You're the showrunner on Doctor Who, which means you're in complete control - when do you have to lay down the law and say no to people?
It sounds like quite an antagonistic process. It's not, it's a team process, you've chosen to work with these people in the first place. I think it's right that the writer has more responsibility - the writer's created it. I know how it should feel and what sort of cast it should have, what sort of colours it should be, what sort of speed it should build at, so I have a lot to say about that.
Phil Collinson and I, I don't think we've ever had a proper argument. We disagree about casting, we disagree about all sorts of things but we've never, from all the years of making the show - and it's a very tough show under very great pressure - we've never had what you'd actually call an argument. Because it's creative, when you've got the people there it just works that way.
Being a producer is something I think all writers should do and I think it's a process we should head towards, but a lot of writers are mad. They're barking a lot of the time. They've got to learn they can't stand there and say "No, that shirt should be blue." (Unless the script says "I like your blue shirt," then something's gone wrong.)
You're a big fan of Doctor Who. Did you know what you wanted to do with it when you took it on?
I did know it very well, and there are a million different versions I could have made, but in the end I probably didn't think about it too much and just sat down and wrote on instinct. Because they'd come to me, they said we want you to do it, so in the end you've got to have the nerve or the confidence to say they want a version of this in the way that I write. They want the Russell T Davies version of Doctor Who, which is always going to have barmy mothers, and sexy men, and jokes, and a sense of humour that switches to darkness in the flick of an eye. That's my style and speed and energy and I'd like to think I bring an honesty to it as well.
It's a weird one, Doctor Who, because in many ways it's the one piece of work I've written that bears an audience in mind more than any other, and it's the most successful. As a writer I'm a bit stuck on this, because as a writer you're meant to sit and say story is the most important thing, don't think about the audience, just follow the story, and I have done that for years. Now I find myself genuinely sitting there, not with charts and things but instinctively thinking I want more women watching this, I want the old fans watching this, I want children watching this, and doing things to take care of that.
And when Doctor Who started in 1963 it was a very specifically designed programme. It was actually put together by a focus group for that slot on a Saturday night, it was invented. It wasn't one man. A whole summer's worth of research went into it saying what people want. Put a child in it, put responsible adults in it, put a mysterious old man in it... All the format was worked out by committee. So in some ways I'm still being true to that and going, actually, well that worked then and I think it'll still work now.
You still could never have foreseen it would work, it's still a massive shock, it still surprises me to this day, it delights me to this day that it works. But we couldn't have predicted that, so when you see it happening it's actually quite strange. You sit there thinking, record-breaking viewing figures, number one in the charts, you sit there thinking that's what I planned. Which is weird, it's not meant to go that way.
How much do you plan what you write?
It's sort of half-planned and half-improvised. I'm in a really lucky position because being an executive producer, I'm there all the time. So I think about it all day and every day. I've got every option going through my head all day, every day. But in the end the story tells itself to you. You sort of look at them and you think well Rose Tyler loves being with the Doctor, and it's just common sense, there's no other ending, she's never going to choose to leave. I'm never going to kill her, so you've got to invent two parallel universes and split them up, and it's got to be that big. You know she can't be injured or lost or something like that, she's got to be safe with her parents, and you literally end up inventing a whole parallel world in order to solve a plot problem
Why do you have episodes of Doctor Who that hardly include David Tennant?
Every year we do an episode that has very little David Tennant in – that's simply because of cost. We used to make 13 episodes a year, and then when it became a huge success they gave us a Christmas episode as well, so we now have to make 14 episodes in the same time that we made 13. So every year we have to work out a way of taking David and the companion out.
We could pay everyone to stay on a few more weeks and do another episode but it's a very long shoot, and David goes off and does stuff for HBO or BBC1 in every break, so it gives your lead actors a chance to do something else. So it's part logistics, part cost, part interesting system, because out of that we've got some really interesting episodes. Some great ones, I think. It keeps everyone on their toes.
What is your favourite episode that you've written of Doctor Who?
Oh I can't answer that. Honestly I really can't answer that. It's like asking what's your favourite child. I like them for different reasons.
There's an episode called Gridlock that I really like, but I like that one because it was the first episode I wrote completely in Cardiff. I used to go to and fro from Manchester to Cardiff, carry scripts and disks and emails with me between two cities, and with Gridlock I was going oh I've had enough of that, I live in Cardiff, I'm going to do it in Cardiff. So that episode was a psychological breakthrough in a sense. You know the superstitions you have as a writer, you think here's my Manchester desk, I can only write at my Manchester desk. I used to believe that, for two years. And Gridlock broke that superstition and I wrote it in Cardiff. Now of course I'm stuck writing in Cardiff.
So I like that one, but for very different reasons to the one you mean. That might not be the best episode, although it is marvellous, but it's very personally good for me.
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