Chris Chibnall (‘Torchwood’, ‘Doctor Who’) interview

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Do you think Torchwood will ever make a return?

“Ooh… well it’s not a question for me, it’s a question for Russell T Davies to be honest. I think there’s always stories you could tell in Torchwood.

“It doesn’t seem to be there’s an imminent chance of it, everybody is off doing other things; Eve [Myles] has her own show coming up on BBC One. So it’s really up to Russell. If he’s got a story to tell in that world then it may happen. I think there’s an infinite number of stories you could do.”

But you would definitely be involved in it?

“I always will with Russell – I’d always work on Torchwood, but that’s absolutely in Russell’s gist, it’s not in mine.”

A lot of Doctor Who writers that we talk to say that it’s a show they’ll always want to write for – is that the same case with you?

“Yeah. It’s a privilege and an honour and a delight to go in and write a Doctor Who [episode]. Steven [Moffat] is a great showrunner to work for, and you always do a Doctor Who if there’s time, because you can tell stories you can’t tell anywhere else. And again, you get to write for great actors.”

Jenna-Louise Coleman’s a fantastic actress, you must want to write for Clara?

“Oh she’s amazing, isn’t she! And what big shoes to step into – Karen gone and Arthur gone – and she’s come in and claimed it and it’s amazing. So yes, yeah it would be great to write for her. She and Matt clearly have great rapport. So who knows?“

Will you be back to do more Doctor Who for Series 8?

“You know, I hope to, and Steven’s been good enough to ask, so we’ll just see if all the schedules figure out and stuff like that. But it’s always lovely to be on the list for that.”

You were heavily involved in the first half of Series 7, and you wrote two very different episodes (‘Dinosaurs on a Spaceship’ and ‘The Power of Three’). On reflection, which are you most fond of?

“Oh that’s like asking me to choose between my children, Rob! [Laughs] I like them both for equal reasons. ‘Dinosaurs’ had a really specific job to do, in that Steven wanted a huge blockbuster and a scale to it. He just said ‘We need to do it Michael Bay style on a BBC budget’, and we delivered that, and I’m really proud of it. It should not have been possible to make that episode.

“Saul Metzstein (director) did a brilliant job, because I delivered that first draft and everything I wrote in the first draft is onscreen, and that never happens in any show! Let alone Doctor Who, let alone when you’re doing dinosaurs on a spaceship! So I loved that and I really loved that sense of a 45 minute romp.

“’Power of Three’ I feel very fondly towards, because it’s a bit more intimate and it’s a bit more character driven, and it has a really unusual structure. ‘Power’ is probably a more interesting piece of emotional writing.”

Of the two it seemed like the more difficult brief to fulfil…

“Steven just said, ‘A year with the Ponds’, and that was it, go away! [Laughs]. And so then I came up with the cubes and the ideas merged together. In a way a big brief like that is quite a joy to be honest, the vaguer briefs are a joy, because you can go away and really let fly with it.

“What I loved was the amount of time The Doctor could spend with the Ponds, the way you could tell the story in a different structure to what you’d normally do in a Doctor Who, particularly in a normal domestic Earth story. The expansion of that storyline across time was a lot of fun.

“I think what I’m proud of in ‘Power’ is that it breaks a lot of rules quite quietly. You would never ever stop an episode for The Doctor and the companion to sit down and talk for three minutes! Matt and Karen are so amazing in that scene. So I love it for that. It’s probably the most ‘Me’ of my Doctor Who episodes, ‘The Power of Three’.

The whole idea of the cubes in ‘The Power of Three’ felt quite like a Torchwood episode…

“Yeah, it may well do. You need a lot of technical tricks up your sleeve in Doctor Who to get you through, and I suppose the opening and using the news footage was something I’d used on Torchwood. So yeah, I think it is, I think that’s no bad thing. I like that the shows feed off each other to be honest.”

As we hurtle towards the Doctor Who‘s 50th anniversary special in November, what would you as a fan and writer of the show like to see?

“Oh my God, I haven’t even thought about it! You know, I don’t care as long as it’s on! [Laughs] I’ll take whatever Steven gives me! I’m just delighted they’re doing one, I’m delighted that Matt’s at the centre of it. I’m really thrilled Steven’s doing it because you know it’s going to be enormous and full of love. I’ve got no expectations other than delight.”

We’re all like that!

“It’s the best place to be! How amazing to be a Doctor Who fan in the 50th Anniversary year. All the lean years that fans lived through and you think to have this, and for it to be such a centrepiece of BBC One this year, how exciting!”

Moving on from Doctor Who, how’s your Great Train Robbery drama shaping up? 

“We’re in week 3 of shooting. I’m really quietly excited by what I’ve seen so far of the rushes. We’ve got a great cast doing great stuff. Luke Evans as Bruce Reynolds is really fabulous, and Neil Maskell from Utopia is amazing. It’s really really exciting. Julian Jarrold, who directed The Girl and Appropriate Adult, is doing a really great job. It’s early days but I’m really pleased by what I’m seeing.”

What made you want to write about The Great Train Robbery?

“I knew a little bit about it, and someone had mentioned it to me, and I’d done a little bit of reading on it, and the more you read about it the more you realise it’s sort of become folklore. And actually there’s a lot of detail about the robbery, and about the characters involved, and the investigation that followed. People simply don’t know, and it’s become a sort of a tale and a bit of a myth.

“I really enjoyed doing United [Chibnall’s drama about Manchester United’s ‘Busby Babes’ and the aftermath of the Munich air disaster] and doing the social history – finding the drama in social history – and telling the detail of stories that you think you know in the back of your head in British history. It was the same thing with The Great Train Robbery.

“I think a lot of people think they know what the story of that train robbery is and I think there’s a lot of detail people don’t know which has been confused over the years. There are a lot of perspectives on both sides of the robbery that will surprise people. We’ve done a lot of forensic detail and research that you wouldn’t get in the folklore version.

“At its heart it’s a big morality tale, and to locate that in 1963…it’s a really interesting story and there’s some fantastically conflicting points of view and perspectives on it.”

What’s next for you afterwards?

“I’m writing a new play, I haven’t written a play for a long time, and then probably a holiday! I’d really like to go away and read a book. And then we’ll see.

“There’s some really lovely offers knocking about, and we’ll just see where it all lands once Broadchurch has finished and once Great Train Robbery‘s all edited. I’m the exec on that so that’ll take until August.”

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