INTERVIEW: Phil Collinson on season four of Doctor Who

Last week we presented the full transcript of our chat with Doctor Who producer Phil Collinson about Christmas special “Voyage of the Damned” – if you missed it, click here . Now here’s another little festive present for you: the second half of the conversation, where we went on to discuss season four. Don’t worry, kids - this is spoiler-free.

You’ve got the Sontarans coming back. They’re kind of a second-tier Doctor Who. You’ve got the Daleks and the Cybermen and the Master at the top and they’re a bit lower down...
“You’re talking like a fan now! I mean, we’d never approach bringing anything back from the classic series in that way. I think they’re a brilliant design, a brilliant monster. Obviously what we always do is stand back and go, ‘Well, what would you bring back that was brilliant? I don’t think we ever think, ‘Oh, they were second tier, they were only in six episodes, they only appeared with five doctors not all ten. We brought the Macra back, for god’s sake! We did that because Russell felt they fitted in with that script and that story, and how brilliant to nod to the main series at the same time.
“With the Sontarans I think they’re brilliant and memorable and kids will love them and take to them all over again. They’re a wonderful design, a wonderful idea and a brilliant very original race of monsters and that’s why we wanted to use them. They were a big monster for me when I was a kid; I remember them so well, particularly around that 1974 time when they appeared in two stories, one series after another.”

What’s your take on them? Because you can see them in different ways. Are they scary or are they slightly absurd? Because there was a little bit of both about the Sontarans cos of their single-mindedness.
“It depends what your take is. I've obviously watched the two early stories that they did and they were monstrous monsters. I remember them being terrifying as a kid. I really clearly remember them and that’s how I always remember them - they look like trolls or whatever, they're horrible looking things. Obviously we’d be idiots to bring a monster back that we’re then gonna ridicule and make stupid. We have a show with monsters in because the monsters are threatening and the Sontarans are among the most threatening, particularly because they’ve met the Doctor before and they know him...”

Looking closely at the publicity photos of Martha and the Sontaran, Martha seems to have a gold band on her ring finger. Can we take it she’s got married?
“You spotted that, then? Ah, you’ll have to wait and see (laughs). You might very well think that...”

The block you’re filming at the moment... Martha’s back in that, isn’t she?
“Yeah, we’re currently filming the two Sontaran episodes and she’s in that one. I don’t want to go into numbers of episodes and things like that, but she pops in and out at various points across the series. She’s a real presence in the series.”

The reaction to the return of Donna has been pretty mixed – not just from fans, but from non-fans too. Given that the character was quite annoying at first - and written that way - do you understand some people’s anxiety?
“Erm, no. I loved her as a character and I know Russell did, and he’s obviously the person who created that character. I think the Donna you saw at the beginning of the episode and the Donna you saw at the end of that episode [‘The Runaway Bride’] were very different and she had very clearly learnt a lot from her adventures."

I guess it’s the case that sometimes the first impression is the most lasting, because we did see a different side of her later on.
“She is the sum total of all the parts that we saw in that Christmas special. Catherine Tate is an astonishing actress; she never ceases to surprise us every day with what she does. She’s incredibly committed to this show and to the part, and very protective of that character. I think people can be very quick to tell us how we ought to make this show - their passion for the show often spills over - and I think we know what were doing. I think we’ve got a brilliant versatile actress to complement a fantastic versatile actor. As a double act I think it’s very different to anything you’ve seen before and I would urge people just to reserve their judgement and wait and see, really, because I think she’s wonderful. And we should be so lucky as to have one of the most popular actors and comedians on TV... she truly, truly across the generations has a popularity second to none and we’re able to distil that in our series, and I think that’s wonderful. I’d ask people to just wait and see the new series and keep an open mind and I don’t think they’ll be disappointed. I think she’s wonderful.”

I must admit, I wasn’t sure about it.
“Obviously everybody’s entitled to their opinion, but it’s interesting because it’s based on not a lot really, because they haven’t seen it. If people want to watch it and in six months’ time tell us we made a huge mistake then they’re very welcome to that opinion, but it’s rather an odd thing to do before you’ve seen the end product. It’s like criticising a film before you’ve paid your money and gone to see it, in a way. It’s the oddest thing and not really something that I take seriously at this stage - I don’t think any of us would.
“I think we’re making a brilliant series four, it’s very different whilst being the same show as well, and I think there are an awful lot of people who’ll be really glad to see her back. And they’re really gonna enjoy the adventure that they go on with her, as much as they did the adventure that they went on with Freema and Billie. It’s the great delight of the format of the show that you can come into contact with all these different people who all offer you something different.”

Interviewer: Ian Berriman