Were you a superhero fan as a boy and which classic movies, if any, did you study for inspiration?
I remember going to see Christopher Reeve’s Superman. That was a Christmas release too. There was a big buzz around the film and it didn’t disappoint. Going back even further – guilty pleasure time – Adam West’s Batman left a big impression. Irreverent, camp, funny and dark too, and possibly the second-best theme tune of all time. Watching Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films with my sons when they were tiny – that was a key inspiration for Doctor Mysterio, particularly the rapport between Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker and Kirsten Dunst’s MJ. I wanted the film to evoke those memories. And Steven was clear he wanted to go back to a superhero style that was full of wit and fun, when ingenuity was in the script and the camera and didn’t all occur in computer-generated effects. I was also fascinated by the small everyday details in those films, the apartments, the streets, the backgrounds. No matter how fantastic the film, finding the reality is vital. On the subject of Spider-Man, there are some Easter eggs dotted around Doctor Mysterio: look out for a certain pizza parlour.
What’s been the greatest challenge making this Doctor Who Christmas special?
There were so many – the Doctor’s first appearance in the story probably consumed the most discussion time but we were so clear from Steven’s script how we wanted to shoot it. It was the first scene I storyboarded. Once we had the visuals, it was hours and hours of me, Peter Bennett (producer) and Fletcher Rodley (assistant director) painstakingly going through each shot, breaking it all down and working out a methodology for each shot. Often complex sequences evolve from the initial plan – but in this instance the finished sequence is very close to those original storyboards.
From the start we knew we wanted a neighbourhood New York feel for the area around Lucy’s apartment: real streets, a subway, big yellow taxis, everything. We also knew we didn’t have the time or money to shoot in New York. Amazingly, there’s a studio just outside Sofia that had exactly what we were looking for. We were there for the briefest of moments but you believe you’re in New York.
The final shot before the titles was always going to be a big challenge, but once again I used a very old trick – the kind of stunt they used to pull week in week out in Batman. [Horizontal climbing, as shown in Ed's tweet, right]
How were the flying shots achieved, especially when the Doctor is zooming along with the eight-year-old Grant?
We shot some of the flying scenes suspending the actors on wires, which is the traditional way, but for most of the flying we tried to keep it much simpler. We had a contraption that we called the seesaw, which was basically, well, a seesaw. The flying shot of the Doctor and young Grant was simplicity itself. We had two boards like small ironing boards – Logan (Grant) lying on his front, the Doctor lying on his back. They stayed in one position and we moved the camera around them. Outrageously simple!
How did you feel when you saw the finished version with all the music and effects on the big screen at the BFI?
Who doesn’t enjoy seeing their work on the big screen? It was emotional! You’ve been wrapped up in something for months, immersed in the detail, it’s all-consuming. Then suddenly it’s out there in front of a huge audience. I sat at the back because I wanted to see how the audience were reacting. I was watching them as much as the film. It looked great, and the audience was incredible, it was so good to see the gags landing. And there’s so much detail that you experience with greater clarity in the cinema and not just visually. Hearing both the power and the nuance in the sound design was so good – something that can be easily missed on TV.