Neil Gaiman Shares Doctor Who Love At Wondercon

Posted by April 4, 2011 Comment

Peter S. Svensson writes for Bleeding Cool

Neil Gaiman, actor Mark Sheppard, and director Toby Haynes were the surprise guests at the Doctor Who Panel at Wondercon 2011. The moderator for the panel was Chris Hardwick, fanboy extraordinaire known for his work on the Nerdist. Hardwick introduced himself as being such a Whovian that he subconsciously convinced his mother to give birth to him on November 23rd, so that he and the series could share a birthdate.

Fan: YOU ROCK!
Hardwick: No, you rock person! I appreciate your appreciation of me!

The BBC America teaser for the upcoming season was then played. Much of that content has already been deciphered here, and doesn’t need my reiteration.

Hardwick then introduced the rest of the panelists.

Toby Haynes, who having directed the two part finale of the previous season, the Christmas special and the first two episodes of the season is in the running for having directed the most episodes of Who sequentially. Neil Gaiman, who wrote the fourth episode of the coming series, “The Doctor’s Wife.” Mark Sheppard, who is apparently contractually obliged to be in every good sci-fi series and will be playing a role in the new season.

Toby was asked about how he got involved with Who. He was sent a script by Steve Moffat, and said yes. Toby explained that he’s still a fan at heart, and was having a meeting with Moffat when Moffat opened up his mail to find a review copy of the Big Brilliant Book of Doctor Who, the new hardcover Annual for the series. Moffat gave the copy to Haynes, as he already had one. Haynes immediately asked if Moffat would be as kind as to autograph it. Moffatt joked that Haynes had already directed two episodes of Who and was still asking for autographs.

A Doctor Who Insider clip for the new season was then played. Which has also been shown here and doesn’t need my reiteration.

Hardwick asked Haynes if he would explain what happens in the first two episodes in detail. Haynes responded with “The Doctor is played by Matt Smith.” He elaborated that this was the first time that the Doctor had been on American soil, since the TV movie set in the US was actually filmed in Vancouver. Haynes elaborated that normally he uses a wide angle lens to increase the drama of a scene but that filming in the US required it to get everything in the shot. Such as his filming of Monument Valley.

Hardwick joked that America is bigger on the inside.

Mark Sheppard’s joining the show was also pretty straightforward. He was asked, and readily agreed as he’d been a Who fan since childhood. He’d always wanted to do Who, and was afraid he’d never get the chance. The problem was working out the timing with Supernatural, but eventually they were able to get the dates to work out properly. Sheppard joked that he flew all the way to Cardiff to film scenes of him playing an American character. Stuart Milligan will be playing Nixon alongside him, and Sheppard mentioned that Milligan had worked with his father in the past. Milligan’s Nixon is incredibly intense. Sheppard joked “Talk about monsters!”

Hardwick then tried to get some information from Gaiman about his episode, “The Doctor’s Wife.” Would it reveal the secret of River Song? Gaiman jokingly responded “It’s called The Doctor’s Wife.” before elaborating that it had been planned to be episode 11 of the previous series, but due to budget constraints had to be shelved so that they could film The Lodger in a flat around the corner instead. This season, they beat up other episodes for their money so that they’d have enough to film his episode, which necessitated a rewrite. For when it was originally to be written, Rory didn’t exist. Now that his nonexisting period is over, Gaiman had to do another draft of the script. At first he wasn’t pleased, but then realized that writing for Rory, and especially scenes with Amy and Rory together were incredibly fun to do. He got to give Rory a line he’d been wanting to use forever.

Amy berates Rory for letting the Doctor go off on his own.

Rory: He’s a timelord. He’ll be fine!

Amy: Rory, that’s just what they’re called. It doesn’t mean he knows what he’s doing.

Haynes first got into Doctor Who because as a child he was dyslexic and had difficulty reading. But when presented with a Who novel, with Tom Baker and Daleks on the cover, he was so intrigued that he managed to finish it. Which got his mother to sponsor his Who reading habits, allowing him to develop quite a collection. Eventually, he stopped reading them and only kept buying the books for their covers. Haynes also had a Dalek costume he wore as a child, which he used to make photoplays with his younger brother. Said brother would be EXTERMINATED in the course of the story, something Haynes took great pleasure from. Now he’s still making Doctor Who stories, only the effects are slightly better.

