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Mark Gatiss

Mark Gatiss

One Day I Shall Come Back...

Ten years on from his hymn to the Hartnell era, Mark Gatiss returns to An Adventure in Space and Time in the company of Vworp Vworp! Interview by Graham Kibble-White.

We met for breakfast on Upper Street, Islington in mid-May. Mark was bang on time and full of good cheer. He lifted a baseball cap to reveal his head, shaved back to a bald pate, a regimen he’s had to maintain every day while appearing as John Gielgud opposite Johnny Flynn’s Richard Burton in Jack Thorne’s The Motive and the Cue at the National.

He spoke amusingly about the rigours of his current evening job – he normally likes to be in bed by 10pm, but was now finding himself coming home, still adrenalised, and staying up too late watching Naked Attraction. And then… and then the yearometer began its rotations, taking us back to 2013...

Was lockdown the last occasion you watched An Adventure in Space and Time?

Uh huh.

And I gather you hadn’t seen it for a while before that. What did you feel about it?

Well, I was very proud and very moved – which is how I’ve always felt. But it was nice to have a bit of perspective. It’s a strange thing for me, because growing up reading those interviews, as a kid, you never quite believe people when they say, “I don’t really watch my old stuff”.

But it’s true! There’s nothing perverse about it, you just move on to other stuff. And it’s only when you get an excuse like lockdown, that you do, really. When we were making the thing, I obviously saw it so many times. Not that it spoils it, but afterwards, you just want to move on. Also, I quite liked the idea of having enough distance to look at it slightly more dispassionately. I mean, all I can say is – and this sounds like a conclusion, even though we’ve only just begun -

I wanted to make it for so long, I never thought it would actually happen. And then it did under the most magical circumstances, that it really is one of best experiences of my whole life. Everything came together so brilliantly. It was just perfectly timed, I think. So it was marvellous to see it again. It’s ten years now.

Obviously that makes me nostalgic for it. Because of the circumstances around it happening, and about the 50th, and about so many little elements coming together. And doing a screening for the family and Terrance Dicks and stuff like that! It was just great.

Tell me about the screening – who came?

Alvin Rakoff. Waris [Hussein]. Mike Pinfield [son of Mervyn]. Richard Martin. Carole Ann Ford, I think. Terrance Dicks. Quite a few. And the most extraordinary thing, really, was all the Bill Hartnell stuff was through Jessica Carney.

We knew she was the keeper of the flame. And then at the screening she said, “Oh, this is my mum [Heather Anne Hartnell].” We went, “What?! She’s still alive?”

That’s quite something. I’ve read that a biopic of William Hartnell’s run in Doctor Who was something you were thinking about even before the show’s 40th in 2003.

Yeah, even before that, really. I remember there was a Screen One, or something, called The Fools on the Hill [1986] about Ally Pally. I loved that. And here’s another thing… and this is so strange, when everything feels like it’s available or remembered.

But there was a BBC drama, which in my head is called Channel X. And I think Tim Curry was in it. I could be totally wrong. But it was about a sort of pirate TV station.

I remember very little about it, except the bit that stuck with me is they’ve got all this lash-up technology and you suddenly see the Troughton titles. Someone goes, “What’s that?” And he says, “It’s Doctor Who in Turkey!” Of course, in those days you would fall on anything Doctor Who-related. But I wonder what that was? But, yeah, from a long time ago, I thought it would be such a great subject for a drama. Alas, it coincided with Doctor Who coming off air. So it seemed like the least likely thing in the world to happen.

The way I originally pitched it was something like, “It’s Bill’s last day at work. Obviously, for everyone, this is hard. Except, Bill is Doctor Who”. That’s how it starts. I tried to pitch it as a universal story, which in the end, I think it still is.

It’s about: we’re all replaceable. It doesn’t matter if you’re the king or you’re Doctor Who. So that was the element to make it more universal. And I do remember having a conversation about it, possibly being like a BBC Four drama...