SDCC 08: ‘Doctor Who’ and ‘Torchwood’ Press Roundtables Part One

At this year’s San Diego Comic Con Julie Gardner, Naoko Mori and Steven Moffat met with reporters to talk about all things Doctor Who and Torchwood. This was the first press event of the con, happening on Wednesday before Preview Night. We journalists gathered at a closed off restaurant in a nearby hotel to meet with the three Brits, who had literally just flown in from London, dropped their bags in their rooms and then joined us for some great conversations about our favorite shows. Despite the jet lag, all three were very gracious and happy to chat.

Torchwood (The Doctor Who part can be read here.

Divided into two tables I was with the group that first got to talk with Julie and Naoko about Torchwood. After joking about being jetlagged and English being Naoko’s second language (“we’re all doomed!”), we started by talking about the end of series two of Torchwood. Everyone pretty much agreed that the deaths of Owen and Tosh had them in tears with Naoko stating that the recorded message from Tosh was particularly difficult to do. Also, the other actors did not see the recording until they shot that scene, so the emotional reactions and tearing up by John Barrowman, Eve Myles and Gareth David-Lloyd are real. Naoko said that even in America people will come up to her visibly upset that Tosh is gone. She said one woman literally ran and tackled her to the ground saying she had never cried so much in her life!

The reference to Naoko being in the first series Doctor Who episode “Aliens of London” and that finally being acknowledge in Torchwood was brought up. Julie spoke about the timeframes of all three shows (Doctor Who, Torchwood and Sarah Jane Adventures) and pointed out that we never see any calendars on any of the shows, but they do have a logic to when everything takes place across the three series.

At the time, they were four weeks away from filming series three (which would put it at around the third week of August) so things have been getting busy in Cardiff. Julie brought up the five episodes over five nights format of the new series. She said they wanted to do something different, particularly after how dramatic the end of series two was with losing two main characters. They wanted to tell one big story over all five stories by putting the remaining team under a lot of pressure to see how they cope. A big ticking clock was mentioned before Julie said that she wasn’t going to go into any story or cast details and said we wouldn’t be able to make or crack or sneak any details from her (she mostly lived up to it!). When asked for any tidbits she paused and said “It’s going to be a really, really big story.”

The writers for series three were brought up, with Russell T. Davies confirmed for episodes one and five, James Moran for episode three and John Fay scripting the rest. Fay has previously written a thriller for ITV called Mobile and was also on the writing staff of Coronation Street for several years. I asked if Julie could talk at all about the two new characters that will appear in series three and she responded with a quick “no.” She then went on to say that actually she didn’t knew which two characters I meant because it’s not that straightforward. Although it was hinted in the finale of Doctor Who that perhaps Martha Jones and Mickey Smith might be around Julie also pointed out that they like to tease.

The number of episodes was brought up by me again as definitely it for series three. If there is a series four then it was up in the air as to how many there would be. Julie talked about how fluid the BBC allowed them to be concerning the amount of episodes each series and how other recent shows have played out a story over a week of episodes, citing Criminal Justice as an example. From what she said, they really wanted to spotlight Torchwood‘s move to BBC1 with a big story and that it was a good time to redefine the show after the change in cast. The rumor of John Barrowman going off to do “Hamlet” with David Tennant (he’s not) was dismissed as the reason for a shorter series. Julie did admit that would make a great story “Hamlet goes to see his dad and he turns out to be Captain Jack. That could tie in to the whole Face of Boe thing somehow.”

Naoko talked about how the casts and crews of all three shows are really one big family, made easy by the fact that they all shoot in the same studios and locations. They all do really get on very well (“too well!” Julie quipped) and that extends to the guest stars, as well, when they come in for an episode. She cited the big family as the one thing she’ll miss the most from no longer being on the show. Julie remarked that there was corporal weeping on the days that Naoko and Burn Gorman filmed their final scenes.

