Interview Date: 11/15/2010
Run Date: 11/22/2010
This particular Bullz-Eye chat necessitates a bit more back story than usual.
It’s important to understand the circumstances under which I interviewed Piers Wenger, one of the executive producers of the current era of “Doctor Who,” and it’s equally important to understand how I dropped the ball on this interview, which is a huge shame, because anyone who knows me knows I’m a freak for “Doctor Who,” and I’ve no excuse for botching this one.
Except that I do.
Well, maybe not an excuse, but certainly a reason, and one which leaves me with no one to blame but myself. The story which follows will, I hope, serve as a warning for all who read it.
The phoner between Mr. Wenger and I was scheduled for Monday the 15th at 11 A.M. I knew this well in advance, and even though I’m generally not at my best until post-noon, I anticipated no problems, despite the fact my 39th birthday was the day before. This in and of itself should not have been a red flag, as any celebrating I was going to do would be on Saturday night. By all counts, I’d be in fine shape for Monday morning.
Saturday night, however, is merely where it all started, as I gathered with friends at my favorite bar and commenced the celebration, making merry, drinking, and having a grand ol’ time. As the night wore on, the festivities moved to my friend Paul’s place, where I indulged, alone, in a specific spirit, one which was given to me as a gift that night.
Ouzo, the famed Greek aperitif that smacks of black licorice, is a curious mistress. It courts you in the early stages of the night, seduces you into surrender later on, and then, when you’re not looking, comes up and violently takes you from behind and doesn’t let go. Those crazy Greeks. Around dawn, when it was time to share a cab home, I had finished about ¾ of the 80-proof bottle…which, you’ll remember, was on top of all the drinks I’d had earlier in the evening. Upon arriving at my place, my wife wisely went to bed. I, however, stayed up, intent on finishing the Ouzo (not to mention some vodka that was sitting around), listening to music and watching Blu-rays. I‘m sure at some point I even put on the “Doctor Who” Season Five Blu-ray, and thought, “That interview with Piers is going to rock!”)
Before I knew it, it was noon on Sunday, and I was still awake, trashed beyond recognition. My teenage son and his friends, who were just starting their day, looked at me as though I was insane. It didn’t faze me, as today was my 39th birthday, and I clearly needed to prove something to myself, although what that was I didn’t exactly know. (In hindsight, it appears I needed to prove that I could be as stupid at 39 as I could be at 29.) My wife, who was up by this time, was kind enough to not come down on me on my birthday, and she let me be. There was still more vodka to put away. The Ouzo, however, was gone…or, at least, the first bottle was.
Now here's where things went disastrously wrong.
A friend dropped off a birthday gift on my front doorstep Sunday afternoon, and you’ll never guess what that gift was: another bottle of the exact same brand of Ouzo. Perhaps it should be mentioned at this point that my love for Ouzo is well-known amongst my friends. At the time, it seemed like a gift from Dionysus himself. In retrospect, it was actually more of a cruel joke, because of course I opened the bottle and began consuming. Long story short (too late), I finally passed out around midnight or 2 A.M. on Sunday night…or, rather, Monday morning…having consumed over the course of 24 hours a bottle and a half of Ouzo, plenty of vodka, and probably a few other party favors that won’t be mentioned. In addition, I had forgone sleep for 36 hours. To my addled mind, eight or so hours was plenty of time to get into proper shape for the phoner with Piers.
I arose around 10 or so, a disheveled mess, awaiting the call with an appropriate sense of dread, shaking, not so much hung over but still drunk on some level. I had my recorder hooked up, the little thingamajig in my ear. The call came through about 15 minutes late, which I was perfectly OK with, and as the interview commenced, I swear I hit “record.” About four minutes in, though, I looked down and saw the recorder hanging by its cord, dangling between my legs on the floor. I reached down as Piers enthusiastically talked…and saw that the recorder was off. At this point, the only thing to do was roll my eyes at my pathetic self and belatedly press “record.”
