The 50th anniversary special of "Doctor Who," "The Day of the Doctor," airs Saturday and, prior to the special, Toby Whithouse chatted with International Business Times to discuss the show, its legacy and its future. Whithouse created "Being Human" and the upcoming "The Game" and wrote four episodes of "Doctor Who" -- "School Reunion," "The Vampires of Venice," "The God Complex" and "A Town Called Mercy" -- as well as a "Torchwood" episode, "Greeks."
Despite writing several episodes, Whithouse is as much in the dark as fans when it comes to the upcoming season and the new Doctor, to be played by Peter Capaldi. He discusses what it's like writing for the show, his favorite "Doctor Who" moments, the future of the show and "The Day of the Doctor" special.
Any direction or preparation yet for the next “Doctor Who” season?
I think that’s all very much shrouded in secrecy at the moment. I’m hoping, if there is time to, to write an episode for Peter. If I don’t manage to for this series, then hopefully in the future.
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What’s the difference between writing and working on a series you created to writing for “Doctor Who?”
I’ve always really enjoyed the process of writing for “Doctor Who.” I think partly because all I have to do is, is just the fun bits when I write an episode of “Doctor Who” whereas when I create my own show then there’s 10,000 responsibilities, jobs and tasks and things that I have to do. If I have to write an episode of “Doctor Who,” I have a couple of very pleasant meetings with Steven (Moffat, "Doctor Who" showrunner), I go away and write the script and then, a few months later, they send me a DVD… which is all very nice.
In terms of the history of it, it fills me with enormous pride to have added to “Doctor Who’s” illustrious history. I’m incredibly proud I’ve written four episodes of “Doctor Who,” and one episode of “Torchwood,” that have now become canon in the “Doctor Who” universe.
I don’t think you can get too aware, I don’t think you can let yourself be too aware of “Doctor Who’s” history. I think that you have to respect it, but I think, also, you also have to be irreverent as well. I think, also, if you start to become aware of “Doctor Who’s” legacy, and its history, then I think you’ll become frozen. I’m aware of it, but I try not to let it get in the way of the task of writing a story now.
What appeals to you about “Doctor Who?” Your episodes tend to focus on the inner qualities of these characters.
I only know one way to write and I’ll use the same kind of approach whether I’m writing an episode of “Doctor Who,” or “Being Human,” or “The Game,” or anything really, and that approach, for me, always has to be about character. I’ll always start from the character so, even when I’m creating a new show, once I’ve come up with the main setting and the main the period, things like that, then the next step, for me, will be to create the characters. So I’ll write pages of biography for the characters and then let the story come from that.
With “Doctor Who,” I’ll try and do the same thing. I’ll always try and refer it back to the character, and refer it back to the character of the Doctor, refer it back to elements of his personality and his history, and so on. So that, trying to make every kind of decision they make as organic as possible, as believable as possible. As I said, it’s the only way I know how to write really, so whatever the show I’ll use the same technique.
How do you prepare for such tonal shifts? There are no boundaries, in terms of genre or character, for “Doctor Who.”
Well, that’s one of the great joys of the show; the fact that you never know, from week to week, what it’s going to be. You’ll have a Western episode and then you’ll have a thriller episode and then you’ll have a comedy episode, and that’s one of the, kind of, many perfect things about “Doctor Who.” The fact that, every week is a whole new world and, in a way, a whole new series and a whole new show and I think that’s really exciting. For me, I love the challenge and I love the variety and I, over my time on “Doctor Who,” have done very comedic episodes and very dark episodes. I find it delightful that there are so many different opportunities, and so many different styles, tones and genres within one show.
What tone do you like best for “Doctor Who?”
I think my personal taste is always toward the dark. I think my favorite two episodes of “Doctor Who,” ever, have been “Blink” and “Midnight,” both of which are quite dark, scary episodes and I think that’s what “Doctor Who” should be about. Obviously, there is space for all of the other elements but I think, fundamentally, it’s a show that is at its best when it’s scary, when it’s got you hiding behind the cushion, or the sofa. That’s when “Doctor Who” is at its best and I think that’s what it is there for. So those episodes are my favorite, those are the ones that, I think, really get to the real DNA of the show.
So, who is your favorite Doctor?
I would have to say … oh, well I don’t know really, when I was growing up it was Peter Davison (Fifth Doctor) and then I thought David (Tennant) was absolutely amazing and then Matt’s (Smith) been a joy to write for and I’m really excited for Peter Capaldi. I’m afraid I can’t give you a more specific answer than that, we’re kind of spoiled for choice in terms of fantastic Doctors.
What’s the writing process like and working with this universe? There are a lot of writers that are working, and have worked on the show as well as the storied history of the Doctor.
It’s a singular focus. You have the brief for your episode and they are, for the most part, self-contained. You only have the world of your one episode to worry about. That said, there will be certain continuity elements, so Steven will say things to me like, ‘Actually, can you put in a reference for such-and-such,’ or ‘can you put in a scene where they talk about something else,’ which is something that he will need to kind of implant for something later in the series. And, similarly, for myself and the other regular writers, in terms of the series bible, we’re carrying it around in our heads all the time. We’re all incredibly familiar with the show, it’s all something we’ve grown up with and so it’s already locked in there already.
