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Feature: Doctor Who (2000s)

Metallic menace looms

The Cybermen are back in Season Two’s big two-part account of their origins, and who better to give us the lowdown but director Graeme Harper?

At last: it’s the one we’ve all been waiting for. Rise of the Cybermen is the season’s first two-part story; it updates an iconic Doctor Who monster for the 21st Century, and sees the return of one of the classic series’ most celebrated directors, Graeme Harper.

Who could ask for more?

Written by Tom MacRae (who’s contributed to Nine Lives and Mayo) the story begins as the TARDIS materializes in by the River Thames. But this isn’t London as we know it, rather it’s a parallel world in which places and faces look familiar, and a deadly power is gaining a foothold.

“I call it Orwellian,” Harper defines. “When I read it it reminded me of 1984, and the dark depths of pre-war Germany. It’s bleak and grey, people have money and survive, but there’s something controlling and running them. There’s a dictator coming in: Big Brother is developing Cybermen.”

It’s 21 years since Harper last worked on Doctor Who, on Revelation of the Daleks with Colin Baker. Before that he had directed The Caves of Androzani for Peter Davison, an edgy tale about gun runners and the elixir of life that remains one of the original series’s most highly regarded stories. For long term fans, his return is big news indeed. “I find it extraordinary that there are people who still care that I’m involved with Doctor Who,” he beams. “Isn’t that smashing? I tried to get onto the first series when I heard it was going to happen, but I was involved with something else so I don’t know if the dates would have clashed anyway. However I got invited onto the second series and I was really thrilled.”

Not only that, Harper was awarded the four-episode production block that comprised the season’s biggest episodes: a monster marathon of Rise of the Cybermen and The Age of Steel plus the climactic two-parter Army of Ghosts and Doomsday.

“Yeah, they’re mad aren’t they!” the director laughs. “I’ve absolutely loved it and it was great to have such an iconic enemy.”

Clearly the whole television industry has changed since Harper oversaw the Doctor’s showdown with the Daleks on the planet Necros. Back then Doctor Who was recorded in the studios at BBC Television Centre. Now it has its own facility in Cardiff – and a whole new sophisticated method of production. “I suppose the moment you hear the opening title music it feels like the same show,” muses Harper. “But it’s not – it’s shot totally differently with single camera, as it should be for the 21st Century. It feels like you’re making a film because they are so enormous in their ambition. That’s the only way you can achieve most of the things we do. There’s ambition from Russell right the way down to the runner, and by striving for something we achieve a lot more than we would if we didn’t bother. Everyone pulls their weight on the show. The atmosphere is extraordinary.”

by David Richardson

Read the full interview in
TV Zone Special #69

Image © Visual Imagination Ltd, Doctor Who © BBC
Feature © Visual Imagination 2006. Not for reproduction

Taken from
TV Zone Special #69, see below for ordering options
TV Zone Special #69
Cybermen Special 2006
ships from May 10 2006
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