Doctor Who "Night Terrors" Preview: Daniel Mays Interview

The Ashes To Ashes and Outcasts actor guest stars in the next episode

What can you tell us about “Night Terrors”?

Mays: “‘Night Terrors’, what it’s about? It’s a stand-alone story: it’s not really connected to the bigger arc of what’s going on in Doctor Who at the moment. It’s about a young boy primarily, called George. His parents are Alex and Claire, played by Emma Cunniffe. It’s a contemporary story set in a tower block, and George is an incredibly sort of nervous young chap of about eight years old. He seems to be absolutely petrified of everything. He can’t sleep; he imagines that there are voices coming from his wardrobe and that his toys are coming to life. He’s a got a really over-active imagination and his parents really are at the end of their tether with it really, particularly Alex. And so a Doctor is brought in to help the situation. I think Alex imagines or thinks that it’s going to be somebody from social services and all of a sudden the Doctor turns up and begins to help him and find out what’s causing these night terrors as the episode unfolds. But there’s other characters within the tower block and you get introduced to them as the episode unfolds as well.”

Were you scared of anything as a child?

Mays: “I was probably scared of the dark when I was very small. I guess as an actor yeah I’ve probably got an over active imagination anyway. I think that’s the great thing about the episode, ’cause it’s written by Mark Gatiss who I’ve worked with before on Funland so I know a bit. So that was another appeal about doing the actual episode. I think Mark just really tapped into what kids are scared of and their over active imaginations. I think this episode’s going to really appeal to the younger audience.”

Do you think it will mess them up?

Mays: “Yeah, scare them senseless.” [Checks with PR person present] “I can talk about the dollhouse? We end up kind of being miniaturised and trapped into this dollhouse, where you then get introduced to these really scary peg dolls. So we’re running around being chased by these oversized dolls, which was quite interesting to film. But I’ve come straight off of Outcasts and then went straight into Doctor Who so it was my sci-fi period. What actually happens at the end is really great. I can’t reveal too much but it’s a very well written episode.”

How was that shot then? Were people dressed up or special FX?

Mays: “No, it was people dressed up. And I’m running round with an oversized pair of pink scissors, and anything else. I thought my career was over.” [Laughs] “Alex is dragged along for the ride. So he hasn’t really got a clue what’s going on.”

A bit like The Borrowers then?

Mays: “Yeah, yeah, I guess there is a sort of homage to The Borrowers . It was real fun to film, it was very funny on set. Matt was just great to work with. I think he’s fantastic in that part.”

How does Alex react to the Doctor when he turns up?

Mays: “I think he thinks his wife Claire has phoned social services and all of a sudden he turns up on the doorstep. So he’s quite taken aback as to how quickly he’s turned up, but also the methods that he uses to examine the boy and the different theories that he comes out with. I think at one point he says monsters do exist and monsters are real and Alex is kind of, ‘What’s going on?’ And then they get sucked into the wardrobe.”

Wardrobe? So is there a Narnia vibe as well?

Mays: “No, but all of that is in there as well, I guess. Maybe it was subconsciously rolling around Mark Gatiss’ head.”

Did you go on location for any of the shooting?

Mays: “Yeah, we were in Bath. We were on a council estate in Bath and also…I can’t remember what the house is called. It’s the same house where they filmed Remains of the Day.”

It’s Dryham Park I think.

Mays: “I think it is, yeah. That was the inside of the dolls house.”

What was it like filming there. Was it spooky?

Mays: “It’s a fantastic, grand place, it’s actually open to the public so, no it’s great, but not a spooky place in itself. It lends itself to really opening up the episode.”

We’re amazed to learn there’s a council estate in Bath!

Mays: “Yeah there’s a few there. I’ve just been filming there on something else, and I got robbed! They’ve got them. Always lock your door when you leave the unit base if you film there. I never used to do it and then I got my iPad stolen. Sorry we digress.”

What were your first impressions when you read the script, cause it’s slightly different to a normal Doctor Who script, isn’t it? It seems a bit darker, more psychological. How did you react when you read it?

Mays: “I just thought I stood up as a really good story in itself. The thing that I really connected to… I mean I’ve got a five-year-old son who is a huge Doctor Who fan. I wasn’t really a fan of Doctor Who when I was a kid so much. Obviously I was aware of it but it was only really when David Tennant took over and Milo started to get into it that I started to watch it. And then Matt took over. I think the quality of the show has got better and better and the calibre of guest actors that they get in is…” [pulls a self-effacing face] “…hopefully – of a high standard. But the key to the story for me was this relationship between a father and a son. It’s really quite touching and quite moving and quite psychological like you say. So it’s quite a moving story, which I think I connected to.”

