Acknowledging the debt that many writers owe to Doctor Who for firing their childhood imaginations before the will to put pen to paper took hold, Neil Gaiman has been sharing his thoughts not only the gestation of Nightmare in Silver but on his own as a writer.
In a recent interview Gaiman spoke of ‘having no control’ of just how big an influence the show has been on such magnificent writing as American Gods and The Graveyard Book:
Doctor Who was the first mythology that I learned, before ever I ran into Greek or Roman or Egyptian mythologies. I knew that TARDIS stood for Time and Relative Dimension in Space. I knew that the TARDIS had a food machine that made things that looked like Mars bars, but tasted like bacon and eggs. It was all part of what I knew, as a kid. I still have the battered copy of David Whitaker’s Doctor Who and the Daleks, that I had as a kid, with terrible illustrations.
So, I don’t know, but I do know that it’s been hugely influential on the shape of my head and how I see things. And I know that I feel ridiculously comfortable in that universe, and that I will keep going back, as long as they’ll have me and as long as I can find the time.
It was the constraint of time that first led to Gaiman refusing an offer by Steven Moffat to follow up his Hugo award winning episode The Doctor’s Wife; it wasn’t until he casually mentioned in an email that he wanted the writer to ‘make the Cybermen scary again’ that he suddenly found a TARDIS shaped hole in his plans:
When I was a kid, I was a huge Patrick Troughton fan. Patrick Troughton was my Doctor. I remember “The Moonbase,” the second outing of the Cybermen. I didn’t see the first one, but I saw the second one. I was terrified of them. I was much more scared of them, in a way, than the Daleks because they were quiet and they slipped in and out of rooms. It was very off-putting. So, I started thinking, “Well, actually, I love the design of the clanky clanky, Steampunk Cybermen. I know their time is coming up, so wouldn’t it be fun to actually see if I can make them more scary.
Naturally with such a brief, his imagination began to soar; it wasn’t until pesky reality and the finite budgets of the BBC shot down an earlier plan to set the episode at a 1950’s British seaside fairground that the episode began to take a recognisable shape:
The idea of the Doctor playing chess was there, from the very beginning. The idea of a chess playing machine with somebody hiding inside it was there, from the very beginning. And I knew that I wanted a conversation between the Cyber Planner and the Doctor.
The key thing, while everything else was going on and Clara was keeping everybody alive, was the chess game. But, it wasn’t until I was actually writing it – I was probably 15 or 20 pages into the script – that I suddenly thought, “Actually, Matt [Smith] is a good enough actor that I could have him do both sides of the chess game, and that would be fun.” So, instead of sitting there, playing a rather talkative Cyberman, which was my original plan, he played himself. The minute I thought of that, everything else opened up. I got to do all of this ridiculously fun stuff. I got to have too much fun, and I got to watch Matt have too much fun while he was shooting it. And I got to watch Matt get very, very sweary because it hadn’t occurred to me that I was asking him to remember twice as many lines as a normal episode of Doctor Who.
One of the criticisms of the episode was the similarities between the Cybermen and Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Borg, drawing comparisons along lines where fans had thought that there was no contest:
One of my great embarrassed admissions – and I have very few – is that, while I have seen every episode of the original Star Trek many times, and could quote you the entirety of “The Trouble with Tribbles” with my eyes closed, Star Trek: The Next Generation happened during a period where I was moving from the U.K. to the U.S. For a big wedge of that time, I had no access to television because we were too far out in the country, so I missed it. It happened in the background and I didn’t actually ever get to watch it. I started catching up with television again with Babylon 5, mostly because I was asked to write an episode. So, I missed the Borg and only knew about them, way in the background. I suspect this is more a case of a certain amount of parallel evolution. But, I would love to reclaim the cybernetic menace crown.
For more on opinions on the difference between writing under constrictions and having total freedom, what Gaiman plans to do next and his view on the TARDIS head over to Collider.