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Feature: Doctor Who (2000s)

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Veteran director Graeme Harper tells us about recasting Davros and handling the biggest finale yet!

It’s the ominous warning that has woven its way through the Doctor Who universe many times over the past several months, along with references to lost planets and something on Donna’s back – “The Darkness is coming”. And as the fourth series reaches a cataclysmic conclusion in the two-part story made up of The Stolen Earth and Journey’s End, viewers will finally discover who or what that darkness actually is.

One of the few people who knows the answer to that question is Graeme Harper, who directed the fourth series conclusion, but he’s not about to give things away a few weeks before those episodes are about to air. That also includes confirming rumours about a list of reported guest stars that includes just about every major recurring character from the past three years but, once again, no answers are forthcoming, though fortunately the BBC picture desk is able to be a little more forthcoming a few days later.

Harper is no stranger to top-secret season-ending episodes, having previously overseen the Dalek-Cybermen smackdown that wrapped series two. This time though, even the director found himself wondering what was going to happen right up until the time his cameras rolled. “All I knew was that the Doctor had already said, ‘It’s the end of the universe!’ and he had said it in such a way that I knew it was going to somehow be paid off in Episodes 12 and 13. I just didn’t know how big it was going to be in relationship to the overall story.

“I had the script for Episode 12 to read over Christmas, so had quite a lot of time to think about it, but I didn’t get Episode 13 until the first day of the shoot for that block, so I had no idea what was going to happen. That’s not terribly true; of course we had tone meetings to discuss the various elements that were going to come up, but I still didn’t have the words. We had the locations, because I had to find them and know what was going to happen in them, but I didn’t have the detailed dialogue or the action or how to play it, until the Monday of the first day of the shoot.

“What we decided to do was plan the schedule so that we would do everything that had to do with Episode 12 in the first week, but eventually we would run out of things to do because some of the locations were the same, so somewhere in the first week I had to get into 13. That meant Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, I had to make sure I knew what I was doing the next day, but also work out whatever we had committed ourselves to on the Friday, which I think was the first time I did something for 13. From there onwards, I was planning as we were going, but I think it looks terrific. I hope the audience likes it, because Russell T Davies has written an epic story. It’s not epic in proportions, but in terms of drama, it’s a big, epic story about the family of Doctor Who and how they come to help him.”

by Joe Nazzaro

Read the full interview in
TV Zone #230

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

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TV Zone #230
July 2008
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