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The Idiot's Lantern


Co-creator and co-star of award-winning The League of Gentlemen, actor and acclaimed author Mark Gatiss returns as a writer for Doctor Who. Episode seven sees The Doctor and Rose travel back to 1953, the year of HM Queen Elizabeth II's Coronation. As her British subjects tune into the event on their prized new television sets, the Doctor and Rose soon become aware of a disturbing menace lurking in the depths of the TV. Mark talks about his experiences writing for Doctor Who, and why he is proud to be part of the team which has created a new generation of fans.

How did the idea for the story come about?
"Russell [T Davies] asked me to do a Fifties story. It was originally meant to be much more rock 'n' roll but everyone loved the notion of the Coronation - it's one of those big, gettable 'front-of-the Radio-Times' ideas so we settled on 1953. I've always loved old TV and the early BBC days at Ally Pally [Alexandra Palace], so it was lovely to use all that - and very appropriate to have a monster that gets at you via your telly! It's a very atmospheric episode and Euros [Lynn], the director, has shot it in a semi-noirish, Fifties style which is terrific."

You've written the award-winning The League of Gentlemen; what is it like writing for Doctor Who?
"A dream come true. Last year it was so unreal, this year everyone's found their feet a lot more, I think, but because the show's an established hit there's that extra pressure to top the success. It's just brilliant to be part of a vibrant, modern show that's still absolutely the Doctor Who we grew up with and loved."

You wrote The Unquiet Dead episode from last year's series, which was a Victorian ghost story, and The Idiot's Lantern is set in the year of The Queen's Coronation. Do you prefer to write stories set in iconic historical settings?
"I do love the historical stories. They were always my favourites in old Doctor Who. I'm hoping that the 'Gatiss by gaslight' becomes an annual fixture! I wouldn't rule out doing a modern-day story but I do have so much fun popping back in time. Having said that, I didn't know as much about the Fifties as I do about Victoriana so I had to do quite a bit of research, but that was delightful. So many people remember the Coronation. I talked to my Dad and some older friends and they all have a version of the 'everyone crowded into one room' story which is at the heart of the episode."

What are the challenges of writing one episode in a series, compared to writing a whole series yourself?
"You have to be much more aware of the feel of the whole season. You don't want the leads to be jarringly different in each story just because there's a different writer. What's great about this season is that there's so much variety, with lots of different types of adventure: scary, funny, sad and some that are very, very moving."

You're a self-confessed fan of Doctor Who. Does that make it more difficult to write for the programme?
"At the beginning, but only in the sense of, 'Wow, this is the real thing now'. Russell was careful to pick people last year who were not only fans, but also TV professionals who'd built up a body of work. I always wanted to write for the show as a living, breathing thing and not just as an exercise in nostalgia. What's brilliant is that everyone's a Doctor Who fan now and I get very soppy when I see little boys and girls loving the show just like I did when I was their age. That's such an achievement and I'm very proud to be part of that."

Episode Seven Did-You-Know? Fact:
Jamie Foreman, who guest-stars in episode seven, is the son of the notorious 1960s London gangster Freddie Foreman.

The Impossible Planet


Former Casualty and Strictly Come Dancing star Will Thorp is drawn to the dark side in the second, two-part story of this season's Doctor Who. In The Impossible Planet and The Satan Pit, he plays Toby, an archaeologist in a team of space explorers from Earth trapped on a planet in the orbit of a Black Hole.

After leaving Holby General Hospital in Casualty and honing his dancing skills on Strictly Come Dancing, Bristol-born Will could hardly believe his luck when he received a couple of scripts from Doctor Who executive producer and lead writer Russell T Davies and producer Phil Collinson. It did not take much for him to decide to accept the part.

"I would have said 'yes' to it whatever [the part] was," says Will. "It was the fact that it was Doctor Who! I read the script and it was a fantastic part, especially as I had previously been playing a regular role of a cheeky chappy - he's an intense, moody guy. To be sent a couple of scripts doesn't happen that often, and certainly not for something like that. I feel really lucky to have got the role."

In the two-part story, penned by Matt Jones, the Doctor and Rose arrive on a desolate planet in the orbit of a Black Hole, and soon find themselves trapped with Will's character, Toby.

"Toby is a twenty-something uptight archaeologist, and he's one of a crew of space explorers," explains Will. "They've been on a mission in space, exploring certain planets, and they get stuck on this planet which is right next to a Black Hole.

"Bits of the planet are coming off and being sucked into the Hole, which make it impossible for them to leave, so they set up base there. They've made a space station, and have basically spent the last couple of years just exploring the planet, digging and seeing what is around. And it seems that there have been signs of life in the past - that there was a life form millions and millions of years ago."

The group come to realise that they are in danger, as something ancient beneath the planet's surface begins to awake, and it is soon a race against time for the Doctor and Rose to prevent them all from being sucked into oblivion. And for Will, the experience of working on Doctor Who was, indeed, almost out of this world.

"It was surreal, really! You're kind of sat there, with the Tardis in the corner, a couple of Cybermen stacked up... I had to keep on pinching myself to make sure it was real. It was like being in the playground," Will says laughing. "Can we play on the Tardis for 20 minutes before we do any work?"

A massive Doctor Who fan, Will watched Tom Baker (the Fourth Doctor) as he grew up, and made sure that he tuned in for the series' return last year.

"I watched the very first episode and I thought it was great. When you bring back a series and it's been successful, there's a risk it can flop, but I think because it has someone like Russell T Davies, executive producer Julie Gardner and Phil Collinson behind it, what they managed to do, which is incredible, is that they captured the essence of Doctor Who. They won the Bafta recently, which was brilliant, and it will just go from strength to strength. Every episode in this series is a winner."

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