Tom MacRae (‘Doctor Who': ‘The Girl Who Waited’) interview

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In this weekend’s Doctor Who episode, ‘The Girl Who Waited’, Amy is trapped in a quarantine facility for victims of an alien plague – a plague that will kill the Doctor in a day. The Doctor can use the TARDIS to smash through time and break in, but then Rory is on his own.

He must find Amy and bring her back to the TARDIS before the alien doctors can administer their medicine. Rory is about to encounter a very different side to his wife. Can he rescue Amy before she is killed by kindness?

‘The Girl Who Waited’ airs at 7.15pm on Saturday 10th September on BBC One.

CultBox caught up with writer Tom MacRae to find out more…

It’s only a couple of days now until your episode airs, how are you feeling?

“What I’m worrying about at the moment is that I’m having quite a big screening party and I’m getting the carpet cleaned, I’ve just had a new TV delivered, I’ve got to get drinks… All I can think about is getting ready. I’ve got cast and crew and friends coming around and I don’t know how I’m going to fit everyone in! So I haven’t actually quite got my head around the fact that the episode’s actually going to be on.

“When I relax I’ll suddenly think ‘oh my God, that’s the thing I wrote on TV!’, but I’m looking forward to it very much. I’m really proud of it and I think Nick [Hurran], Karen [Gillan] and Arthur [Darvill] have done such an amazing job. It’s going to be lots of fun sitting down to watch it with them. It’ll be interesting watching it with Karen as it’s such an intimate story for Amy.

“And I’m looking forward to Doctor Who Confidential too because I obviously don’t get to be on TV very often, but Arthur entirely refuses to have it on! He says he can’t bare watching himself, so I’m not sure I’ll even get to see it!”

It’s five years now since your Series 2 two-parter, ‘Rise of the Cybermen’ and ‘The Age of Steel’. Had you had Doctor Who ideas bouncing around your head since then?

“Yeah, I had. The main prop of the episode, which is this sort of magnifying glass, that idea had been in my head for a long time. It was the heart of the idea that I originally pitched, although we changed the way that it works in the story as it developed.”

How long ago did you begin writing the episode and did Steven Moffat give you any outline for what he wanted?

“I just asked to go in and meet them. It was about this time last year. I went on a boat trip with my friend Leo, who wrote Stanley Park on BBC Three, and I said to him ‘I’ve got this idea’ – as he doesn’t particularly like sci-fi – ‘I’m going to pitch it to you and if you understand it then I’m onto a winner’, because you always worry that these things are too complicated.

“Then I went off and met Steve [Moffat] and Beth [Willis] and Piers [Wenger] at BBC Television Centre a week or so after that and pitched the idea to them. I didn’t have any kind of brief at all; I went in with a fully-formed idea. Then I started doing it! So it’s been about a year all in all.”

How did the episode evolve from the initial idea?

“To a certain extent I’d say the first 20 or so pages never changed really. The basic central idea was absolutely locked in. In the original draft, the other Amy didn’t appear until quite near the end. What happened was, once we had the idea of the two Amys, we realised that all you wanted to do was watch her.

“We had to find a way of pulling her closer to the front of the episode, so a lot of the quite clever sci-fi ideas that I had needed to be literally jettisoned just to make space. It became less of a sci-fi prison break story and in the end you just cared so much more about the Amy situation, so the way in which it evolved was stripping away the original idea to focus on the emotional heart of it.

“We ended up with a very simple story plot-wise, but one which is emotionally very layered and complicated. You don’t get many Doctor Who stories that are as interrogative for the characters as this one is.”

Did the script ever feature any other characters?

“Well, there’s the check-in girl who’s a sort of hologram. At one point there were a couple of other characters just to explain what was going on and then you never saw them again. They were so small that they sort of disappeared really. Initially I didn’t plan on having no other characters.

“The story that I had just didn’t require anyone else. I remember having meetings going ‘do you realise that there’s nobody else in it, is that ok?’ and everyone else was like ‘oh no, that’s great’, whereas I was kind of worried that there should be lots of people in costumes.

“So it sort of happened slightly accidentally. When I realised it was actually a strength of the script rather than a weakness I then pushed it as far as I could.”

How involved were you in the look of the episode?

“Even though Doctor Who has a lovely big budget, it is still a TV budget and not a movie budget. If you say ‘it’s basically a built alien world’, we can’t go and build an alien world as it’d be too much. So there are a few sets we built which are just very simple white spaces, which was the idea I’d always had.

“I’m guessing we had the cheapest sets of any episodes of Doctor Who; they’re just white walls and door frames, there’s nothing there! It was just the most interesting thing I could think of to do with a big interior space. We then found locations carefully that matched that idea.

“We wanted it to be blank and, not unfriendly, just sort of neutral and white. Then off the design team went and built a world which was exactly how I’d imagined. The gate room particularly is exactly how it’s described in the script.”

Is it hard to stand back once it’s sort of out of your control?

“Well, I love working with Nick because with him it isn’t out of my control. He’s hugely collaborative; we’ve worked together before and trust each other. He came on board quite late in the day but we’d chat on the phone and when I was down on set he’d check what I thought. I’ve always felt like I was a part of what was going on with Nick.”

Did you visit the set at all while the episode was filmed?

“Yeah, I went down for a couple of really good sequences. Nick Hurran, the director, is a very good friend of mine. I had a really good day actually. While I was down on set, watching the Handbots be fed their lunch because the performers inside the suits couldn’t reach their mouths, I got a txt from the producer of my series Threesome saying ‘the series has been commissioned’.

“So I was sitting in the gate room set with Karen and Arthur watching my monsters being fed their sandwiches when I found out my series was going ahead. In fact, the first person I told was Arthur, so it was a wonderful day.”

> Read the second part of our exclusive interview with Tom.

> Order the Series 6 Part 2 DVD on Amazon.

> Order the Series 6 Part 2 Blu-ray on Amazon.

> Buy Tom MacRae’s ‘When I Woke Up I Was a Hippopotamus’ book on Amazon.

Watch the trailer for ‘The Girl Who Waited’