The subject then returned to the deaths of the two characters and the reasons behind it. It really was just a case of that’s what worked best for the story. Naoko in particular said that when she read the script, apart from being sad, she totally agreed that it worked best for the story and that Tosh had come full-circle and it really felt right. Although she was also sad about missing out on the chance to have been in the Doctor Who finale, it was pointed out that Tosh still helped save the day. And there will be references to Tosh in future epsisodes of Torchwood (Julie: “There you go, there’s a big tease!”). Julie did dismiss that they would use some sort of sci-fi gimmick to bring Tosh back from the dead. It was a difficult decision to kill off those characters and they have previously established “in Torchwood, they die young. It’s dangerous, you’ve got Weevils and every week there’s a major crisis and you can’t keep doing that where no one on the team dies. You’ve got to show what the stakes are and it was felt that it would be a bigger surprise and really show the higher stakes by killing two characters.” The state of the character of Owen sort of gave him a limited life anyway. There would be no way to keep putting him in danger and have him be injured (he doesn’t heal anymore) and keep it believable, plus he never ages. Naoko said that, to be true to the character’s death, she hopes that Tosh stays dead to which Julie quipped “are you playing hard to get now?”

The topic of conversation drifted around a bit as there was a little bit of talk about how much John Barrowman screamed when he discovered Captain Jack was destined to become the Face of Boe and how they were all thrilled about it. Both women were not sure what to expect from Comic Con, but were happy to be there. They were both very pleased by the overwhelming positive reaction to Torchwood in America. When asked about the first Torchwood toys (Julie: “I have to correct you, they’re called ‘action figures'”) it was revealed that there is a Tosh figure so there will at least be a second wave of figures from Underground Toys. Naoko found it kind of weird to be an action figure, talking about seeing parts of herself she never sees (like the back of her head) and really stumbled over words to describe how bizarre she found the whole thing. Julie said she was jealous and I pointed out that they should do a producers series of action figures, but she doubted they would really sell.

The conversation got a bit silly for a few minutes before coming back around to Naoko saying how much of a great opportunity Torchwood has been for her and how many professional doors it has opened for her. As far as what’s next for her, she has taken a large chunk of time off after doing series one, the play “Avenue Q” and then straight into series two. She’s been spending some time in America and Japan and isn’t sure what she’ll be doing next.

I asked Julie if, considering how brutally characters can be treated on the show, there had ever been a time they thought they might be going to far with the treatment of a character. She said that had never really happened as they talk things out pretty thoroughly. However, early in series one they had talked about killing Rhys Williams at some point, but that would have been “a bridge too far” for Gwen and they couldn’t see how she would stay around after that kind of loss. Ultimately it was decided to not only keep Rhys around, but to progress the relationship. Gwen going home to a normal life with Rhys is a great contrast to the weirdness of what goes on at work. It was strongly hinted that Rhys will continue to interact with the Torchwood team.

It was stated again that the five episode, one story format for series three was more about doing a big story and pushing the boundaries a bit. For series four they might go back back to the longer form series, but they wanted to see if they could tell one big story over five nights and shake it up a bit, push the team into further jeopardy and be a bit chunkier in terms of story. Julie is very interested and fascinated in seeing what the outcome will be. Series one happened very fast and the tone and pace changed in series two as they had more planning time. Series three will change the pace again. Julie and Naoko disagreed with a point made that there was a lot of sex in the show. They conceded that sex was talked about a lot, but not that a lot was shown. Considering that the show was being promoted as an adult show and with having Jack being gay it was felt that the coverage the show was getting in series one maybe overemphasized the amount of sex that was actually seen on screen.

As things wrapped up, when asked if Ianto and Jack would continue as a couple, Julie very strongly replied “Yes!” She loves seeing them together and she seems to think of their relationship as a strong component of the show. Also, there doesn’t seem to be any more crossovers between shows being planned at the moment, but there will always be references to other characters and events. Captain John will not be returning in series three, but they would love to have James Marsters back in the future.

And with that it was time for Julie and Naoko to switch places with Steven Moffat. It was excellent getting to talk with Julie and Naoko. One thing that probably doesn’t come through in the transcription is that they were both very friendly, talkative and, at times, silly. There was a lot of laughter throughout the entire conversation and I really appreciate the both of them taking time to speak with all of us. I have the impression that Torchwood is important to the BBC and will be around for a while. Thank you also to BBC America for making the conversation possible. Next, part two, where we all get to talk to Steven Moffat about his approach to Doctor Who, whether or not the Time War will ever be revealed and how we can find out what’s going to happen in series five. Keep checking back for that!

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