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Gareth Roberts talks 'Who', 'Sarah Jane'

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Doctor Who S05E11: The Lodger - The Doctor

© BBC

Gareth Roberts has an impressive Who CV. Alongside a swathe of original novels, he wrote for David Tennant's Doctor three times - pairing him with the Bard in 'The Shakespeare Code', Agatha Christie in 'The Unicorn and the Wasp' and Michelle Ryan in 'Planet of the Dead' (which he co-wrote with ex-showrunner Russell T Davies.). With his first episode for the Eleventh Doctor due to air this weekend, we caught up with Gareth to find out more.

What can you tell us about 'The Lodger'?
"The Doctor has to pass himself off as an ordinary human being - what he looks like on the surface level. He's got to pretend to be an ordinary 27 year old bloke. So he moves in with a real, ordinary 27 year old bloke - Craig - who's played by James Corden."

How did you come up with the idea for the episode?
"When I was a kid, [The Doctor] was often on Earth, but in an establishment with a bomb or in the headquarters of some organisation. We never really saw him pop to the shops. And even in the new series, we've seen him in domestic situations with families, but we've never seen him having to realise the very everyday experience of human life. I came up with the idea years ago as a comic strip in Doctor Who Magazine, so the idea's been there for a very long time. And as soon as Steven Moffat got the job as showrunner of Doctor Who, he turned to me and said, 'We've got to do The Lodger'."

So, Stephen came to you and asked you to adapt it?
"Yes. I say "adapt" but it's not a straight adaptation. When Paul Cornell did 'Human Nature', which had been a book, that was much more of an adaptation, there's a lot of the original in the TV version. 'The Lodger' was starting from scratch really, but with the same basic concept."

Doctor Who S05E11: The Lodger - The Doctor, Craig and Sophie
Were you pleased with the casting?
"Very very pleased. James Corden and Daisy Haggard, who plays Sophie, are both absolutely fantastic, I couldn't have been happier. When the rushes started to come through, I was jumping up and punching the air. They're playing two very ordinary people, and Craig is living with the most extraordinary man in the universe, so to bring heart and reality to it was essential. James has got great depth as an actor, which I think people have forgotten, there's a lot going on there. And because he is purposely ordinary, there's always a risk that he could be played as too ordinary, but James has made him into an extraordinary ordinary man."

Your point about bringing the heart to interesting as I found it a very funny and human adventure.
"Cold, mysterious and remote isn't something I do very well. The important thing is to keep on the right side of silly, particularly with Doctor Who as it's such a far-flung situation. If anything's silly, it gets chucked out. If anything's funny, it gets chucked in."

What's it like working for Steven as opposed to Russell?
"It's different. They both come from different places as writers, but at the same time the both love Doctor Who. It's hard to say. I've seen the strange mixture of panic and pride on both their faces and I saw the stress passing slowly from Russell to Steven as the months went by! But really there's not a terrible amount of difference in approach. Steven's absolutely brilliant at coming up with really satisfying conclusions - not that Russell couldn't. But Steven can look at your script and say, 'Hold on, that looks like it's leading there' and think of a better ending than you can sometimes."

Did you enjoy writing almost solely for The Doctor?
"Yeah, although Amy is still quite a strong presence. It's satisfying writing for The Doctor having to deal with people that he can't tell who he really is, because he's got a slightly strange view of what normal people are like. He can't remember which year is which, he can't remember what people do at a certain time, but he's staggeringly good at other things, which I think in ordinary life can be a bit irritating sometimes. No-one likes multi-talented people, do they?"

Doctor Who S05E11: The Lodger - The Doctor shirtless
Did you approach writing for Eleven differently to writing for Ten?
"When I started writing for the Eleventh Doctor, Matt hadn't actually been cast, so I was taking my cue from what Steven had written in 'The Eleventh Hour' and the Weeping Angels two-parter. The strange thing is, you can write quite general dialogue for The Doctor and it can be played by two different actors, and come over completely differently. Some of the speeches in any of these episodes could have been said by any of the ten actors before. There are certain things that are burned into the character. It's just the kind of jokes, the kind of ways of dealing with the problem that are different. David Tennant had a quality of incredible fastidiousness and perfection. Matt is more like Christopher Eccleston's Doctor - his brain is not quite so perfectly-organised. But he's perfect in other ways."

What do you think of Matt's Doctor?
"I love him. It's peculiar - we've got the youngest actor ever to play The Doctor but in some ways he feels like the oldest sometimes. If you look back, the older Doctors from way back - William Hartnell, Jon Pertwee - could be incredibly childish sometimes. With Matt's Doctor, you really do feel as if he's 900 years old, which is an incredible acting achievement."

Do you know if you're writing for season 6?
"I can't talk about that!"

Alright, if you were to write for the series again, what would you like to do?
"I'd like to do a wacky planet. The planet I did do in 'Planet of the Dead' was a bit deserted. So a wacky planet. I think I've done historical now."

Sarah Jane Adventures cast generic
You've also been heavily involved with The Sarah Jane Adventures since its inception. Can you tell us anything about your contributions to season 4?
"I can tease you a couple of things, yes. I've written one story which is quite unusual and that's got some amazing monsters in it. We don't have a very big budget on Sarah Jane and when I saw these creatures, I was amazed. Neil Gorton and his monster-making team have excelled themselves. The other one, which is the series finale, I've co-written with Clayton Hickman, former editor of Doctor Who Magazine. They're filming it now and it's a storming, emotionally-charged adventure. I wouldn't say "armageddon", but it's full-blooded and dramatic, to show that children's television can be like that. We asked to the director to pretend it was the last one ever! So it's got a sort of doom-y feel to it."

Do you prefer writing for Who or Sarah Jane?
"It's really hard to tell. I suppose because I've been on Sarah Jane since the very beginning, and because Lis Sladen was a goddess to me as a child, that show holds a different place in my heart. But I enjoy them both equally. They're both very very very hard work. I used to write drama series' and think they were hard work, but looking back, they were a doddle compared to this!"

And finally, having written for both the Doctor and Sarah, across TV, audio adventures, comic strips and novels; what do you want to do next? How about Torchwood?
"I wouldn't mind. No idea what's going on with Torchwood, now it's gone international, but that might be fun. Without wanting to jinx it, I'd like to do my own stuff at some point. I've got lots of ideas bubbling under. That's not to say I'm blasting Doctor Who and Sarah Jane! I'll keep writing for them, as long as they keep asking me."

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