Doctor Who “Hide”: Writer Neil Cross Interviewed

Although the next episode of Doctor Who is from the same writer who gave us the grandiose space opera “The Rings Of Akhaten”, “Hide” is a very different beast indeed: a tense, claustrophobic, small-scale, emotional tale. It’s also very surprising and unusual, that doesn’t quite pan out how you might be thinking. Although broadcast after “The Rings Of Akhaten” it was written and shot first. Here, Luther creator Neil Cross explains his inspirations for the story.

Doctor Who “Hide” is broadcast on BBC One on Saturday 20 April at 6.45pm.

SFX: “Hide” has been described as a spooky ghost story…

Neil Cross: “I wanted to do a really old-fashioned scary episode of Doctor Who. There are no specific references in it but I wanted to evoke in the core audience, and especially kids of about nine to twelve-years-old, the feelings that I used to get when I watched Doctor Who at that age, which was essentially terror (laughs)…”

You recently worked with Guillermo Del Toro on Mama. Have you brought a similar supernatural sensibility to “Hide”?

“I love ghost stories and I also have a great fondness and love for Quatermass, which in many ways is the show that proceeded Doctor Who. Doctor Who borrowed quite a bit from Quatermass and probably wouldn’t have existed in anything like the form we recognise today if Quatermass hadn’t come before it. Readers of SFX will appreciate that my first intention in this episode was to actually have Quatermass as a guest star. I wanted the Doctor to meet Quatermass, which would have just created a fangasm, but rights issues made that impossible.”

Did you have any other classic influences for “Hide”?

“One of my great inspirations was The Stone Tape, which was a great Christmas sci-fi/ horror teleplay from 1972, which was written by the great Nigel Kneale, who, of course, also created Quatermass. It’s one of the most brilliant and terrifying things to ever appear on television so I wanted to evoke a slightly Stone Tape-esque atmosphere.”

The episode guests stars Jessica Raine as Emma Grayling and Dougray Scott as Professor Alec Palmer, who I’m guessing is a kind of Quatermass-style figure?

“I wanted a small cast and as few locations as possible but Dougray Scott and Jessica Raine are just awesome. Trying to evoke the history of a quite complex relationship between these two characters while in the midst of a big spooky Doctor Who episode is quite tough. You can only do it with these kind of graceful brushstrokes but they really filled their characters out and gave them life and history as well a sense of tenderness and accuracy.”

Did you enjoy writing for Matt Smith’s Doctor?

“That was kind of weird. After I’d agree to do it and pushed everything else aside to find a space to do it, I sat down and went through my normal morning ritual, which is to come downstairs, get the kids to school, have a cup of coffee and check my emails. I then opened Final Draft, which is the scriptwriting software, and it was like, ‘Now I’ve got to write Doctor Who.’ The first morning I was absolutely possessed by terror and I was very aware of the personal responsibility of it. Not just the responsibility of delivering as good a story as I was able to, which you get with every script, but also a much more personal responsibility to the show itself as well as to my own children and family along with everybody else who loves Doctor Who. You’ve got 50 years of fans not to let down. I was paralysed for quite a while but then when I gave the Doctor his first line of dialogue, he just started talking to me. It was a very odd situation. I didn’t feel like writing, it was more like an act of possession.”

Peter Jackson recently said that he would love to direct an episode of Doctor Who, as you also live in Wellington you must surely be the perfect choice to write it!

(Laughs) “Let’s just say that along with the rest of the world, I’d be slavering at the mouth to see an episode of Doctor Who directed by Peter Jackson!”

You’re a big genre fan. Do you see any thematic crossover between Luther and Doctor Who?

“Luther is absolutely a monster-of-the-week show. Although it’s post-watershed and is rendered in intense graphic novel-style images, it’s inspiration is not that different from Doctor Who as in both cases you’ve got a trickster figure who fights the monster of the week and is eventually successful.”

Interview by Stephen Jewell