Hardwick then asked how it was to work on a series that had been going for 47 years?

Gaiman explained that while he first saw the show when he was three and a half, with William Hartnell as the first Doctor, that wasn’t HIS doctor. Gaiman was as scared of Hartnell as he was of the monsters. Gaiman’s Doctor was Patrick Troughton who at the age of six he watched whenever he could. It was pointed out to Gaiman that his works heavily deal with mythology, but Gaiman explained that even before he knew anything of the Greek, Norse or Aztec mythologies, he knew what a Dalek was. He could tell you what the initials in TARDIS stood for: Time And Relative Dimensions In Space.

Gaiman went on to explain that despite fears that you need a degree in Who History to understand the show, all you really need to know is: “There’s this blue box. It’s bigger on the inside. It goes anywhere, sometimes even where it’s supposed to. There’s this bloke in it called the Doctor. Stuff will go wrong, and he has to try and sort out, he usually succeeds because he is Awesome. Now sit down, shut up and watch ‘Blink.’”

Sheppard explained that while Jon Pertwee was the first doctor he saw, Tom Baker was his Doctor. Though growing up he wanted to be Davros more than anything.

There is a photo of Haynes inside of a Dalek. Haynes commented that it turns out to be rather difficult to get a Dalek to wave. Gaiman mentioned that while he did release a photograph taken of him with a Weeping Angel, he will never let anyone see the photo of him hugging a Dalek.

Sheppard mentioned that as a child, he was frightened of the Cybermen, and that what he loves about the relaunch of the show is that it has kept that same sense of fear. He then explained that the series is a work of love, for it certainly isn’t a work of money.

Gaiman added that Matt Smith always brought more energy to the work than he expected, and was always odder than expected. “Matt is more different.”

Hardwick elaborated, that while Smith looks like some Newwave singer, with incredibly boyish looks, he still acts like he’s 900. He’s the first doctor who feels ancient.

Haynes explained that Smith is great to direct, because he can conjure the universe in his mind. When he has to react to what is effectively tape on a stick that will be replaced with a CGI monster, he can react properly. He’s more valuable than the special effects by far.

Matt Smith gave Mark Sheppard a tour of the Tardis, showing every little part of it and explaining what it did. Gaiman was impressed that the new Tardis has a plaque on it showing where and when it was produced, in which Gallifrayean factory, the model number… and that all that detail was made for something that has yet to feature in an episode.

Matt Smith’s penchant for accidentally breaking bits of the Tardis was brought up, leading Haynes to add that as a child, he made Who props out of sticky tape and whatever he could find. And now, he’s still doing the exact same thing. His episode will premiere on April 23rd on BBC America.

Neil brought a clip from his episode, but first made it clear that he wanted this to be a glorious secret between just the 3,500 present in the hall. That no one should upload it online.

*SPOILERS*

(It’s a wet, rundown, muddy wasteland of a planet. The Doctor, Amy and Rory are present. There’s an Odd with a malfunctioning orb. Rory is freaked out, but the Doctor assured him that Ood are good.”  The Ood appears to be a servant of a man and a woman in a rundown shanty. The man appears to be wearing something like an American Civil War jacket. The Doctor repairs the Ood’s speaking orb, only for it to broadcast tons of myriad voices. Rory asks if it’s the Ood speaking, but the Doctor explains that it’s picking up broadcasts. He then asks the man and woman about who else is there. At this point, it gets hard to understand, but they mention the House as if it were an individual as well as a place, and it seems as if the House is the Planet they are on.  Stamp the floor. The Voices are important, for as the Doctor explains, they are of many Timelords.)

*SPOILERS*

The floor was opened to questions. Each of the panelists were asked what the easiest and hardest part of working on Doctor Who was.

