Today marks the release of both Dr. Who: Planet of the Dead and Torchwood: Children of Earth in the US on DVD and Blu-Ray. Last week I spoke with Julie Gardner, executive producer on both shows, and we discussed everything from the formatting of the various shows, to the chances of an American remake of Dr. Who (Spoiler: unlikely). Most interestingly, we discussed how unnecessary it is to remake shows when it is growing increasingly easier to access the original, via DVD and online channels. Have a look at the interview below, and if you’re interested in checking out these discs, make sure you grab them from the CHUD links below!
Dr. Who: Planet of the Dead
HERE for DVD, and HERE for Blu-Ray
Torchwood: Children of Earth
HERE for DVD, and HERE for Blu-Ray
Both of these discs are being released in the US on the 28th, and I assume they’re already available in the UK…
What I’m finding is the release dates between the US and the UK are getting crushed increasingly, which is something I’m really keen on. I think the more that we’re watching at the time of transmission the better because with a Sci-Fi series (with the internet especially) fans are more apt to go online and its very hard to keep any major story twists or turns secret, so I’m really happy that both in transmission and the DVD release the gaps in the calendar are closing.
It seems with every TV series and movie, the studios are trying to close that gap as the internet throws the calendar off for everything…
Definitely, and with Torchwood: Children of Earth, it’s a show that’s very different from previous seasons of Torchwood. It’s the first time we’ve done a run of five episodes, locked with one big serialized story and, by its very nature, there are lots of plot twists and turns and surprising moments that we really did, as program-makers, want to keep as quiet as possible for the audience in America to enjoy.
I got the impression that the format was a novel approach from what you’d done in the past, and that it was received well.
The reception in the UK last week was absolutely fantastic. It was really really exciting. Both myself and the lead writer/creator Russell T. Davies are in LA right at the moment, we’ve moved here for work, and we both feel like we’ve sort of missed the party.
It seems like Dr. Who and Torchwood both have a number of formats that they take advantage of, be it a more traditional series, or one-off’s, or mini-series… When a story is conceived, how is the decision made on format?
It’s mostly the decision of the lead writer, Russell T. Davies and what interests him. As you’ll be aware, in the UK we don’t have as much pressure to do a run of 22 episodes, in fact its very rare or almost non-existent to have that sort of series order- so British television sort of falls into single drama TV-movies or into 2-parters, 6-parters, 8-parters… It’s a very different editorial background. At Dr. Who we wanted to do a run of 13 which is what we’d done for four years, four seasons. We were thinking in a kind of commercial way about a run of episodes that would feel big in the UK. Since we’re bringing back such a big title you want to have impact, but what would also be a good format for America and for overseas. With Torchwood, the history of that- we started with two 13-part series but we moved to BBC1 with the new series and the channel wanted, in the show’s third year, to create an event around the show, the thinking became then- let’s look and see if we can use this title across one week of broadcasts- Monday through to Friday… really make it an appointment to view, and really drive an audience to that first viewing experience and really try to make a talking point around it. That scheduling decision obviously influenced the editorial thinking of the show and Russell T. Davies was very keen to tell one big story, one big alien contact story told in a very real way. What would the political and social implications of an alien contact story be? So it became a political thriller as well as a Sci-Fi title for us.
What format do you expect Torchwood to continue in?
We’re having conversations now about what a fourth season of Torchwood would look like. I absolutely love the big American runs of 22 episodes and I know that when I was in the UK watching TV, it would be a thrill to get a title that you love at some length. I think there’s absolutely creative and schedule space for that, I think it’s simply- in the UK it’s a very different background for TV writing. Writers in the UK have largely come from theater backgrounds, plays and radio plays… we don’t really have things like “the writer’s room” in the UK –other than our seven o’clock soap operas– there aren’t the budgets available to run a staff of writers, so its partly a cultural difference. It’s also the business operating in a different way, added to that, if you have the BBC as a public service company, a public service broadcast with a license from the UK public, you have the opportunity to deliver scripted comedy in all kinds of genres, very different kinds of formats because its not… The BBC in the UK- audience size is very important, but what is as important, maybe more important, is what’s called “reach” which is, if you looked across a week, what audience they’re reaching –whether in TV schedules, or online, or radio– and it’s about offering something with appeal to different segments of that audience in a given week.
With Dr. Who, has there ever been a conversation or do you think there’s any chance of a US studio gobbling up the property and producing something for American audiences?
I’d certainly never say never, but for the moment, with that title at the BBC, that’s not the focus. The focus at the moment has been to do these four series to regenerate David Tennant’s doctor –which filming began yesterday, in fact, on season 5, which is a run of 13 episodes– for the foreseeable future, that’s the primary focus. I think we’re always looking at what shows can format across the world. I think this is a very particular title that should be handled very carefully because its such a British title in some ways, certainly the threats and the emotions are very universal, but it’s very British in its forty years history. At the moment I don’t believe there are any plans.
As ubiquitous as DVD is, and with the internet evolving how it is, there is less of a need to remake shows like this when the original can, potentially, be so easily available- at least, I believe that.
You make a really good point, as we started to talk about, the windows of DVD are closing. I think there’s something rather charming in the way that we in the UK love getting your big US titles, from 24 through to Heroes through to Mad Men. I think it’s a two-way street actually, that you can actually see the British version of our big titles.
I know that Dr. Who: Planet of the Dead was shot in HD, will that continue as far as you know?
We had looked at moving to HD for a number of months, if not years. We were very happy shooting on Digibeta with the film effect, but we were very interested in the HD look, especially with Torchwood shooting in that way. The question with Dr. Who was about the number of special effects shots, which with Dr. Who is a huge number as opposed to Torchwood, and turn around time- of course the cost, but more the schedule and turning around the show in time for the BBC transmission and so it’s only very recently that we’ve been able to successfully achieve that, and I’m really happy with the results. I think HD is a beautiful format to shoot with. I’m not responsible for season five but I think that’s how it will be shot.
I know you said you aren’t responsible for season five, but what are your personal thoughts on the new Doctor’s look that has been getting so much buzz recently?
I think it’s very exciting. I think the great thing about Dr. Who is that it’s a show with regeneration at its heart- it’s a show that in a 40-year history, that reinvents itself. I know the program-makers of the title were absolute geniuses for creating this regeneration of the central character/actor, and I think it’s fun- particularly when you think about family origin, with children watching and seeing a new man, a new face in that character- seeing the new costumes, the new TARDIS, and doing that every five or so years is absolutely thrilling and adds more life to it. It’s an exciting time
It seems like an interesting way of keeping things fresh without having to dump the culture of the show periodically.
Completely! It’s the best format. What a great show, and I’ve loved working on it and hope to see it it on screens for many years.