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Feature: Torchwood

Burn Gorman and the Weevil

We meet star Burn Gorman (aka Owen Harper), creator of new monsters Neill Gorton, and script editor Helen Raynor

Doctor in the House
Burn Gorman doesn’t look much like a medic today. Dressed in an immaculate pinstripe suit and designer glasses, he strolls into the Torchwood première party in tremendous spirits. The party is being held at the glamorous St David’s Hotel overlooking Cardiff Bay and, for those of us visiting from London, it’s a reminder of this city’s prosperity. Gorman, like the rest of the Torchwood actors, has quickly grown comfortable living here.
“It’s an amazing city,” he enthuses. “It’s vibrant, it has an amazing warmth and the people, without being stereotypical, are open and generous. We’ve pretty much taken over Cardiff, what with the third series of Doctor Who and now The Sarah Jane Adventures. With Torchwood we’re in the high street every week, but there’s still so much enthusiasm and warmth.
“We’ve loved it here, the people, the countryside, the surfing, the restaurants, the atmosphere – we don’t want to leave. And my son was born here. I wanted him born a Celt!”
As Owen Harper, Gorman is an unpredictable element in the Torchwood team. He clearly has a potential to be ruthless (the medic meters out his own form of justice in Ghost Machine), witty, social, arrogant and amorous. To date – with four episodes having aired at the time of writing – his background has yet to be explored, but Gorman willing, shares Owen’s pre-Torchwood story.
“Owen has got the best job in the world. He is a quick-witted lad who is a trained doctor who worked in Cardiff A&E. One day, he was headhunted by a 21st Century alien crime-fighting team as a medic. How do you say no to that? You get a gun, you get to drive fast cars and you get to chase aliens. Owen is living the dream, without a doubt.
”He’s also a very sexual creature, but that comes with the territory. Torchwood is more than a job, it’s a way of life, and those who work for the Institute are unlikely to form lasting relationships outside it. Commitment-free sex is the panacea that fills the emotional gap.
“He’s a 21st Century bloke with lots of demons to get out of his system, so he tries his luck,” Gorman offers. “Without being too specific there’s a lot of snogging that goes on! In Owen’s job, every day could be his last, it’s like a war-time mentality. And you know what happened in the war! People didn’t know if they’d still be here the next day, so if you’ve got the opportunity to get it on with someone, you’re going to do it. Owen takes those chances.”

Under Your Skin
Neill Gorton, the man behind prosthetic and animatronics company Millennium FX, has certainly enjoyed the new challenges that Torchwood offers.
“I love designing creatures for Doctor Who,” says the man behind the Cybermen, clockwork androids and Autons. “But you have to keep yourself in check and remember it’s a family show. With Torchwood, it was fun to be still operating in that universe but being allowed to push the limits a lot further and chuck a bit of the red stuff around!”
The Weevil is Gorton’s first, and perhaps most striking, contribution to the show: a member of a race that exists in the sewers of Cardiff, feeding off Human excrement, and ripping to shreds any Humans that are unlucky enough to cross its path. While the beast plays a relatively minor role in the first two episodes, we’re promised that it will figure prominently in the season.
“The Weevils went through a number of designs,” Gorton tells Starburst. “Myself, Rob Mayor, my partner in Millennium, and Martin Rezard did a series of clay sketches and Photoshop doodles to try and lock down a look.
“That first introduction scene kind of set the tone for their look. It described how the viewer shouldn’t know for sure if what they were seeing when they first glimpse the Weevil at the end of the corridor was Human or not. My first instinct was to make them prosthetic but Russell looked at our first designs and asked if we could push the monstrous a little bit more. I still wanted to keep them more real-world influenced so we started looking at apes for inspiration. The resulting design has a lot of ape-like elements in the colouring and texturing of the face.”

Writes of the Dead
Helen Raynor has been there since the beginning. She was script editor through the first two seasons of Doctor Who, working closely with the writers to shape stories to fit the vision of Russell T Davies. Raynor then moved on to the spin-off show Torchwood, working alongside script editor Brian Minchin on a series that grew from Davies’s imagination. And then she took the plunge, giving up the day job to concentrate on being a writer full-time, and judging by her Torchwood episode Ghost Machine, she should never look back…
As one member of the small team that brought the new series to life, Raynor is well qualified to talk about its genesis.
“We had the editorial meeting in January,” she tells Starburst. “Myself, Brian, Russell and Chris [Chibnall, the head writer] sat down in a room in Cardiff and just talked through what the series was, what the tone was, what kind of stories we wanted and what kind of writers we wanted.”
The series has often been defined as ‘The X-Files meets This Life’, a description Davies denies inventing, putting it down to a PR invention. He had produced a short document that detailed the backbone of Torchwood, although doubtlessly this would inspire other ideas and directions that were then incorporated.
“I think you can talk all series to death,” Raynor considers, “saying, ‘It’s going to be this, it’s going to be that…’ It only finds its feet and identity in the process. Certainly in the beginning every script that came in helped to define the characters and tone, etc.
“Russell said, ‘It’s got to be real world’. Which is great. But in terms of early ideas we talked about with writers that tended to mean slightly gritty, underbelly almost Inspector Rebus-type territory. In the early stages we kind of ping-ponged a bit between ideas that were kind of real world investigative, they could almost have been an episode of Spooks, and ideas that were incredibly fantastical – like alien races living in Cardiff and not having contact with anyone. They were episodes that could have been set on a spaceship, they were literally removed from what the show was.”

by David Richardson

Read the full interviews in
Starburst #344

Photos © BBCtv
Feature © Visual Imagination 2006. Not for reproduction

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Starburst #344
December 2006
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