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Press and Publicity Articles for Doctor Who and The Curse Of Fatal Death

An exclusive interview with the Producer of Comic Relief's Doctor Who story, Sue Vertue
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As part of this year's Comic Relief telethon, on March 12th, the BBC screened four new episodes of Doctor Who. The affectionate spoof, entitled Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death, starred Black Adder and Mr Bean actor Rowan Atkinson as the Doctor. Julia Sawalha, who played Saffy in Absolutely Fabulous, played his assistant - and soon-to-be wife - Emma; and accomplished movie actor Jonathan Pryce, best known for his role as the villain in the recent James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, portrayed the Master.

The script was written by Steven Moffat, who was one of the writers who contributed to the Decalog books. The Producer was Sue Vertue, who, as luck would have it, is married to the writer! Sue had worked on Comic Relief before, but this was the first time that she had been one of their producers. This isn't Sue's first brush with Doctor Who, however: her mother was Terry Nation's agent for a time, and Sue even had a Dalek playsuit of her own!

We caught up with Sue when she was doing some regenerating of her own, and she was kind enough to give us an exclusive interview. She explained how the idea originated: "We started off with the idea for a sketch, which developed into an episodic format, first as a two-parter, then as a three-parter. Until quite soon before transmission the intention was to have a ten minute episode, and then two five minute episodes. In the end, it was decided to split it into four five-minute parts. The final deciding factor was the scheduling, within the Comic Relief evening".

The show was written with Rowan Atkinson in mind: "It was always the intention to cast Rowan as the Doctor, but we didn't approach him until we had a script, which was some time after Christmas. His ideas about how to play the character pretty much coincided with Steven's intentions, and he really enjoyed himself".

In true Comic Relief fashion, the production was made possible by many artists and companies donating their time and facilities: "It was shot at Pinewood Studios, who give us a stage to work on, and we were lucky enough to get John Henderson to direct it. I've worked with him before, and knew that he's very good with things that require special effects. He directed the Ted Danson film Loch Ness, and the version of Alice Through The Looking Glass that was shown by Channel Four at Christmas".

During the story, which pitted the Doctor against the Master and his allies the Daleks, the Doctor is forced to regenerate, allowing a series of famous actors the opportunity to cameo as the famous Time Lord. The script was written before the other actors to play the Doctor (Richard E. Grant, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant and Joanna Lumley) were asked to appear, and Sue was delighted when they all agreed: "They were all lovely, and everyone had a great time". All the actors playing the Doctor had been named as possible candidates to play the role at some time or other, and this wasn't even the first time that Jim Broadbent had appeared as the Doctor: he also played the Time Lord in a Victoria Wood sketch, and recently graced the cover of Doctor Who Magazine.

Sue explained that the logistics of getting the actors and sets together were quite complicated: "It was shot about three weeks before transmission, over three days. Julia was in theatre in the evenings, so some scenes had to be shot around her. We also had the usual juggling with available space, and the sets we had. We had Julia, Jonathan and Rowan for the three days, and we tried to get all the other Doctors together on one day".

The show's special effects were provided by Soho-based digital effects specialists The Mill, who donated their downtime to the production. "Otherwise it would have been very expensive", laughed Sue. "The TARDIS prop was lent to us by a fan of the show, who also lent us a Dalek or two. The other Daleks belonged to the BBC, and they were brought out of storage for us by Mike Tucker. We had six Daleks in all, which I think is more than had appeared together in the real series! The sonic screwdriver was the original BBC prop".

Sue was quick to praise other members of the crew: "Jonathan's make-up was done by Jan Sewell, who was the person who turned French and Saunders into old women for their series. We were very short of time, and she only had about twenty minutes to apply the make up each time Jonathan aged. We also had to make up his stuntman, (who fell into the trapdoor), so she was kept very busy. She did a fabulous job." The costumes were designed by Rebecca Hale. "Rowan had quite a lot of input about his costume, which was made from scratch. The waistcoat was based on a Paul Smith one, giving a slight hint of eccentricity. The rest of the costume was intended to be rather elegant. We had to make a couple of different sizes for the various different actors playing the Doctor, but we tried to make as few as possible, to keep costs to a minimum. Joanna had a costume of her own, for obvious reasons! Jonathan's Time Lord robes were similar to ones used before in the series, but perhaps a bit more exaggerated, and camp. Underneath he was wearing the costume he wore in the Bond film!"

The show used a re-edited version of the original Tom Baker opening titles, with the "O" in WHO replaced by a red nose. The music was mainly material that had been recorded for the series during the 80s, including Paddy Kingsland's superb regeneration music from Logopolis. This was supplemented by several new short cues by Mark Ayres, who also seamlessly arranged the pre-existing material. Fans who missed it will be glad to hear that there are plans to release Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death on video, to raise more money for Comic Relief. Sue is hoping to add behind-the-scenes material, and perhaps some bloopers. "We're also trying to get some other things, too", she added, cryptically. "Hopefully it won't be long before it comes out". Sue also mentioned that she hadn't forgotten the show's American fans. "I'm not able to make any promises, but I'm hoping that it might be made available in the US, too. I'd like to get a firm idea what sort of demand there is. We'll see."

LinkCredit: BBC Doctor Who 
Doctor Who Magazine 278
Doctor Who Magazine 278 (Credit: Marvel Comics)
Doctor Who Magazine 328
Doctor Who Magazine 328 (Credit: Panini Comics)
Credit: Marvel / Panini