What can you tell us about Victory of the Daleks?
"What can I tell you that isn't already all over the internet? Well, in a scene we've lost [in the final cut], he sort of explains that he's known Churchill throughout Churchill's life - when he was a young man fighting in the Sudan, and he went to his memorial service - so it's that idea of rather than one single meeting with a famous figure they actually have a kind of relationship. It goes right back to Jon Pertwee saying, 'I said to Napoleon: Boney, I said...' I like the idea that it isn't just a one-off thing, you have an ongoing friendship with people like Churchill."
Why has Churchill summoned The Doctor this time?
"Churchill calls him in because he has concerns about this new secret weapon Bill Paterson's character has invented called The Ironside. When he gets there the secret weapon is The Dalek. According to all the evidence they're exactly as they say - man-made weapons - and the Doctor is the only voice saying 'No!'"
The Daleks get some quite funny lines, don't they?
"My direct inspiration was a lost story, Patrick Troughton's first story, called 'Power of the Daleks'. The idea of them being subservient and cunning was so exciting it needed to be done again. I much prefer the idea of them having this kind of watchful intelligence rather than always exterminating things. It's the only situation where you can get away with The Daleks asking people if they want tea. The Doctor loses his temper and starts beating it up and it still says, 'You do not care for tea?' I love the idea of them carrying box files and things. Everybody knows what they're like but in this context, the people that they're duping have no idea - they just think they're subservient."
Was it your idea to write a Dalek-centric episode?
"No, Steve asked me to. The simple thing was Churchill versus The Daleks, although I think I may have added the 'versus' in my mind - it might have just been Churchill and The Daleks! Steve took his kids to the cabinet war rooms and was amazed by how spellbound they were by [them], so that was the logical place to set it. I was initially intimidated after all these years of growing up with The Daleks to write [a Dalek story], but that was such an exciting idea. I'm quite atypically homosexual in that I like war movies and Bond movies and all the things you're not supposed to like, and I love the idea of it being a perfect distillation of all that we like about watching The Great Escape at Christmas and proper Blitz spirit. I wanted to be very careful to acknowledge that the war was a real war and still in many people's living memory. That's why at the end Lilian's Spitfire pilot boyfriend, who we never see, has just been killed. It was very important that it's not all neatly tied up and Churchill makes a point of saying, 'I still have a war to run'."
"Steven very sweetly said, 'I want this to do what the Dickens one did in the first series with Christopher Eccleston.' It's a very similar pattern - introductory episode, far future, the past - it works well and he wanted that hit of instant Doctor Who-ness and I was very happy to oblige. We're all aware of the tremendous pressure of following Russell and David and Julie, but clearly people have gone for it in a big way which is a huge thrill."
As a fan of the show, how does this series compare with previous ones?
"It's inevitable when you get a new head writer that the whole tone of the series shifts and it's interesting to see the differences in William Hartnell's stories way back in the early sixties. Different people bring different ideas. I know that Steven and Piers and Beth's watchword is 'fairytale'. I think the palette of the show looks different - it has a slightly more magical feel. As a result it becomes skewed slightly more towards a rural feel. The first episode in Ledworth is an English village - not a Trumpton-like one, but an English village - and obviously Russell was very keen to ground it in a much more urban environment. Then I think, clearly just every Doctor is totally different. Matt has a very different energy. Like David he's a quick-talking ball of energy but he has a slightly more off-centre feel."
How much of the series have you seen?
"Only as much as I have to! I want to watch it as it goes out - it's a shame, but I don't like spoilers! I recently was sent a few of the upcoming episodes because I'm hopefully writing one for next year so I needed to get up to speed with where it's going. I'd still much prefer them to watch them as they go out. Having said that, this Saturday we're doing another night shoot so I've got to somehow contrive to be in front of the TV at 6.30pm to watch 'Victory of the Daleks', go out and then probably go to a morgue!"
"Great, thank you. We've nearly finished - we've got another nine or ten days to go. We're doing it in reverse order. Steven begged us to because of Doctor Who! It's going very well indeed. Paul McGuigan, who directed Lucky Number Slevin, is doing episodes one and three and Euros Lyn, who's done lots of Doctor Who and who did the Torchwood five-parter last year, is doing episode two."
Did you take the reins on Sherlock, given Steven's Who commitments?
"In a day-to-day way. Steve's wife, Sue Vertue, is the producer, but I've been around to keep an eye on all kinds of things."
What made you decide to transfer Sherlock to the present day?
"That's the thing really - that is the idea. Steven and I were on many, many trains to Cardiff for Doctor Who and we always seemed to end up talking about how much we love Sherlock Holmes. We eventually danced around the shameful admission that our favourite versions are still the Basil Rathbone movies, particularly the ones in the forties when they brought it up to date and battled the Nazis and stuff like that. They seemed to have more of the flavour of the original stories than a lot of more careful recreations. That's not to say those ones aren't brilliant, because they are and everyone has a different favourite Sherlock Holmes, just like they have a favourite Doctor. We thought 'Why don't we just do it now?' That immediately means it doesn't become about the trappings - the hansom cabs and the fog and Jack the Ripper and the clothes - it becomes about the characters. That's what we've been missing. There will always be more Sherlock Holmes. There will be another dozen by the time we broadcast the show, because it's the most popular character in all fiction. But we thought that we could literally blow away the fog and get back to the idea of these two unlikely men and this unlikely friendship, and that's what we've done.
"An easy way into thinking about it is that in the very first original story, Doctor Watson is wounded on military service in Afghanistan and sent home. The same unwinnable war we were fighting a hundred and thirty years ago is back with us."
What's Benedict Cumberbatch's Sherlock Holmes like?
"You've got to find a dimension of Sherlock Holmes that's recognisable. Over the years they've cast some round-faced actors and it just doesn't work - he has to be tall and angular. To some extent you go with a classical version because that just is Sherlock Holmes. Also, at the time, Sherlock wasn't a period piece, he was a modern man. So we've done exactly the same thing. Benedict's playing a modern man who's completely obsessed with his gadgets. Like in the original stories, Sherlock had a huge store of data, but now Sherlock obviously has access to a huge store of data online and is able to use everything the modern world brings to fighting crime. But he's still a strange man with no social skills!"
Do you think there will be tonal comparisons with Steven's reboot of Who?
"It's absolutely there. There's documentary evidence that in the formulation of The Doctor [in the sixties], there's an awful lot of Sherlock Holmes influence. There's always been crossover. But they're not aimed to be parallel series. You see Benedict in his fantastic coat, with his collar up, doing a windswept Cardiff commentary, and possibly in the way he is - fantastic and eccentric - you can draw parallels with Matt Smith, but you could have done the same with Jeremy Brett and Peter Davison in the eighties."
Finally, you're also involved in the BBC's new Boy George drama Worried About The Boy, in which you play Malcolm McLaren. Had you finished shooting before he passed away?
"Yes. It's the oddest thing. I was only filming it for a couple days, but the day before yesterday I had to go in and do some ADR, which was very strange. I'm not going to say I spent a year immersing myself in [the role], but obviously I'd watched quite a lot of stuff with him. I found him a much more interesting figure than I ever thought he was. He did have a kind of magic touch. Maybe we can now do the full biopic, that's what I hope. With Julia Davis as Vivienne Westwood. Let's pitch it now. Digital Spy campaign!"
Interview by Nick Levine
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