The Interview

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 or anxiety?

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 collaboration.

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 Ask & Answer section in the DWO Forums - Post him a Question!.

© Copyright Doctor Who Online, 2011.
Page Updated: 21/5/2011

Interview Details

Interview with:
Julian Simpson
Director (New Series)
Conducted by:
Doctor Who Online



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