Friday, December 13, 2013

Doctor Who: 2010

After episode 769: The Sarah Jane Adventures - Death of the Doctor part 2
First broadcast: 5.15 pm on Tuesday, 26 October 2010
<< back to 2009

Jo wowed by all of time and space
The Death of the Doctor, part 2
There's an interview with Katy Manning in a tick, but first some rambling preamble about thinking positive...

I've spoken before about my love for the Doctor Who books produced for grown-up readers in the years there was no TV show. Yet those books sometimes struggled with what "grown-up" might entail. There were bits of sex and drugs and violence, but also the tone of them could sometimes be no fun.

Perhaps this is most obvious in the way the books treated characters from the TV show. Some did very well - Romana got to be president of the Time Lords and UNIT's Benton and Yates lived happily ever after. But Ace fled the Doctor to join the anti-Dalek army (Love And War, 1992) and returned only more cross, Liz Shaw was horrifically killed by a biological agent (Eternity Weeps, 1997), the Brigadier accidentally killed his own wife (The Shadows of Avalon, 2000), and Jo Jones got divorced, then killed a whole alien settlement - we're left unsure whether on purpose or because she panicked (Genocide, 1997).

It's not that I don't see the dramatic potential in awful things happening to the Doctor's friends, but perhaps the books ended up suggesting that travelling in the TARDIS was bad for you. Or perhaps they reflected an aspect of the fandom of the time, as it grew increasingly older and grumpier. Sometimes in all its efforts to be serious and grown up, perhaps these adventures lost the daft, thrilling joy of the series.

I argued last time that there's no such thing as canon in Doctor Who, and that the series is at its best when it shares. I love that so many moments in the TV show - from whole plots to fleeting asides - derive from the books and comics and audio plays. Yet I'm delighted that Russell T Davies struck a line through the companions' miseries and started again, showing that - despite the hardships of travel by TARDIS - the Doctor makes people better.

That's perfectly, beautifully done in a short scene at the start of part two of Death of the Doctor, a story from spin-off show The Sarah Jane Adventures where Matt Smith's Doctor meets Sarah Jane and Jo. Jo - still happily married - dares to ask why she's not seen the Doctor since he walked out of her engagement party at the end of The Green Death (1973).
How could I ever find you? You've spent the past forty years living in huts, climbing up trees, tearing down barricades. You've done everything from flying kites on Kilimanjaro to sailing down the Yangtze in a tea chest. Not even the TARIS could pin you down.

Hold on. I did sail down the Yangtze in a tea chest. How did you know?

Russell T Davies: The Sarah Jane Adventures - The Death of the Doctor, part 2 (2010).
The Doctor and Koquillion
A month before that story was broadcast, I blagged three days' work at Doctor Who Adventures, the magazine aimed at 8-12 year-olds. I've ended up working for them on and off ever since. It's a giddy, fun thing to work on, and I've delighted in smuggling in as much old and obscure Doctor Who knowledge as possible (for example, making "Koquillion" an answer in a wordsearch).

We have to be careful, though: the readership is thrilled by the strange terror of each new episode rather than Doctor Who of old. Earlier this year we had to remind them - yes, fans of Doctor Who - who David Tennant is because many of them would be too young to remember his time as the Doctor.

Since they're less weighed down by Doctor Who's sprawling history, they have fewer hang-ups about it and are less mired in furious discussion of whether a new story breaks "the rules". (Clue: Doctor Who doesn't have any rules.) That only seems to happen as they get older and want to be more "grown up".

And, of course, they're wrong. Doctor Who isn't some angsty, angry documentary to be cross about on the internet. It's a thrilling, scary, ridiculous joy.

