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Neil Gaiman, Doctor Who, and Writing

3 min read – May 15, 2013

Lately I’ve had a lot to say about the current series of Doctor Who. I’ve been wondering how a show so good could suddenly become a weekly disappointment. After last weeks episode Nightmare In Silver I posed a question: What is the writing process like on Doctor Who? I asked this because Nightmare In Silver as compared to The Doctor’s Wife was, put simply, not very fun at all. This was surprising as I thought Gaiman would deliver. Unfortunately there were characters in the episode that were pointless, out of place, and out of character. I also felt like there were plot points which pertained to the series that felt forced, in your face, and over done.

In an interview with The Radio Times Gaiman spoke of the writing process and his reasons why he might not return, though still having a desire too:

Regarding how long it took to write the episode he said:

“Doctor Who has its own peculiar way of being written, so I started writing it about 14 months ago. I wrote about the first ten pages and then they said they’d changed the companion from what I was expecting to something else. Actually the original companion was going to be very much the Victorian governess we saw at Christmas and then we decided they can do more weird stuff if it’s now the contemporary third incarnation so I had to reshape it so it wasn’t the governess.”

When asked if he received character guidance he said:

“What I got was the scene that Steven Moffat wrote as the Clara character audition piece. He sent me that and said this is what she sounds like. But from that you just make her up as you go along. It kind of worked with Amy and the Matt Smith Doctor. I was writing them before either of them had been cast. But it still works.”

When asked about a third episode he said:

“On the one hand I don’t have time to write Doctor Who. It doesn’t pay very well, but you also have to rewrite it and rewrite it and rewrite it and never get paid, whereas in America you get paid for every rewrite, but here you keep going till it’s done. I don’t have the time, it doesn’t pay terribly well, and there are lots of things including movies, novels, an HBO series that I should be doing… On the other hand I haven’t done an episode set on Earth yet, and I haven’t created a new monster.”

There are several interesting points in this interview. As Gaiman says “they decided they could do more weird stuff with the contemporary companion”. I would like an explanation to this one. Creatively, the idea of the Doctor having a companion from the Victorian Era sounds much more thrilling than having another contemporary girl. “From that you just make her up as you go along.” That seems to be quite clear. Clara’s character has been poorly executed.  Clara has never felt like a relatable or flushed person. Other than speaking a thousand words a second each episode she feels like a different person. This was my point in my Nightmare In Silver review. Clara is suddenly leading a military platoon even though her day job is working as a nanny. Don’t buy it. And seeing that the episode follows directly before the finale yet the writer still didn’t have an idea as to who she was or where she was going isn’t a good sign. Finally it all comes down to money. Well not really, but kind of does. If you consider that the writers write and then have to rewrite and rewrite for one flat fee, that isn’t very good apparently, whereas other gigs pay for the rewrites I can see why some of the episode are not very well written. Is Doctor Who BBC’s rush job show?

What do you think? Does this interview give you some insight into how series 7 was crafted and possibly explain some of the pitfalls? Read the full Radio Times interview Here

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