Nick: When you go back and watch, say, ‘Rose’, can you now watch it as if someone else made it? Can you criticise the choices that person made, five years on?
Russell : “You’re never that objective with it, and you never will be. And yet, in order to be a producer, you have to have those thoughts right from the start. The point of me going into the very first edit of ‘Rose’ is to sit and watch it and imagine I’m that person at home, which is slightly disingenuous, because you can never entirely be that person – but I can do it far better than you think…
“That’s why I don’t even discuss my scripts with people before I hand them in because I think the producer and the director should read them as though they’re the viewers, as if they’re seeing it for the very first time. They shouldn’t have a bunch of notes, they shouldn’t have a half-written version, they shouldn’t have my outline sitting there, because the viewer doesn’t. It should be absolutely fresh. So you don’t take a script into the edit… well, idiots do. I’ve never done it, because the script’s forgotten by that stage. It’s what you’ve shot, what’s on-screen. So I have got that capacity to do it.
“I can actually sit and enjoy them, too, when they’re repeating them on BBC 3. Something like ‘The Satan Pit’ will come on and I’m as happy as Larry. I’ll sit and watch that as much as I’ll watch a repeat of ‘The Green Death’. You see, this is the thing – I realised this the other day. Yes, there’s always that producer’s little voice while you’re watching something, thinking, ‘Oh, should we have had that music there, oh, is that the right bit of casting, oh, should we have cut that scene…’ But actually that’s exactly how a fan watches something. There’s no difference. Actually that’s their curse, that they can’t stop doing that! So if anything I get it easier, because those decisions are in the past tense.”
You don’t have to blog about it…
“Exactly. So although you think those things, that’s not unusual. That’s exactly how science fiction fans watch something. All the time.”
How much of it was a grand plan?
“You throw things out there. Steven writes in Captain Jack having two missing years. I was never that interested in that. I’m sure Steven might write that one day. I wasn’t interested because I had Captain Jack’s Cardiff future more in mind, and I was much more interested in the Rift that Mark Gatiss had introduced in ‘The Unquiet Dead’, and that became the whole of Torchwood… So it’s not like you’re sitting there, planning it, thinking ‘Ah, I will use this Rift, and I will spin off this whole other television series set in Cardiff…’ But it’s there.
“It’s harder to think of the things that you didn’t use. Captain Jack’s missing two years is one thing, but things you don’t use get forgotten. So the Master’s ring gets used, because you set it up there… Sometimes you just take different paths. I always remember in series one, where Margaret Slitheen was Lord Mayor of Cardiff, and if you watch it back there’s that mysterious extrapolator shielding thing that she uses, and eventually they turn it into the shield defences of the TARDIS. And I was always going to use that somewhere. I always thought that looked like the shoulder pad of a giant robot, and one day the owner of that extrapolator shield would come along and that would turn out to be one ****ing huge robot! And in the end maybe that became the Cyber-King…
“But those things are there. That extrapolator shield keeps cropping up. In ‘The Runaway Bride’, the Doctor suddenly uses it as a shield against the Rachnoss. So that’s me, keeping things on the boil, saying ‘Don’t forget, you’ve got a handy little gadget in the TARDIS that you could one day base an entire episode around…’”
You’re building a little toolbox for yourself, creatively.
“Yes, that’s it… and something like the Master’s ring I do end up using. And Lucy Saxon, she’s coming back. I know fans sit there going ‘What happened to Lucy Saxon?’ I’ve read that online – did she shoot him on purpose, so that he could be resurrected? Which is completely missing the point of a story about an abused wife. No, she killed him! But I sit there thinking, ‘What happened to her, afterwards? She murdered a man, and she was part of a wholesale slaughter… that never happened! Was she arrested? And if she was arrested, what was she charged with?’ And you do discover that in these Christmas episodes.”
I think her black eye is the most disturbing thing you smuggled into Doctor Who. The subtlest and most disturbing thing in the history of the show.
“Yes, absolutely, never mind that he talks about burning Japan and all those things. Actually it’s what goes on in that bedroom. The true violence. Because he charms, the Master. Isn’t he lovely, isn’t he funny? But no, he’s a mass murderer. And of course he inflicts violence upon women. I loved that performance, I loved Alexandra, that moment in ‘The Sound Of Drums’ when she dances as all the Toclafane descend… that wasn’t in the script, that she dances along with the music. The Master was meant to be running around the place. And on the spot she did that insane little dance, that I thought was magnificent. Just one of those moments where you thought ‘What an actress!’ I love her. So she lodged in my head. If I’d never brought her back, I would still have been thinking about it. So it’s still all there. It’s a constant world of Doctor Who that my head is in.”
You seeded things like The Shadow Proclamation and the Medusa Cascade. When you wrote those words, did you know what they were?
“Yes, I did. That doesn’t mean you’d ever visit them, but I always knew that the Shadow Proclamation sounded marvelous, but would turn out to be a police station. I don’t like higher authorities, which is why I got rid of the Time Lords. That’s why I’d never use the Guardians, I’d never use the Eternals. I don’t like those higher elemental figures. I think they’re cheap mythology, cheap science fiction gods. It’s a godless universe, so I don’t like those things. I like the piss-take of saying the Shadow Proclamation and then it turns out to be a bunch of women with rhinos! Most people wouldn’t remember the words Shadow Proclamation, it’s quite a fannish thing to do, so in story terms you’re just going to visit the police, saying ‘Where is the Earth?’ It’s as simple as that.
“It’s quite a small amount of the population who’ll go ‘Oooh, we heard the words Shadow Proclamation back in 2005!’ If going to the Shadow Proclamation hinged around a plot point all the way back in ‘Rose’ then we’d really be in trouble. Then you stop making sense. I always remember ‘Revelation Of The Daleks’, the Colin Baker story - and I love that story, I think it’s brilliant - but I was living in a student house then in Cardiff. And those Skaro Daleks come in, 15 minutes before the end. And the entire room – there were about seven of us watching – went ‘Who are they?!’ Everyone got lost. And I was the one little voice sitting there… actually even I wasn’t sure! And then in ‘Remembrance’ they all swapped colours! I mean, I love all that, you can get off on that and write books about it, but to feel a roomful of people losing the story that they’ve been loving…
“There was a man called Jan who went ‘Who the **** are they?’ And I died inside, because I loved the show, and they’d just lost this roomful of people who were loving it. So I pick up these plot points. It puts a real energy into it, it keeps it alive and it feeds it. And once you’ve thought of it you feed it into the episodes you’re writing already. I do believe things can be too planned. It’s like the whole industry – everybody wants treatments and breakdowns, and that’s only natural, because they want to know what they’re spending their money on. But it takes away a bit of the spark. And that’s the most amazing thing about Doctor Who – the absolute freedom for 14 weeks of the year, on BBC One, on the healthiest budget you will ever get anywhere in television these days. There’s no one looking over your shoulder but that makes you more responsible for it. In London they do read the stories and watch the episodes but they absolutely trust us, absolutely let us do what we’re doing. And that actually makes you more responsible. It’s a great system.”
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