Introduction - interview
with Simon Callow
Christopher Eccleston is Doctor Who in a new 13-part
series for BBC ONE. Billie Piper stars alongside Eccleston
as the Doctor's companion, Rose Tyler. Episode three transmits on Saturday
9 April at 7.00pm.
This is phase three of the BBC Doctor Who press pack. Included in the
pack are this interview, with actor Simon Callow, and
a further interview with Mark Gatiss, the writer of
When the new series of Doctor Who needed an actor to play Charles Dickens,
there was only ever one man in the frame.
Simon Callow has portrayed the Victorian literary giant on TV in two
series of An Audience With Charles Dickens, re-creating his famous public
readings, and has a wealth of knowledge about the author and his work.
That's not to say he would have said "yes" to Doctor Who if the script
by Mark Gatiss, of The League Of Gentlemen fame, had not impressed him
"When I heard that Dickens was going to be in Doctor Who, my heart
rather sank," Simon admits.
"I get sent a lot of scripts which feature him as a kind of all-purpose
Victorian literary character and really understand little, if anything,
about him, his life or his books.
"But, as well as being brilliantly written, Mark's script was obviously
the work of someone who knows exactly what Dickens is all about."
The story, set at Christmas in Cardiff in 1869, sees Dickens become
involved with the Doctor and Rose as they encounter mysterious, gaseous
creatures called the Gelth with sinister plans to populate our world.
When viewers first see Dickens, before a stage performance, he is tired
and jaded, brooding on the mistakes he has made in his life. But his
adventure with the Doctor opens his eyes to a whole new world and serves
to reinvigorate his zest for life.
"Dickens was indeed very ill and unhappy at that time," says Simon.
"The script very cleverly connects his idealism, which ends up being
restored by his experiences, with the Doctor's desire to save the world.
"Initially, he is shattered by the notion that this realm of the unknown,
which he has always dismissed, actually exists, but he then embraces
it. As the Doctor tells him, he's not wrong about everything, he just
has more to learn."
An acclaimed actor, stage director and author, Simon confesses he was
never a fan of Doctor Who: "I saw the very first episode in 1963, with
William Hartnell as the Doctor, and decided it wasn't for me, so I missed
the entire procession of Doctors that followed."
But that's not to say he wouldn't have minded a shot at playing him.
"When the BBC decided to bring Doctor Who back as a feature film a
few years ago, one national newspaper ran a poll to ask its readers
who should be the new Doctor, and I topped it," Simon recalls.
"Sadly, the producers failed to take note of this highly important
statement of public opinion, so I never got my chance!"