Doomsday!! Gaspode Chats Up The Director of WHO’s Second-Season Finale!!
Published at: Dec. 22, 2006, 8:29 a.m. CST by hercules
I am – Hercules!!
SciFi brings America tonight the big two-hour “Doctor Who” season finale - and AICN’s resident “Who” fanatic “Gaspode” brings us an interview with the feller who directed:
Graeme Harper Interview:
Dealing with Doomsday
[This was originally going to be part two of the interview with director Graeme Harper that ran several weeks back, but I caught up with Graeme again a few weeks back so we could talk specifically about some issues related to the final two-parter. If you haven’t seen the episodes in question yet, you might want to come back to this interview a bit later, because there are a few potentially major spoilers within…]
Tell me about the two episodes you’re doing for the third season. I think I read that you were doing a two-parter written by Paul Cornell?
Graeme Harper: I don’t think that’s going to happen. I think I’m doing two single stories, one by Russell and I don’t know who’s writing the other one yet, so it’s two one-offs and I don’t know what episodes they are. I was just told that there were changes being made and that was the way it was going to be, so I was now doing two one-off episodes.
Is it a bit of a relief, not being doing four episodes back-to-back?
Harper: It’s half the time. Obviously the logistics of doing two Cybermen stories back to back made sense in terms of hiring people plus doing all the FX, and it was hard, but once you start working on it, it is relentless, you forget all of that and just get on with it, and at the end, you finally realize that you’ve just done ten weeks of a lot of physical and mental work. That’s when you realize that maybe it wasn’t a great idea and maybe not the best way to work.
Let’s talk about your final two-parter, ‘Army of Ghosts’ and ‘Doomsday.’ Did the massive amount of security surrounding those episodes because of events such as the return of the Daleks or Rose’s departure in episode 13 filter down to you on a production level?
Harper: We were all sworn to secrecy, but the problem was that the majority of newspapers and fan sites all guessed or found out that the Daleks were coming back, but right up until the time it went out, I always denied it. I have a very close friend who’s one of the biggest Doctor Who fans in the world, who kept ringing me saying, ‘We just heard that the Daleks are coming back and there’s going to be a major war between the Daleks and the Cybermen; is that what’s happening? It’s official now, it’s in the newspapers,’ and I kept denying it. But my argument was, what makes it exciting for you, the progression of the story and the great moments in it; why do you need to know? Why can’t you sit back and enjoy the surprises that we’re going to try and give you, and then you can comment on that and say, ‘I was thrilled that they were back, but what kind of lackluster production was that?’ or whatever you feel it was, but to preconceive, once you know, you then have a hope either way. You’re either going to hope it will fall on its face and be dreadful, or you can hope that gosh, maybe in our hands now in 2006, these creatures will look fantastic and something special will happen. And then you start to build it up to something that can never possibly be possible. I don’t understand it all, so I’m just not going to tell anybody anyway. I don’t need to be sworn to secrecy; I wouldn’t tell you anyway because I want you to watch them and see them for their own value and the great stories they are- or not you may say.
But didn’t you have a problem at one point with your location manager for example, because you had to find a beach for one of the final scenes and couldn’t tell her why?
Harper: You’re right, but nobody knew what that last scene was going to be about. Nobody knew that Billie was going, and all the time something else was happening, and I’ll tell you a bit more about that in a moment, because that was interesting too, but to keep the whole story secret from the whole crew and certain members of the crew? Of course Ed [Thomas, the production designer] knew something about it, because he was much more in with the hierarchy and what was going on, because he had to be. He had to set things up and figure out the cost for whatever they came up with so he kind of knew what was coming, but he never talked to me about it, because he couldn’t, so I was kept in the dark for quite a long time. Eventually, I knew what was going to happen, and you’re right, I spoke to the location manager and she was very upset that she wasn’t brought into the know about what that script was and I said, ‘Look, the fact is, they wanted to keep it a secret. I know it’s ridiculous, because you should know, however I can tell you what is required, so I will tell you the setting I want and you don’t need to know anymore,’ but that didn’t really please her, and quite rightly because she should have known and she would have kept the secret. I sympathize with those people, but at the same time, it was possible to get a great shooting location within traveling distance of the studio that was perfect for what we wanted even though she didn’t know what it was about but she did her job.
You mentioned something else that was going on at the time?
Harper: When we cast the character of Adeola, I met Freema [Agyeman] for this part- actually, I met her for two parts, and when I met her, as soon as she walked through the door, I knew she was going to be quite exceptional. When she walked in, I thought I was looking at Halle Berry English-style. She isn’t Halle Berry in looks, but when this girl walks into a room, heads turn seriously, because they’re looking at a very beautiful woman, but not only is she stunningly good-looking with her own special style, she has some inner beauty when you’re talking and working with her; she’s a really nice, warm human being, who has a real aura to her. She has ‘it,’ whatever ‘it’ is, but I didn’t know I was going to cast her yet; she just walked in and I thought, ‘Hello, this is something special!’ She then read for a particular part and was about to go, and I said, ‘Before you go, could you read for another part for me as well?’ because there were two possible parts there, and I know I indicated to her that if I had my way there would be something for her, although it wasn’t up to me in the end, because these decisions are made by committee and Russell has to approve the casting, and so does Julie and Phil and that’s how it worked. But if I was able, I would persuade them to go down that road, because this girl was really special. Well, they said, ‘Yes please, would you offer her the part of Adeola?’ and I know she was thrilled. Of course what I didn’t know at the time was that they were already looking at her to possibly play the new assistant.
