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Feature: Doctor Who (2000s)

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Veteran series director James Strong returns to introduce us to Season Four of the enduring show, and one or two familiar faces.

This is director James Strong’s third year on Doctor Who, over the course of which he’s helmed six episodes to date, yet unusually for a series that’s been mocked for spending so much time around the present day, fourth season opener Partners in Crime is his first present-day tale.

“Yes it is,” he agrees, “and it’s nice to do that, to have a story that’s in the modern day rather than…” Well, the far future on an Impossible Planet, an alien starship disguised as a replica of the Titanic in Voyage of the Damned, and 1930s New York for Daleks in Manhattan. “It creates different challenges,” the director comments. “I think sometimes if you’re creating an alien world it’s automatically exciting and there’s a mystery to an alien planet, but to set a story in the modern day is in some ways harder, because it’s more of a challenge to make the everyday seem extraordinary, and make a Doctor Who story which does feel like a Doctor Who story. So it’s set in the ordinary day, but when it works I think it’s Doctor Who at its best because it shows that our lives, our normal lives, can be extraordinary and amazing and anything can happen. Probably not what happens in our show,” he laughs, “but there you go!”

Not entirely everyday though, as despite all the secrecy which now surrounds a new run of Doctor Who, it’s known that season opener Partners in Crime, in addition to reuniting Catherine Tate’s Runaway Bride Donna Noble with the Doctor, is deeply concerned with the hi-tech headquarters of Adipose Industries… “Yes, story is based around Adipose Industries, who are basically manufacturing diet pills, which are miraculously making Britain thinner, and that is the basis upon which the story starts. I can’t tell you any more, but Adipose Industries is in the heart of the story,” Strong explains.

Well, the name adipose – fat! – is probably a bit of a clue, and then there’s writer Russell T Davies’s comment that the monsters are the most unusual monsters he’s ever created…

“Yeah, I think it would be fair to say that they’re the most unusual monsters we’ve ever had,” Strong confirms. “Certainly technically in terms of shooting them they were very hard, because without giving too much away, normally the monsters tend to be on the large side and quite low in numbers, and that’s not the case with these. So it’s a very different challenge. Actually it’s the best work that The Mill has ever done,” he adds, “the monsters in this are incredible. I think I’m right in saying we had one of the guys that worked on Lord of the Rings, on the Orcs in Lord of the Rings, so we’ve got that benefit of that sort of skill level and manoeuvrability with the monsters, so they are truly the best we’ve ever done, I think.”

They’re not, though, the part of the episode of which Strong’s most proud. “There’s a major set piece in the middle,” he says, “which is probably the most complicated set piece we’ve ever done, which involves green screen, three locations, four performers, stuntmen, which all involves a big set piece action sequence which all takes place hundreds of feet above the street. It’s certainly got the spectacle for the opening episode of a series so I hope it delivers.”

by Anthony Brown

Read the full interview in
TV Zone #227

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

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TV Zone #227
April 2008
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