In The Flesh: Writer Dominic Mitchell Interview
PDS sufferers at a treatment centre in Norfolk.
There’s a new kind of zombie drama coming to BBC Three this Sunday at 10pm. One that asks, “What if zombies could get better?” Because in In The Flesh, after the initial “Rising” when zombies rose from their graves and did all that massacring and flesh-eating schtick, scientists actually found a cure. Well, not a cure exactly, but a way of making zombies – euphemistically rebranded as suffering from “Partially Deceased Syndrome” (PDS) – more socially aware and less brain-fixated. Not that everyone in the post-Rising society is welcoming the “Rotters” back with open arms…
The creator of this clever new twist on zombie lore is TV scriptwriting newcomer Dominic Mitchell, who describes his show as “kitchen sink horror”, more Kes with the undead than Shaun Of The Dead. “I love Shaun Of The Dead and all those comedy zombie movies, but we wanted to approach it in a serious manner.”
In The Flesh has been in gestation a long time – up to five years, Mitchell reckons – and came about due to a BBC writing initiative called Northern Voices. “I’ve got a history of being in theatre. I’m a playwright, so this is my first TV thing ever. I heard about this scheme that the BBC Writers Room were doing called Northern Voices. It was a year-long thing, and it was to write an original 60-minute pilot drama. I’d always wanted to get into TV and I was like, ‘How do I do it?’ So I thought, ‘This is perfect!’”
He was teamed up with a mentor – Torchwood writer John Faye – and together they started to knock In The Flesh into shape. “I was so lucky to have him as a mentor; he loved the idea and really guided me through it.”
Part of that process was creating a series Bible. “I did all these patient information leaflets that the NHS would do, like, ‘Understanding Partially Deceased Syndrome’ – you know, those little leaflets that you go to in the GP’s office. That was a great thing to do actually, the series Bible, because you really cemented it in your head, the history of it, what happened and the back story, because so much has happened. Then it was greenlit, and I was like, ‘Oh wow, we’re going to actually do it! And in the Bible I was like, ‘I want it to be like kitchen sink horror.’
Domestic drama is not all there is to In The Flesh, though – it has its fair share of action and humour too.
“What’s great is you can have a really emotional scene between Kieren and his sister, then the next scene zombies are popping out of graves. So if you tire of the domestic-type, kitchen sink drama, you’re gonna have that action to counter-balance it. And dealing with it realistically, there’s going to be some really funny moments. We’ve got this great scene where a politician bumbles his way through this village meeting. So those kind of scenes you can take advantage of.”
Family meals are a little bit awkward when you can’t actually eat…
And don’t get the impression, from all those kitchen sink drama references and “I’m a playwright” soundbites, that Mitchell is a “serious artist” slumming it in telefantasy. In fact, he’s an unashamed horror geek.
“The first book I got into was Pet Sematary by Stephen King – I loved it. When I was 12 years old that was my favourite book – it’s still one of my favourite books – and that just got me into reading, really. Pet Sematary is sort of zombies, isn’t it? You know, the cat dies and then the cat comes back. I’m also a massive fan of Night Of The Living Dead and things like that. That’s always been the touchstone for In The Flesh; we wanted it to be more like that and not 28 Days Later… which is fantastic, but we wanted to harken back to those original George Romero kind of zombies where they’re shuffling about and coming out of the grave. And it’s not a virus, it’s more a syndrome.”
The series opens four years after The Rising. After the cities were got back under control, two scientists called Halperin and Weston (named after the director and writer of 1932 film White Zombie!) created an antidote: a drug called neurotryptaline.
“It’s like in the Vietnam War, when they sprayed parts of Vietnam with Agent Orange. But then you had all these docile zombies shuffling about, and it was like, ‘Well, what do you do with them? You can’t kill them’. That’s when I thought people’s families would get involved and go, “Well that’s my son, that’s my mum, that’s my aunt’. So they put them in this holding centre in Norfolk. Then as they were treating them with this neurotryptaline they found out that people were coming back to themselves, and it became a treatment centre.”
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