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Cult Tube Talk

Phil Ford chats 'Who', 'Sarah Jane'

By and Neil Wilkes
Doctor Who: The Adventure Games: Blood of the Cybermen

© BBC

As the credits roll on Doctor Who tomorrow night, three things will happen: 1. A nation will weep. 2. A nation will wonder exactly how the Christmas special will work. 3. Hundreds of thousands of people (not quite "a nation") will log on to the BBC website to download the second episode of Doctor Who: the Adventure Games, 'Blood of the Cybermen'. We sat down with our old mucker and TAG writer Phil Ford to find out more.

The first Adventure Games episode received over half a million downloads in under two weeks. Are you surprised with that?
"I'm not surprised by it, I'm delighted by it! I always knew it would have a good reaction but in terms of how many hits they were going to get, I had absolutely no idea. As far as I understand they were expecting something like over 300,000 over a long period, so everyone's hugely impressed with getting half a million in a couple of weeks. So that's fantastic."

The setup and pacing of the upcoming episode is different to the first one. Did you write it that way?
"Right from the outset Steven [Moffat] and Piers [Wenger] always wanted to do a Dalek story and Cybermen story. I think this was actually the first one I wrote, I think. In terms of the pacing, and the light and the shade of it, it all comes down to whatever the story is, to be honest. It's not something where you sit down and think, 'I'm going to make this pacier than the last one!' for any particular reason, it is really all about the story. This episode was very much inspired by The Thing, which actually gets a reference, because it was one of my favourite films, and that whole idea of a group of people being isolated in a camp somewhere in the Arctic is just a fabulous idea. It was actually also part of the inspiration for 'Waters Of Mars' as well. I'll just keep homaging The Thing until the end of my career and I'll do fine!"

It's a good thing to reference, though!
"Absolutely, it's a marvellous film, and Steven also referenced it as well in the Pandorica on Saturday night, with the Cyberman's head just scuttling off."

The Cybermats return in 'Blood Of The Cybermen'. Was it fun to bring them back?
"It absolutely was. And that's something you're always trying to do in any story - you're trying to bring something new to it. And we haven't seen the Cybermats for donkey's years, since the '70s I believe, and they come back and do something different to what they used to do. In the old days they just used to kill people, I believe. This time it's a bite that has a different kind of effect on their victims, which suffice to say, means a lot of flesh turning into metal!"

Do you have to ask permission if you want to bring things like that back for these episodes?
"Everything in all of the episodes goes through Steven and Piers. They were all over it all of the time. At one point when we were developing this story, the scientist discovers something under the ice, and in the original draft it was a Cyberman's head. And then Steven came back to us sometime after the first draft and said, 'Sorry you can't have the Cyberman's head because I'm going to use it,' which of course appeared in the other night in the first episode [of the finale]."

So you were going back and forth with Steven?
"Yeah, basically. It's not back and forth, we'd just have a meeting and go through the stories, because obviously everything has to be signed off by them. Because these games are seen as actual episodes of the series, obviously you don't want to tread on any toes. And it's exactly the same as the process as we have on Sarah Jane. You don't want to bring the Sontarans into an episode if the Sontarans are going to be in an episode of Doctor Who. So you always have to be aware of what everyone else is doing."

How do you think this series of Doctor Who has compared to the four before?
"I think it's just been astonishing. I'm amazed, to be honest, at how quickly I've accepted Matt as The Doctor. I always knew that he'd be great, but I didn't expect to - not forget about David, but totally accept Matt as The Doctor from day one. I think the show has a different feel to the way that it felt when Russell was doing it, and that's not a negative thing. Steven has bought an element of darkness and quirkiness to it."

What is your favourite episode of this past series?
"My favourite episode up until having seeing Saturday's - and I think the final episode is going to be amazing - was Gareth's episode the other week, 'The Lodger'. I don't know what it was about that episode, but it just seemed to ring with me on every level. The humour was there, the threat was there, and it was just a great episode. And it's just so bizarre to see The Doctor playing football, and The Doctor in a shower! When have we seen that before? But why not?"

So have you seen the final episode? Are you privy to what happens?
"Not at all, not at all. I've known various things, because you hear various things, but I have very little knowledge on what might happen at the end."

Have you talked to Steven about maybe writing an episode for the next series?
"I haven't actually, but I would love to write one. I'm desperate to write one, but at the same time I'm so committed to Sarah Jane these days. We've just finished season four and we've just started to film season five, so my time is pretty much taken up by Sarah Jane. And of course the next series of Doctor Who is already in development, so I wasn't really around to do that."

So how has it been going on Sarah Jane Adventures this year?
"In season four I'm only writing one story. I normally do two or maybe three, but I'm only doing the one this year because we're literally filming seasons four and five back-to-back. So I went straight off and did the opener for season five and then the next story for season five. It never gets any easier writing for any of these shows. In fact it gets more difficult the more seasons you do, because you're always trying to raise the bar, and the last thing you want to do is get legged over. So it never gets any easier."

What kind of stories have you written?
"One of them is a big sci-fi romp, I suppose you could say, and another one is a big sci-fi romp, and the other one is completely different to anything you've ever seen on Sarah Jane."

How so?
"The story, the characters, the emotional element of it is so different, and it's going to be brilliant. I would say that, wouldn't I? I've written it! That's about all I'm going to say - it's going to be very different and it's going to be very exciting."

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