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Apocrypha Entertainment Presents:






 

Ahh, the conundrum. I’ve never really “gotten” or gotten into DR WHO. Watching the older ones as a kid, I didn’t like it at all. My best friend, on the other hand, dug it. When the show made its comeback a few years ago, I avoided it like the plague, assuming it was more of the same, and no matter how much I heard that it was different and that it was quite good, I wasn’t buying it. And when I did finally give it a (brief) shot, I felt overwhelmed, buried by the labyrinthine continuity and confused by the characters. But here’s where it gets weird.

A couple of years ago a spin-off of DR WHO was announced, one that would be somewhat tied into that universe, but free to build its own world. It was to be called TORCHWOOD, and the description of it was enough to make me curious. So I tuned in… and fell head over heels in love with it. The characters, the stories, the actors… brilliant and amazing. Not so amazing that it made me want to watch DR WHO, but pretty awesome. Then I saw that the man I consider the finest television writer in Britain had begun contributing scripts to DR WHO and I started to squirm a bit. The fans were universally praising his episodes as among the series’ best. How much longer could I hold out?

That writer’s name? Steven Moffat.

Moffat was known to me as the creator of one of the greatest British sitcoms of all time, COUPLING. COUPLING was a relationship/friendship comedy that ran for four series, and was partially based upon Moffat’s own real-life courtship and relationship with the show’s producer Sue Vertue. He also did the excellent JEKYLL series that ran on the BBC a couple of years ago as well. In short, he’s one of the few giants working today, and now he’s making my TV choices a bit harder. How? Because Russell T. Davies has stepped away from showrunning DR WHO, and Moffat is now the man in charge. Will I be able to resist seeing what he does with the property in his hands? Moffat was in San Diego to talk about his plans for the upcoming series of WHO episodes, and I was lucky enough to be at the table to listen.

Asked immediately about what his philosophy for creating the show would be, he made it simple: “I want to bring you a fantastic adventure every Saturday for 13 weeks. Really, it’s about terrific stories; it doesn’t change with every new producer. But the show changes with every episode- every new Dr Who is different. You want it to be the best murder mystery ever one week and the best horror story ever the next week and comedy the next.”

Some of the gathered media found it surprising that Moffat, long known for running shows he’s created, would take on a job like WHO. But he was undaunted, saying “It’s not terribly different (than running a show he created) because I know the 35-year old universe sort of crazy well. Because I know it so well, it doesn’t have the same impact as if I was a neophyte. I know it all. It was a huge part of my growing up. (But) I never, ever thought I’d write for it.” Considering that COUPLING snuck in WHO references on multiple occasions, this didn’t surprise me, I have to say.

Asked to ponder DR WHO’s significance to England, Moffat didn’t hesitate to put the character in perspective. “It’s one those things… Sherlock Holmes, James Bond… it’s one of those mighty things.” He went on to explain to us part of the reason why, and the caretaking involved with it. “Every year is a new show because there are kids who are watching it for the very first time. And they’re going to think it’s theirs, not something that belongs to their parents. This show is their show. They’ll remember it in thirty years. That’s how you do it. Children will remember it for their whole life, so brand new is very important.” Moffat added, “It has to be proper DR WHO, not just a show for grownups. There have to be stickerbooks for kids and lunchboxes…”

For those excited about Moffat taking the reins, or about a new WHO series in general, the news isn’t all rosy, however. Pressed for details, Moffat clammed up like a mob informant who wants to keep his head. “We’re not very far along.” He added, “I’m not just avoiding questions just because it’s some kind of state secret. We’re almost two years away from the new series and if I start talking about it now it could all change.” He then flashed a wicked smile. “Though, as a BBC employee, I am allowed to lie.”

