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Exclusive – Mark Gatiss reveals why his original script for this year’s Christmas ghost story had to be scrapped

He'd originally planned an original horror tale, before opting for a new MR James adaptation.

In Search of Dracula with Mark Gatiss

After a year off, Mark Gatiss will once again be providing us with a ghost story for Christmas in 2021 – but has revealed that his original plans for this year’s drama had to be abandoned due to the pandemic.

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Gatiss has previously adapted the MR James stories The Tractate Middoth (in 2013) and Martin’s Close (2019), as well as writing and directing his own original horrors inspired by James with 2008’s Crooked House and 2018’s The Dead Room.

This year, he’ll bring James’ 1904 tale The Mezzotint to the screen as a one-off starring Rory Kinnear, but the plan was initially quite different. “The BBC had originally asked for another original, which I wrote,” Gatiss told RadioTimes.com. “But it was very grim, set in a hospital, largely concerned with old people dying, and I thought, d’you know, I think now what we need is another MR James!”

The appropriateness of the subject matter aside, Gatiss explained that an adaptation of The Mezzotint – which tells the story of an artwork which may have taken on a form of supernatural life – was far easier to achieve under COVID filming restrictions. “By dint of being not action packed, I thought it felt very doable. We couldn’t have made Martin’s Close this year, for example, because it featured a jury – it was set in a tiny room full of 35 people!

“So I tried to make it [The Mezzotint] quite spare. It’s mostly two-handers to make it doable. So it was a practical consideration as much as it being a favourite story and a very famous one.”

With restrictions now easing, Gatiss is open to the possibility of revisiting his original script at some point. “Oh, yes! I don’t know when – it depends what happens with the global emergency, doesn’t it? We may need some more comfort next year, who knows?”

The Mezzotint completed filming in the South of England earlier this year, though the plan had originally been for it to air at Christmas last year before COVID changed everything – hence why there was no ghost story on the festive schedules in 2020.

“We really came very close,” Gatiss explained. “We had to raise half the money again, just to cover COVID – we actually did that by selling distribution rights to the previous ones – but then the insurance fell through, so we were scuppered.

“We got to Christmas and I felt sick because there wasn’t one! But at least we had repeats of Dead Room and Martin’s Close. It feels wrong now if there isn’t one.”

The Mezzotint will air on BBC Two this Christmas.

Read more: Mark Gatiss is open to returning to Doctor Who: ‘There are certain ideas that occur’

Doctor Who: The Crimson Horror by Mark Gatiss is available to buy now as part of the Target Collection, along with Dalek by Robert Shearman and The Witchfinders by Joy Wilkinson.

The full Big RT Interview with Mark Gatiss will be available to read on Sunday 14th March on RadioTimes.com.

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