‘Doctor Who’ EPs on Casting a Female Doctor, Why They’re Doing Standalone Episodes, and More

     October 6, 2018

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It is an all-new and very exciting era of Doctor Who, with new showrunner Chris Chibnall, the groundbreaking debut of Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor, a new team (made up of Tosin Cole, Mandip Gill and Bradley Walsh), new monsters (some of which are sure to give you nightmares) and new adventures traveling through space and time. Packed full of action, humor and emotion, it is the perfect time to tune in, whether you’re a new or long-time fan, and whether you’ve seen every episode, only a handful, or you’re checking it out for the first time.

During this phone interview with Collider, executive producers Chris Chibnall (who wrote the first episode back, “The Woman Who Fell to Earth”) and Matt Strevens talked about the challenges unique to making a series as epic as Doctor Who, the fun of getting to create new monsters, why they chose to do stand-alone episodes this season, finding the look for this Doctor, the point they decided they wanted a female Doctor, and the cool factor of getting to make Doctor Who when you’re a life-long fan. And don’t worry, keeping with the highly secretive Doctor Who tradition, no spoilers were revealed or discussed.

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Image via BBC America

Collider: I very much enjoyed the premiere episode and getting to meet Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor!

MATT STREVENS: Oh, I really appreciate that. Thank you!

You guys are both responsible for quite a bit of great TV in the UK. What are the challenges that are unique to making Doctor Who?

STREVENS: For this particular version of the show, it’s been so wonderful, the way that Steven [Moffat] and Peter [Capaldi] had presented their iteration of the show. It was so distinctive and created such a clear world. Then, when we came in, one of the things we wanted to do was make sure it was Doctor Who, but also bring something fresh and different to it. And so, I think one of the biggest challenges was not to break it. That was my biggest worry. It was like I was carrying around a Waterford crystal, worrying every minute. But also, we wanted to figure out what we could do to make sure it’s as contemporary as can be, with our budget, which is obviously finite and limited. How do we make sure that it fits alongside the wonderful television and film content that is around today? A lot of audiences don’t differentiate any more because they watch all kinds of devices. So, when Chris told me his ambition for the show, the biggest excitement for me was, how do we bring that to life? How do we make it look as contemporary, as special, and as rich as we can? So, the look of the new show was a great technical challenge ‘cause we really wanted that to punch through.

CHRIS CHIBNALL: Having made other shows, the thing with Doctor Who is that you’re doing everything, all at once. Last year, I did Broadchurch, and we did episodes in the same location with the same characters and same sets, for eight hours. That’s hard because you have to build all of the sets, find the locations, do all of the storytelling, and do the edit. With Doctor Who, we have all of that, and then we’ve got monsters and alien planets, and we blow stuff up, and we jump around in space and time. It’s super-sized and super intense. It’s like every television show you’ve ever done, and then there’s a whole other television show on top, and a whole layer of great craftspeople. You’ve gotta be on top of it because we wanted to make sure it sits alongside everything that’s on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, HBO, the BBC, and everywhere. But the joy of it is working with these craftspeople who are there. There is great joy in watching exceptional talent exercise that talent, whether it’s the cast, the composers, the special effects guys, the people who blow stuff up on set, or the people who make monsters for us. That’s the hugest joy. It’s the most joyous job that I’ve ever had in television. It’s the hardest job, but the most joyous, absolutely.

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Image via BBC America

You’ve talked about how there are many familiar Doctor Who things that could make an appearance in the future, but for now, you’re focused on the new faces and the new monsters. How much fun is it to be able to create and bring a monster to life, and give them a whole backstory and arc on the show?

CHIBNALL: Imagine the best fun you can possibly imagine. It’s really exciting. There’s a number of reasons that it’s exciting. It’s exciting for us, as creators, producers, writers, directors and monster designers. It also gives me a thrill to think of the 8-year-old, the 28-year-old, the 38-year-old, or the 98-year-old, seeing the new monster, for the first time, and getting a thrill or scare. We get to bring a new generation of monsters to a new generation of viewers, and also to people who’ve loved the show for 55 years, 12 years, or 22 years. Doctor Who is such a broad show. It’s got the whole universe to explore. So, when you can create a new monster, and then the monster comes onto set for the first time, or you have a special effects or CGI session, you’re deciding how it sounds, and how it walks or flies or kills people. The thing we’ve often said about Doctor Who, and I’ve talked about this with Steven and Russell [T. Davies], is that Doctor Who is the show that makes everybody feel like an 8-year-old again, in the best possible way. When you’re making monsters, that’s also how you often feel, making them. It’s just joyous.

You guys have said that you’re not going to be telling any ongoing stories this season, except for when it comes to this new team bonding with each other and building their relationship. Was doing only stand-alone episodes this season something you knew that you wanted to do, from the beginning, and was there a specific reason for doing that, for your first season of the series?

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Image via BBC America

CHIBNALL: Yeah, I came in very much wanting to do that. Under Steven, the show had done these really captivating, mesmerizing, intricate series arcs. Steven is just spectacularly good at that, and the pay-offs, over time. He’s the absolute genius of that. But I think whenever you’re bringing in a new Doctor, you have to set it up in a really great way because it’s an entry point for a whole audience. Because the audience of Doctor Who is everyone from eight to 108, life is continually creating new viewers. There are people who were four or five when Peter came in, who weren’t quite old enough to watch it then, but who now are. Also, there are people in their 20s who told their friends, “We’ve been watching Peter Capaldi, and you should tune in now because it’s amazing.” So, we had to make sure that it’s really open to new audiences while also serving fans. On any other TV show, if you said, “The ongoing story is the emotional dynamics of the characters,” that is most TV drama. We’re doing that, as well. It’s a relationship between people, and how they develop in response to the adventures they’re having. That’s a big bit of storytelling that you want to be doing, especially when you’ve got such a great ensemble, that we’re really lucky to have this year. So, with stand-alone stories, you can come in and not need any knowledge. That felt really useful this year. It’s like a series of pilots. If you come in on Episode 5, Episode 7, or Episode 9, you can really access that, but there will be rewards for people who’ve been there since Episode 1, and there will be rewards for people who are long-term fans. There are plenty of little lines and references. So, the short answer is it’s a new Doctor with new access. For anybody who wants to catch up, they can go back and watch all the old stuff, and that’s really cool. I think Doctor Who is the greatest idea television has ever had, and our job is to convince the rest of the world.

Every Doctor has their own look, and Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor definitely does. How long did it take everyone to decide on this look? Did you go through many variations, or did this one happen rather quickly?

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