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Feature: Doctor Who (2000s)

Article artwork

Director Douglas MacKinnon takes us behind the scenes on the two-part story that brings the Sontarans back

The director of the first two-part story of the latest season of Doctor Who, The Sontaran Stratagem/The Poison Sky, had destiny on his side when it came to landing his first assignment on the series. “I’d worked with Russell T Davies on his first ever grown-up television show called The Grand,” explains Douglas MacKinnon, “which was, as it happened, my first series for television as well, so at one point our careers were in the same place. I guess the next proper connection was I started off Jekyll for BBC1 with [writer] Steven Moffat and you’ll be well aware of Steven’s connections with Doctor Who. And Susie Liggat, who was my producer on Doctor Who, I worked with her as first AD [assistant director] on The Bill a long time ago, so there’s interconnections there that just finally came together. But I believe it was Jekyll that turned their heads a little bit and made them think that maybe I’d be someone good. The Doctor Who family is quite a tight-knit place as far as personnel are concerned because people don’t wanna leave when they’re in there, quite understandably. So that was it really. And I’ve been a fan of the show since I was a child so I fitted in that category as well.”

In fact, without MacKinnon the show might have lost a vital part of its history. “There was a moment in my career, it must have been about 15 years ago, when I was in the BBC and someone who shall remain nameless who was a head of drama at the BBC had a memo on his table about whether he should keep the TARDIS or not. And he said to me, ‘Do you think we should keep the TARDIS? It’s never going to come back, is it?’ and I was absolutely horrified by this moment and said, ‘You can’t get rid of the TARDIS!’ Everybody’s got stories about how Doctor Who kept coming back into their lives one way or another. David Tennant’s got a whole ream of them and so does Steven Moffat and so do I and so does Russell and anybody who works on the show, just about. So I don’t know about pre-destiny, but it was certainly something I’ve always wanted to do, that’s for sure.”

MacKinnon’s familiarity certainly stood him in good stead when he was handed the plum job of bringing the Sontarans, the war-worshipping race of clones, back into the series after an absence of 22 years. Did he remember them from childhood? “Completely. I remember them arriving because they arrived in the same episode as Sarah Jane with Jon Pertwee. So I remember seeing that as a very young child and thinking, ‘This is a big story here,’ because of all this stuff; new assistant, this UNIT thing seemed important and Lethbridge-Stewart was in there as well, so there was an awful lot of stuff going on."

by Paul Spragg

Read the full interview in
Cult Times #152

Doctor Who © BBC
Feature © Visual Imagination 2008. Not for reproduction

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Cult Times #152
May 2008
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