What do you expect from Capaldi as a Doctor and the show to be in the new season?
I don’t really know! I think Peter is a very different actor to Matt, just as Matt was very different to David, so he’s going to bring a lot of new qualities. The whole point of regeneration is for the new actor to reinvent the show. So, it wouldn’t really be for me to say what he’s going to bring to it, that’s ultimately going to be his choice, but Peter is one of the best actors of his generation. I’m so excited about him taking over; I think he’s going to be absolutely wonderful.
In terms of the 50th anniversary special, what are you most excited about?
My three highlights are going to “An Adventure in Space and Time,” tonight, the show written by Mark Gatiss about the making of “Doctor Who,” then “The Day of the Doctor,” the 50th special, which looks just too exciting for words, and then the Christmas special with the regeneration. This year, as a “Doctor Who” fan, we really are spoiled; we have an embarrassment of riches.
What was your favorite villain growing up? Now?
I would have to say, growing up it had to be Davros, who I thought was just horrific and terrifying, ghastly and macabre. I think now, I’m not sure how the Weeping Angels are going to be bettered, in terms of a monster. I think they do absolutely everything a “Doctor Who” monster should do. They are genuinely terrifying and what I like about them is the fact that they are remorseless and you can’t bargain with one of the Weeping Angels and I think that makes them all the more terrifying. They are like sharks; they exist to prey on other creatures.
They were an absolute stroke of genius and I’m not sure we’re going to see a better “Doctor Who” monster for many a long year.
Again, I'd say K-9 and Sarah Jane were the ones I grew up with. In terms of now, oh, I don't know, I'm really looking forward to an opportunity to write for Jenna (Coleman, who plays Clara Oswald), I haven't written for her so, I'm really excited about hopefully doing that.
What do you think about the romance between Rose and the Doctor?
It was very well-played and I found it actually very moving. So no, I think they pitched it just right. It only actually lasted for two seasons, or was it three?, but they pitched it just right. I kind of think, you know, well, if he's an immortal time traveler and he looks like David Tennant and she looks like Billie Piper, well, I'm not surprised they fell in love with each another.
And what about the Ponds, Amy and Rory, and their ending?
Oh God yes! The ending was incredibly moving. I think the arc that they had, I wrote an episode at the very beginning of their journey and at the very end, and it was really interesting to see the difference between the two. On one hand, they had become much more secure with each other and their relationship had become much stronger. In the beginning, Amy was kind of obsessed with her nomadic life with the Doctor, and I think Rory felt quite excluded.
My last episode for them was “A Town Called Mercy,” by which point Rory and Amy were very much a unit, very much a team and slightly getting a little not bored or kind of wanting to slightly distance themselves from the Doctor, and that was quite a huge change. I think the arc Steven constructed was perfectly pitched.
What's been the most surprising for you, as a “Doctor Who” writer and as a fan?
I had absolutely no idea who the next Doctor was going to be and everyone kept asking me and I didn't know. When we were watching the special, when they announced the new Doctor, I had no idea who it would be, which was my big surprise.
Oh! Also, I had absolutely no idea that River Song was going to be Amy's daughter, I just hadn't made that connection at all. Of course everyone else was saying how obvious it was, well a few people were, but that one had gone completely over my head, so I was really genuinely, and really pleasantly, surprised.
What's your biggest challenge writing for “Doctor Who?”
I don't know, actually. ... I would say packing all of it in to 45 minutes is quite hard. It's got to take you on a huge journey, you have to create an entirely new world, a new race of people, a new scenario, a new adventure and, within that, you got to have thrills, and laughs and surprises and packing all of that into a 45-minute script is difficult, but it's a fantastic challenge as well.
Would you have done anything different with the scripts you've written?
Probably the earlier episodes, my first two episodes I would've done slightly different. I couldn't give you any specifics, by the time I wrote “A God Complex” or “A Town Called Mercy,” I think I had a better idea about how I write and how I should write “Doctor Who.”
That's kind of surprising considering the praise for “School Reunion.”
I was quite inexperienced at that time, I hadn't written very much and I hadn't been a writer for very long. When I watch it now I can see my inexperience, but I am absolutely thrilled and flattered that it means so much to a lot of the fans and that's really gratifying. But as I said, I think I was quite inexperienced at the time and maybe only something I would notice.
So would you entertain fan-casting “Doctor Who?” Who would you pick for writers and actors?
That's interesting. ... In terms of fantasy, if we could have absolutely anyone in the world, or in history, I'd love to have seen Roald Dahl do an episode of “Doctor Who.” In terms of current writers, I'd be very interested to see what China Miéville would do with an episode. In terms of who to play the Doctor, I couldn't think of anyone better than Peter Capaldi.
What's you opinion on the debate about a female Doctor?
I think I would give the answer my daughter gave when I asked her whether she thought there should be a female Doctor. She said, "No, they shouldn't because it is a male character. Instead, what they should do, is go and create a fantastic female lead in a fantastic new sci-fi show."