Did you know anything about this Rose spin-off that Russell was talking about at one point?
Harper: I have no idea if she would have done it, but she certainly wouldn’t have talked to anybody about it. I remember doing a sequence that was meant to be by the River Thames and we were in Newport waiting for the camera to be set up and there was a ten-minute delay, so I was sitting on a bench next to her and I said, ‘What are you going to do; do you think this series is going to be the end for you, or you going to do another one?’ and she said, ‘No, I’ve given it lots of thought, I was thinking originally I’d just do the one series,’ but she had now worked with Christopher Eccleston who was great and suddenly to be offered another great Doctor to be working with, she thought it was too good an opportunity to throw away like that, so that’s what she said, but all the time she knew she was leaving at the end, and she probably knew that Freema was coming in!
If you’re staging a fight between a group of Daleks and a group of Cybermen, is it difficult to make it sufficiently dramatic when you’ve basically got a bunch of faceless characters in the same scene?
Harper: It worried me, until I met and worked alongside Nick Briggs who was doing the voices. When Nick and I talked about both the Cybermen and Dalek voices, he said, with the Dalek voice, there is a bit of emotion, particularly when they go completely psychotic and the voice goes higher and higher and more neurotic, and also they do have a bit of inflection, so it’s not just one monosyllabic voice. There is emotion there, so he said, ‘What do you want to do with the Cybermen?’ I said, ‘Well, in my heart, it should be one long no-inflection, no-emotion,’ but actually, if you listen, particularly when Roger Lloyd-Pack turns into the Cyber-Controller [in the first Cyberman two-parter], his voice is his voice and it has emotion. All the Cybermen voices otherwise, they’re all absolutely identical, but for some reason, maybe because I was telling the story, I felt there was emotion. I think what makes you know that there is emotion and feeling there is the fact that they are half-human half-robot, and I think that psyche makes the audience go with it, the fact that even though they are Cybermen, there are human brains in there. I think what makes those scenes work was the dialogue, because the dialogue between the Cybermen and a Dalek was banal and the Dalek could wipe them all out. I think the other secret of the dialogue that I found funny was that half the time, it was background, so you couldn’t hear it but you could and it sounded like two women talking over the garden fence, so I think that took over.
After you finished your four episodes for season two, you went off to Hungary for a while to work on the BBC’s new Robin Hood series. Did it help you on a creative level, being able to go to a different country and setting and do something completely different?
Harper: When I went away, I was about to do something that was swashbuckling heroic stuff, and I had in mind how I was going to shoot it. It was an iconic series, so I knew what I what I imagined they wanted, but when I got this offer, it was offered to me by Tiger Aspect, so I didn’t know who was offering it to me. Eventually I met the producer, but he hadn’t chosen the directors, it was somebody else; it was [executive producer] Foz Allan who I had worked with before. I then while I was there watched the early episodes to see the style and pretty soon, I realized exactly what they wanted was what I was going to offer, and that had come out of the way I had shot Doctor Who, and even though it was science fiction, it had certain mystical things in it, certain requirements that are difficult to explain.
Anyway, I had a way I wanted to shoot it and they liked that idea and fortunately all the directors felt the same way, so we’ve all got different styles but overall it’s the same type of feel and energy that comes through. It doesn’t end up the same way, but it ends up with that energy and drive. I’ve been back for three weeks and I have another two weeks before I start working on the next series of Doctor Who, and I think what you don’t do is rely on what you did before. If you had some success with that, don’t lean on that because you know your next story is going to be totally different, so you can’t say, ‘Oh, I know how to do this!’ and use some of the old tricks you used before. You’ve got to look at it afresh, so right now I’ve had a break and I’m ready to start with fresh pastures. The only element of continuity is the Doctor; everything else about the story is going to be different from everything I’ve done before, because we’ve got a new assistant to work with, and two new stories.
How do you plan on approaching these episodes Doctor Who episodes, or is it still too early to talk about that?
Harper: It’s interesting, the only thing I’m thinking about, this isn’t a two-part story this time, so I’m wondering if I can I do justice to what I’m about to get, not knowing what those scripts are, because I haven’t actually read the scripts at this moment. As soon as I get the scripts, my problems are not over with- they’ve only just started, but at least I have an immediate idea of what I want to do with them. That idea will change, but at least you’ve got something to start with. But my anxiety is, ‘What if…?’ because if it’s too complex, you’ve got to think about it very carefully and have it planned very carefully with your first assistant director in order to keep everything nice and equal for the two different stories and just keep on top of the storytelling and the pacing in order to tell the story. In the middle of November, I start prep and I don’t shoot until the middle of January, but there’s a two-week gap at Christmas, so it’s not as long as you think.
Is that basically as far ahead as you’re thinking right now?
Harper: I’m also thinking about projects that I’m developing with another person, because I’d like to get something of mine off the ground, so I’m concentrating on that. My brain is not thinking about Doctor Who at all, and if it does, it’s more about my anxieties about doing two 45-minute episodes. I’m happy to do it, and I’m looking forward to it, but I know it’s going to be a real challenge.
What genres are you looking to work in?
Harper: It’s strange to tell you this, but I came into this business because I wanted to make westerns. I dreamed about doing westerns, and I developed a big western series and offered it a certain company but another series happened, so I knew I was right about westerns, and look what’s happening now: we’ve got Spielberg, who’s made six feature-length movies so I know I’m right. I want to make my own western, so one of the projects I’m developing right now is a western from an English point of view- or a Welsh point of view.
8 p.m. Friday. SciFi.