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Unwrapping the Tenth Doctor

As a taster for the Time Lord’s festive adventure The Christmas Invasion, SFX spoke exclusively to Doctor Who producer Phil Collinson...

Julie Gardner, David Tennant, Phil Collinson and Billie Piper

When did you know that you had a Christmas special?
“It was a very late decision. We already had Season Two commissioned.”

Was it a shock to find yourself suddenly regarded as a national institution, up there with Corrie and Only Fools?
“Of course it was, but I think I’d gotten used to it by then. The biggest shock was just the initial transmission figures that came in, when we were over 10 million, and the profile that we continued to have as we transmitted the first series, so I suppose by the end I’d felt like I’d seen it all. It was clear that we were a hit and people liked us. It’s a great thrill to do a Christmas special. It’s traditionally the time when people sit around the box, and I’m glad that we’re going to be a big part of the BBC’s Christmas schedule.”

Did you have a clear idea of how Christmassy you wanted it?
“As ever, we were creatively guided by Russell, who said – it’s a Christmas special, we’ve got to call it The Christmas Invasion and it’s got to be as Christmassy as we can possibly make it, because otherwise what’s the point? There would be no point in making it just another Doctor Who story on a space station somewhere – it really had to feel Christmassy for people sitting at home, otherwise it’s not a Christmas special. And as you know, we also have a second Christmas special next year, so quite what we do then, I don’t know!”

Do you feel like you’ve blown your Christmas wad with this one?
“No, of course not... there are so many stories to tell, aren’t there? This one’s unashamedly Christmassy.”

Were you ever tempted to do something like a Victorian Christmas story?
“Not this time. There were lots of things that we had to weigh up. Effectively, it’s David’s first story as the Doctor, so I think we wanted to help the transition by surrounding Rose with characters who were familiar to the audience, so that meant a return to Earth and to Jackie and to Mickey and that set-up. I think all the pieces fell into place.”

Isn’t it strange timing to give people a burst of the Tenth Doctor when they won’t see him again for four months?
“I guess so, but it’s just a nice chance to introduce him and I hope that when we get to series two, he will be very firmly the Doctor in people’s minds. And actually, when I’m looking at the episodes as they start to be assembled, there’s a great confidence to his first episode of the next series, just because he’s done a bit. He’s found his feet and found the character, and as an audience we’re taken on a journey with him through Rose’s eyes. As ever Russell uses her as a touchstone, and the story is very much told from her standpoint. She’s reeling from the departure of this bloke that she feels that she knew and cared for, and the arrival of someone completely new, and that’s a very fresh approach. In the old series, by the time they’d done it five, six, seven times... it was always a big event for viewers, but I think that sometimes they forgot the simple drama of a person who travelled with the doctor reacting to a new man. Russell’s very much written the emotional response to it. That allows us to get that out of the way, so that when we come in with the first episode we can just start a new series and they’re off. And that’s very much how episode one will start.”

How does the new Doctor change the dynamic with Rose?
“I think the obvious initial dynamic changes because she has to learn to trust him again, and The Christmas Invasion is very much about that. You saw in the Children In Need episode that Russell is writing Rose reeling from what’s happened, and genuinely reassessing whether she wants to continue travelling in theTardis, because she’s with a different person and she has to learn to trust him again, to care for him again, and decide whether she does. As a pairing we got it right the first time around, in terms of the fact that the Doctor and Rose really enjoyed their adventures, and they really enjoyed each other’s company. We know that was the right thing to do, we know people appreciated that and I personally would hate it if they spent too much time not getting along. So while you have an initial mistrust between the two of them, by the end of the Christmas special they’re very firmly going to be travelling again. We had two people who shared a sense of excitement... this’ll sound all wanky now, but I think that they validate themselves by what they do. For the Doctor, saving lives is very much what he’s into, what he does and why he chooses to travel, so he can make a difference.”

The Christmas Invasion will be shown on BBC 1 on Christmas Day at 7 pm.

Nick Setchfield