The Interview

DWO interviews Doctor Who DVD Documentary Director, Chris Chapman.

What got you behind the camera, and how did you find the path from factual programmes lead to your sterling work on the fictional worlds of Doctor Who and its DVD range?

Oddly enough, this wasn't the career I set out for! I wanted to be a film critic, but randomly applied for a job at ITV at the end of my post-graduate course in 2005 - and suddenly I was a junior researcher on a Channel 4 list-show - 'The 100 Greatest Family Films'. As a massive film nerd, this was like going to heaven, as I got to meet a lot of my heroes, though Ray Harryhausen was my favourite - he brought one of the skeletons from Jason and the Argonauts to his interview! After two years at ITV, I was offered a job as an Assistant Producer at Newcastle indie Dene Films, but within a few months I'd wrangled it so I was producing and directing my own stuff, and I haven't really had chance to look back since.

My work in general ranges from broadcast docos like Stammer School and The Last Cast for the BBC, and non-broadcast films for folks like Virgin Money and the NHS, but I'd always been a huge Who fan and suddenly realised that I was in a position to work on Who professionally. I contacted Dan Hall in 2008, and met up with him for a chat about where I could fit in, and he took a bit of a gamble on the spot - commissioning me to make the 'Time Zones' historical doco for The War Games. I'm currently working on my 34th doco for the Who range, so it's been a busy 4 years...

In the work you have completed for the Doctor Who DVD range so far, has there ever been anything that has shocked or surprised you?

I think the most shocking side of this work is when a documentary contributor passes away. So many of the Who stories we cover have been from the 60s and 70s, and that sadly means that a lot of our guests are in their twilight years. We filmed on location with Barry Letts just a matter of weeks before he passed away - it was the last interview he ever gave, but he was still sharp as a tack. Nic Courtney was involved in the same shoot and again it's shocking to hear sad news so soon after having met one of your heroes for the first time. Having said that, I'm very proud that the range can include interviews with such a range of people who might never have had their memories recorded otherwise - it all adds up to an amazing tribute to the hard work and passion of everyone who was ever involved in Doctor Who.

What Special Feature that you have worked on to date are you most proud of and why?

That's a tricky one... the first Who documentary I worked on that I was really proud of was our 4th film - 'Team Erato' from The Creature from the Pit DVD. I still think that stands up as a very funny look at a production nightmare - and interviewee Morag McLean is still my favourite contributor from all my docs. After that, I loved working on the two 'Who Peter' films, and that certainly felt like a gear change for the range in terms of production values - which I'm very chuffed about. It's always more fun when we get outside of the studio to film, so docos like 'Return to Little Hodcombe' and 'Living with Levene' from the upcoming Claws of Axos SE are always exciting, but maybe the one that's found the most affection with fans is our 'Looking for Peter' film for The Sensorites - which was a real pleasure to work on, and ended up being far more moving than any of us expected.

Is there a particular golden rule or trick to engaging with an audience from a directors point of view?

I'm always very keen on pace with the Who docos - I like the films to be nice and tight as an edit, and to be funny! Additionally it's always a lot of fun with the making-ofs to design them so they positively reek of the story they're exploring - so the viewer feels immersed in that atmosphere. For example, in the 'Axon Stations!' making of from the Claws of Axos SE, I've shot it so the whole documentary takes place within the living orange walls of the Axon spaceship, with a glam rock soundtrack that seems to sum up the very 70s vibe of the story itself. I'm also very keen on pushing the formats where we can to shift things away from studio talking heads (which can still be very effective of course) into films like 'Looking for Peter' which are far more out-and-about and really benefit from a great presenter like Toby Hadoke.

Finally, if you could have one round trip in the TARDIS, anywhere in time and space, where would you go and why?

I'd visit the set of Powell & Pressburger's 'A Matter of Life and Death' - one of the days when they were filming on the massive stairway to heaven set, that'd be cool. It's been my favourite film for years and I would geek out absolutely to meet Niv and The Archers.
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** Chris Chapman's most-recent work can be seen on the upcoming DVD releases of The Ambassadors of Death and The Claws of Axos: Special Edition.

© Copyright Doctor Who Online, 2012.
Page Updated: 4/9/2012

Interview Details

Interview with:
Chris Chapman
DVD Documentary Director
Conducted by:
Doctor Who Online

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