Matthew Graham Chats The Rebel Flesh
Den of Geek have a great interview with Doctor Who writer Matthew Graham. Of course, the majority of the chat is about The Rebel Flesh and The Almost People, but he also talks about his first story Fear Her and the reaction to it.
The story that you’re doing here is nothing to do with the single that you pitched a year or two back?
It’s brand new. It’s totally brand new. I’ve just watched them, actually, and I think they are absolutely fab. I think they’re some of the best writing that I’ve ever done. And it’s brilliantly directed, and brilliantly made. And I just hope everyone likes it.
I really hope that those who maybe thought that Fear Her was too childish and too silly, I’m hoping that that will silence them. This is my response!
Can I touch on Fear Her? You’re not a daft man, you’ve presumably gone online and seen that it’s divided opinion somewhat. What are your thoughts on it, looking back? Was it the episode you wanted to do?
I’m actually thrilled with it. It’s not what I’d have chosen if I’d come to Doctor Who, obviously. When you come to Doctor Who, you want to tell a story with monsters. You want spaceships. You want the Tardis in mortal peril. You want big, epic science fiction adventure. Of course, you do. That’s why you write it.
But I was just so thrilled to be asked to write it, even when Russell [T Davies] said, “Look, it’s going to be a more inexpensive episode, and it has to take place on a housing estate,” I still said, “Fine.”
I wanted to write for David Tennant, for Billie Piper, and be part of TV history. So, I said, “Absolutely.” I was thrilled with it.
What we had set out to do right from the start with Fear Her was tell a story that was aimed very much at children. For children, not really for adults, not really for the older Doctor Who fans.
It was aimed at the kids, because Army Of Ghosts and Doomsday were coming up, and they were going to be very big, very dark and very traumatic. And Russell wanted a playground adventure. He said, “How old is your son?” At the time he was seven. So, he said, “Write this one for your son.” That’s what I did. I did something that was in primary colours, that had a scary voice in the cupboard. I always say that other people got cybermen, I got two blokes with a red lamp rattling a wardrobe!
But, to be honest with you, I didn’t go online particularly and read the responses. From my side of it, the response was brilliant. I had loads of kids write to me and say how much they enjoyed it. And it was only later I realised that the older fans had reacted badly to it. So, I went, “Well, it’s a shame that they have, but it wasn’t meant for them.”
The Rebel Flesh and The Almost People are different. As far as I’m concerned, this is proper, across the board Who. Adults, kids- if they can watch it, because it is scary. I showed it to my wife the other night, and there were a couple of images in it where she went, “Actually, that’s quite scary. That’s not very pleasant.” And I notice that it’s going out a bit later. I wouldn’t be surprised if they put a warning out beforehand.
I was happy with Fear Her, but when I came back I did say, rather selfishly, “I want epic, I want monsters! And science fiction, and gadgets, and lots of stuff happening.” And they gave it to me!
So, tell us about your monsters!
The Flesh? Well, all the stories in Doctor Who start with a basic idea from Steven. And I went and spent a day with him in his kitchen, and he said, “I want to do something about avatars.” And I said, “Oh, Steven, are you sure?” I mean, the film was still playing at the time in cinemas. And he said, “No, no, no, this will be good. This will be like The Thing.”
So, it’s workers that create copies of themselves to do jobs that are too dangerous, too unpleasant. And he said, “I don’t know how, but somehow, these things take on a life of their own.” And I thought, “Okay, that’s better,” and then we started talking.
He planned to set it in a factory and I had it in my head that I wanted to do something in a monastery with a The Name Of The Rose feel to it.
I love the influences. The Thing and The Name Of The Rose are two great movies.
[Laughs] That’s what it became! Let’s do The Thing in the context of The Name Of The Rose. So, originally they were going to be monks, monks at work in the factory. They converted a monastery into a factory. Then we decided that look, monks, tonally, it wasn’t quite right. So, we kept them as workers, but we had them in a converted factory in the twenty-second century. And basically, they’re drilling for acid, and they’re on a converted monastery, on an island, surrounded by water.
They use these doppelgangers to work with the acid. So, if there’s a problem, and you fall into acid, your ganger melts, but you wake up, and you go and grow another one.
Flesh is a kind of programmable liquid matter. It’s almost like Frankenstein. You see the Flesh turn into a person. You see how that process works.
So, basically, there’s a tsunami that brings the Tardis crashing to this island, and the Doctor, Rory and Amy get caught up in this. There’s a solar flare that strikes, and it shorts out the factory.
I did have to ask: have you fused any ongoing narrative bits into your story?
Yes, yes I have. But I’ve got two cliffhangers, which is not bad for a two-parter. I’ve got my part one cliffhanger, and I’ve got a part two cliffhanger that leads into Steven’s A Good Man Goes To War.
I can say this because the premise of this final scene was given to me. I wrote [the cliffhanger scene] and I put my own dialogue in. [Steven] said, “This is what’s got to happen,” and it was just great. Just whoa! People are not going to be able to wait until next Saturday!
Have you talked about doing more?
I haven’t, no. I said to Beth at the read through that if I can do any more I’d love to, and she said, “Oh, yeah. That’d be great.” But I didn’t push it then, because I know they’ve still got their heads still full of this series. But I floated it out there, that I’d happily come back.
They seem very, very pleased with the episode, so I hope that they’d consider asking me back.
Read the full interview here.