Doctor Who boss teases “irresistible” Mary Shelley and Lord Byron “ghost story” episode

Will the Cybermen inspire Frankenstein? Chris Chibnall says the truth may be more complicated…

Mandip Gill, Lilli Miller and Jodie Whittaker in Doctor Who (BBC)

After already visiting Ada Lovelace, Noor Inayat Khan and Nikola Tesla, an upcoming episode of Doctor Who will drop Jodie Whittaker’s TARDIS team in on another handful of key historical figures – Mary Shelley, Lord Byron and Percy Shelley.

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Specifically, the TARDIS will arrive on the famed night in 1816 when all three writers (and some others) were engaged in a contest of ghost stories at the Villa Diodati in Geneva.

And speaking to RadioTimes.com, Doctor Who showrunner Chris Chibnall has revealed more about what we can expect from the current series’ eighth episode, including whether those rumours of Cybermen influencing Mary Shelley’s greatest work have any truth in them…

“We’ll be seeing Mary Shelley and Lord Byron, on the night she writes Frankenstein,” Chibnall said.

Maxine Alderton, who’s written that episode, is an absolute Mary Shelley and Byron… not a buff, she’s an expert. She studied them, she loves them, she knew all about them, she came with a great idea.

“And it was completely irresistible. I think to spend a night with them, in a haunted house, feels absolutely prime Doctor Who territory.”

Part of Alderton’s pitch was apparently to cast these literary luminaries age-appropriately, employing young actors (including Lili Miller, Nadia Parkes, Jacob Collins-Levy, Maxim Baldry and Lewis Rainer) who more closely matched how old the Villa Diodati guests actually were, as opposed to how we usually imagine them.

“There’s a very very young cast, because Mary Shelley was 18 that night,” Chibnall told us.

“Maxine had a great take on the characters, just because they’re such a young group of characters. Sometimes that gets a bit lost, how young they were when they were creating these incredible works.”

As for what kind of threat the TARDIS team will be facing in the episode, Chibnall was more coy, deflecting long-running rumours that the return of classic cyborg foes the Cybermen in the story would end up inspiring the similar man-made Frankenstein’s monster.

“There is a ghost story,” Chibnall said firmly when we asked about the Cybermen.

“I would be looking far more to a ghost story at the Villa Diodati. Because that house looks very haunted to me.”

But whether it’s Cybermen or some new creatures causing the trouble, our heroes will clearly be facing a literate litany of dangers when they touch down in Switzerland. Maybe they should have just checked out a few English textbooks after all…

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Doctor Who continues on BBC One at 7:10pm on Sundays