Exclusive SFX interview with Toby Whithouse, a man who’s getting a reputation for bloodsuckers
Being Human creator Toby Whithouse makes a return to the world of Doctor Who this weekend, having previously written fan-favourite episode “School Reunion” for the first David Tennant series (the one that saw the return of Sarah Jane Smith). This time he’s penned a Gothic tale called “Vampires Of Venice” and the subject seems apt since he’s been writing about vampires for the past three years for his own series.
“I’m going to get a reputation as the go-to guy for vampires,” admits Whithouse laughingly, before going on to explain that originally, story six wasn’t going to have anything to do with bloodsuckers.
“Basically, I was going to write a completely different episode. The Doctor was lost in some kind of labyrinth. And we developed that for a while and everybody was really pleased with it, but then executive producers Steven Moffat and Piers Wenger said, ‘You know what? This is kind of similar to another couple of episodes that we’re doing. Can we think about something else?’”
So instead, Whithouse was asked to come up with ideas for, “a big bold romantic episode” that would also be “a good jumping on point. So that if you'd been in a cave for the last five years, and you hadn’t seen Doctor Who, that episode six would be a good place to start. It’s a sort of reboot episode.
“They said, ‘You can set it anywhere in the world that you want, but it should be romantic.’ So I thought of Venice, which is one of my favourite places in the world. And it’s obviously renowned as being a very romantic city. So that's how we ended up there.
“Actually, it was one of the most straightforward script processes I have ever had. That said, I can’t remember who was the first person to mention vampires – I think, to be honest, it was probably me – but it was also the fact that Venice is a very dark, macabre place, full of shadows and secrets. There’s something very clandestine about the city. And something very elegant and very Gothic. And so the idea of at least kicking the episode off with vampires seemed very fitting.
“The episode is set in 1580 which is five years after the plague – the plague hit Venice three times, and this is about five years after the middle time, when tens of thousands of people died. And so consequently just the merest mention of the plague will the city with absolute horror, which made it easier for them to close themselves off from the world and seek refuge.
“The main villain in the episode, played by Helen McCrory – who is amazing – uses this fear to her advantage, to close the ports and the harbours, to suspend trade with the outside world, so she can go about her evil machinations.
“On Being Human I am executive producer so I have to give notes on all the treatments, where appropriate I have to rewrite other people’s scripts, I have a say in casting, and I deal with the heads of department and all that. As a result it’s really lovely every now and then for that to be somebody else’s responsibility. And also because I genuinely absolutely love Doctor Who , so writing for that show is always an honour. And I think Steven is quite simply a genius. So writing on the show is a delight and a pleasure.
“But one of the other things that makes it enjoyable is that I am a hack writer on it. I go away and write it, and I hand it in, but they have to chose the director, they have to choose the costumes, they have to decide on the design and all of that. And I just don’t have that headache. Every now and then it’s nice to have a working holiday if you see what I mean.
“I think the cinematography and the design are beautiful. It’s like a 45-minute movie. And I think the breadth and ambition of it are extraordinary, so I think it’s quite an awesome piece of work.
“It all melded together quite easily I have to say. Even though the initial premise was a big, bold, romantic episode, it's up to the viewers to decide if that's what we ended up with. But I think that all of the elements have gelled quite nicely.”
“Vampires Of Venice” is broadcast on BBC1 at 6pm on Saturday (so get up early!).
You can read the full interview with Toby Whithouse (in which he reveals why there was all that confusion over whether the episode was called “Vampires In…” or “Vampires Of…” and loads more) in the SFX Vampire Special, on sale 28 May. It also includes an all-new interview with Terrance Dicks on Doctor Who ’s “State Of Deacy” and an exclusive feature with Toby Whithouse discussing Being Human series two in-depth.