Just how scary is The Waters of Mars?
Graeme Harper: “I’m not sure if it’s as scary as Blink, but it’s quite frightening – because it’s so real, I think. I hope so!”
How on Earth do you go about making water scary? And what were the challenges of shooting with that volume of water?
"I hope you think it is [scary] when you see it! It was very, very difficult. We had a difficult time trying to work out how to do the water… can you imagine, the volumes of water that we required, in a studio setting? How d’you get rid of it? If you want to do retakes, how do you get everything dry again?
“The kind of water effect we wanted was sort-of mystical, almost organic – well, it is organic, obviously! – so the difficulty was deciding with the visual FX guys which one out of the effect they were offering us was the right one. They came up with five or six different kinds of pipes, hoses and systems. And eventually there was one that we all – head of Drama Julie Gardner, Russell T Davies, Phil Collinson and I – all said, ‘That’s the one.’ There was a uniform yes to one particular effect, and that was the one we used.
“Now, how do you make it creepy? It seems to be alive, the water, by the way it follows the characters in the story. Sort of – we didn’t make a big thing of it in the story, but that’s how I shot it, so it was chasing people, following them and trapping them. The best effects you can get come out of seeing the enormity of the water, the relentlessness of it. I think where it becomes really creepy and you get the fear, is when it continues draining out of characters’ mouths.
“There was a very complex system of tubes and piping that they all had to wear within the prosthetics – and water was squeezed and pressurized through the tubes to give the volume of water we required to come out of the actors’ mouths on a continuous basis.”
“Waters” is going out in November, when the evenings are darker than during the regular series run. Did you have that in the back of your mind when you were deciding on the tone of the show?
“When I first read the script, it was originally going to be put out on Christmas Day, I think! I was quite worried that this dark, deep story, which is… well, I don’t know that it’s part of a trilogy, but it certainly will lead you into the finalé. You know something horrible’s going to happen after this story, involving the Doctor – but you don’t know what. I thought it was very dark – I mean, really dark, for Christmas. That’s not the reason they changed their minds to put it out in November – I think that was the controller of BBC One, deciding that maybe as we had three more to go, then one could be in the latter part of the year so that there wasn’t such a long gap between when the first special went out and Christmas. But when I knew it was going to go out earlier in the year, I was able to think about it in a much more dark way, rather than trying to keep the Christmas spirit!”
There seem to be some elements of foreshadowing in “Waters” – the stuff about the “four knocks”.
“I have to tell you, I haven’t seen, I haven’t read – in fact, I probably wasn’t allowed – to know how the next episodes, the final two-parter for David, starts and ends. I’ve no idea what it’s about! It’s going to end, obviously, with him regenerating into Matt Smith – but I’ve no idea what happens in it! So I don’t know to what extent the horror is in that two-parter. I knew about and read the previous script, I knew about the four knocks thing, so I understood what was going on, and what had been and what’s coming, and so on – in terms of the, “when four knocks happen, you know he’s going to die,” kind of thing. So I played on that, but I didn’t know quite what that meant and how it was going to happen in the last two episodes – and I still don’t!”
And the Doctor’s scared himself in this episode, which is a pretty unusual situation…
“Yes, but I think – with some exceptions, obviously – most fans of Doctor Who will know and feel sad and be hurt and worried and concerned – and wonder, is this the Doctor we’ve always known and loved, this ancient mariner traveling through the universe and helping people to help themselves, and being good and worthy and whatever, and showing them the way. And here he’s terrified. But I think that’s good, and I think most people will be interested to see how he gets out of this one. That what I think they think every time. But here, he really is in a very fearful state – and doesn’t want to die, obviously. I don’t think he wants to regenerate – I think he feels he’s got more to do, so how that gets resolved… well, I’m going to watch as well.”
You can read more of this interview in What Satellite And Digital TV issue 281 , out on 29 October and the next SFX Special out on 18 November . There is an interview with Russell T Davies and David Tennant about "The Waters Of Mars" in issue 189 , on sale now.
You can read more about Graeme Harper’s association with Doctor Who in the book Calling The Shots .
Check out some fantastic new pics of Karen Gillan filming Doctor Who here .
October update: read our preview of this episode following the exclusive screening in London.