Does Milo get spooked out about anything?
Mays: “Yeah the monsters on Doctor Who !”

Is he looking forward to seeing you on the show?

Mays: “Yeah. I think he’ll really enjoy it. And lots of his friends at school are huge Doctor Who fans. Matt signed some photos for them and that made their day; I was the best dad in the school that day. Yeah, I think they’re going to really enjoy it. I mean that’s the appeal isn’t it? A lot of kids really enjoy the scary monsters don’t they? We all like to be scared.”

Did you get to do any actual stunts at all?

May: “Not that I can remember, no. Lots of running around.”

With scissors?

Mays: “With pink scissors, yup. I’m trying to erase it from my mind, but you know it’s all going to be there on screen!”

One of the things we’ve seen a lot in Moffat’s two years on the show is that apparently one-off characters come back, suddenly and unexpectedly – like Churchill and pirate Captain Avery. Might we be seeing you again?

Mays: “I guess it is open; you could bring the character back like they’ve done with James Corden’s character. Or maybe it’s a story that ends and then that’s it. You could definitely bring back the young boy.”

Did you enjoy working with Matt Smith?

Mays: “He was just wonderful to work with. I mean we sort of impro-ed a bit on set, came up with ideas. Although it’s very quick the schedule he was open to all of that, so hopefully it will invest a great energy to it. There’s great interplay between the two of us.”

Can you give us an example?

Mays: “There is a scene – the very first scene that we have, just the two of us is in the kitchen. We were standing next to a fridge, and we started opening and closing the fridge. And that wasn’t scripted so it became quite slapstick. I think it’s still there – I haven’t seen the final episode. But it’s hilarious – all the stuff where we’re kind of being sucked into the wardrobe and all the lights are going off and you’re running round with pink scissors. You do have a laugh at one another. It was fun to do.”

Would you like to have played the Doctor?

Mays: “I don’t know. It’s such a huge thing that isn’t it? Matt said to me that you have to get used to having your face on plates and merchandise and all this sort of stuff. I mean it’s a huge part isn’t it? I don’t know if I’d have been able to take that on, but he’s doing a fantastic job.”

Were you disappointed at the reaction to Outcasts ?

Mays: “Well, you win some you lose some. There were problems with it. I still think the thing with Outcasts , was the premise was really good and it was such an ambitious story and premise to take on, but people didn’t seem to go with it. The thing with Outcasts is it was set on another planet in the future; I guess, maybe, for British audiences that’s just too much of a leap for them to go for. It had it’s problems everyone knows that.”

When did you actually film this? It was quite a while ago wasn’t it?

Mays: “I think it was September last year.”

Because originally it was going to be in the first half of the season wasn’t it? When it was moved to the second half. were you called back for re-shoots or anything like that?

Mays: “Was it meant to be in the first part? Oh okay. I wonder why? I don’t know why. It was so good they wanted to hold it back! No I didn’t have to do re-shoots or anything.”

You’re also in Steven Spielberg’s Tintin . What can you tell us about that?

Mays: “I can’t. The weird thing about Tintin is that I can’t really tell you about the story because I didn’t really know about it myself; I never saw a full script. It was this weird thing of Stephen Spielberg was directing and then Peter Jackson was sort of, in the corner of the screen in New Zealand, he would then start directing via satellite link up from New Zealand. It was the most bizarre thing really. It’s all motion capture. I’ve seen the trailer – it looks amazing. It was quite an experience, because I’ve never been to LA before. And I think they’ve thrown together two or three of the comics in this opening movie. It looks fantastic, cause they’ve really stayed true to the actual artwork of the comic. It’s really brought it to life.”

What part do you play?

Mays: “I play a guy called Alan; I’m like a sidekick with Mackenzie Crook.”

Will you watch “Night Terror” with Milo?

Mays: “I’m not a great fan of watching myself back, I must admit. But I’ll watch it with Milo yeah. In actual fact, he was out in South Africa all throughout Outcasts and he actually had a little cameo in the show but it got cut, bless him. He ended up on the cutting room floor. But I’ve got this amazing footage of him on the camera in South Africa, and they were really wonderful with him that crew – they were such a fantastic crew.”

He’s okay being rejected then so early on?

Mays: “Yeah if he becomes an actor, I’ve drummed that into him. Rejection, disappointment. He knows all about that.”

Dave Golder
Freelance Writer

Dave is a TV and film journalist who specializes in the science fiction and fantasy genres. He's written books about film posters and post-apocalypses, alongside writing for SFX Magazine for many years.