporary third incarnation so I had to reshape it so it wasn’t the governess.

And from the original brief to the one that he ended up with, Gaiman took Clara and sculpted her character remarkably well for his episode, despite the fact that he had very little in terms of source material to work from:

What I got was the scene that Steven Moffat wrote as the Clara character audition piece…he sent me that and said ‘This is what she sounds like’. But from that you just make her up as you go along.

However, the most interesting aspect of the interview is Gaiman’s is his thoughts on the production process for a Doctor Who script and what he would like to do with one in the future:

On the one hand I don’t have time to write Doctor Who…It doesn’t pay very well, but you also have to rewrite it and rewrite it and rewrite it and never get paid, whereas in America you get paid for every rewrite…on the other hand, I haven’t done an episode set on Earth yet, and I haven’t created a new monster. And there’s part of me that feels… I haven’t scared anybody yet… The Cybermen has a few little scary bits but it’s running at about a 5 of 6. I’d love to a 9.

The Cybermen were certainly far more threatening in Nightmare in Silver than they’ve been in the last few years, their newly upgraded abilities making them far more deadly and unpredictable enemies. But what do you think?

Would you like to see Gaiman tackle the Cybermen again, perhaps the Daleks, maybe the Yeti or do you think he should create his own monster to send all of us to cower behind the sofa…?


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About the Author


What happens when an eight year old kid watches the 1993 repeat run of Planet of the Daleks? He pretty much ends up here writing about the show that grabbed hold of him and never let go!

17 Responses to Gaiman: “Clara originally a Victorian governess”

  1. avatar Spacephantom says:

    How about a crossover with Gaima’s own body of work? The Doctor meets Morpheus perhaps???? :-)

    • avatar Spacephantom says:

      “Gaiman’s” that is.

    • I say all of the Endless not just Morpheus.

  2. avatar vortexter says:

    I would almost certainly say that Clara was originally a Victorian companion. It seems her death was added in at the last minute with her as the new story arc. Shame as we missed something there.

  3. avatar Bob James says:

    Gaiman should do a Master story…………

  4. avatar vincent price says:

    it’s nice to see the cybermen back on form as such
    the dalek battle was a big let down and i think with this new cyberman up grading we sould have a possible rematch

    also a bit confuse as to are these original cybermen or the alternate universe ones????

    • avatar vortexter says:

      Gaiman said they are a mixture of both: At some stage they met and assimilated and cross-bred and shared technology which perfectly matches the idea of the Cybermen. They plan everything based on logic and its therefore logical the two groups would merge. They offered the same deal to the Daleks and were killed for it.

  5. avatar vincent price says:

    oooh yes a master story with james nesbit as the master

  6. avatar David F says:

    This interview hints at some of the problems of this series.

    I’m increasingly of the opinion that the reason this generally good season is failing to hit home for many people is the lack of heart at its centre. That is to say, we don’t feel close to the companion.

    Maybe Coleman would have given more confident performances, and the writers provided a clearer characterisation, had she remained the Victorian governess. That version of Clara worked. The modern-day version is vague and very hard to relate to, and Coleman doesn’t seem sure of who she she’s playing. Perhaps that comes from the decision to change her at short notice after scripts had been written.

    Just a thought!

    • avatar Con in Sydney says:

      Please speak for yourself. I think there are probably more viewers who ‘feel close to the companion’ of Clara than you suggest. She is doing at excellent job. The camera clearly loves her and her mystery is part of the ongoing storyline that you would expect in a serial.

      • avatar iank says:

        He’s speaking for me and a lot of other people too. Current Clara has all the depth of a puddle, and now we know why, don’t we?

      • avatar David F says:

        Actually, I WAS speaking for myself. I think it’s fairly obvious that’s what I was doing.

        As I wrote, it was “just a thought”. I don’t think she’s terrible, and I don’t think it’s a massive problem, but I thought it was a valid point to raise for discussion. Don’t panic. I’m not trying to force you to agree. I’m just interested in examining the mechanics of storytelling. I’m sure lots of people are enjoying her character and I would never pretend they aren’t.

        I don’t think the character’s working, but that’s not laying blame at Jenna’s door. I can understand why Moffat thought a mysterious companion would be an interesting story to explore, but not every story comes off as writers intend. It’s no slight on his talents to point that out. And I think maybe the fact she’s written as a mystery has slightly thrown the actress. But I’m just speculating. The tone of her performance, I feel, has blunted the drama a little, because she doesn’t seem scared when it would help the drama, or emotional when it would help us feel involved.

        It’s quite possible that the conclusion of the mystery narrative will be hugely satisfying and free her up to be a great the long run.

        Yes, the “camera loves her”, but that’s all the more reason to hope she can click in the role, and the character can start clicking in the scripts, because then we can make the most her talents.

        But whatever the truth of the matter, there’s definitely a feeling that this admittedly good season isn’t quite hitting the heights, and instead of ranting and wailing like many fans, I like calmly chatting about possible reasons..

  7. avatar iank says:

    Why in God’s name didn’t she stay that way? How utterly gutless of them. God forbid the companion doesn’t come from contemporary Earth for a change.

  8. ah. i suppose that explains the kids.

    • note i said ‘explains’, not ‘excuses’. this explains why they’re there, but not why they’re so dramatically inert.

  9. avatar TonyS says:

    When I was a child, my Dad used to tell me bedtime stories involving the Doctor taking us for a trip in the TARDIS. The one that sticks in my memory involves a trip to the moon. The Doctor at the time was Pat Troughton and we had just watched the Moonbase. The children’s involvement in this story sort of has that feel to it. Especially the end when Artie thanks the Doctor. Now whether this is a good dramatic device for the programme itself, I don’t know.

  10. avatar vortexter says:

    I think Gaiman should be given a stand alone novel to write like Alastair Reynolds and co and be freed of the budget constraints and endless re-writes. He sounds a bit miserable from the interviews. I hope he hasn’t been broken by the endless turning of the Dr Who production wheel!

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