WHEN WE WERE TOLD on the first of March this year that “The Doctor will return in ‘Revolution Of The Daleks’”, no-one could have known just how far away a festive special would feel.
Sentenced to “whole of life imprisonment” by the Judoon, Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor was transported from the TARDIS to a maximum security facility in space, moments after learning that her life as she had known it had changed forever.
Now showrunner, executive producer and writer of the latest instalment of Doctor Who Chris Chibnall, is in the final stages of overseeing what comes next. That means grading the colour – “If you saw a lot of the raw footage when we film it, it still looks like it was shot in the 1970s” – and listening to demos of the score, before, he jokes, “it becomes a fight between the composer and the sound effects and the dialogue”.
It’s mid-November when SFX dials into a Zoom chat with Chibnall – the man himself aptly flanked by a groovy futuristic space background. He says that working remotely has all gone well, after the effects of the global pandemic forced post-production on “Revolution Of The Daleks” into the homes of the cast and crew. “Unless when it turns up on TV it ends up in black and white, in which case it didn’t go well,” he deadpans. “It’s a very interesting end to the process, because obviously it was written in the summer of 2019 and filmed in the autumn of 2019.”
Does that mean that a year of lockdown has allowed him to get ahead?
“No!” he laughs loudly. “Quite the opposite, my friend. The pandemic changes everything for film and TV making. We have spent the last six months trying to figure out how we can make Doctor Who again – could we make Doctor Who again? It’s literally taken up all of our time. The series that we were preparing, we wouldn’t be able to make – we won’t be able to do any overseas filming. There’s things about how many people you have in a scene, how many crowds you can do if you can do a crowd. We have to reimagine and reinterpret how we make the show from the ground up. And that’s what we’ve been doing, but I think we’re in a really exciting place with it now.”
His leading ladies, Whittaker and Mandip Gill, later hint at having worked on something quite big that they’re not at liberty to share.
“We are filming imminently…” he acknowledges. “So we are in a very, very exciting phase. A very, very busy phase,” he laughs. “There are a lot of conversations going on. There are a lot of emails flying, there’s a lot of Zoom chats happening. And that’s about as vague as I’m gonna keep it, to be honest,” he laughs. “We did test filming today, we’ve just asked every question. But it is undoubtedly the end of this year and next year that will be the biggest challenge the show has really ever faced in terms of making a series.”
Don’t go expecting a modern-day “Shada”, however; just because the next series will have eight episodes instead of 11, it doesn’t mean that some of series 13 will be left unmade, or held back for another year.
“It’s not quite as binary as that, to be honest. It’s more there are some things you can do and there are some things you can’t do. With scripts, you never know whether they’ll make it into production anyway, so it’s quite hard to go, ‘Oh, okay, you take a whole chunk, and you park that’. There were things we would have done that we’re still doing; there are things very clearly that we can’t do, because you can’t represent certain places on-screen in a way you would have done if you could have gone and filmed in X place. The great thing about film and TV production is it’s full of problem solvers, and Doctor Who is particularly full of those people. So it’s what people do every day. It’s just sort of pivoted into going, ‘Okay, this is the huge problem we now have to solve, alongside all the other problems you solve on a daily basis in production.’”
I’ve not cried like that for such a long time… Brad couldn’t cope with it at all
Director Lee Haven Jones on the new-look Daleks
How explosive can we expect this festive special to be?
It’s going to be very explosive. Literally. It balances all of those elements that Doctor Who does really well. So on one hand, it is explosive – there’s a lot of action going on. It’s full of thrills and spills. Wherever there’s a Dalek, there’s trouble. But also there’s a really strong emotional thread to it, so it really grandstands the characters.
How is the Doctor coping in space jail?
She’s there on her own, isolated. It’s a rather damp, dark, authoritarian environment. She’s told when she needs to exercise. She’s fed terrible food. She is in a cell all on her own and obviously is missing the fam. Yaz, Graham and Ryan are back on Earth and are themselves dealing with the loneliness of not having the Doctor around. Yaz becomes obsessed with trying to locate the Doctor within the universe. Ryan feels a little let down by the Doctor, that she’s sort of abandoned them. She’s been away 10 months when we find them. So everybody’s dealing with a sense of grief and loss, and it’s emotional.
What’s it like directing the Daleks?
Amazing. The greatest challenge for me was dealing with the weight of expectation on my shoulders. I guess what’s tricky about them is, practically, the technology. The Daleks, this time, are remote-controlled. They have the same sorts of problems that you do with any other forms of technology, in that sometimes the technology just breaks down!
It’s also a new Dalek design…
They’re sleeker, leaner, taller and meaner – and you can quote me on that.
What’s the best way to film a Dalek?
They look great when they’re in the dark and when they’re lit from the back. They also look great when they’re dominating the frame. We have a lot of Daleks in darkness, when they’re at their most scary. And big, big shots of them in frame, very dominant, looking down at us.
Was that something that was in the forefront of your mind, to make them scary again?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, that was part of the brief. That’s very definitely written into the script. I remember the Daleks myself from when I was a little boy, in I guess the early ’80s, and being terrified. It was trying to sort of grasp that sense of nostalgia and that fear. You know, it’s a cliché, but it’s hiding behind the sofa with hands over your eyes. It’s that quality you want to recapture.
Jodie Whittaker is the Doctor
Arrested by the Judoon at the end of the last series, where does this episode find the Doctor?
The Doctor is in prison, with time passed. And obviously time plays out for the Doctor in a certain way. What’s interesting about the start of this is that the discoveries and the journeys that we all go on aren’t necessarily Doctor-led. That makes it really exciting as well, because it’s definitely a team effort throughout.
What was it like having John Barrowman on set?
He’s incredibly energetic and passionate as a person, and as Captain Jack. Those are the things that have really bonded us as a fam and a family, going at things a million miles an hour. To have a character that can keep up is really exciting, and kind of keeps everyone going.
Rumours have been flying about departures from the series…
Well, as the Doctor I will say that the fam as a four is no more.
How do you feel about Bradley and Tosin leaving the show?
On a personal note, I’m absolutely devastated. Without going into any specifics about anything to do with what happens, just purely knowing it was the last scenes for myself with those actors. Both of them carried me to my trailer. I’ve not cried like that for such a long time. Brad couldn’t cope with it at all. Tosin was like, “I really can’t cope with you getting that upset”. I think that sums up how I feel. Then I was like [feigns crying] “Don’t leave me with her!”
Chris Noth is back as amoral businessman Jack Robertson…
He’s brilliant. I feel like we’ve been so lucky with all the guest people that have come in. They’ve brought so much, but then I feel like they’ve had a really good time as well, which I think you can always tell. Chris is a comedy genius. I think he’s hilarious.
What’s it like facing off against Daleks once more?
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