Wednesday, 16 October 2013

"One of the BBC's hugest franchises ever...and we started off with practically nothing": Warris Hussein Interview

The ever-reliable Patrick Mulkern, of the Radio Times, is doing a two-part interview with the first director to work on DW, Warris Hussein. The first part's been posted here and is really worth a proper read, but here's the bits connected with our show.

He and Verity Lambert hit it off personally, but he wasn't sure what to make of the story he'd been given to do. “I walked into her office having read these four scripts and I was shocked because I didn’t know what to do with them. The first one was fine – introducing the characters, the school and the peculiarity of the junkyard, and the phonebox that then becomes Tardis. What I didn’t know how to cope with was the three following episodes about the quest for fire. I mean, look, you graduate from Cambridge with honours and you’re directing this piece about cavemen in skins. I thought, ‘Where have I landed up in my life?’ Verity said, ‘We’re just going to have to make them work.’ Little did she or I know what we were about to launch. The production designer didn’t want to be involved. The BBC had no faith in it, and that’s in Mark [Gatiss]’s drama too although I think he had to tone it down a bit, otherwise it would be terribly anti-BBC establishment. But the fact was they didn’t want to make it.”

He credits Lambert with getting William Hartnell on board: “When we approached him, he didn’t want to do it because he was doing well in films. Why would he want to commit to a series? Even when he accepted, I don’t think he had any idea how long it would last – especially with the BBC not being encouraging. When we met him he was not only reluctant but had to be persuaded after two very expensive lunches and he was bewildered by having a woman producer. He was dyed-in-the-wool Conservative British. So when you think he was being produced by a woman, directed by an Indian and the idea came from a Canadian… Talk about three aliens. I said, ‘This is Doctor Who versus the aliens.”

Hartnell was a bit tricky to direct at first (loads of people said that afterwards, up to and including his fellow actors), but eventually softened towards the man who'd directed his first story and the seven-week extravaganza that was "Marco Polo". At which point Hussein moved on from DW for good, to work on other BBC programmes and eventually, feature films. “By the time I left, Bill was very upset. He’d got used to me, Verity, and the other cast. Then they all began to leave, and that's how it works in the drama [An Adventure…]. It’s sad – a man who came into his own, reluctantly, then accepting it, and then losing everybody. I find that moving.”

Update: the second part has been posted. There's some quite nice comments about Mark Gatiss' upcoming docudrama and his approval of Sacha Dhawan, who's playing him.

“Mark and I worked closely on how I would be played, on how he’d create my character. I wasn’t trying to put a spoke in Mark’s creative wheels but I said, ‘I don’t want you to overplay certain elements. If you’re going to imply anything, make it subtle.’ And I think he's graded it very well...Ironically my career has now come full circle with Doctor Who. I’m back to where I started, and with the irony of being portrayed on film by an actor. It feels odd, surreal, in a way thrilling.”

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