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Digital Subscriptions > Doctor Who Magazine > 515 > The EMPIRE of Mark Gatiss

The EMPIRE of Mark Gatiss

He’s been a regular presence on Doctor Who on both sides of the camera since 2005. Mark Gatiss looks back on his adventures in space and time…

One day in 2003, back when Twitter, Facebook and new TV episodes of Doctor Who did not exist, Mark Gatiss received a monumental phone call from Clayton Hickman, who was then the editor of Doctor Who Magazine.

“Are you sitting down?” Clayton said.

“No, I’m lying down,” Mark replied, since he was in bed.

Doctor Who’s coming back.”

“What?!”

When Mark tries to sum up how he felt at that moment, he remembers it all being “too much to take in all at once, like a massive info-bomb.”

Clayton told Mark that the BBC’s Head of Drama Commissioning Jane Tranter and BBC One Controller Lorraine Heggessey were involved with the revival, which would be written by Russell T Davies. Recalls Mark: “I think Russell wanted Bill Nighy for the Doctor – all this info came in one go! The next day, I rang up David Tennant, who was an old friend of mine and a Doctor Who fan. We met at Starbucks next to St Martin’s Theatre: that’s where I told David that Doctor Who was coming back.”

It’s 19 May 2017. Mark has come from a press ‘round-table’ event for his new Ice Warriors story Empress of Mars. At these terrible affairs, journalists from various mainstream publications take it in turns to ask questions at a table which is rarely round. Today, Mark has had to endure the odd question like, “So what’s so special about the Ice Monsters?”, but now he’s typically chipper as he joins us in an Islington pub to complete our journey to the centre of Mark Gatiss, and celebrate his remarkable writing and acting achievements across the length and breadth of post-millennial Who.

A few years before Russell seized John Nathan-Turner’s torch with both hands (settle down at the back), Mark had attempted to launch a show along similar lines to Doctor Who.

“I’d written a pilot for a show called The Ministry of Time with Clayton and Gareth Roberts – and we’d also put together this proposal to bring back Doctor Who itself! So somewhere amid all this, I got a no on The Ministry of Time from Jane Tranter or Lorraine Heggessey, and the email ended with, ‘But wouldn’t it be fun if Mark wrote for the new Doctor Who?’ And I was thinking, ‘No, it would be more than fun! It’s imperative! Imperative!’”

Mark had already enjoyed great success with three series of The League of Gentlemen on BBC Two, and a film version was in the works. The imperative concept of writing new TV Who dangled tantalisingly until Christmas 2003, when he received The Call from Russell T Davies himself.

“Best Christmas I’ve ever had!” Mark says, beaming. “He said he wanted me to write for the new show. He might already have sent me the series breakdown, and Episode 3 was called The Name’s Dickens, Charles Dickens. How I hoped he’d ask me to write that one…”

When we gaze across the nine Doctor Who TV episodes Mark has written to date, there’s a common thread. The first and last stories are set in the Victorian era, with another Victorian story around the middle. What is it about Victoriana that consistently draws him back in?

“Gwyneth! Get down here now! We’ve got another one!”

“It was my favourite era as a kid. It’s all to do with early influences: The Time Machine, Sherlock Holmes, Dickens… I love the language of the period. All those Doyle-isms and little ticks of speech. There’s something quintessentially Doctor Who about Charles Dickens seeing some ghosts, but they’re aliens. It sort of fits, doesn’t it? It’s very Doctor Who.”

Indeed. And of course, that was the brief for Mark’s wonderful first TV Who story, The Unquiet Dead. It features one of the show’s all-time most electrifying pre-titles sequences, as a man’s dead grandmother snaps his neck, then goes on a caterwauling rampage through snowy streets!

“You know what?” Mark says, “It’s just really scary. It’s frightening. The choreography of any pre-titles is very important and that one was really good. You could easily botch that by not being so full on. Sometimes pre-titles aren’t quite as effective as they should be, because of the timing. They need to fall like, 3-2-1 boom!”

Mark acknowledges “huge help” from Russell in writing this story. “He was brilliant and I learned an enormous amount from him. The very first meeting we had about it, I said I really wanted to capture what it would be like if you could time travel. What would it really be like if you could go, ‘It’s 3.13pm, 12 August 1611’? So the idea of Rose’s footprint in the snow of the past seemed really lovely. But in my first draft, they then went back into the TARDIS for about two hours, and Russell said, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘I know why, because I’m thinking of this as a four-parter!’ That was a big mental shift for me. Basically, the old Episode 1 was now the pre-titles.”

© MARK GATISS

“ The BBC said, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun if Mark wrote for the new Doctor Who?’ I was thinking, ‘No, it would be more than fun! It’s imperative! Imperative!’”

Mark’s first script for the series – 2005’s The Unquiet Dead.
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About Doctor Who Magazine

Contents include: • An in-depth interview with STEVEN MOFFAT, head writer and executive, who reflects on his years working on the series • STEVEN MOFFAT writes his last-ever PRODUCTION NOTES • A look back at 20 amazing things about the STEVEN MOFFAT era of DOCTOR WHO, plus tributes from RUSSELL T DAVIES, CHRIS CHIBNALL, MARK GATISS and many more • Part 2 of the DWM interview with DOCTOR WHO writer, actor and fan, MARK GATISS • A brand-new adventure for the Doctor and Bill in Part 1 of the latest comic strip story, THE PARLIAMENT OF FEAR by Scott Gray, with art by Staz Johnson • Reviews of the 2017 series finale WORLD ENOUGH AND TIME and THE DOCTOR FALLS • THE FACT OF FICTION looks at the Eleventh Doctor’s debut episode, 2010’s THE ELEVENTH HOUR • The latest DVDs and audios are reviewed • Previews of forthcoming releases • Prize-winning competitions, the 2017 SEASON SURVEY official news, the WOTCHA! column
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