For Gaiman, the easiest part was that he just called up Moffat, told him he had an episode idea, got immediate approval to just start writing the script, no synopsis necessary. The hardest part was adjusting to television writing after dealing in comics, where there’s no budget, and novels where there’s no real constraint for length. He had planned (and has previously mentioned) a scene where the episode would begin in the middle of another adventure, in what Gaiman called “Simpsons-style.” In which you would start with one scenario and dovetail into another. While he had written the scene, and it made it to the production schedule, costumes were made for it, the realization was made that in order to fit filming of the episode into the schedule something had to be cut, and that was it. A scene set in the Tardis replaced it. Gaiman was disappointed, but given that editing the finished product was difficult enough, that scene probably would have either been cut in editing or truncated to the point of being unintelligible.

The easiest part of the process for Haynes is that he can turn the camera on any of the cast and get wonderful results from them. Matt Smith is so energetic, Karen Gillan is so beautiful. Gaiman piped in with “Her legs are impossible. You don’t get the full effect on television because [he then gestured to indicate that televisions are wider than they are tall, rather than the other way around.] … I’m convinced they’re prosthetics.”

For Haynes, the hardest part of production is what he calls the “dream killer meeting” in which all the plans he’s had for the episode get broken down by the realities of budget and time, and problems get thrown at him that he has to figure out how to deal with.

Sheppard finds the easiest part is that everyone involved in the production of Who is doing it for the love and that there is a shared passion towards making a good product. The hardest part is that unlike live theatre and music, which is where Sheppard got his start, it’s hard to get feedback from the audience without coming to an event such as Wondercon.

A very enthusastic fan thanked Neil Gaiman for his letter of encouragement to the participants of Nanowrimo, the National Novel Writing Month program, and hoped that he’d likewise contribute to Script Frenzy, the screenplay writing month by the same organization.

A fan asked about the appearance of the previous Tardis interior in the season trailer. Haynes admitted that it wasn’t from an episode he directed and thus has as much information as the fans do in that regard. Sheppard was impressed by it, because they were in the midst of disassembling it as he filmed his scenes. Haynes wasn’t as much impressed as disappointed, because he had enjoyed that set so much, it had been the first thing he had gotten to see.

Haynes was then asked if he had filmed elsewhere in the US besides Utah, or if he’d cheated and done scenes in the studio. Haynes didn’t really like the term “cheat” as he pointed out plenty of American shows film elsewhere than where they are set, but that while the episode itself was set in New York, Chicago and Washington DC, they really only filmed in Arizona and Utah.

The point was made that Vancouver is Everywhere given how ubiquitous it is in TV as a stand-in for other cities, such as the previous use of it in the Who TV Movie.

Michael Sheen will be in Neil’s episode, as will many other talented actors. Neil was quite impressed with the cast. Suranne Jones will be playing Idris, who “might be an old acquaintance with a new face.” The audience gasped at that revelation from Gaiman, though as was pointed out by Sheppard, that’s a very vague sentence.

Haynes revealed the title to the second episode, “The Day of the Moon.” His next project will be directing some Sherlock episodes for the BBC. Sheppard immediately begged Haynes to cast him for something. Hardwick also wanted in, saying that he’d even shine Sherlock’s shoes. Much fun was made at his attempt at a Cockney accent.

In regards to his future plans, Sheppard hoped that a season seven of Supernatural was in the works. He also noted that he’s not confirmed as dead on Leverage, there’s still Warehouse 13, he’s not dead on Chuck… at the end he hates lying to his fans but has to in order to keep the mystery and suspense of the shows he works on.

Neil is going to focus on prose writing in the near future, but does have one more TV project in the works. A storyboard from the Simpsons, featuring Moe with a knife to Neil Gaiman’s throat was shown. Neil could not comment about why Moe wants to kill him, leading Hardwick to joke that so much of Gaiman’s life must be composed of “I am not allowed to comment on that.”

Hardwick told the audience about BBC America’s “Where’s the Tardis?” campaign, inspired by the MIT students who made a Tardis replica and took a photo of it on top of a building. The campaign encourages fans to make their own Tardis and take photos of them in strange and fascinating places. The winners will get a to attend a special screening of a future Who episode.


Peter S. Svensson (peterssvensson@letsreadcomics.com) had his computer fail on him during this panel, and thus his Wondercon coverage has been delayed. Do not worry constant reader, more news is to come!

(Last Updated April 4, 2011 3:13 pm )