Anyway. On 7 October 2010, Doctor Who Adventures editor Moray Laing got me to interview Katy Manning about her imminent return as Jo. Thanks to Moray and Katy for kind permission to post it here.
How was Friday night [and the screening of Death of the Doctor at the BFI]?
It was a long day, because I’d been doing photoshoots and everything. And then we went and they put us in the very front row with all these wonderful children and the people who are producing all this fabulous stuff on CBBC. So I saw the new up-and-coming children’s stuff and it was all very exciting. And then suddenly - in high definition on an enormous screen that I could actually see - it happened! It’s really well done. The production values are fantastic. I’m very impressed with the quality of the actual show. The Sarah Jane Adventures is right up there. It’s almost beyond a children’s show in quality… No, that’s not the right thing to say because everything should be quality. But it is an extremely well put-together, well written, beautifully shot piece of television. The only problem for me was that I’m not a watcher of myself or a listener to myself, because I do something and I move on. If I don’t, there’s nothing I can do to change anything and you waste an awful lot of your life dwelling in the wrong place. I always give it 190 per cent but you’re always looking to what you can do to better yourself. So after I’d got over the shock of myself, everything was fine. I think I look like a massive Muppet! (She laughs.)

A lot of kids watching will be meeting Jo for the first time. So what can you tell us about her?
Something that has got lost in the mists of time is that Jo was 18 when she joined the Doctor, so she was straight out of school and she’d done just under a year with UNIT which trained her in all these different things. In actual fact she finally admitted that she’d not passed the exams in science and so forth. She did escapology, cryptology, all sorts of things. I was asked about what she did yesterday. I know escapology was one, one was like Sanskrit or something weird like that.

Wasn’t she trained in spying?
No, I don’t think she ever said that. That’s something that’s come from the back of Cornflakes packets about a year later. You have to keep correcting these things because everything goes up on the internet as gospel. But I know she never said she did spying. She said she did science when the Doctor asked her a question about science. He said, ‘I thought you took A-level science?’ And she says, ‘I never said I passed.’ So I think science and spying got confused. Jo wasn’t fully trained. She got into UNIT because she had an uncle who worked very high up in UNIT. So she was forced upon the Doctor and he took one look at this little tiny creature and thought, ‘Oh, my Lord!’ But it worked very well because Jo turned out to be bright, courageous and in virtually every story at some point she offered her life for the Doctor’s. She was fiercely loyal to the Doctor and felt truly that his life was more important than hers.

She was very protective of him.
Very protective.

At the end of The Daemons, she offers her life for his – and that’s what stops the monster.
And in a couple of other episodes of other stories she did the same thing. So she really was fiercely loyal and very brave. She was 18 and grew up in front of your very eyes. By the time she left she’s met a Nobel Peace Prize winner who was trying to change our planet. She felt very strongly about doing the same thing and married to him! You actually watched her grow up from a schoolgirl, having just left school, to getting married - which I think’s rather lovely. What got lost in the mists of time was that Jo was also terribly trendy. People remember her as being slightly ditzy and there were moments where she kind of lost the plot. But she was never stupid: she did stupid things for the right reasons. Don’t we all! I thought she was a lovely character. Also, for the children to know: when I was cast as Jo, they were going to change an awful lot of Doctor Who. They had some more money to work with special effects. They wanted the audience to grow from children but to never forget the children. I was there to say, ‘What does that mean? What are you doing?’ And to get into trouble so the Doctor had someone to save, apart from a planet and various other things that were going on. That was rather sweet, too. She was there to make sure that the children never got left out but we also went into a teenage and an adult audience during the Jon Pertwee era. So because she was trendy and of the moment you got a lot of teenagers looking in, saying ‘Wow!’ She was quite groovy and cool, too.

She’s still quite cool. According to these new episodes, she’s off round the world…
Absolutely. How perfect that she continued to do that – stayed with Cliff, had all those children and still continued her work, which says something about what she learned and gained from working with the Doctor.

How much has she changed? Is she still the same character to play?
It was a character I played 40 years ago. I’m the kind of actor who went on to do so many different things. I had a very assorted career, so it wasn’t like I’d stayed with her. But when I looked at Russell’s script it made an awful lot of sense to me, from what we saw on screen for those three years. I then had to put myself into having lived that life and make it absolutely as if this was a continuation of her life 40 years later. Somebody like Jo, who was brave, courageous and adventurous, what would she have done? Well, she did it. Including seven children and 12 grandchildren – 13th on its way. And what a handsome one she brought with her! Named after somewhere where I think they just had the baby at the bottom of the mountain! It was a tremendous script from Russell and followed perfectly. Not that I’d ever thought about where Jo’s life would have gone because, in all honesty, she was a character that I played – not a real person. People used to say, ‘What do you think happened to her?’ And I’d say, ‘I don’t know – she wasn’t real!’ But if you look at somebody’s life, say I look at my own, where I was at that age and where I am now, my life has gone in the direction that it was obviously going to go. So it was an absolute joy to continue, to bring back this character but with all the differences that would have come with it. How life affects you and what you do makes you become who you are. Having worked with the Doctor and gone to all these other planets and seen all the problems, not only in the universe but on this planet, Jo felt very strongly about these things. And is still doing it - fighting for things to be better.

