Phil Ford (‘The Sarah Jane Adventures’) interview

Posted Filed under

Sarah Jane Smith and her gang are back with more alien-busting adventures in the fourth series of Doctor Who spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures, returning to CBBC in autumn 2010.

Series 4 sees the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) make a guest appearance in two special episodes which also unite Sarah Jane with another of the Doctor’s former companions, Jo Grant (Katy Manning).

CultBox caught up with co-producer Phil Ford to find out more…

Can you explain what your role as co-producer on The Sarah Jane Adventures involves?

“Co-producer on the show really means I get to have some kind of a say in stories other than my own. TV is a collaborative business. At scripting stage, it’s all about developing the best story from the writer – along with the script editor, producer and exec producers, I’m just another part of that process.”

You’ve written a new story for this series, ‘The Vault Of Secrets’ – how long does it take you to write a story for the show?

“Oh, Lord! How long does it take to write an episode – from idea to final script? How long is a piece of string? Really. Some of these stories have been hanging around in my head for years. The idea of doing something with a Gorgon certainly had. ‘The Vault Of Secrets’, though, probably took a couple of months from idea to finished script. Maybe three. It’s been a busy year (having done one and a half series this time) so it’s difficult to keep track!”

How early on in the planning of Series 4 did you know you’d have Matt Smith as a guest star? Following David Tennant’s story in Series 3, would you like to see an appearance by The Doctor become a regular event each series?

“We pretty much always knew we were going to bring Matt into the series. And it was wonderful to have Russell [T Davies] come back and write that story. But I’m not sure about bringing the Doctor into every series. We have to remember that this is The Sarah Jane Adventures, and Doctor Who is another show. Crossing the boundary is fun every now and again, but I’m not sure we should do it all the time.

“This was a great opportunity for Sarah Jane to meet the new Doctor – and to meet Jo Grant – so there was a good reason for this story. But I’d be wary of him coming back too much; it just starts to look like a stunt. Schedule-wise for the two shows it can be a logistical nightmare, too. Having said that, I’m sure he’ll be back again some time. I hope we see Jo again, too.”

And how about appearances by previous Doctors? It’d be amazing to see Tom Baker with Elisabeth Sladen on Bannerman Road!

“I think there’s a part of all of us that remember Lis and Tom together that would love to see the Fourth Doctor turn up one day. And who knows?!”

Now that Doctor Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures no longer have the same show-runner, do you still see the two shows existing in the same fictional universe? (For instance, did Luke, Clyde and Rani also forget about the Daleks due to the crack, etc.) Or do you try not to worry about these things too much?

“The wonderful thing about this universe is: it can be any universe! Make your choice. Which universe do you want it to be? Is it a universe that looks just like the one with the crack, but isn’t? How would we ever know? I think I’m skating the issue here!”

Without giving too much away about the Series 4 finale – intriguingly titled ‘Goodbye, Sarah Jane Smith’ – hypothetically can you imagine the show continuing if Elisabeth Sladen ever wanted to leave?

“Hypothetically, yes, we could continue to do the show without Lis. Whether we would want to is a completely different matter.”

Tommy Knight has said that Luke “comes back every now and again” after leaving for university at the end of Episode 2. Will we see a full-time replacement for Luke at some point?

“Who knows? Unlike the Doctor, I can’t travel into the future! Watch this space.”

Have CBBC expressed any concern about the characters edging away from the channel’s target audience as they get older?

“The characters get older, yes. But the stories don’t edge away from our target audience. The other thing to bear in mind is that the kids who watched ‘Invasion Of The Bane’ have also grown up a lot, too. So, in a way, the show remains contemporary and relevant to them. And younger kids coming to the show since it started see Rani, Luke and Clyde as older brothers and sisters. CBBC don’t have any worries and nor do we.”

Was your recent LA trip Torchwood-related by any chance? Would you like to write for the show again?

“I’d love to write for Torchwood again and I think the new trans-Atlantic version will build on ‘Children Of Earth’, but my LA trip wasn’t connected to the show, although I did hook up with RTD for a great night out (and a chat about SJA).”

Were you pleased with the success of Doctor Who: The Adventure Games? 1.6 million downloads is pretty impressive! Will you be involved with the second series of the games?

“I was blown away with the success of the games. They hugely out-performed expectations all-round. We found a great new way of telling stories. And, to answer your next question, I’ll probably be onboard for next year’s games.”

How far underway is Series 5 of The Sarah Jane Adventures?

“We have three episodes in the can. And they are corkers! Series Four has been great, but wait til you get a load of Series Five. Oh, boy! Next time round we really go for it!”

> Buy the Series 4 boxset on Amazon.

Watch the trailer…