Summing up the general aesthetic, central philosophy and appeal of an unusual and multifaceted TV series like Doctor Who would be a challenge for most – which is why it’s all the more impressive that regular series writer Mark Gatiss managed to do it twice in a single conversation.
Speaking to RadioTimes.com and other journalists in advance of his upcoming Victorians-vs-Ice Warriors story Empress of Mars this Saturday, Gatiss explained that he picked his setting because it seemed to match the quintessential appeal of Doctor Who – before rattling off a description that perfectly summed up the BBC sci-fi series.
“I had a bit of an epiphany when I was planning this story,” Gatiss said. “I suddenly realised that the thing that makes me happiest in the world is writing things that I would like to watch on bank holiday Monday. And essentially, Victorian soldiers on Mars is exactly what I would like someone else to do so I could happily watch it.
“It's in the engine room of my brain – it's what I've always loved. It's sort of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jules Verne, HG Wells kind of stuff. And it's not only a very British sci-fi concept, it's very Doctor Who.
“I remember [head writer Steven Moffat] saying to me years ago, funnily enough when [Ninth Doctor] Chris Eccleston's costume was initially being discussed or revealed, that he thought the velvet coat against the spaceship backdrop was... that's what Doctor Who is. Do you see what I mean? And in a way this is a quintessential Doctor Who idea I think.”
But not stopping there, Gatiss went on to lay out his next description that rather adroitly put a bow on Who’s appeal. Suffice to say, it’s very sweet. Well, it involves sweets anyway.
“You know, [Fourth Doctor] Tom Baker used to talk about, his whole thing from the beginning was he would go up to this enormous creature and say ‘Would you like a jelly baby?’” Gatiss said. “And it would try and knock his head off and he'd say ‘we'll have to watch out for him!’
“But his assumption was never, ‘It's going to kill me.’ His assumption was 'Maybe he'll like a jelly baby'. And I think that sort of runs through Doctor Who like the letters through Blackpool rock. It's a lovely, it's a human thing, oddly enough, considering he isn’t.
“It's that embracing of the unusual and the different, and the Doctor will frequently see something that appears to be ghastly or horrifying and say it's beautiful,” Gatiss concluded.
“Because he sees it slightly differently.”
Quite the series summary – and we wouldn’t be surprised to find Gatiss has another four or five such descriptions in his back pocket just in case. What a pro.
Doctor Who continues on BBC1 this Saturday at 7:15pm