So when you were making this new story, how much has Doctor Who changed? There’s UNIT, the ventilation shafts, monsters and explosions…
And planets that are very cold and with lots of little bits of broken spaceship on them! Those feelings of being in a quarry and things like that, that brought back huge memories. The only difference was that I was a lot warmer because I wasn’t wearing a mini-skirt.

Did you compare notes with Lis Sladen?
Oh yes. Lis and I, obviously having both worked so close together and also being among the first girls to see regeneration as such and to go through what we went through, as actresses, yes. A lot of memories of people and places.

You mentioned regeneration. How does Matt’s Doctor compare to Jon's Doctor? Can you believe he’s the same person?
Yes. The concept to me is so clear that anybody who is purportedly 2,000 years old can look any age. Although for Jo it is a bit of a shock because the only Doctors she’s ever seen have all been rather elderly – certainly to somebody of the age she was then. When we’re 18, we look at anybody over 35 as being terribly old. That changes when you get older! There’s a line she says, when he says he can he regenerate: ‘Yes, but into a baby?’ Jo is now 40 years on with children and had only ever met three Doctors who were all of a certain age. I think it’s wonderful that you can do that with a character. Matt is one of the most sensational Doctors ever. He is the most fabulous actor and the most delightful young man. I rate him as an actor hugely.

People have said you can believe Matt is much older than he really is.
He is an old soul, absolutely. I believed totally that he had lived this long life and been this many people. He’s got that wonderful ethereal, other-worldly quality. He’s done an amazing job. Apart from anything else, even as an old lady, I can stand back and say, ‘Isn’t he gorgeous?’ I’ve loved the whole of the new series - right from Chris Eccleston. I think Matt’s just wonderful. People were saying, ‘How are we going to top Tennant?’ You don’t top someone, you try and bring something to the part that is completely different and that is exactly what Matt has done. I’ve never been a Doctor comparer – is that Doctor better than that Doctor? They are all part of one person to me and have all done a superb job. Matt has just come in and blown me away. And he’s so sweet to work with.

What did he do that won you over?
First of all, just watching this boy, this young actor, and how his mind is working, how totally he has immersed himself in this character. And all the very clever little eccentricities that he’s brought, all his physicality. He’s still a very caring Doctor, which is something I loved about Jon Pertwee – he was very caring about everybody and certainly about Jo. Matt has all of that and this extraordinary physicality. I don’t know how else to put it. It’s stunning to watch. You know, when we first meet him and he was all a bit wobbly? It started there and I watched from that point. He’s thinking, thinking, thinking all the time. When you look into his eyes, he’s right with you – absolutely lovely.

So will we see more of Jo after this?
I think we might have had enough of her, don’t you? Are we over her yet? She is a lovely creature. You know what I like about Jo? It was always in the old series as well as in bringing her back. She has no sides to her. She’s very loving and caring, which is nice to see.

She’s got lots of empathy.
For everybody and everything. She always did, even in the old days. She was always concerned, even about the bad guys. That’s a nice part of her nature. Hopefully the children will understand that although she’s now a grandmother she’s a groovy granny! It’s not bad to have a granny that says, ‘No, you don’t have to go to school, we’ll educate you along the way. We’ll go off and save the world.’ When you think of the things she’s done, that’s exactly what she has been doing. She’s never, never stopped. That’s quite a groovy granny. It was so lovely working with Lis, too, who is such a generous and such a good actress. Anjli and Daniel are sensational, I just wanted to eat them up they were so fabulous. That was lovely for me. I just felt tremendous warmth towards them.
Next episode: 2011

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