jason stives interviews one of the key producers of the sci-fi series…
After gasping with glee from interviewing the raggedy Doctor and the girl who waited, Pop-Break along with a roundtable of respected writers sat down with a key member of the think tank that is the Doctor Who production offices, executive producer Caroline Skinner. Having scripted and produced for such shows as Five Days and the House of Saddam, Caroline Skinner joined the production of Doctor Who this year helping oversee the shows seventh series with Executive producer Steven Moffat. Her entrance into the behind the scenes operations comes as the show’s popularity has hit unprecedented peaks both home and abroad here in the US.
For Skinner, a long time fan of the show, this has been a chance to bring her experience and overall passion for the longest running science fiction series to the creative table. As the show prepares to enter its 50th anniversary year, there is much to expect but first a whole season of epic quality stories have to be broadcast that will see the exit of our beloved Ponds and the introduction of a new companion.
In our final Q&A session at the BBC America offices, Caroline talked candidly with us kind hearted Whovians about budgets, shooting on location, and the challenges of running the most popular science fiction series on British television.
Question 1: So what exactly was the genesis of the Pond Life webisodes? How did they come about?
Caroline Skinner: Steven and I wanted to do a piece, a substantial piece actually, about the Ponds and their relationship with the Doctor. In a general way but also in between series 6 and 7 and one of the exciting things about this are that you have Amy and Rory as a couple and the Doctor being in and out of their lives and taking them on adventures. We wanted something that would set up that context and really get people involved with their relationship and to see what the Doctor popping in and out means from their point of view. We worked with a great writer in Chris Chibnall who is writing two of the upcoming episodes and he just really knew how to work with Amy and Rory’s lives.
Question 2: This is your first season as executive producer alongside Steven. With the experience that you have had acting as script editor and producer on shows like The Fades and Five Days, what were you able to bring to the table with your experience on such an established show like Doctor Who?
Caroline Skinner: A huge amount and of joy and enthusiasm because I have been a Doctor Who fan all my life and I just want to see it get bigger and bigger. I sat down with Steven like minus day one before I got the job and he basically went over the whole season explaining to me what he wanted to do and what the themes were going to be. In basically 15 minutes he pitched to me every single one of the 13 story ideas at which point I was basically like “Wow!” (laugh) It was just so exciting to hear and I just really wanted to bring my enthusiasm for the show to the show and to try and bring those ideas to life in the most ambitious ways we could.
Question 3: Did you look at the work of previous people who were in your position to see what they had done or did you want to bring your own ideas to the table instead?
Caroline Skinner: Well I’ve always watched Doctor Who and have probably watched every episode. With the last two seasons that Steven had done the bar was set very high in particular with last season and the American based episode shot in Utah and just the overall huge arc. I watched it with huge aspirations and the work that everyone has done on it has been fantastic. I think what we are trying to do this year is to take that bar which is already set pretty high and make it higher.
Question 4: What has been the most challenging episode to work on this year?
Caroline Skinner: I think the most challenging and rewarding episode was the last one of this group which is “The Angels Take Manhattan.” It’s Karen and Arthur’s last story and we shot a good portion of it here in New York. It was challenging for many reasons especially for Steven who wrote probably the most beautiful and heartbreaking exit story for them. There are some scenes in it that are just absolutely emotional. That’s not an easy thing to do and especially not for Arthur, Karen and Matt who have been working together for a few years now. It’s an enormous change and we wanted to make sure we got that story absolutely right and at the same time with the New York setting we wanted to make it really down to Earth and very detailed. We worked really hard to get out and about to every New York landmark so we could to create a noir-ish atmosphere that this city is so famous for. I think we did it beautifully.
Question 5: Were you surprised by the reaction here by the fans?
Caroline Skinner: Oh yes! When we shoot in the UK yes we do have people follow us around and the fan base absolutely adores the show but I have never in my career experienced that amount of people. I mean they’ve shot Sex and the City and NYPD Blue here but we had like twice the people that Julia Roberts is probably used to having around the set (laugh). It was just so phenomenal and a wonderful experience. When we shot in Central Park there were probably 30 people there first thing in the morning but as the day went on the crowd grew and grew. At the end of the day we were shooting by a fountain and you could just feel the fan admiration in the air and it made it such a special experience. That’s one of the best things about working on this show is the reaction of the fans.
Question 6: We don’t need to dance around the 50th anniversary but if anything when can we expect to hear who might be in it or who you would like to be in it?
Caroline Skinner: We’ve got an awful lot of work to do before we can commit to anything on the anniversary. What I can say is next year is going to be the biggest year for Doctor Who by far. I’ve spent a lot of time in strange underground rooms talking about what we might do not just on television but the other events we can do. The show is such a big event and such an international event as well so there is lots to come. The thing that I will say is the best thing right now is these five episodes we are about to put out. Plus we are now shooting the Christmas special and we are also in the middle of shooting the run of 8 episodes for next year featuring Matt and Jenna and those stories are very touching and brilliant. I think before we even think about getting to Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary we have got a string of amazing episodes to come that I think people will really enjoy.
Question 7: How tempting is it for you when you read through the scripts to go “Yeah, if I went and asked for more money they might give it to us” or are you really good at telling Steven “No, 400 ships will do.”
Caroline Skinner: We are treated very well by the BBC but like any show they know what they want and they try not to cut anything. What you tend to get with a Doctor Who script is whether it’s in regards to the setting, the effects or what have you, if it doesn’t scare you it’s not worth it. I’m lucky to have the best team of producers with the most fantastic imaginations on how to bring things to life. Like even with “Asylum of the Daleks” we were just about to go to Spain to shoot our western episode and we were talking about the setting of this story. We wanted some scenes with snowy mountainsides and we were going to do it on a back drop in the studio but then we thought “you know Sierra Nevada is not that far up the road why don’t we go and shoot some stuff there.” I think we have such a great team that they are more than willing to go the extra mile to make it the best possible episode that they can.