DWO caught up with New Series Director, Julian Simpson, to
discuss his Doctor Who directional debut for episodes 6.5: The Rebel
Flesh & 6.6: The Almost People.
The Rebel Flesh / The Almost People is
your Doctor Who directional debut, were you a fan of the show before,
and owing to the huge fan base, did you approach the job with any nerves
I was a huge fan when I was a kid, back in the Tom Baker
days, but I have to confess to not being particularly taken with much of
the "new" Who (despite my wife featuring as DiMaggio in "Dalek"!). The
episodes that did really grab me, though, were those written by Steven
Moffat (I know that sounds horribly crawly but it's true!) When Steven
took over the show and Matt, Karen and Arthur were cast, DW suddenly
became everything I'd hoped it could be and I was glued every Saturday
night for the first season.
I don't recall being particularly nervous about directing DW but I was
acutely aware that, if I did a good job, there was a chance that this
storyline could stay with some members of the audience for years, just
as "City of Death" has always stayed with me.
On the flipside of that, of course, was the constant nagging fear that I
might screw it all up and be responsible for the most hated episodes in
the show's history...
You've worked on other high profile shows such as Spooks, Hustle, Hotel
Babylon and New Tricks. How does Doctor Who compare, and how do you find
adapting to directing for the Science Fiction genre?
I wasn't conscious of having to adapt to Doctor Who, perhaps because
I've always been such a huge sci-fi fan. If anything, I've had to adapt
more to some of the shows you mention above. But directing is about
telling a story clearly and with the right tone and style, really you
should be able to turn your hand to any genre.
The art department on this season of Who, under designer Michael
Pickwoad, is the best I've ever worked with and the sets and props they
built for me were a constant source of inspiration. I'd like to steal
the lot of them and force them to work with me forever.
Marcus Wilson was one of the great producers. He was incredibly
supportive and, once we'd established that we liked the same movies and
TV shows and had almost identical comic book collections, he gave me as
much freedom as I've ever had to tell the story my way and in the style
I thought was appropriate. Matthew Graham, the writer, gave us a great
script full of brilliant ideas and scary moments and he and I also
shared many of the same references, so it was a very happy
There's no internal politics on Doctor Who, at least none that I was
aware of. Steven, Piers, Beth and Marcus all just wanted to help Matthew
and I do the best job we could. They're all incredibly ambitious for
this show and want it to be the best it can possibly be and that creates
a fantastically challenging and creative environment in which to work.
There's no getting away from it, this is a dark, creepy two-parter, with
bags of atmosphere. Your use of shadows are particularly effective in
achieving the mood of the stories. How difficult is it to get the
desired effect and what are the pro's and con's of working with light in
this kind of setting?
That's more a question for my brilliant Director of Photography, Balazs
Bolygo, who is ultimately responsible for the lighting (and lack
thereof) in these episodes. The look comes from the story; there's no
way you could make this work if it looked like THX 1138.
We referenced the James Whale "Frankenstein" along with Alien3, Shutter
Island, The Thing and a whole host of others.
It helped that most of this story was filmed on location in various
castles in and around Cardiff. These places have a creepy atmosphere of
their own and lend something to the atmosphere that would have been very
hard to fake.
Much credit for the creepiness must also go to my editor, Jamie Pearson,
who has the most uncanny talent for constructing sequences that just
drip with atmosphere.
The stories rely on some pretty impressive make-up – both real and CGI.
How challenging is it working with make-up in these mediums, and as the
director, which do you think gives the overall greatest result?
I'd hate to have to choose; each is good for certain things. Once
prosthetic make-up is applied, it's easy to shoot on over and over again
and it bears greater close-up scrutiny than a lot of CGI work but if you
look at a movie like Benjamin Button, there's no way Brad Pitt could
have been aged so convincingly with physical make-up.
Within these two episodes, we've used a mix of make-up and CGI.
Sometimes you'll be able to tell which is which but there are times
where an actor might be wearing a prosthetic but we've used CGI to alter
their eyes. The result is pretty seamless and we couldn't have done what
we did without using both tools.
Finally, if you could have one round trip in the TARDIS, anywhere in
time and space, where would you go and why?
I'm currently nursing an obsession with Charles Babbage and Ada
Lovelace, the Victorian inventors who NEARLY built the first computer in
the mid-nineteenth century. The world would be a very different place
now if they had succeeded. My fascination grew from reading Sydney
Padua's awesome webcomic detailing their adventures, which I heartily
recommend to everyone. Anyway I'd love to visit them, show them an iPad,
and tell them they're on the right track.
** Julian Simpson is taking part in our
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Post him a Question!.
Copyright Doctor Who Online, 2011.
Director (New Series)
Doctor Who Online