We admit it. We at TVWriter™ luvs us our DOCTOR WHO. Any DOCTOR WHO, with any incarnation of the Doctor. And, being consistent types, we also have huge crushes on every DOCTOR WHO writer. So it’s with great joy that we discovered this interview with a New Who writer we’d never heard from before. Happy New Insights, y’all!
As impossible as it may seem, it has been a decade since Doctor Who returned to the airwaves with Christopher Eccleston as a Time War-traumatized version of everyone’s favorite Gallifreyan. Arguably the greatest episode from that first season of “New Who” is “Dalek,” the story that reintroduced Terry Nation’s iconic pepperpots. The man responsible for the episode was British writer and playwright Robert Shearman.
A veteran of the, er, fantastic Big Finish audio dramas, Shearman adapted his own story “Jubilee” for television. Shearman is currently in New York City for a restaging of his 1992 play Easy Laughter, a biting satire that still feels very much of the moment. This Saturday, he’ll appear at Brooklyn’s only Who-themed bar, The Way Station, to host a screening and discussion of “Dalek.” In advance of these events, we had an opportunity to ask him about his fascinating career. Here’s what he had to say.
10 years after “Dalek” debuted, the episode remains firmly entrenched in the hearts of Doctor Who viewers. How was the episode impacted your life, and why do you think that it continues to resonate with people on such a large scale?
It’s the weirdest thing, that it’s now ten years old. And that Doctor Who is still going! I think that was my principal concern, actually, looking back – I knew that what Russell was doing was extraordinary, but I had no reason to believe that Doctor Who itself would become terribly popular again. All my lifetime it had been this little show that had been a vague embarrassment to people, it seemed – when I was a kid, it wasn’t the cool thing to like in the playground. And I thought that even if we had a hit on our hands, we’d never get the chance to have a run of stories that would mean Doctor Who could have the richness of the classic series – we’d never last long enough to get a regeneration, or a new producer. We’d have ‘this’ version of the show, but never ‘that’ version of the show. And it leaves me still boggled that it’s still going so strong a decade later – that it really does now seem we could give the original 26 year stint a run for its money.
Which is my roundabout way of explaining why ‘”Dalek” is now so fondly remembered. (Because it is! I’m so thrilled by that, you know?) I think it was very carefully positioned in the series so that in 2005 it had maximum impact as the big bad reveal at the centre of series one. And now, in 2015, it stands as being the very first Dalek story of the new series, so it comes with this wonderful nostalgic weight – it’s a significant episode, you can draw a line from that story to where we are now. Even Peter Capaldi’s Dalek story gets to riff on it. At the time it was this urgent piece of TV – Chris Eccleston is on fire, Joe Ahearne’s direction is properly dynamic. Now in some ways it feels like a signpost for where Doctor Who was going. (Not down to me, I must add – but down to the tone of what Russell was doing, and the broadening of the parameters of what Doctor Whowas going to do.)
For my part, it’s had this tremendous impact. Ironically, it’s allowed me to become a prose writer. I’d always wanted to write books, but never thought I was ‘proper writer’ enough that anyone would be interested. Whatever I do from now, it’ll be built a little upon my identity as the guy who brought back the Daleks – it’s always, I’m sure, going to be the biggest job I’ll ever have in my life.
I wanted to talk a little bit about the creation of the episode. Could you share with our readers what the process was like in adapting “Jubilee” for television?
Russell had heard the audio drama I’d written for Big Finish, about a lone Dalek being tortured in a fascistic English Empire. Luckily for me, the idea of bringing back the Daleks in that unpredictable way, minimalist and defeated, really resonated with him – and even more luckily for me, he wanted to give me the chance to write it. That was pretty much all we took from “Jubilee'”, though. “Jubilee” was a huge black comedy about the way as fans we’ve forgotten the darker metaphor of what Daleks are through merchandising – it’s a story that relies completely upon overfamiliarity with the Daleks. And the humor is very sick – it’s very definitely intended for the exclusively adult audience who still cared about Doctor Who in its wilderness years.