Bear with! I’m going to blow a lot of smoke in Mark Gatiss’s direction. We all know already he’s a hugely talented writer/performer, what with The League of Gentlemen, Sherlock and his BBC4 horror docs. He wrote his first, perfect, Doctor Who story in its comeback year, 2005 – The Unquiet Dead (Dickens, ghouls and gas monsters) – and he’s penned a handful of episodes since, including Victory of the Daleks, which had its heart in the right place but was lambasted for its ghastly Dalek-cum-dodgems.
Fans have very high hopes for An Adventure in Space and Time, his forthcoming origins of Who drama (which could well eclipse Steven Moffat’s anniversary special). I went to the filming several times and was hugely impressed at what I saw.
As Mark indulged me on set, walking me round a fabulously faithful re-creation of the 1963 Tardis control room, I picked up on his glee and felt a kindred spirit. “We’re both Pertwee boys,” he sighed, as we realised we’re almost the same age. Mark is such an amiable chap, so I am delighted – largely for him – that his latest episode, Cold War, is a classic in the making.
It proves his deep love and understanding of Doctor Who and adeptness at creating the kind of Doctor Who I adore – adventures with a clear sense of time, place, isolation and claustrophobia; vivid characters and witty lines; creeping tension and an alarming monster. And at least one minor point I can quibble over.
So let’s get that out of the way. The language barrier! Of course, spoken English is convention, a must for mainstream drama. I’m not saying I’d prefer subtitles on Doctor Who or would go to The Cherry Orchard if it were all in the original Russian. And it’s reasonable for Clara to wonder how she's communicating with Soviet submariners (even if last episode she didn’t question how she could speak to some Akhaten aliens and not others). The familiar explanation of the “Tardis translation matrix” is trotted out.
But once attention is drawn to this, viewers may wonder why Russians were heard speaking English before the Tardis arrives, how the Soviets can speak to a Martian, and why Professor Grisenko says, “He wants to speak to the organ grinder not to the monkey,” which surely doesn’t work in Russian. Maybe the Ultravox-obsessed Prof is actually speaking English here. OK, I’ll stop now. My own translation matrix is faltering.