Being Humans Best

The show’s creator, Toby Whithouse, picks his five personal favourite moments from the series. Words by Narin Bahar

George’s Kitchen Transformation

Episode: 1.1
First transmitted: 25 January 2009
Fact: Toby credits Julie Gardner (then head of BBC Wales, as well as executive producer on Doctor Who) for coming up with the idea of having George transform in the house.

Toby Whithouse: I think what I love about this segment is that it’s quintessentially what the show is about – the supernatural invading the domestic. Toby [Haynes] did a fantastic job directing it. He was a total unknown at the time, and what we liked when we met him was that he really he wanted to explore the moments of horror in the show. That sequence where Annie peeks through, then the werewolf snaps up and roars and she rentaghosts outside wasn’t in the original script, that was Toby’s idea. He was saying, “This is a show that uses horror archetypes so we should also use horror tricks and techniques.” That was something I hadn’t factored into the scripts and I’ve probably used them 100 times since.

There’s another moment that articulates the show’s tone and that’s when George is standing there naked waiting for this terrible thing to happen and Annie says awkwardly, “Oh, I see someone’s moved into number 43…”

I think that exemplifies what our show’s about, not only the invasion of the supernatural into the domestic, but also the way that we’ll always deliberately break the moment, cutting tension with a gag.

I wasn’t there on the day they filmed this scene, so seeing the rushes afterwards was utterly exhilarating. When I see the rushes of, say, one of the episodes of Doctor Who I’ve written, you see the Doctor and the companion being chased down a corridor by a guy holding a tennis ball on a stick. But on the rushes of Being Human you’re looking at the actual creature on screen. It’s very exciting.

The original version of this feature can be found in The SFX Best Of British Special – on sale now

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George And Nina’s Big Row

Episode: 2.1
First transmitted: 10 January 2010
Fact: Toby’s one regret with this scene is that the perfect first take was blighted by the microphone boom dropping into shot: “If it hadn’t, we’d have just used that one long perfect take. It was phenomenal.”

Toby Whithouse: The performance in this scene is some of the best acting I’ve ever seen. The two of them are incredible. I think what works well about it is the fact that this is a couple having a horrible domestic argument. Yes it’s about him having given her this terrible affliction, but at its most basic level it’s just a couple having an argument and I deliberately structured it that way, so it starts as people being a bit snippy and then it builds and builds and builds until the tension explodes.

When I first started the scene I have a feeling that I had decided that Nina wasn’t going to tell him because earlier, when she’s talking to Annie, she says that she won’t. Certainly that was her standpoint when I first started writing. But then as I wrote it, she ended up telling him and I was as surprised as George was. I know that sounds pretentious – sometimes the characters just take over – but it seemed like it was absolutely the natural conclusion. You could see a build in the scene, her being pushed to the point where she has to tell him. It happened very organically.
What’s interesting about the direction is that one of [director] Colin [Teague]’s strengths is the big set-pieces – the fights or the chases or the huge explosions. He was the guy who directed the showdown between George and Herrick at the end of series one, that’s his kind of speciality. But that scene between George and Nina was his best work. The delicacy with which he directed it was fantastic.

The original version of this feature can be found in The SFX Best Of British Special – on sale now

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Annie Interprets

Episode: 2.6
First transmitted: 14 February 2010
Fact: In the first draft of the script, Alan Cortez was going to be called Ken Cortez – until it emerged that there really was a psychic called Ken Cortez.

Toby Whithouse: Originally I came up with the idea of Annie ending up as an interpreter for a psychic when we were talking about plotlines for series one, but it never found a place and was held over until series two. This whole episode, but particularly the bit where Annie is interpreting, is a comedy masterclass. Lisa McGee wrote it and I remember reading the script and just crying with laughter. It’s just beautiful comic writing.

Lenora [Crichlow] was always fantastic, but from about the midpoint of series two and then all the way through series three, she became this unbelievable comic actress. Her timing and delivery is unsurpassed. She wasn’t given much comic stuff to do until this sequence, and I think she just absolutely flies with it. Similarly, Simon Paisley Day, who plays Alan, is brilliant too.

Lisa took a suggestion we had, tying back to a gag from episode two of series one, where Tully is talking to Annie about her clothes and she says, “It’s just as well I didn’t die in a Star Trek outfit or dressed as a squirrel,” and extended it to the running joke that of course some people will – hence the selection of ghost extras in outlandish outfits. There’s this brilliant moment where there’s a guy who is dressed in scuba-diving gear who says, “Yes, I died in an accident,” and Annie gives him a long sideways glance as if to say, “Well, why are you dressed like that then?” before moving on.

The original version of this feature can be found in The SFX Best Of British Special – on sale now

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Herrick’s Return

Episode: 3.5
First transmitted: 20 February 2011
Fact: A pre-titles flashback for Herrick was written, but dropped before shooting amid fears that it would ruin the suspense of whether Herrick was faking his amnesia or not.

Toby Whithouse: I’m having all of episode five, not just one moment, but the entire thing. It is, without a doubt, one of the best episodes of the series ever. Sarah Phelps wrote a brilliant, almost theatrical, script. I could never have written it. The way that she ratchets up the tension scene after scene after scene until, when you’re approaching the end, it becomes almost unbearable, is unique and utterly thrilling. From my point of view that episode is wonderful and awful. The executive producer in me is delighted with it, but the writer in me wants to maim her. I want her maimed in some way, she’s so good.

A lot of writers have found difficulty writing Herrick. He’s an odd one to get right because a lot of his dialogue is quite fruity, so there’s a danger he’ll become a pantomime villain if you’re not careful, and it’s a very fine line between having the grandiose epic language of someone who wants to take over the world and the frustrated middle manager in him.

One of the things about Jason [Watkins]’s performance is there’s something very avuncular about Herrick – he’s quite sympathetic and disarming. It’s Jason’s finest hour, the way that he moves from this cowering, frightened, bullied little man into this passive-aggressive, powerful malevolent force, coming out with some of his most evil lines ever. Jason’s interpretation of Herrick has been one of the triumphs of the show from episode one, series one, and I don’t think he’s ever better than he is here.

The original version of this feature can be found in The SFX Best Of British Special – on sale now

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Everything Falls Apart

Episode: 3.7
First transmitted: 6 March 2011
Fact: This episode was almost completed before producer Phil Trethowan came up with the idea of throwing Mitchell being arrested into the mix.

It’s actually taken me three years to realise this, but the most dramatic moment of the entire series is always the cliffhanger at the end of the penultimate episode, as everything works towards that point. It’s where all of the different strands suddenly tangle up with each other. The pacing and direction is really beautifully done. Daniel O’Hara, who directed this particular episode, has done a brilliant job. It’s exhilarating. The scripting of the sequence is good, but it’s pretty straightforward – it’s an infuriating thing to say to any writer, but it really does just write itself by this point of a series. We’d set so many stories running, but from the moment they leave the house it just snowballs itself.

There’s a moment where Herrick’s got his hand over Nina’s mouth and is having an argument with himself over whether or not to kill her. After he finishes talking there’s this completely unscripted moment where he’s staring at her and you see the whole argument go over his face like weather. You can just see all of the thoughts percolating, and then he walks away. That is Herrick. It’s one of the most chilling moments, more than all the blood and gore. That moment of power is extraordinary. Jason’s performance here is riveting.

The original version of this feature can be found in The SFX Best Of British Special – on sale now