SFX Issue 112

Christmas 2003

Profile:

MARK GATISS & JEREMY DYSON

One half of The League Of Gentlemen

They’ve got science fiction and Doctor Who on their brains!

There are lots of costumed attendees milling about as we sit down outside away from the hullabaloo. Jeremy Dyson, the performance-shy member of the team, spots a man walking past reception all dolled up as the Grim Reaper.

“Death is here!” he says.

“It’s always a let-down when you meet one of your heroes, isn’t it?” comments Mark Gatiss, dryly. Welcome to the world of the League Of Gentlemen.

You might have thought the League have been pretty inactive of late, but they’ve actually been busying themselves with writing their first feature film, a movie script that once more moves the saga of Royston Vasey up a notch. The third series of the famously diseased sitcom was a radical departure for the boys, in that it jettisoned many of the series’ most popular characters and was structured like a portmanteau movie, instead of a collection of loosely-threaded sketches.

“The thing is, I don’t think we had any choice,” muses Dyson. “It wouldn’t have been possible to sit down and write another version of series one and two.”

The Radio Times published audience figures that showed that viewing figures dropped off, but seeing as the BBC didn’t f**king publicise it, that’s not surprising,” adds Gatiss. “We genuinely had the best reviews we’ve ever had for that series – across the board.”

And a fourth series…?

“They’ve optioned one,” reveals Gatiss. “We’d love to do another series, but the film is going to take at least two years of our lives. Personally I think we’d be just as likely to do a fourth series called The League Of Gentlemen which is actually a six-part comedy murder mystery in a haunted house, as do one in Royston Vasey. But if there’s anything that gets under our skin it’s when people say, ‘New characters, new characters’, and you think, well, the amount of time some of them have had, it’s infinitesimal. We do about 100 characters, most people do a sitcom about three people for 16 seasons.”

And the four of them haven’t been idle individually. Steve Pemberton has just finished playing Harry Secombe in the movie The Life And Death Of Peter Sellers , Reece Shearsmith is starring alongside Vic and Bob in a new sitcom, Gatiss can be seen in Stephen Fry’s Bright Young Things and in the upcoming movie Sex Lives Of Potato Men as well as writing his first novel, while Dyson’s been busy penning his first book and is currently pestering the BBC about a new – deep breath, everyone – SF show they’re developing.

“The BBC are doing a series of six one-hour science fiction plays, tentatively titled The Day After Tomorrow ,” says Dyson. “I mean, you can’t believe they’re doing it! So I’ve put in to do one of them, so if I jump through the requisite hoops... But at this stage there’s no brief, they’re just looking for the best scripts. It’s quite encouraging really, there’s no restrictions.”

“And to their credit, they actually approached Nigel Kneale…” reveals Gatiss.

“But he said no,” adds Dyson. “It’s the same team who are doing The Canterbury Tales and they’re relatively young and open-minded. But this is early days. I’m sure whichever six they do pick will then doubtlessly be BBC-ified.”

Gatiss continues. “I also have a project, we’ll call it Project X , in development [he later reveals on stage that it’s called The Ministry Of Time ]. It’s top secret. It’s the proposal that came out of my trying to bring back Doctor Who , but we’ll see.”

And what about the rumours that Mark Gatiss will be writing for the new series of Doctor Who ? His pal Richard Bacon recently told the press that Gatiss’ name was already inked in and the deal was all done and dusted.

“Well, I’ll have to have words with Richard Bacon,” Gatiss smiles. “I knew about Doctor Who for about a week and a half beforehand and I couldn’t sleep! I spoke to Russell the day after and he said my name had already come up, but who knows? I’m terribly excited. The great thing is, the BBC aren’t apologising for it. They’ve got all their big guns, they’ve got big people and that makes such a difference. It’ll make a big difference in terms of how much they interfere as well, but also just the idea of making it a mass audience programme again. That’s my big mantra. I think they should start from scratch. But only by not referring to anything, keep the icons but your ideal audience is a 12 year-old kid who’s obviously never heard of it, who’s going to sit down in front of his TV and say, ‘I don’t know what this is but I love it.’

“It’s hard to know what it needs to be, because now people have such a different mindset but, to me, it really is about going back to basics. It’s about turning the lights off, doing spooky stories. To me, the template is really mid-Patrick Troughton. For a first season, to get people back in, they should do isolated bases under siege, like in The Thing. That’s what they should do!”