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December 18, 2010 / Museum of Infamy

Simon Nye discusses his Doctor Who episode Amy’s Choice

James Nye talks to writer Simon Nye about his Doctor Who episode. The discussion is excerpted from a much longer interview about Simon Nye’s work which will be posted at a later date.

Simon Nye (c) James Nye 2010

How did you come to write the episode Amy’s Choice for the fifth season of the revived Doctor Who?

Well, there’s a buzz around Doctor Who. As a family it’s the only thing we do watch together really – apart from X Factor, which, personally, I watch somewhat unwillingly. So that’s why I said yes when they asked me.

Did you find it difficult? You’ve said before  that you’re not keen on fantasy and surrealism, but you had to deal with fantasy in the representation of Reggie’s inner thoughts in that show. And of course, when Men Behaving Badly – a show that is fairly naturalistic (apart from the lack of swearing) – was up for a BAFTA, it lost out to Father Ted. Shows like that must have seemed a bit like a new sitcom genre – or at least somewhat of a reversion to the era of Monty Python and The Goodies. Did you worry when Father Ted became huge and Black Books took off that you didn’t really write that sort of material?

I don’t know why the surreal doesn’t really appeal to me as a writer. I love other people’s take on it, but it’s the potential randomness of it that I find difficult. If you can go into a mad fantasy here, then what’s the logic? So doing something like Doctor Who – which is a license to think fantastically – I did need a lot of encouragement from producer and chief writer Steven Moffat. His predecessor in the role, Russell T. Davies, cast a long shadow, but he’s actually very good at working hard to make the concepts fly. So I was just asked to write something about dreams, and there was a bit of series arc that I had to accommodate about Amy being unsure about her future with Rory. I was rather earthbound in my initial choices of story, but once you know the rules, it makes you confident enough to do whatever you like.

Did it turn out pretty much as you’d hoped?

Target novelisation of The Invasion of Time, broadcast 1978, published 1980.

I was quite happy, and it was nicely received. It was intended to be the cheap episode of the season, which is why I was told that my monsters were effectively old people in a home.

I felt it was a pity you didn’t see one of the monsters inside them rip out of them. And you mentioned before that you wanted them to look fantastically old.

Yes. There were a few things I wanted that would have been too expensive, such as that fantastic ageing make-up we’ve seen before in The Lazarus Experiment and The Sound of Drums. If you’re freezing the Tardis, as we were, there’s talk in the series of the Tardis swimming-pool, so I wrote some scenes in a frozen swimming-pool, which would have been beautiful, but were too expensive.

In one of the Tom Baker stories – The Invasion of Time – we do see the swimming pool.

Really?

It’s a fairly pantomimish sequence, but he goes through the rest of the Tardis chased by Sontarans and we see an art gallery and so on, and they have great fun with making the Tardis seem huge.

Well, this idea that the Tardis is organic, and almost infinitely large – I didn’t realise any of that.

In the very first series, you see more of the Tardis, and a food machine, bedrooms and so on. And I think lots of Doctor Who fans want to see more. I always felt very excited as a child when we did. I think Moffat has promised that we will see more.

The trouble is it’s really expensive just to do a corridor! We were supposed to wander off in the old people’s home a bit, but there was no money left by that stage. But in a way it’s good to know that there’s some kind of financial restraints on the budget – that you can’t just explode your way out of a crisis.

In the early show the budget restraint inspired them to come up with really creative solutions as often as it did wobbly scenery and dodgy effects. The Tardis was originally going to be an expensive transparent sphere, but became the iconic police box because it was cheaper to realise. The idea was that it would change external form to blend into its planetary surroundings, but that would have meant more expense every new story, so the mechanism stuck at a 1960s police box. And there’s something fantastically surreal and wonderful about the result.

It’s far too easy to blockbuster your way out of a tricky plot if you’ve got the money. These days you just blow something up or get the CGI boys in.

1930s illustration. When selecting a phone box, there is always a risk that it may turn out to be a space-time machine in disguise.

You said of Amy’s Choice that you also wanted the old lady that scrabbles towards an upstairs window . . .

. . . to fall back and be impaled on the Tardis lamp, which would illuminate her corpse from the inside. But I didn’t realise the Tardis is 14 foot high apparently. So they persuaded me (I now think rather deceitfully!) that she wouldn’t be high enough to fall on it.

Well, it was still quite funny the way she did fall.

Yes. And the way I wanted it would have been slightly gory, and there’s always a fear of copycat behaviour . .

Of people impaling themselves on Tardises?

Yes! All over the country people would be making their own Tardis and impaling themselves on the lantern! But there was another bit. In the filmed version they had the Doctor fleeing to a butcher’s and being in a cold storage room. Originally I had him going to a post office, and he locks himself in a safe because it’s the only place he can be, er, safe. As a claustrophobe myself I could barely write it, so I’m glad they didn’t film it in the end. It was too much of a copycat risk.

But then there was another scene in The Lodger, the episode with James Corden, where the Doctor headbutts him in order to transfer information, which I thought was fairly shocking. I’m sure a lot of ten year olds found out the hard way that it doesn’t work!

Yes. I’m not sure how these rules work really. But I quite liked that episode though, the concept of the Doctor trying to be ordinary and failing.

Would you do another episode if you were asked?

Well yes, but I don’t want to spoil the show by doing a bad one!

It’s said that Stephen Fry was initially interested in writing an episode, but then worried he couldn’t do one good enough. Because some of them, particularly Steven Moffat’s, are just so good.

Russell T. Davies was known as a bit of a re-writer of other people’s work, and Steven doesn’t do that so much. He certainly made a few changes to mine to make it fit in with the season arc, and if he sees an episode that doesn’t work, he’ll muscle in. So in a way, there’s a safety net there. As long as you’ve got the time to listen to the notes, it’s okay. They do work really very hard on it.

They recently repeated Moffat’s award-winning second series episode The Girl in the Fireplace, which I think is just superb.

Yes, and really quite simple, though multi-layered. Moffat’s great. He’s interested in getting the relationships right but loves tricking himself really. He likes painting himself into a corner and then challenging himself to get out of it. But with the endings of the Doctor Who episodes there’s always a story attached, and they often change them really late and make quite radical changes just before they’re filming. So it’s quite a risky business which adds a certain edge to the production.

(c) James Nye 2010

Amy’s Choice is available as a part of the Season 5 box-set on DVD or Blu-ray.

Alternatively, Season 5, Volume Three contains Amy’s Choice with the episodes The Hungry Earth and Cold Blood, again on DVD or Blu-ray.

The Tom Baker story The Invasion of Time is also available on DVD, or as part of the classic series Sontaran box-set, Bred for War.

For more views of the early Tardis interior, see Doctor Who – The Beginning which contains the first ever Doctor Who stories from 1963, An Unearthly Child, The Daleks, and The Edge of Destruction. This last story – a two part psychodrama – is set entirely aboard the Tardis, and both episodes can be watched for free on the BBC Worldwide Youtube page here: Episode One and here: Episode Two.

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