Do I remember what Piers said in those four minutes? Not exactly. I know my first question for him was, “What’s your personal history with ‘Doctor Who’?” As is the case with many of the folks who’ve been working on the show over the past five years, Piers euphorically explained how as a child he was obsessed with the show, and that Tom Baker and Peter Davison were “his” Doctors. I believe he said when he was a kid, he either wanted to, or actually had his bedroom door painted to look like the TARDIS, but it’s possible I imagined that. He full well acknowledged that it was a dream job for him, and went on to enthusiastically speak about working with Steven Moffat and Matt Smith, and a host of other names that are now lost to either dodgy technology or my inability to press “record” when the situation called for it.
We’ll now join the interview “in progress,” with a few bits of italicized commentary from the interviewer. I’ve transcribed my end of the interview verbatim, as well kept my schizophrenic line of questioning squarely in place. Keep in mind, also, that a big part of this interview was supposed to be about the Series Five Blu-ray and DVD.
Piers Wenger: I think we knew there was a look for it [Series Five] that would feel absolutely 2010 and not 2005, and how do you give the “Doctor Who” audience the best television production has or had to offer? And we thought there was stuff we could do that would update it and give it all the freshness and polish and technology that we possibly could. That was on my station – to make it feel like a show that has absolutely, squarely been made in 2010.
Bullz-Eye: I’m curious about the “Meanwhile in the TARDIS” scenes on the DVD. Were those always planned as something for the DVD?
PW: Um, yes, it’s quite a task to produce a DVD box set that you give the audience special features, and “Doctor Who” fans love to scrutinize every detail and we just wanted to give them something new to criticize, something additional to scrutinize, that kind of joined the dots between some of the stories.
BE: Uh, how is, uh…thank you for coming to the United States to shoot!
PW: OK! We’re delighted. I’m just sad not to be there myself. They flew out on Saturday.
BE: I see that Matt Smith is even going to be on one of our talk shows.
[Writer’s note: Wow, the opportunity to possibly discuss the finer details of “Doctor Who” finally shooting in the U.S. after all these years, and I move on to Craig Ferguson.]
PW: Yeah, yeah on Tuesday night on “The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson.”
BE: Um, I, I’m, I, uh, are the cameras you’re using now different than the ones that were used on the specials?
PW: Yes, they are. They’re a new sort of HD camera called the Sony F35, which is I think the camera they used to film “Iron Man 2.” They’re a very good HD camera. [Writer’s note: Wenger unloaded a couple sentences of techie whizz-bang here that was difficult to decipher. Needless to say, he had more to say on the subject than “they’re a very good HD camera.”] It’s a more sophisticated camera – a more cinematic look. That constant pressure you’re under, to make a drama like “Doctor Who,” to make sure it can hold a candle to the best drama pieces that the movie world offers. Because 8-year olds watching “Doctor Who” don’t realize you have a tiny budget compared to Christopher Nolan or whoever, so you have to use the things that are available to you to give them something which is as close as possible to a movie-sized image.
BE: Well, the Blu-ray just looks incredible. I was completely blown away by the look of it.
PW: I’d never seen it in Blu-ray, but I went over to Steven’s [Moffat] house for dinner on Saturday night, and he was kind of jumping up and down saying, “You’ve got to see this. You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen it on Blu-ray!” And he was right. It really, really does. I feel for those actors because every wrinkle and line and lump and bump is on show, but in terms of the depth of field and the level of polish that you get from the image, it’s a huge thrill to see the show in that format.
BE: Yeeeesss, definitely. I’m curious if you, what you think, uh, what kind of dynamic do you think that it kind of brings to the show right now, because we have a show that’s kind of like, it’s about two couples now all of a sudden, and “Doctor Who’s” never really been like that before.
PW: You mean River and the Doctor, and Amy and Rory?
[Writer’s note: How Piers deciphered what I was talking about I’ll never know, but I was obviously happy that he did.]
BE: Yes, yes, yes!
PW: Well, I’ve never really thought of it like that to be honest, because the Doctor, although he and River have a past, it’s not a relationship that’s lived out conventionally. Their timeline is going in different directions, so every time they meet, the Doctor remembers her less and she remembers him more, so it doesn’t feel cozy in terms of there being two couples, but I think there is for Amy and Rory the big dilemma that underpins the life of any companion who travels with the Doctor, and that’s is he the only man in her life or is there room for anyone else? Although their relationship [Amy and the Doctor’s] isn’t a romantic one, she’s know him since she was nine years old, and she waited to travel with him for 12 years after that, before she gets the chance she’s got now. That’s a fairly deep-rooted, emotional tie to him. And that adds a big complication to her relationship with Rory.
