Mark Gatiss on Doctor Who 50th anniversary drama: “I’m totally prepared for howls of protest”

The man behind An Adventure in Time and Space says he wrote the BBC4 drama for everyone, not just die hard fans - "they'll complain about everything"

Mark Gatiss says he is prepared for “howls of protest” from Doctor Who fans about his script for the 90-minute drama An Adventure in Space and Time.


The sometime Doctor Who writer says the BBC4 film, which charts the efforts to get the show on air 50 years ago, is aimed at general viewers rather than diehard Whovians.

“Writing Doctor Who, you don’t give a monkey’s [about giving diehard fans what they want],” said Gatiss. “You write it for your audience, not for the people who will watch it anyway. I don’t mean to sound contemptible at all – I’m a fan so there are a lot of things that I want to nod to or embrace – but you can’t be ruled by that. Here, this is holy writ; they’re real people.”

Asked about a possible backlash, Gatiss said “Oh, I’m totally prepared for howls of protest. In a funny way, it’s similar to when I made my horror documentaries for BBC4. Every day on Twitter, someone would say: ‘How can you not have this? Where is Nosferatu?’

“I would tiresomely reply: ‘If I included everything, it would be just me sitting in a chair going ‘… and then The Abominable Dr Phibes happened’” Gatiss told trade magazine Broadcast. “Doctor Who fans exist for the minutiae. They’ll complain about everything. They’ll probably complain about Verity Lambert’s shoes. But I made it for everybody and I hope it’s very touching.”

Gatiss reveals that he was forced to excise a scene that pointed out that director Ridley Scott was nearly given the job of designing the Daleks.

He tells the magazine: “Everything would be so different. I wrote this jokey scene where the head of department says: ‘Ridley did some preliminary drawings before he left the project.’ You don’t see them, but they roll them out on a drawing board and designer Ray Cusick goes ‘… I think I’ll go my own way’.” Could the Daleks have turned out like the phallic alien of Scott’s breakthrough movie? The mind boggles.”

The first half of the drama focuses on the work of producers Verity Lambert and Sydney Newman in getting the show made, with the second half devoted to its impact on the life of first Doctor William Hartnell, played in an Adventure in Space and Time by David Bradley.

Gatiss said the production also highlighted the increased budgetary constraints of modern programming making, telling the magazine: “One of Sydney Newman’s original ideas is that the team come out of the Tardis three inches tall. It was beset by problems and they cut one episode because it wasn’t working, but it’s visually amazing to this day: brilliant sets, a giant plughole, a big telephone, a giant fly.  Obviously I wanted some of that but we couldn’t afford it! They could in 1964 – but not today.”