How do you make Doctor Who in a pandemic? Matt Strevens, executive producer, reveals how they made Series 13 in an interview. Read more below.
Doctor Who: Flux premieres on October 31st. Find out where to watch here
Jodie Whittaker, Mandip Gill, John Bishop and Jacob Anderson star in an epic six-part adventure which will take the Doctor and her friends to the edge of the universe and beyond, in a battle for survival. Packed with action, humour, terrifying new villains and iconic returning monsters such as the Sontarans and the Weeping Angels, the new series of Doctor Who tells one story across a vast canvas. It features a host of acclaimed British acting talent including Rochenda Sandall, Annabel Scholey, Craig Parkinson, Kevin McNally, Sam Spruell, Robert Bathurst, Steve Oram and Thaddea Graham.
From Liverpool to the depths of space, via the Crimean war and a planet named Atropos which shouldn’t even exist, fighting old foes and new creatures from beyond our dimension, the Doctor and company face a race against (and through!) time to uncover a universe-spanning mystery: what is the Flux?
It’s been amazing. It’s been a long journey – we thought when COVID hit to be honest we didn’t know whether we’d be back and how we’d make the show so it was brilliant to be back, to start filming again and to get the team back together again. We had a small delay due to COVID so it was lovely when we all got back on the TARDIS. It’s been amazing actually and we’ve managed through all the challenges of the last year. The fact that we’ve gotten this far seems slightly miraculous but it’s brilliant and an amazing testament to the cast and crew. It’s brilliant to be back, it’s been a real thrill.
Series thirteen evolved quite late in the day, we had a plan for what we wanted to do and then the pandemic hit and what we realised was that there were certain things we wouldn’t be able to do in the normal way, as we had for series eleven and twelve. So rather than be compromised – as what you want for Doctor Who is for every series to be bigger and better than the last, you don’t want to rest on your laurels - Chris came up with the brilliant idea of going, “Why don’t we just do something different for our era, wouldn’t it be great if we told one big story?”
We knew we wouldn’t be able to do the same number of episodes in the time that we had so he came up with the fantastic idea of this overarching narrative. Each episode has the same bang for its buck, each episode has the story of the week, we’ve still gone for that filmic quality for each episode, but much more than the previous two seasons we’ve tied it together with a massive overarching story for the Doctor and huge jeopardy for the Doctor. It picks up on a lot of the things the Doctor learned about herself and her history at the end of series twelve.
I can honestly say it’s not like the previous two series. It’s huge in its scope and its scale and the jeopardy. Also we’ve really tried to go as big as could with the visuals as well, in terms of CGI and in terms of the design of the series, we really tried to pull out all the stops so when you watch the show, whether it’s in five years’ time or whenever, no one will be able to say, “You made that during a pandemic!” We didn’t want that to impact on the experience for the audience.
This year we’ve got the wonderful Mandip Gill returning as Yaz, but the “fam” as it was ended in the last New Year’s Day special - Revolution of the Daleks - where we said goodbye to Graham and Ryan. This year we start the adventures with Yaz and the Doctor, the Doctor is very much on the hunt for something and we encounter our new friend of the Doctor Dan Lewis, who is played by the brilliant John Bishop. I think when you’ve done two series of a show and you’re coming back, it’s really great to have familiarity but it’s also really great to mix it up a bit and to bring a new element to the cast and the teams on the TARDIS and to see what that brings out in the other actors.
It’s great fun for Chris to create a brand-new character who I know the audience will take to their hearts almost immediately. John is just perfect in it and Dan is a glorious character – warm, funny, an action hero. It’s seamless really. The moment John walked on the TARDIS he clicked with the other two and the team and it was like he had been on it forever.
In terms of monsters we’ve got some returning favourites…so we’re bringing back the terrifying Weeping Angels who have a very sinister role to play, and a very different role to play. it’s quite an interesting development to their story if you like.
The much loved and villainous, and basically warmongering Sontarans are back, with a brilliant new iteration. They’re very much the classic monster, the look is classic that has been adapted and reinterpreted for our era. We have two wonderful performers playing our Sontarans, and there’s great menace with them but there’s also incredible humour and Chris gets that fine line between menace and humour just perfect. I think they are going to provide lots and lots of thrills and excitement for this series. We have quite a lot of new characters and new villains!
I think probably the biggest challenge was to keep the scale of Doctor Who as big as it had been - with every series you want to go one better than the last series in terms of that. As we couldn’t travel, the challenge was to create worlds that the audience would never know you had been curtailed by COVID. The other one was, with a really stellar returning cast, being able to get those actors back on a returning basis.
For me it was a real joy to welcome Craig Parkinson, who I’ve worked with very briefly on Misfits, but I’ve always followed his work and career - I think he’s a wonderful actor. For him to bring his unique qualities to one of our greatest characters of the series, it was just a joy to watch him work.
Kevin McNally, I’ve watched him for years and I’ve always thought he’s an exceptional actor and talent so to have his gifts was just wonderful. He’s such a detailed actor, he has so much fun with it and there’s a wonderful quality to his performance. Mandip and John who got to spend the most time with him relished working with him and bounced off him, the whole dynamic between those three actors was taken to another level and that was a joy. The wonderful Annabel Scholey who plays Claire, was so delightful to have around. I was blown away that Jacob (Anderson) was available (for the role) and then we realised he was a massive Doctor Who fan. Obviously Chris has worked with him previously but seeing his delight and childlike glee when he had that costume on for the first time, that was a joy to see! He’s a wonderful actor to work with, so humble and so kind. The atmosphere on set with our guest actors, all of them have been absolutely glorious.
Craige Els as Karvanista goes down as one of my favourite characters of all time, he’s an exceptional actor and it was a joy. More than ever we’ve been able to build an ensemble we haven’t been able to build before as we’ve been largely episodic so by the end of it the Doctor Who family feels properly expanded. Not only do you have a new companion in Dan (John Bishop) who is amazing, but the whole family grows substantially which is the biggest thrill out of Doctor Who: Flux for me.
So Flux is the title of the series in fact, this is the first time we’ve titled this series as it’s one epic story. It’s kind of the biggest nemesis that the Doctor has ever faced. It’s a huge destructive force but quite what it is and why it’s become unleashed will become apparent as you watch the serial unfold. It’s quite awe-inspiring and terrifying and the way it’s realised on screen will be I think quite breath-taking for the audience as they realise what the Flux is and what the Flux does.
Firstly it’s something that’s always been around in my life, it’s something I watched as a child and something that has never been out of the consciousness or cultural life of the country so it’s immense in terms of British icons, it’s that and Bond for me. So to be a part of it in a way is surreal and it’s never stopped being surreal. When it’s all over it’ll all feel a bit of a dream. Of course there’s been challenging times but all of that is tiny in terms of what I’ll take away from it, it’s been the longest job of my television career and I doubt there’ll ever be a longer one.
I take away a sense of real privilege to have been a small part in this sixty-year story, about one twelfth of Doctor Who history! Being a part of that story is a privilege and is something that no one can ever take away. It’s nice just to be a small footnote in the Doctor Who history books and that’s something I’ll forever be thrilled about.
If you’ve never seen it before you can step in on this story. If you like a great action-adventure story with great fully rounded characters, lots of humour, lots of explosions and really pacey storytelling. At the end of the day it’s great fun and something you can watch with the whole family, it’s something everyone can enjoy. If you were ever going to come on board with Doctor Who, now is the time.
Doctor Who: Flux premieres on October 31st. Find out where to watch here