BE: Um, are you excited about Season Six?
PW: Yeah, it’s really exciting, but it’s a lot pressure though. I feel that when I saw the box set for the first time for Season Five a few weeks ago, I felt just so proud and pleased for Matt and pleased for Steven that it’s worked out as well as it has, and that we’ve been able to do things for the audience and for the fans that we’ve been able to do, like getting Richard Curtis to write an episode and going off to film an episode in Venice and an episode set in Provence in the 19th century. I just thought there were some terrific things in that series that took a hell of a lot of planning, but which have hopefully more value to “Doctor Who” fans than they’ve ever been offered before. Now the pressure is on us to top that, and that’s the challenge we’re currently engaged in. That’s why we’re going off to the States to film for the opening two-parter, and that’s why Steven is coming up with more dark and complicated and strange things to inflict upon Rory and Amy and to complicate their relationship; to kind of mine the Doctor’s relationship with River, to reveal some pretty big truths about that relationship, and also to make some brilliant new monsters. We’re much more interested in new monsters than we are in classic ones, to be honest. I watched an assembly of the first three weeks of filming of the first two episodes on Saturday, and I e-mailed Toby Haynes, who’s directing those episodes, to say “You are shooting the coolest and possibly the scariest new ‘Doctor Who’ monster in years.” I really, really truly believe that. They are quite terrifying. I worry for the sanity of some of our fans. I worry for our own sanity! They are properly scary. They are really going to make the Weeping Angels look like a bunch of stuffy old statues.
BE: That is quite the tease! That’s a bold statement, Piers.
[Writer’s note: By this point, I was enthralled. This guy was pure class, unlike the person he was talking to.]
PW: (Laughs) It is, it is! It is thrilling, but it’s probably more chilling than it is thrilling, actually.
BE: Oh, I can’t wait. You’ve got me soooo excited. How’s “A Christmas Carol” [this year’s Christmas special, which will air on BBC America on Christmas night] coming along?
PW: We are fairly close to finishing that. We’re still working on the effects shots. We’re going to be showing a trailer for it on “Children in Need” which is a big charity telethon here, which I think is on a week from Friday. People will get the first glimpse of that. The slogan for the special is “If Christmastime can be rewritten,” which is why “A Christmas Carol” made so much sense as a basis for this year’s special.
[Writer’s note: I believe Piers had more to say about the Christmas special, but in a moment of madness I moved on to something else.]
BE: It’s funny that you bring up “time can be rewritten,” because I think that’s something Steven has brought to the show that’s completely changed the dynamic of the series.
PW: It happens in River and the Doctor’s relationship as well, they keep meeting each other in the wrong order – what happens when time lines are crossed? What impact does that have on the future? It’s something that utterly fascinates me, and one of the things that makes the show as rich and as broadly appealing as it is, because not only is it a big, dark funny sort of glossy action adventure show, it’s also got lots and lots and lots of really big, intellectual, philosophical ideas to experiment with, and that’s what we all love, that’s what we all secretly want. We want our brains to work, and our intellects to be fed at the same time, as we’re being made to laugh and being made to be scared. We always said that’s what we set out to do in every single episode we make, to explore the two extremes of fear and fun. That’s what sort of gets Steven out of bed in the morning, I think.
BE: Did you ever worry that the season might be too complex for people?
PW: You know, I don’t really think that’s possible. I think there are definite episodes of the show, when I sit down and watch them, and I think, “I’m having to work really hard to keep up,” but I’m never bored, and I think the worst thing you can do is not to be complex and to bore people, and I think that’s what we try to avoid.
It was at this point the BBC publicist chimed in, and said we needed to start wrapping things up, and did I have any more questions for Piers? Under normal circumstances, I’d have had plenty more, but in that moment, all I could think was “Thank the Greek Gods this is over,” though that’s not a reflection on Piers, obviously.Mr. Wenger, if by some chance you read this, I owe you a huge apology, and I’ve nothing but respect for what you do and what you’ve brought to my favorite TV series. I hope that someday you’ll grant me another interview…but just to be on the safe side, let’s make sure it’s not on the Monday morning after I’ve celebrated my 40th birthday.