The one thing he was willing to talk about was how he approaches writing a WHO script. I asked him if he started by thinking about structure, as COUPLING was a very structure-oriented show, and responded by saying “I’m always structure oriented. The reason it was so prevalent with COUPLING was because nothing ever happened. So we told nothing in a very in a very elaborate way. With DR WHO, you need a big idea… and generally speaking, I suppose I can change where I want to get to by the end. The thing about that, it has to be very interesting so you can’t just say ‘well this scene is quite boring, but it will pay off later’. If your payoff is more than five minutes away, change your payoff. You have a big idea and you try and keep it moving, make it scary or funny.”

So there I am now, stuck. I arrived expecting him to look like Jack Davenport, and I left thinking I might have to give the show another try. As if I didn’t watch too much TV already!

On the flip side of the WHO universe, Russell T. Davies is also abdicating responsibilities for TORCHWOOD, leaving showrunner responsibilities in the hands of WHO producer Julie Gardner. Gardner and exiting TORCHWOOD star Naoko Mori also joined the press brigade at San Diego.

The media immediately began digging in with Gardner, asking her about holding her show together. Apparently, there have been some rumblings about star John Barrowman’s career prospects beyond the show, but Gardner put the kibosh on those immediately. “What I know about John is that he absolutely adores playing Captain Jack and that it’s a really important character for him.” Mori added that, “That man never has a bad day. I’ve known John for a long time, and what you see is what you get. He has the most energy I’ve ever seen in one person.”

Unlike DR WHO, TORCHWOOD is headed back to the television screen relatively soon. Gardner explained the source of her current stress. “TORCHWOOD is four weeks away from filming and we’re really busy. As you probably know, we’re making five episodes for series three and they’ll tell one big story. She continued, “With five episodes, it becomes an event. The BBC has done a few types of those shows, Monday thru Friday, and they work well. Editorially, it’s pushing the show forward and testing ourselves and seeing what we can do.” When asked if this would be the permanent format for the show, however, she was not so sure. “We may well come back (in the future) as a longer-running series in year four. (Ultimately) It’s an important show (to the network) and we’ll do what’s best.”

Unfortunately for Mori, she won’t be a part of it. Her character, Tosh, and Burn Gorman’s character, Owen, met untimely demises in the final episode of season two. But Mori was at peace with how it played out. “It was about six weeks (ahead of the final filming), I think. I think me and Burn were told and we kind of kept it hush-hush from John and Gareth and Eve. It was kind of shocking, but to be honest, it made sense to me. I think Tosh had been through so much it was like a full circle and I really didn’t disagree. It was incredibly sad to say goodbye to friends and everyone, but it just made absolute sense. As an actor, I’ve been so privileged to work with Julie and Russell- they take so much care to make sure that every single word is there for a reason. You trust them. So the minute I read the script, I was like ‘oh my god’- the last scene, the video message, I was like (makes face of crying). And the other actors watching the tape had not seen it before, so when you see John and the others tearing up, that was real.”

She continued to reflect on her character. “She (Tosh) really came out of her shell in the second season. And there’s a part of me that wonders where she would have gone from there, really.” Mori summed up her fortune by pointing out what the role had given her. “To do everything from action to romance to drama… I’ll be hard-pressed to find another job like it, that gives me that much.” On filming her final scene, Tosh’s death, Mori talked about the process of saying goodbye and keeping it real. “You can’t (emotionally) prepare for a scene like that. The way it was scheduled, we were lucky enough to be able to do a big chunk of it in one day and to start preparing, I would tell myself to think about it and see what comes up. With something as delicate (as the scene) you can’t really play around with it. When you’re doing it, you’re kind of in that zone and unaware of what’s happening. It’s (ultimately) all in the writing.
 

Gardner added that, “It was a really difficult decision to kill off Tosh and Owen, but we had to do it. We always felt like with the danger… it was always suggested that Torchwood was a job that shortened lifespans.”

What both know, of course, is that when it comes to fandom, characters live forever. Mori, and Gardner’s version of TORCHWOOD, will both have eternal lives in the hearts of viewers who will follow them everywhere they may go.

Marc Mason

 



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